The University of Ottawa Press gratefully acknowledges the support extended to its publishing list by Heritage Canada through the Canada Book Fund, by the Canada Council for the Arts, by the Ontario Arts Council, and by the University of Ottawa.
Copy editing: Robbie McCaw
Proofreading: Susan James
Cover illustration and design: Bartosz Walczak
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Shakespeare and Canada : ‘remembrance of ourselves’ / edited by Irena R.Makaryk and Kathryn Prince.
(Reappraisals : Canadian writers ; 38)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Issued in print and electronic formats.
ISBN 978-0-7766-2441-9 (softcover).--ISBN 978-0-7766-2442-6 (PDF).--
ISBN 978-0-7766-2443-3 (EPUB).--ISBN 978-0-7766-2444-0 (Kindle)
1. Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616--Appreciation--Canada.
2. Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616--Stage history--Canada.
3. Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616--Adaptations. 4. Shakespeare,
William, 1564-1616--Criticism and interpretation. I. Makaryk,
Irena R. (Irena Rima), 1951-, editor II. Prince, Kathryn, 1973-,
editor III. Series: Reappraisals, Canadian writers
© Irena R. Makaryk and Kathryn Prince, 2017, under Creative Commons License Attribution—Non Commercial Share Alike 4.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) https://creative-commons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/
Printed in Canada
IRENA R. MAKARYK AND KATHRYN PRINCE
C. E. MCGEE
Intercultural Performance and The Stratford Festival as Global Tourist Place: Leon Rubin’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night
Stratford, Shakespeare, and J. D. Barnett
Counterfactual History at The Stratford Festival: Timothy Findley’s Elizabeth Rex and Peter Hinton’s The Swanne
“Who’s There?”: Slings & Arrows’ Audience Dynamics
Race, National Identity, and the Hauntological Ethics of Slings & Arrows
Performing “Indigenous Shakespeare” in Canada: The Tempest and The Death of a Chief
Shakespeare, a Late Bloomer on the Quebec Stage
Mediatic Shakespeare: McLuhan and the Bard
Shakespeare and the “Cultural Lag” of Canadian Stratford in Alice Munro’s “Tricks”
TRONI Y. GRANDE
Rhyme and Reason: Shakespeare’s Exceptional Status and Role in Canadian Education
DANA M. COLARUSSO
The Truth About Stories About Shakespeare … In Canada?
“Theatre is not a nursing home”: Merchants of Venice of The Stratford Festival
C. E. MCGEE
Figure 1: Production Photograph of Douglas Rain (Shylock), The Merchant of Venice, Avon Theatre, 1996. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann, courtesy of The Stratford Festival Archives.
Figure 2: Production Photograph of Frederick Valk (Shylock), Charlotte Schrager (Jessica), Ted Follows (Launcelot Gobbo), The Merchant of Venice, Stratford Tent, 1955. Photo by Donald McKague, courtesy of The Stratford Festival Archives.
Figure 3: Production Photograph of Susan Coyne (Portia), The Merchant of Venice, Avon Theatre, 1996. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann, courtesy of The Stratford Festival Archives.
Figure 4: Production Photograph of Seana McKenna (Jessica), Ernest Harrop (tailor), Patruska Sarakula and Holly Dennison (ladies in waiting), The Merchant of Venice, Festival Theatre, 1984. Photo by David Cooper, courtesy of The Stratford Festival Archives.
“Who’s There?”: Slings & Arrows’ Audience Dynamics
Figure 1: The New Burbage Theatre Festival’s gift shop sells stuffed Shakespeare dolls in the series’ first episode.
Figure 2: The advertising firm, Froghammer, insults New Burbage Theatre Festival’s subscriber base in the second season.
Figure 3: Charles Kingman (William Hutt) plays the role of King Lear and is on his own quest for self-knowledge as he seeks the answer to the series’ pervading question, “Who’s there?,” with the help of Oliver’s ghost (Stephen Ouimette).
Figure 4: The final season’s production of King Lear (with the title character played by William Hutt) is markedly minimalistic and takes place on a bare stage in a church.
Figure 1: Translations of Shakespeare: Montreal and Quebec City 1968–1999.
Figure 2: Shakespearean Presence: Montreal and Quebec City 1968–1999.
Figure 3: Frequency of Plays, 1968–1999.
Figure 4: Productions of Macbeth: political context.
Figure 5: Productions of La Tempête: political context.
Rhyme and Reason: Shakespeare’s Exceptional Status and Role in Canadian Education
DANA M. COLARUSSO
Figure 1: We Are Here.
Figure 2: English Curriculum Displacement.
The Truth About Stories About Shakespeare … In Canada?
Figure 1: Front and back covers of “William Shakespeare’s Mix n’ Match Magnetic Wardrobe.”
Figure 2: Marked copy of Jacques Derrida’s essay on “Shakespeare’s Idea of Kingship.”
Figure 3: Splash page for the Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project (CASP) https://www.canadianshakespeares.ca/
Figure 4: Front and back cover of Shakespeare Made in Canada exhibition catalogue.
Figure 5: Front covers of two editions in the Shakespeare Made in Canada series published by Oxford University Press and Rock’s Mills Press.
Figure 6: The Sanders portrait of Shakespeare (1603).
Figure 7: Detail of the rag paper label on the back of the Sanders portrait of Shakespeare (1603) along with transcription.
Figure 8: Thomas King, friends, and the Sanders portrait of Shakespeare (1603). Photo courtesy of Thomas King.
This collection is the final fruit of a project marking the four-hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. From January to April 2016, we oversaw more than forty separate events for diverse audiences, ranging from the sublime (Hamlet read in the thirty-five languages spoken by members of the University of Ottawa community) to the ridiculous (a Shakespearean insult-a-thon). What kept us from collapsing under the weight of all these activities (besides the support of our extraordinarily patient husbands) was the enthusiasm, energy, and diverse talents of our many collaborators, colleagues, and students. Among these, we would like to make particular mention of Victoria Burke, Joerg Esleben, Ann Hemingway, Tony Horava, Mariah Horner, Nancy Lemay, Cullen McGrail, Amanda Montague, Dillon Orr, Jennifer Panek, Christiane Riel, Bruce White at the ByTowne Cinema, and especially Cynthia Sugars, who co-organized the Shakespeare + Canada symposium with us. Sponsors of Shakespeare + Canada included the British Council, the British High Commission, the English-Speaking Union, Gale Cengage, the Royal Commonwealth Society, and Shakespeare Bulletin—along with the Faculty of Arts; the Vice-President, Research; and the central administration of the University of Ottawa. Our home departments (English and Theatre), and our colleagues within them, were enthusiastic and helpful in myriad ways. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada generously supported the entire project, including this volume. Thank you one and all for making Shakespeare 400 and Shakespeare + Canada such extraordinary experiences.
Among those who supported us throughout these related projects is Anne Sophie Voyer, whose spectacular talents as a translator, editor, and organizer par excellence have made this volume a pleasure to prepare (and, we hope, to read). We dedicate this volume to her—the future of the discipline.
IRENA R. MAKARYK AND KATHRYN PRINCE
“Must there no more be done?” Laertes’ anguished cry in response to the truncated ritual performed over his dead sister, Ophelia, draws attention to the human need for the comfort of ceremonies that bring together the individual and the community in shared expressions of mourning, remembrance, or, in other circumstances, of celebration. In the anniversary year of 2016, however, Laertes would have been hard pressed to repeat his question in response to the worldwide memorializations of the four hundred years of Shakespeare’s remarkable afterlife. As theatre critic J. Kelly Nestruck accurately predicted in the New Year’s Day edition of Canada’s Globe and Mail, 2016 would include a “bloat” of commemorative activities.
Indeed, global commemorative and celebratory events fill seven pages of the Shakespeare Lives website hosted by the British Council. Among these are the Globe to Globe Hamlet tour; the World Shakespeare Congress; the Zurich Shakespeare Festival; the Shakespeare Rose Garden in Everland, Korea; the Shakespeare in Rome Exhibition; the Shakespeare Films at the Ankara International Film Festival; the Shakespeare Festival at the Grand Opera in Warsaw; Shakespeare at the Comédie-Française; a marathon reading of Shakespeare’s sonnets in Milan; Shakespeare debates in Brazil; Shakespeare o a Tshela Showcase in Botswana; Shakespeare lectures in Abu Dhabi; the (In)Complete Works, Table Top Shakespeare in Chicago; “All the world’s a stage” exhibition in Taiwan; I, Peaseblossom (Shakespeare through the eyes of a mischievous fairy) in New Zealand; Romeo and Juliet performed by disabled actors in Bangladesh; and Shakespeare at the Guadalajara International Book Fair.
Canada, for the most part, remained relatively quiet, absenting itself from the effusive and extensive celebrations elsewhere in the world. The Spur-of-the-Moment Shakespeare Collective and the Toronto Public Library presented the Shakespeare Microfestival in that city, while in Vancouver Bard on the Beach cheekily commemorated Shakespeare’s death with a classic wake. One major exception to Canada’s low-key commemorations was the four-month Shakespeare 400 project undertaken by Canada’s oldest bilingual university, the University of Ottawa. Situated in the nation’s capital, on the boundary between two provinces representative of English and French cultural, philosophical, and linguistic traditions (Ontario and Quebec respectively), the university was built on unceded Algonquin territory. The geography of the university thus symbolically reflects both the unique traditions and the fault lines that have shaped, and continue to influence, Canadian responses to Shakespeare. Many of these complex and often ambivalent responses are revealed in the essays contained in this volume.
Rather than necessarily pietistic and mindless, commemorative rituals are—as cultural theorists Ann Rigney (2014) and Joep Leerssen (2014) have shown—complex dynamic cultural organisms that serve many needs and ends. David Garrick’s Ur-jubilee of 1769 and its extensive progeny have, over the centuries, continually demonstrated that commemorative rituals reveal as much, if not more, about the celebrants’ cultural and political contexts as they do about the object of the celebration. Contemplating the past necessarily always reflects the preoccupations of the present. With their targeted, ritual engagement with history, commemorative activities in particular draw attention to issues of cultural memory, identity, ritual, and performativity—in a word, a genealogy and theatre of belonging. “Who’s there?,” the question that opens and reverberates throughout Shakespeare’s iconic play, is also one of the pertinent questions of this volume. Indeed, the 2016 spate of celebrations has also brought with it rich scholarly analysis that draws deeply from theories of cultural memory. The essays in Clara Calvo and Coppélia Kahn’s Celebrating Shakespeare: Commemoration and Cultural Memory (2015), Christa Jansohn and Dieter Mehl’s Shakespeare Jubilees: 1769–2014 (2015), and Erica Sheen and Isabel Karremann’s Shakespeare in Cold War Europe: Conflict, Commemoration, Celebration (2016) have examined the extensive and varied commemorative practices that, since the 1769 Jubilee, have helped shape our idea of Shakespeare. These volumes do much to flesh out the extraordinary historical and geographical sweep of Shakespeare-celebration mania and assist in the task of comparative analysis of the necessity, functions, and purposes of such celebrations.
Sociologist Christel Lane observes that, while expressing and channelling “individual emotions” and “satisfying aesthetic needs,” rituals can also reveal significant fractures (Lane 1981, 19). Thus, if anniversary celebrations such as Shakespeare’s quatercentenary are, like other rituals, “vehicles of integration” (Malte 2006, 6) with community building as their goal, they are nonetheless generally not a mark of strength but, rather, of weakness. Lane argues that rituals occur when “there is ambiguity or conflict about social relations” and are “performed to resolve or disguise them” (Lane 1981, 11). Anthropologist Barbara G. Myerhoff similarly notes that ritual “is prominent in all areas of uncertainty, anxiety, impotence, and disorder” (Myerhoff 1984, 151). Shakespeare’s Claudius best encapsulates this complexity, when, in his first public speech to the court of Denmark, he forcibly brings into uneasy rhetorical union his curtailed remembrance of his brother Hamlet’s death with “remembrance of ourselves”—his new circumstance as king of Denmark and husband to Gertrude, widow of the deceased. Indeed, as Ton Hoenselaars and Clara Calvo remind us, rituals of commemoration “are no guarantees for any permanence in the individual’s afterlife, not even Shakespeare’s” (Hoenselaars and Calvo 2006, 6). Shakespeare celebrations may thus be a reflection of anxiety as well as a celebration.
Since 1953, Stratford, Ontario has been at the heart of celebrations of Shakespeare. The Stratford Festival, now the largest repertory theatre in North America and the site of annual major productions, has, not surprisingly, elicited a number of essays in this volume. Canadian values and attitudes have markedly shifted over the past half-century, a point that emerges from C. E. McGee’s essay, “‘Theatre is not a nursing home’: Merchants of Venice of the Stratford Festival.” He tells the story of Stratford’s nine Merchants and focuses on a pivotal production directed by Marti Maraden in 1996. This was the first Stratford Merchant directed by a woman, staged in modern dress, and set in early 1930s fascist Italy. It marked a turning point in the interpretation of several characters, notably Jessica, who emerged as a character with a complex interior life, and Portia, equally complex and capable of feeling compassion for Shylock.
Turning to comedy, Robert Ormsby examines the Stratford Festival’s “internationalist moment” in the early twenty-first century with a detailed analysis of U.K. director Leon Rubin’s intercultural A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2004) and Twelfth Night (2006), the former set in an Amazonian rainforest, the latter in nineteenth-century India. Ormsby’s analysis encompasses the question of Canadian identity, asking what role Canada played as a nation-state in sustaining Stratford’s touristic “experience.” Indeed, as Joep Leerssen has argued, “the national frame” is “convenient” but it is “not the whole story of commemorations. It is also the story of the relations between groups: the municipal, the regional, and the transnational, merging together in “a pattern of interconnectedness” (Leerssen 2014, 17). The Stratford Festival’s very name links it to its namesake, Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare.
As the dominant venue for Shakespeare productions in Canada, the Stratford Festival occupies a special place in the national imaginary. In popular culture, thinly veiled it appears as the fictional New Burbage Festival Theatre in the Canadian television series Slings & Arrows. Kailin Wright’s “‘Who’s There?’: Slings & Arrows’ Audience Dynamics” and Don Moore’s “Race, National Identity, and the Hauntological Ethics of Slings & Arrows” take us into this terrain of comedy and satire. While Wright centres on audience dynamics and the Burbage Theatre’s perennial struggles between the opposing demands of artistic integrity and commercial sustainability, Moore, using Derrida’s concept of hauntology, attempts to rethink Canadian theatre’s ethical inheritance and “our shared Canadian notions of national identity, moral integrity, and artistic merit.”
Still on the topic of Stratford, Ian Rae, in “Stratford, Shakespeare, and J. D. Barnett,” dismisses the accepted “master narrative” of the creation of the Stratford Festival: that “Stratford represented the quintessence of the inorganic: a town of rude mechanicals that was suddenly catering to the continent’s cultural elite and presenting itself as a bastion of Shakespeareana despite having no connection to Shakespeare beyond a few place names for parks and schools.” Through his close work in the archives, Rae reconstructs a history of the town of Stratford which had, for at least a half-century before the creation of the festival, been closely connected with literature and, more particularly, with Shakespeare. Similarly, he challenges the prevailing view of postcolonial scholars who have critiqued the festival as a colonialist and corporate enterprise centring its attention on a foreign import (Salter 1991, Knowles 1995, Filewod 1996, Groome 2002).
Stratford’s face has continued to change since its inauguration under a tent. Its reorientation is most notably seen by its rebranding as the Stratford Festival, entirely omitting “Shakespeare” from its name, while continuing to stage major Shakespeare productions as well as to encourage adaptations and new works inspired by Shakespeare. Peter Kuling’s “Counterfactual History at the Stratford Festival: Timothy Findley’s Elizabeth Rex and Peter Hinton’s The Swanne” explores this genre by examining ambitious new Canadian works developed and produced at the festival, fictitious “history” plays inspired by and adapted from Shakespeare’s life and works.
Shakespeare certainly continues to inspire Canadian theatre artists, in Stratford and beyond. As Annie Brisset indicates in her detailed account of translations destined for the stages of Quebec, while the conscious development of a local alternative to translations imported from France initially served a political purpose, these translations also developed a characteristic aesthetic dimension that is discernible when they are viewed sociologically in the context of both Québécois theatre more widely and of the theatrical, literary, political, and cultural affiliations of individual translators. In this sociological analysis, someone like the Acadian novelist Antonine Maillet emerges as a figure with as much significance as the Quebec sovereigntist and dramatist Michel Garneau, though the former is marginal in the political story that the latter’s plays and translations tell. Brisset engages with recent books by Jennifer Drouin (2014) and Nicole Nolette (2015), thus expanding on and complementing the important foundational work of Leanore Leiblein that more closely focused on the political dimensions of this corpus.
A slightly different trajectory can be discerned in regards to Aboriginal contexts for Shakespeare in Canada. As Sarah Mackenzie suggests, while Canada’s relationship to its First Nations hardly merits the moniker “postcolonial,” never having moved through a decolonizing phase, and while Shakespeare in Canada has too often related to aboriginality through cultural appropriation, Yvette Nolan and Kennedy Cathy MacKinnon’s Death of a Chief, their 2005 adaptation of Julius Caesar, can be seen as a landmark production that reclaimed Shakespeare in ways reminiscent of the Quebec sovereignty movement’s discovery of his works a generation earlier. Against a backdrop of picturesque and atmospheric quasi-indigenous elements in earlier Canadian productions of Shakespeare, Death of a Chief reverses the direction of cultural appropriation.
Francophone and First Nations perspectives are now as central to Canadian Shakespeare as those of Northrop Frye, Marshall McLuhan, or Margaret Atwood, thanks in no small part to Daniel Fischlin’s monumental Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project. Indeed, it is in some ways now a fiction to anatomize Canadian Shakespeare according to group identity and affiliation; the kind of crossover and cross-fertilization captured in Fischlin’s contribution to this volume is everywhere to be seen. Atwood’s response to The Tempest, her 2016 novel Hag-Seed, covers some of the same emotional and ideological territory that Mackenzie associates with Canadian performances of that play, but with social-justice aspects that could be linked to Death of a Chief and some of the Merchant of Venice productions in McGee’s essay. With Brisset’s sociological approach in mind, there is also, perhaps, an underlying ecocritical perspective that connects with Atwood’s dystopian novels, not least through Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven (2014), with its travelling troupe of Shakespearean actors roaming the post-apocalyptic Great Lakes area.
Ecocriticism is certainly an emerging area of Canadian Shakespeare, one in which the pressing concerns of society at large converge with our field. In November 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed Canada’s first Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna. With climate change firmly on the national agenda, particularly following the devastating forest fire in Canada’s controversial oil sands during the spring of 2016, ecocriticism will likely continue to inspire scholarly and artistic responses to Shakespeare.
Given its political leadership in climate change and its embrace of ecocriticism as an academic approach to literature, Canada may continue to have a significant impact on global scholarship, resulting, perhaps, in renewed interest in Northrop Frye’s “green world.” As Troni Grande suggests, Frye’s impact on Shakespeare Studies has been vast and enduring. Using Frye as a jumping-off point, she analyses Canadian author and Nobel Prize-winner Alice Munro’s short story “Tricks,” with its Stratford Festival setting and Shakespearean themes.
Neil Freeman has also had an enduring impact on Shakespeare in Canada and beyond. As Tom Scholte suggests in his paper, Freeman’s approach to actor training, grounded in a controversial interpretation of the First Folio’s significance, has influenced North American Shakespeare training in ways that supersede the Folio disputes that have tended to overshadow his contribution in academic circles. Through the work of Freeman’s former students, many now pedagogues and practitioners themselves, this practical and interpretive aspect of Canadian Shakespeare flourishes.
While Freeman’s legacy and Frye’s endure, Marshall McLuhan, Frye’s colleague and intellectual nemesis, requires some recuperation as a Shakespearean. McLuhan is best known for his work in media theory, but Richard Cavell in his essay traces the strong Shakespearean underpinnings of his work, particularly the theory of remediation that, Cavell demonstrates, is derived from McLuhan’s reading of King Lear.
Given the long tail of McLuhan’s work, perhaps his remediation or a Frye-tinged ecocriticism are properly Canadian responses to the dilemma explored in Dana Colarusso’s paper on Shakespeare’s place on the high-school curriculum. Partly because of his traditional ubiquity in secondary teaching, Shakespeare has remained firmly anchored in Canadian culture, but perhaps, as Colarusso’s findings suggest, not for much longer.
While Shakespeare is required reading in many provinces, the current Ontario high-school curriculum encourages but no longer absolutely requires that Shakespeare be taught at all. Although there are good reasons why teachers may continue to choose Shakespeare, that choice is theirs to make, and Shakespeare thus competes with other authors whose relevance to students the teacher must determine anew each year. At the University of Ottawa that choice is the student’s: the Shakespeare requirement has been quietly reduced from two courses to one in the Department of English, while the Department of Theatre requires none at all.
If teachers and students continue to find Shakespeare worth choosing, it will be because his plays give them something that they value, whatever that may be. As the papers in this volume collectively and variously suggest, part of that value lies in his ability to offer us “remembrance of ourselves.” The fact that this line is spoken by a character whose personal gain comes at a high cost, and with significant collateral damage, suggests that there is a warning as well as an homage in the title we have selected for this book. Claudius gives short shrift to the “wisest sorrow” of mourning in order to focus on his own advancement. Shakespeare’s plays offer a remembrance that supersedes this kind of egocentricity, connecting Canadian readers and spectators with others, in Canada and beyond. The stories we tell about Shakespeare, Daniel Fischlin reminds us in the closing essay, are always, but never only, about ourselves.
Atwood, Margaret. 2016. Hag-Seed. Toronto: Knopf.
Calvo, Clara and Coppélia Kahn, eds. 2015. Celebrating Shakespeare: Commemoration and Cultural Memory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Drouin, Jennifer. 2014. Shakespeare in Quebec: Nation, Gender, and Adaptation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Filewod, Alan. 1996. “National Theatre, National Obsession.” In Canadian Theatre History: Selected Readings, edited by Don Rubin, 424–31. Toronto: Copp Clark.
Groome, Margaret. 2002. “Stratford and the Aspirations for a National Theatre.” In Shakespeare in Canada: ‘a world elsewhere’?, edited by Diana Brydon and Irena R. Makaryk, 108–36. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Hoenselaars, Ton and Clara Calvo. 2010. “Introduction: Shakespeare and the Cultures of Commemoration.” Critical Survey 22 (2): 1–10.
Jansohn, Christa and Dieter Mehl, eds. 2015. Shakespeare Jubilees: 1769–2014. Studien zur englischen Literatur, 27. Münster, Germany: LIT.
Knowles, Ric. 1995. “From Nationalist to Multinational: The Stratford Festival, Free Trade, and the Discourses of Intercultural Tourism.” Theatre Journal 47 (1): 19–41.
Lane, Christel. 1981. The Rites of Rulers. Ritual in Industrial Society: the Soviet Case. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Leerssen, Joep. 2014. “Schiller 1859. Literary Historicism and Readership Mobilization.” In Commemorating Writers in Nineteenth-Century Europe, edited by Leerssen and Ann Rigney, 24–39. Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Leerssen, Joep and Ann Rigney. 2014. “Introduction. Fanning out from Shakespeare.” In Commemorating Writers in Nineteenth-Century Europe, edited by Leerssen and Rigney, 1–23.
Malte, Rolf. 2006. Soviet Mass Festivals, 1917–1991. Translated by Cynthia Klohr. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.
Mandel, Emily St. John. 2014. Station Eleven. New York: Knopf.
Myerhoff, Barbara G. 1984. “A Death in Due Time: Construction of Self and Culture in Ritual Drama.” In Rite, Drama, Festival, Spectacle. Rehearsals Toward a Theory of Cultural Performance, edited by John J. MacAloon, 149–178. Philadelphia: A Publication of the Institute for the Study of Human Issues.
Nolette, Nicole. 2015. Jouer la traduction. Théâtre et hétérolinguisme au Canada francophone. Ottawa: Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa.
Salter, Denis. 1991. “The Idea of a National Theatre.” In Canadian Canons: Essays in Literary Value, edited by Robert Lecker, 71–90. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
C. E. MCGEE
The Stratford Festival Merchant of Venice at the Avon Theatre in 1996 was a turning point in the history of productions of that play there with a series of “firsts.” The sixth Stratford production of this play, the 1996 Merchant was the first to be directed by a woman, Marti Maraden. For the first time at the Festival the play was set in the modern period: Fascist Italy 1933, when that country was, outwardly at least, still one of the most open, diverse, and tolerant in Europe, but on the brink of brutal change. For the first time, Shylock and Antonio looked alike.
Unlike earlier productions in which Shylock’s costumes were identified explicitly as “ethnic” or “fancy ethnic,”1 in this production both Shylock and Antonio were dressed as businessmen, so that a newcomer to Venice might well ask, “Which is the merchant here, and which the Jew?” (The Merchant of Venice, 4.1.170).2 And for the first time, Portia and Jessica became (or in fairness to the many sensitive, skillful actors who have played those parts), obviously became, complex, ambivalent, ultimately incomplete characters.
In 1995, Marti Maraden lobbied for the opportunity to direct The Merchant of Venice or The Taming of the Shrew,3 partly because other theatres had decided that these plays were too “politically incorrect” to be staged. As Stratford’s artistic director Richard Monette defended the decision to include Merchant in the 1996 season, Maraden explained her approach to members of the Stratford Festival’s board and worked with the Canadian Jewish Congress on preparing students to see the show. The board was especially concerned about the ill effects of a production of the play. In 1984, students had thrown pennies, candies, and wads of paper at Jewish students in attendance and had hurled verbal insults at them outside the theatre.4 About two years later, the Waterloo Region District School Board restricted study of Merchant to upper years and, later, cancelled trips to see the 1989 production; the Durham District School Board did the same.5 CBC Radio had put the Festival on the defensive that year by broadcasting a report that the Canadian Jewish Congress was attempting to censor Stratford’s production,6 a report linked in the rumour mill to Michael Langham’s decision to cut the forced conversion of Shylock. Langham had come to the conclusion that modern audiences, unlike Elizabethan ones, simply would not accept the conversion as a salvific act of charity; instead, “to us in the 20th century,” he said, “it is appalling even to consider forcing someone to convert.”7