In Stratford's Shadow
- Leanore Lieblein (Editor)
A Certain William: Adapting Shakespeare in Francophone Canada. Playwrights Canada Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Ric Knowles (Editor)
The Shakespeare's Mine: Adapting Shakespeare in Anglophone Canada. Playwrights Canada Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Vin Nardizzi
I adapt the title of my review from Ric Knowles’s handsome introductory essay to The Shakespeare’s Mine. I do so in the spirit of these collections, both of which are christened with a quotation from one of the plays they anthologize. In Larry Tremblay’s Burger Love (2007), a police officer informs Manu, a subway employee, that he must “confront a certain William,” and, in Djanet Sears’s Harlem Duet (1997), Othello and his first wife Billie (allusions perhaps to both Billie Holiday and Wilhelmina, William’s feminine form) discuss the ownership of a Shakespearean textbook: “The Shakespeare’s mine,” she says, “but you can have it.” Taken together, these pieces of dialogue imagine Shakespeare as a person of (dis)interest—a literary criminal in Tremblay—whose gravitas in the Western tradition is encapsulated in the book that Billie possesses and then passes on without registering a hint of loss. In each its own way, the plays gathered in these two volumes articulate a similar relation to the Bard’s canon: as adaptations, they both express a debt to his art—some plays are more explicit than others in this regard—and divest themselves, sometimes immediately, of his influence. In my estimation, there is no loss in these literary confrontations, only gain, particularly since we now have print access to a dozen contemporary, dramatic adaptations of Shakespeare. Knowles regards his anthology as a university textbook, and both his and Lieblein’s are of no insignificant pedagogical heft.
These companion volumes do not bring together just any contemporary adaptations of Shakespeare, of course. They compile a variety of Canadian Anglophone and Francophone Shakespeares, each of which, as Knowles suggests, stands in “the shadow of the Stratford Festival,” the theatrical institution that, since 1953, has emblematized the sort of authoritative Shakespeare in Canada that Billie departs with so nonchalantly in Harlem Duet. Unsurprisingly, none of the plays Knowles and Lieblein edit premièred at Stratford, although the script of Vern Thiessen’s Shakespeare’s Will, which is included in Knowles’s volume, was performed there in 2007 after it débuted in Alberta in 2005. Instead, these adaptations were first produced in Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Saskatoon, and Toronto, illuminating the richness and originality of contemporary engagements with Shakespearean tragedy, especially Hamlet and Othello, in the shadows of Canada’s Stratford. Yet despite the volumes’ admirable attention to Shakespeare in Saskatchewan, for instance, and because Knowles reports that the Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project at the University of Guelph has amassed over 450 plays already and persists unabated in its documentary efforts, I would have liked to have seen in the tables of contents materials originating from British Columbia, the Maritimes, and the North. As it stands, the “Canada” of these volumes corresponds to four provinces, and it is my sincerest hope that, in the future, collections that shed light on Shakespearean adaptation at Canada’s furthest geographical margins will appear in print. A cursory search of the Project’s website (://www.canadianshakespeares.ca/) indicates that, although achieving comprehensiveness would indeed be no easy task, such an endeavour is not entirely unimaginable, perhaps if adaptations of Shakespeare performed prior to 1968—the date of the earliest play anthologized, Robert Gurik’s Hamlet, Prince of Québec—were considered.
But lest we too narrowly construe “Canada” in terms of its geographical contours, the subtitles of these collections remind us that language is a significant marker of affiliation and disidentification in Canada. Although translated for English audiences, the Francophone adaptations included in Lieblein’s slimmer volume, especially Gurik’s Hamlet and Jean-Pierre Ronfard’s Lear (1977), both of which are dense political allegories, are vital artifacts in the history of the Québec sovereignty movement that exploit the fame of England’s (and Anglophone Canada’s?) national poet in inventive ways. (The cover art of Lieblein’s anthology, which depicts Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Gurik’s Hamlet wearing reversible capes, one side decorated with maple leaves and the other with fleurs-de-lis, is representative of this ingenuity; these turncoats wear their betrayal.) Lieblein affords readers a helpful, albeit brief, historical survey for decoding these allegories in her general introduction and in her prefatory remarks to her translation of Hamlet. Some aspects of the other plays Lieblein anthologizes, however, are less successfully contextualized, and I found myself dutifully following her instructions for glossing their more puzzling allusions: “Many of the unfamiliar references can be found elucidated online; therefore, only those that do not contain a keyword to look up or whose significance or humour depends on an untranslatable play on the French words have been annotated.” Since I suspect that some students might not be so self-motivated, I wish that this volume—and indeed its companion—were more abundantly annotated, though judiciously so, since the collections do not aim to be Variorum editions of Canadian Shakespeares.
Both anthologies underscore and complicate the dual ways for defining “Canada” outlined above by including plays that adapt Shakespeare to Aboriginal contexts. Although Knowles retains in the script the Native languages peppering Yvette Nolan and Kennedy C. MacKinnon’s Death of a Chief (2008) and then translates these speeches in footnotes, the translator of Yves Sioui Durand and Jean-Frédéric Messier’s Maleceet Hamlet (2004) regrettably does not employ a practice of textual estrangement in its presentation of Attikamek and Montagnais, which is all the more lamentable in light of the history of cultural erasure to which the Maleceet have been subject. This criticism aside, Lieblein introduces scholars and students to a stunning Shakespearean adaptation that examines intergenerational conflicts resulting from Maleceet relocation to the Kinogamish Reserve through the claustrophobic and crooked lens of Hamlet. In adapting the Bard to articulate the socio-political realities of First Nations life, this play—and, more generally, its counterparts in both collections—productively reconfigures a question Hamlet poses to himself after his encounter with the Players: “What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba?” Were we to adapt this question, substituting “Shakespeare” for “Hecuba” and “Canada” for “him,” the plays that Lieblein and Knowles anthologize would afford us a rich range of answers.
- In Stratford's Shadow by Vin Nardizzi
Books reviewed: A Certain William: Adapting Shakespeare in Francophone Canada by Leanore Lieblein and The Shakespeare's Mine: Adapting Shakespeare in Anglophone Canada by Ric Knowles
- Theatrical Landscape by Neta Gordon
Books reviewed: The Baron Bold and the Beauteous Maid: A Compact History of Canadian Theatre by Brian Kennedy and Nextfest Anthology II: Plays from the Syncrude Next Generation Arts Festival by Steve Pirot
- Stratterfly by Jolly Gurbir
Books reviewed: Once Upon a Time in Bollywood: The Global Swing in Hindi Cinema by Deborah Barretto, Jolly Gurbir, and Zenia Wadhwani, The Decline of the Hollywood Empire by Hervé Fischer and Rhonda Mullins, and Broadway North: The Dream of a Canadian Musical Theatre by Mel Atkey
- Making Waves by Virginia Cooke
Books reviewed: Maiden Voyages: Ship's Company Theatre Premieres 2000 - 2002 by Scott Burke
- In Pursuit of Potential by Tricia Hopton
Books reviewed: Lifedream by Herménégild Chiasson and Jo-Anne Elder, At the Zenith of the Empire by Stewart Lemoine, and Omniscience by Tim Carlson
MLA: Nardizzi, Vin. In Stratford's Shadow. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 11 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #205 (Summer 2010), Queerly Canadian. (pg. 170 - 171)
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