Love and Shakespeare

  • Jane Silcott (Editor) and Fiona Tinwei Lam (Editor)
    Love Me True: Writers Reflect on the Ins, Outs, Ups & Downs of Marriage. Caitlin Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
  • Irena R. Makaryk (Editor) and Kathryn Prince (Editor)
    Shakespeare and Canada: Remembrance of Ourselves. University of Ottawa Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Graham Nicol Forst

Love Me True, an anthology of essays and poems by Canadian writers on love and marriage, provides ample evidence of what extraordinary writers Canada has produced. Here are forty-seven voices writing sensitively about human relationships, free of cant, cliché, or false sentimentality—often with humour and irony, but also (in a few cases) with understandable spite and rancour.

The range of the voices is limited: most of the writers are not young; forty of the forty-seven are women (and only two of the twenty-four prose pieces are by men); and “L” is well represented, but not “G,” “B,” or “T.” (The predominance of women’s voices in such an anthology is perhaps understandable: how many men write well about marriage? Compare Charles Dickens to George Eliot.) But even given the narrow range of voices in Love Me True, the themes are quite varied—here is sexuality, polyamory, ethnic tension, and William Godwin-like anti-marriage sentiments; writers explore the problems of single parenthood, of living with physically and mentally ill partners, and, most pointedly, of living bravely with loss, abuse, and infidelity; they grapple with spirit-draining, constant fighting, with aging, with suicide, and (often) with social ostracism.

The most poignant of the pieces feature Emma Bovary-types trapped in bad marriages (usually born of custom, parental authority, bad judgment), such as Samra Zafar’s searing “The Good Wife,” or the bitter, sad account of a failed arranged marriage by Ayelet Tsabari, or the brilliant rhapsody on a theme by Tolstoy that is Susan Olding’s “In Anna Karenina Furs.” The unmuffled howl of Michelle Kaeser’s “This Is a Love Story” won’t be forgotten by anyone who reads it, nor will the extraordinary, provocative, and hilarious “Beach of Love and Death,” a vertiginous tango of drugs, madness, and true love served in dizzying prose by Yasuko Thanh.

There are no valentine cards here: one soon detects the irony of the collection’s title. But what there is—courage, candour, and strong writing with eloquent resonance—makes this an anthology to treasure.

Irena R. Makaryk and Kathryn Prince’s Shakespeare and Canada: Remembrance of Ourselves is an anthology of fourteen essays created to mark, here in Canada, the four-hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. It follows from one of its editor’s earlier and more ambitious Shakespeare in Canada: “a world elsewhere?” (edited by Makaryk and Diana Brydon, U of Toronto P, 2002—oddly not referenced here), a larger collection which tried to answer more pointedly and in greater depth the twin questions of whether there is a “distinctly Canadian” Shakespeare, and to what extent the Canadian identity has affected national Shakespeare criticism.

The Stratford Festival and its “special place in the national imaginary” is the focus of most of the essays in this new anthology: the myths of its origins are investigated and exposed, as is its “rebranding” (it used to be called the “Stratford Shakespeare Festival” of course), its impact on Quebec theatre, and its relation to Indigenous contexts. Ecocriticism receives attention, as does education, with in-depth studies of the presence of Shakespeare in Canadian high school (particularly Ontario) curricula.

The best of these essays provide interesting overviews of how Shakespeare is performed in this country, particularly at Stratford. C. E. McGee’s opening chapter on Stratford’s nine productions of The Merchant of Venice is particularly rewarding for its investigation of how Merchant’s characters have been made to evolve. Robert Ormsby offers a detailed analysis of Stratford’s “multinationalist” productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night, cleverly tying director Leon Rubin’s imaginative concepts to Stratford’s role in creating cross-border tourism. Among the other thoughtful contributions are intriguing explorations by Kailin Wright and Don Moore of the CBC’s Slings & Arrows, the TV series inspired by the Stratford Festival; a tough, uncompromising, but gracefully written overview by Sarah Mackenzie of Stratford’s various attempts at acknowledging Indigenous traditions in Canada; and Annie Brisset’s fascinating take on the history of Shakespeare translations and productions in Quebec. In his chapter, Richard Cavell offers a subtle reading of Marshall McLuhan’s contributions to Shakespeare studies. Less successful is Troni Y. Grande’s attempt to spread the thin ironic skin of Alice Munro’s fiction over the epic face of Shakespeare.

The anthology’s title, Shakespeare and Canada, is—valuable as the book’s scholastic contribution may be—a misnomer in that it ignores Vancouver’s hugely successful Shakespeare festival, Bard on the Beach, as did the aforementioned Shakespeare in Canada. With an annual budget of seven million dollars, “Bard” has in its thirty years presented five thousand performances of Shakespeare and related plays, hired more than two thousand actors and Canadian technicians, and played to two million patrons: its omission in a book called “Shakespeare and Canada” is inexcusable.



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