Canadian Shakespeare News

The Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare: Five U of G Innovations Recognized as Game-Changing

Five U of G Innovations Recognized as Game-Changing

Five University of Guelph discoveries are being recognized as life-changing breakthroughs by the Council of Ontario Universities (COU).

The discoveries are among 50 innovations from Ontario universities over the last 100 years in COU’s Research Matters campaign, which will include a contest with the public voting. The campaign includes five U of G innovations, beginning with the Yukon Gold potato in 1966 and concluding with research on a purported portrait of William Shakespeare in 2014.

John Livernois, interim vice-president (research), said, “We only just celebrated our 50th anniversary, so to have five discoveries from U of G selected is a significant accomplishment. This is life-changing research, which has had a major impact on the lives of many Canadians.”

The five University of Guelph innovations are as follows:

Revealing Identities: Prof. Daniel Fischlin, English and Theatre Studies, suggests that a 400-year-old painting portrays William Shakespeare, which would make this the only known portrait painted during the Bard’s lifetime.

Improving Health: Prof. Bruce Holub, Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, discovers trans fats harm human health, resulting in their virtual elimination from supermarket shelves.

Creating New Vaccines: Pathobiology professors Pat Shewen and Bruce Wilkie develop a vaccine against “shipping fever” pneumonia in cattle, which becomes the foundation for all vaccines against this major disease.

Digitizing DNA: Prof. Paul Hebert, Integrative Biology, proposes DNA barcoding for species identification, with applications from protecting global biodiversity to curbing food fraud.

Reinventing the Potato: Gary Johnston, Plant Agriculture, creates the Yukon Gold potato to grow in challenging climates, and its taste and popularity make it a household name.

Livernois said these discoveries show Guelph’s wide-ranging research strengths.

“The University of Guelph has a proud heritage in research, and we are pleased to see these accomplishments recognized. Even today, we are still seeing extraordinary research from many departments at the University.”

Starting April 1, the public will be invited to vote on the list of “game-changing” discoveries made at Ontario universities. To see a full list and to register for the contest, visit starting April 1.

Voting will continue all summer at fairs and public events as the 50 game-changers go on the road with the Research Matters’ Curiosity Shop. The public’s top five favourites will be announced in the fall, and contest participants will be eligible for a draw.

New Yorker article features CASP Research on the Sanders Portrait

An April 28, 2014 essay published in the New Yorker and authored by Adam Gopnik focuses on the Sanders Portrait and CASP Director, Daniel Fischlin, describing the most recent phase of research into the Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare and its origins.

The recent issue of The New Yorker magazine features U of G English professor and University research Chair Daniel Fischlin. In an article entitled “The Poet’s Hand,” Fischlin discusses his work over the past decade to help authenticate the Sanders portrait, believed to be the only one of William Shakespeare painted while the playwright was alive. Fischlin outlines the scientific works that has been conducted to authenticate the painting, as well as efforts to trace family connections between Shakespeare and the ancestors of the portrait’s previous owner, Lloyd Sullivan.
Thought to depict the Bard at age 39, the Sanders portrait was the centrepiece of a months-long exhibit at Guelph’s Macdonald Stewart Art Centre in 2007. It’s also the signature image of U of G’s Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project (CASP), the world’s largest and most complete website about Shakespeare’s cultural influence that was founded by Fischlin. Last fall, U of G hosted an international  symposium at the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre where evidence gathered by experts about the portrait was presented. Read more about the portrait.


Shakespeare Portrait, Faculty Make Headlines (April 25, 2014 – In the News)

Conference Explores Origins of Shakespeare Portrait

More than 400 years old, portrait still inspires interest

By Andrew Vowles
Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Sanders portrait of Shakespeare

The Sanders portrait

Daniel Fischlin was hunkered down by the phone in mid-December “waiting for the media feeding frenzy to begin.” News had broken that day of a tentative agreement to buy a Canadian-owned portrait believed to depict William Shakespeare during his lifetime, and the University of Guelph English professor expected to find himself in the middle of the story again.

Under the deal reached in early December, an anonymous Canadian family has agreed to buy the 410-year-old Sanders portrait from its longtime Ottawa owner, according to a Globe and Mail story published Dec. 15.

Some two decades after Lloyd Sullivan began researching the portrait – passed through his family from a distant maternal ancestor contemporary with Shakespeare — evidence continues to mount that the work is the only likeness of the Bard done from life.

Speaking of the tentative sale, Fischlin says, “It’s a very complicated negotiation.”

He says the deal will likely be completed in early 2014; the new owners are expected to donate the portrait to an unnamed public art institution in Canada.

Referring to Sullivan, he says “the owner is very happy, because these buyers understand that this is really a legacy issue and are gearing up to do the right thing.”

That means “bringing the portrait into a public space, ramping up the information about the portrait. Growing that bandwidth is really important. It’s the beginning of a whole other sequence of events that are probably going to be more involved than the work so far.”

Much of that work, including recent research connecting Shakespeare with the Sanders family and other associates from Elizabethan and Jacobean England, has been led by Fischlin and other scholars on both sides of the Atlantic.

Those findings and the earlier detective work into the portrait’s provenance were discussed by experts during a one-day symposium in Toronto last month. Negotiations for the portrait’s sale were still occurring during the event.

The Sanders portrait is believed to depict William Shakespeare at age 39. The painting belongs to Sullivan, an Ottawa engineer. His family has passed it down from John Sanders. Family lore says Sanders was a painter and actor with Shakespeare’s theatre company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later called the King’s Men).

Sullivan inherited the piece from his mother in 1972. Since retiring some 20 years ago, he has researched the painting.

At the Toronto conference, scientists, costume experts, historians, writers and museum curators discussed everything from the doublet worn by the sitter to tests validating the age of the paint, the wood panel and the label affixed to the back of the portrait.

Fischlin’s recent work has involved genealogy and geography in the British Midlands and London and between Canada and England. He is a University Research Chair and founding director of the Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project (CASP), the world’s most comprehensive website about the Bard’s cultural influence.

He and other researchers – notably British genealogist Pam Hinks — have traced Sullivan’s family through 13 unbroken generations and 10 great-grandfathers back to Shakespeare’s lifetime.

They have visited gravesites, uncovered and transcribed historical documents, examined major historical archives in the United Kingdom and interviewed Sullivan’s relatives.

That path has led to a small group of villages in the Midlands and to the part of London where Shakespeare and his acquaintances are known to have lived.

Before moving to London, Shakespeare and Sanders lived in towns about eight miles apart in and around Stratford. So did John Heminges, another company actor and eventually co-editor of the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare’s works.

By 1603, all three were residents in the capital, living only minutes from each other in adjoining parishes.

Heminges and John Sanders’s son – also John and an early ancestor to Lloyd Sullivan – were both active members of the Grocers’ guild during the early 1600s.

Those connections strengthen the argument that Sanders was close enough to have painted Shakespeare, says Fischlin.

“It would have been impossible for the two men not to have been intimately acquainted with each other, not only because their families came from neighbouring villages in the Midlands, but also because they would have had significantly overlapped business interests.”

Fischlin plans to continue this work, including investigating leads about where artist and sitter met in London.

“We’re very close to identifying the workshop where the painting was painted. We seem to have a member of the Sanders family married into an apprentice from this workshop,” he says.

He adds that “the workshop was well known to the theatre scene in London in that period and also was close physically to where the Sanders and Heminges families and Shakespeare were all living at the time.

“It’s not definitive but it’s very, very promising.”

The Sanders portrait was exhibited at the University of Guelph’s Macdonald Stewart Art Centre for six months in 2007. That year, U of G teamed up with some 30 local arts and culture organizations in more than 50 community programs and activities centred on Shakespeare and the painting.

The portrait is the signature image of CASP. It also appears on new copies of The Tempest and Romeo and Juliet, the first editions of Shakespeare’s works to feature the Sanders likeness on their cover.

Those volumes were published by the Canadian arm of Oxford University Press. Acquisitions editor Jen Rubio credits her late father, Gerald Rubio, an English professor at U of G, for instilling some of Shakespeare’s words during her childhood.

He often borrowed lines from the Bard to suit a particular situation, even if listeners failed to pick up on the reference. Once quoting Hamlet after a restaurant meal, she says, “He later said, ‘The funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.’”

Rubio says the genealogical research and information about the Grocers’ guild uncovered by Fischlin and other scholars was new to her. “It’s amazing what research you can do from back in 1603.”

She is convinced that the Sanders portrait is an authentic likeness of Shakespeare. “I don’t see how anybody can read the evidence and think otherwise. I haven’t actually heard a good argument why we should not believe it.”

“It is such a compelling image,” says U of G president Alastair Summerlee. He attended the Toronto symposium and was involved in seeking a buyer for the Sanders portrait, which has been held for more than a year at U of G.

Commenting on the debate over a 410-year-old likeness, Summerlee says, “It matters because we all know Shakespeare. We all know him because we are all imbued in his work. As a scientist I know we have a craving to associate faces with people.”

Recent Media Stories on the Sanders Portrait Symposium and Sale

Following upon the November 28, 2013 Symposium “Look Here Upon this Picture: A Symposium on the Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare”, held at the Munk Centre, University of Toronto, a number of media outlets have released stories or done full-length radio shows about the Sanders Portrait:

Canadian family to buy portrait at centre of Shakespeare art mystery (Globe & Mail)

Faces of Our Ancestors a Reflection of Ourselves (Guelph Mercury)

The Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare: Interviews and Discussion (CFRU Radio featuring Andrew Bretz, Daniel Fischlin, John Kissick, and Diane Nalini)

CBC: The Morning Edition (December, 2013 with Craig Norris)

Social Media on Storify (December 2013)

As It Happens (CBC December 16, 2013)

SANDERS PORTRAIT Duration: 00:06:53
Members of the Sullivan family were sure they were living with William Shakespeare. The problem was convincing anyone else.The Sullivans were the owners of what they believed to be the one and only true portrait of Shakespeare, painted by an ancient relative. But it was tough to know what exactly to do with the treasure.Lloyd Sullivan has been fighting for decades to prove to the world his painting is indeed an authentic likeness of the great writer. Many experts now agree that the Sanders Portrait is indeed Shakespeare — but either way, it’s a battle Lloyd will no longer have to fight: a deal is being brokered for the sale of the painting to an unknown Canadian buyer.We reached Lloyd Sullivan at his home in Ottawa.

Canadian-owned painting purported to be only life-likeness of Shakespeare changing hands  (Steve Mertl, Yahoo News Canada)

Shakespeare portrait sale has major U of G connection (Guelph Mercury, December 16, 2013)

Canadian man said to own only portrait of Shakespeare (The Ontarian, December 5, 2013)

Conference Explores Origins of Shakespeare Portrait (Andrew Vowles, January 16, 2014)

OUP offers Shakespeare series with a Canadian twist


OUP offers Shakespeare series with a Canadian twist

Less than a year after officially shuttering its Canadian trade division, Oxford University Press has released a new series of Shakespeare’s plays with crossover appeal and a distinctly Canadian twist. The Shakespeare Made in Canada series edited by Daniel Fischlin comprises Shakespeare plays paired with introductions by Canadian scholars. Each text also includes a preface by an artist who has been involved with the adaptation of a Shakespearean work in Canada, as well as explanatory notes and reading tips. The first titles in the series are Romeo and Juliet and The Tempest, and Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream are already in the works.

In accordance with OUP Canada’s new “curriculum-based” focus, the series is designed to serve as a teaching text for Canadian undergraduate students, though acquiring editor Jennie Rubio says she expects it to received interest from theatregoers and other non-academic consumers.

The series’ genesis was aided by the Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project at the University of Guelph, a research venture focusing on how Canadians have historically read and reproduced works by the Bard. The project team, led by general editor of the Shakespeare Made in Canada series, Daniel Fischlin, selected the titles for publication from their archives.

“They’ve done a ton of research on how we’ve adapted Shakespeare from the 1760s … adaptations by new settlers, Aboriginals, and French-English ones,” Rubio says. “There are just a lot of interesting things and insights that have come from Canadian productions and this incredible diversity in how Canadians have made these adaptations over time.”

A further Canadian link is showcased on the cover of each title in the series, which depicts what is believed to be the only sitting portrait of Shakespeare painted during his lifetime. The painting, known as the Sanders portrait of Shakespeare, belongs to a Canadian family that emigrated from England in the 19th century. A conference discussing the portrait, to be held at the University of Toronto on Nov. 28, coincides with the series’ release.

“It’s a weird Canadian connection,” says Rubio. “Shakespeare’s work is almost as Canadian as it is British by now, because we’ve done so much adaptation.”

OUP plans to see how well the series succeeds before deciding to move forward with additional titles, though Rubio says Othello may be next in line and has a personal preference for As You Like It.

Experts to Debate, Discuss Canadian Portrait of Shakespeare

Experts to Debate, Discuss Canadian Portrait of Shakespeare

November 27, 2013 – News Release

The face of William Shakespeare and its ties to the University of Guelph are the focus of an unprecedented conference being held in Toronto this week.

“Look Here Upon This Picture: A Symposium on the Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare” will share evidence gathered by U of G experts and others showing that a Canadian man owns the only portrait of William Shakespeare painted while the playwright was alive.

Thought to depict the Bard at age 39, the Sanders portrait is owned by Ottawa resident Lloyd Sullivan, a friend and supporter of U of G.

“The University of Guelph has played a key role in the analysis of the Sanders portrait,” said president Alastair Summerlee.

“After many years of effort, we are now prepared to share an insider’s view of how this research can enhance the world’s understanding of the impact of the Bard.”

It’s believed that Shakespeare sat for an ancestor of Sullivan’s, an actor and painter named John Sanders, in 1603. The portrait was held in the family for 400 years and at one time was stored under Sullivan’s grandmother’s bed. Sullivan inherited it from his mother in 1972.

The Sanders portrait was the centrepiece of a months-long exhibit at Guelph’s Macdonald Stewart Art Centre in 2007. It’s also the signature image of U of G’s Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project (CASP), the world’s largest and most complete website about Shakespeare’s cultural influence.

CASP was founded and directed by Guelph English professor Daniel Fischlin, who has spent the past decade helping to authenticate the portrait and trace family connections between Shakespeare and Sullivan’s ancestors.

“We embarked on this journey to find the truth,” Fischlin said. Referring to scientific, historical and genealogical evidence, he said, “The cumulative weight of it is unprecedented and makes the portrait the rarest of all art commodities: the only image of Shakespeare painted during his lifetime that has survived the period. No portrait comes close or has faced the same degree of interdisciplinary scholarly scrutiny.”

The symposium, sponsored by U of G and CASP, will be held Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Munk School of Global Affairs in Toronto.

Speakers will discuss the history of the portrait and Shakespeare’s presence in Canada. Besides Summerlee and Fischlin, the symposium will include U of G professors John Kissick, director of the School of Fine Art and Music and a respected painter; and Robert Enright, University Research Professor in Art Criticism and one of Canada’s most prominent cultural journalists.

Panel discussions and talks will also feature journalists, scholars, gallery directors, museum curators, filmmakers, historians and costume designers discussing everything from the portrait’s provenance and context to its value and legacy.

“It’s in the best public interest to move this portrait into the public domain where ongoing research and debate can continue,” Summerlee said.

“Canadians also should be able to access this wonderful image in a properly curated setting. We hope that this symposium plays a prominent role in making that happen.”

More than a dozen forensic tests have confirmed that the Sanders painting dates from around 1600 and has remained unaltered. They include tests of ink from a hand-written inscription on a label identifying the subject as William Shakespeare and listing his birth and death dates.

Working with British genealogist Pam Hinks, Fischlin and his team have uncovered relations between Sullivan and Shakespeare and his closest associates that extend back thirteen generations. With Hinks, Fischlin and his research team have visited gravesites, uncovered and transcribed historical documents, examined major historical archives in the U.K., and interviewed Sullivan’s relatives. The full results of that work will be outlined at the symposium.

Fischlin learned about the Sanders portrait while seeking original Canadian adaptations of Shakespeare for CASP. He contacted Sullivan and obtained the right to use the image.

In 2006, the portrait was part of “Searching for Shakespeare,” an international exhibit by the National Portrait Gallery in London that toured North America. It joined the gallery’s famed Chandos painting and four other early “contenders” purporting to represent Shakespeare.

The Sanders portrait was also the subject of the 2001 book Shakespeare’s Face and of award-winning Canadian documentarian Anne Henderson’s 2008 film Battle of Wills.

Prof. Daniel Fischlin
School of English and Theatre Studies
519 824-4120, Ext. 53267

Recently Posted Entries (2012) to the CASP Database

Work on the CASP database updates that have been backlogged continued over the Summer of 2012 with significant new entries now posted and listed below with hyperlinks. Please note that the CASP database will be undergoing a major renovation in early 2013  to address issues with diacriticals causded by Cold Fusion, our current platform. Stay posted for an update once the new platform has been implemented.

Summer 2012 Additions to the CASP DATABASE:

King Lear (2012) by Peter Hinton and August Schellenberg

Hamlet (2012) by Kevin O’Day – National Ballet of Canada

Shakespeare’s Will (2007 & 2011) by Vern Thiessen [updated]

MacHomer (2012 ) by Rick Miller [updated]

Henry V (2012) by Company of Fools

Mr. Shakespeare’s Bastard (2010) by Richard B. Wright

When That I Was (2008 & 2012) by John Mortimer and Edward Atienza [updated]

DEADLY SIN, Macbeth: A Cabaret (2011) by Paul Hopkins

Love’s Labour’s Lost (2005) by Corinne Jaber and Stephen Landrigan

Hamlet: An Opera (2007) by Mark Richards

Lucrece (2007) by Angus McLellan and Grayden Laing

Tout Shakespeare Pour Les Nuls (2005) by Jean-Guy Legault

Prospero (?) by NSJ

The Comedy of Errors (2010) by Peter Hinton

BASH’d: A Gay Rap Opera (2007) by Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow

The Other, Haitian Macbeth (2010) by Stacey Christodoulou

Romeo and Juliet (2005)

Twelfth Night (2007)

Macbeth (2006)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2006)

King Lear (2006)

Othello (2006)

Hamlet (2005) by Paul Illidge

No Beast So Fierce: A Retelling of William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of King Richard the Third (2011)

Crowns and Roses: Shakespeare’s Tales of the Lancasters and the Yorks (2011)

Plantagenet Plots: Shakespeare’s Stories of the Middle Ages (2010)

God’s Chosen King?: A Retelling of William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of King Richard II (2010)

Foreign Wars: A Retelling of William Shakespeare’s History of King Henry V (2010)

The Education of a Prince: A Retelling of William Shakespeare’s History of King Henry IV Part One (2010)

The Making of a King: A Retelling of William Shakespeare’s History of King Henry IV Part Two (2010) by K.L Green

Kill Shakespeare series (2010) by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col, with art by Andy Belanger

Othello (2008) by Zaib Shaikh and Matthew Edison

Hamlet (2011) by Bruce Ramsay

Tempest-Tost (1951) by Robertson Davies

The Tempest (2005) by Rod Carley

Henry V (2006) by Rod Carley

Othello (2012) by Kirk Peterson (Alberta Ballet)

Romeo and Juliet (2011) by Alexei Ratmansky (National Ballet of Canada)

Hamlet (In Tent City) (2010) by Judith Thompson

Tempest Round A Teapot (2005) by Karen Rickers

Hamlet (2007) by Joseph Pagnan

Teaching Hamlet (2011) by Kier Culter

Afghanada – Episode 20 (2010) by Greg Nelson, Adam Pettle, Andrew Moodie, and Jason Sherman – CBC Radio

Shakespeare for White Trash: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2010)

Shakespeare for White Trash: Antony and Cleopatra (2011)

Shakespeare for White Trash: As You Like It (2011)

Shakespeare for White Trash: Coriolanus (2012)

Shakespeare for White Trash: Hamlet (2010)

Shakespeare for White Trash: Henry IV, Part I (2011)

Shakespeare for White Trash: Henry IV, Part II (2011)

Shakespeare for White Trash: Henry V (2011)

Shakespeare for White Trash: Henry VI, Part I (2011)

Shakespeare for White Trash: Henry VI, Part II (2012)

Shakespeare for White Trash: Henry VI, Part III (2012)

Shakespeare for White Trash: Henry VIII (2012)

Shakespeare for White Trash: Julius Caesar (2010)

Shakespeare for White Trash: King John (2011)

Shakespeare for White Trash: King Lear (2010)

Shakespeare for White Trash: Macbeth (2010)

Shakespeare for White Trash: Measure for Measure (2012)

Shakespeare for White Trash: Much Ado About Nothing (2010)

Shakespeare for White Trash: Othello (2010)

Shakespeare for White Trash: Richard II (2011)

Shakespeare for White Trash: Richard III (2010)

Shakespeare for White Trash: Romeo and Juliet (2010)

Shakespeare for White Trash: The Comedy of Errors (2011)

Shakespeare for White Trash: The Merchant of Venice (2010)

Shakespeare for White Trash: The Taming of the Shrew (2010)

Shakespeare for White Trash: The Tempest (2010)

Shakespeare for White Trash: The Winter’s Tale (2012)

Shakespeare for White Trash: Timon of Athens (2012)

Shakespeare for White Trash: Twelfth Night (2011) by Crad Kilodney

Amaluna (2012) by Fernand Rainville and Diane Paulus – Cirque de Soleil

Wassup, Shakespeare? New Canadian Adaptations Tracked by CASP Show Trend in Modern Language, Slang, and Pop Culture

Spring and summer 2012 marked a busy period of research for members of the Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project (CASP) team as they worked on major updates to the online Database. Updates included recent stagings of existing entries, the addition of some secondary sources, tidying up the HTML coding and overall read-ability of the Database, as well as the addition of new leads, which express Canada’s modern take on the work of perhaps the world’s most celebrated playwright, William Shakespeare.

Over sixty new adaptations were added to the Database, ranging from more classical media, (i.e. Peter Hinton and August Schellenberg’s all-Native production of King Lear; Mark Richards’s Hamlet: An Opera; and the National Ballet of Canada’s production of Hamlet) to more contemporary modes of adaptation (i.e. Repercussion Theatre’s DEADLY SIN, Macbeth in Hell: A Cabaret!; Bruce Ramsay’s noir-ish film adaptation of Hamlet; and the innovative graphic novel, Kill Shakespeare¸ by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col). Productions such as Vern Thiessen’s Shakespeare’s Will and Rick Miller’s MacHomer have both been restaged consistently since their debuts, and choreographer Alexei Ratmansky has recently re-vamped the National Ballet of Canada’s version of Romeo and Juliet, which is entering its second staging this November. John Mortimer and Edward Atienza’s When That I Was has also been revived in 2008 and 2012 after only two performances in the late 1980s.

Other recent adaptations of note include: the Company of Fool’s hilarious retelling of Henry V, Corinne Jaber and Stephen Landrigan’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost in Afghanistan, Jean Guy-Legault’s Tout Shakespeare Pour Les Nuls, an epic comedy that summarizes Shakespeare’s 37 plays in one 90 minute performance, and local University of Guelph professor and playwright Judith Thompson’s exploration of the trials and community of homelessness in Hamlet (In Tent City).  Considering that the CASP Database’s last major update was in 2005, this summer’s research shows a significant amount of activity in Canada’s literary and theatre communities. It is apparent that Canadians show no sign of tiring of the Bard.

Click on the gallery below to see photos from, among others, BASH’d!, discussed below at some length, the Company of Fools version of Henry V, Bruce Ramsay’s 1940s era family drama version of Hamlet from the Vancouver International Film Festival, and the 2012 all-Aboriginal production of King Lear performed at the National Arts Centre in Otttawa.

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For audio of Director/Actor/Adaptor Bruce Ramsay discussing his adaptation click below.

One clear trend evident as a result of cataloguing recent adaptations is the shift from the original Shakespearean tongue into a more modern, vernacular style of language, including ample use of slang and references to pop culture. The implications of this new trend are immense, especially in terms of the accessibility of this notoriously difficult literature, expanding across new social, cultural, and political borders. Contemporary adaptors combine present-day cultural and literary practices with the historical texts to create adaptations that are truly unique and, ultimately, Canadian.

There are a few adaptations from the recent updates that illustrate this growing movement. Crad Kilodney, a Toronto-based writer and blogger, has published a series of plays entitled, Shakespeare for White Trash. While the plot and characters remain the same, the language has been dramatically transformed into everyday English. Whereas the opening few lines of Shakespeare’s Hamlet read:

Act I, Scene I. FRANCISCO at his post. Enter to him BERNARDO

BERNARDO: Who’s there?

FRANCISCO: Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold yourself.

BERNARDO: Long live the king!

FRANCISCO: Bernardo?


FRANSICO: You come most carefully upon your hour.

BERNARDO: ‘Tis now struck twelve; get thee to bed, Francisco.

FRANCISCO: For this relief much thanks: ‘tis bitter cold, ⁄ And I am sick at heart

BERNARDO: Have you have quiet guard?

FRANCISCO: Not a mouse stirring.

BERNARDO: Well, good night. ⁄ If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus, ⁄ The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste.

Hamlet (1.1.1-14)

Kilodney’s adaptation interprets the same scene as follows:

Act 1, Scene 1. Elsinore Castle. FRANCISCO is on guard duty on the watch platform when BERNARDO arrives to relive him.

FRANCISCO: It’s about time, bro. I was supposed to be off at midnight.

BERNARDO: Okay, you can go to bed. Wassup anyway?

FRANCISCO: Not much.

BERNARDO: If you see Horatio and Marcellus, tell them to move their butts. They’re supposed to be on duty, too.

Kilodney (1.1.1-4)

Approaching Shakespeare is a daunting task. The language is complex and full of metaphor and rhetorical and logical play: people simply do not speak like that anymore. Kilodney’s aim is to expand the availability of Shakespeare’s work by making the language easier to understand and more relatable to the general public (Kilodney 2010) In this sense, because Shakespeare’s plays are adapted using more currently commonplace language, their entertainment and moral values are no longer limited to highly-educated Shakespeare connoisseurs. Currently, Kilodney has adapted twenty-nine of Shakespeare’s thirty-eight plays, all of which are written to be performed––and he plans to finish the remainder within the next year.

Another recent adaptation created with today’s audience in mind is, BASH’D: A Gay Rap Opera, created and originally performed by Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow. Rapping narrators, Feminem and T-Bag, tell the story of a gay Canadian couple, Jack and Dillon, whose marriage becomes marred by violence after Jack is the victim of a brutal gay-bashing. Both active members in the Canadian theatre and comedy scenes, Craddock and Cuckow wrote BASH’d!, a modern-day Romeo and Juliet (only now it’s “Romeo meets Romeo”), with the intention of raising awareness about hate crimes committed in their hometown in Alberta, during the national debate on equal marriage for gays and lesbians. BASH’d! expertly and humorously “explores the effect of homophobic violence and the emotions associated with being any marginalized population” (Homohiphop 2007). For extracts from the show, “Cocksuckaz!,” click below (warning that some of the content may be offensive to some) or click here.

BASH’d! also successfully navigates a controversial topic by pairing it with hip-hop and rap language, both of which have become staples in North American pop culture. It is easy to make the generalization that rap and hip-hop music have had a significant impact on young people. One sees evidence of this in how young people dress themselves to match the fashion of their favourite music videos and how they adopt the slang and personas created by their favourite artists. With upbeat and bawdy lyrics like, “Yo what’s up global citizens? / Yo Yo Yo  – Where my homo’s at? / Put your hands in the air everybody c’mon / Where my lesbians at? / And flap your wrists like you just don’t care” (Homohiphop 2007), youth are perhaps far more likely to pay attention to, remember, and internalize the message of a rap performance as compared to original Shakespearean-style dialect, where the content of the performance can be blurred by linguistic and generational barriers.

Additionally, it is well-known that rap originated as a discourse of defiance and not being held down by dominant social ideology. In an interview with the New York Times, Craddock stated that their use of rap music, “was a way to turn hip-hop on its head because of the ultra-masculinity of it, but also to take it back to its roots, to back when hip-hop was a tool of social justice” (NY Times 2008). Just as rap set out to reclaim the “N” word, the goal of BASH’d! is to do the very same for the derogatory and ill-used term, “faggot.” By adopting the style of rap and hip-hop music, Craddock and Cuckow “take back” a genre tied to constricting notions of heterosexual masculinity thereby reappropriating it to create a new and more accommodating aesthetic structure. Doing so allows them not only to entertain and appeal to the musical tastes dominating modern pop culture, but also ensures that their ultimate message – that of acceptance for all, regardless of sexual orientation – is accessible and relevant to today’s youth, who are arguably our best prospect for initiating change within society.

One more adaptation worth highlighting in the many new additions to the CASP Database is Peter Hinton’s The Comedy of Errors, produced by the National Arts Centre (NAC) of English Theatre in collaboration with Centaur Theatre. The basic plot follows two sets of twins who were swapped at birth and come together after a series of errors and mistaken identities. In this production, the Anglo-Canadian Toronto represents Syracuse and, in contrast, the Franco-Canadian Montreal represents Ephesus. Actors perform in street-clothes while listening to their iPods and typing on laptops and the urbane set includes towering walls of silver skyscrapers, Bixie bikes, and Via Rail signs, with a soundtrack of pop music playing overhead. Although it maintains Shakespeare’s original language and themes of mistaken and loss of identity, Hinton’s adaptation has been revamped to portray present-day fashion and sensibilities. Set in the Montreal and Toronto we know today, it reflects a modern discourse of Canada’s political and social issues, norms, and values.

In Shakespeare’s original comedy, Ephesus was the disorderly city in need of being controlled and being put in its place such that it better resembles the amenable and stolid sister-city of Syracuse. In Hinton’s Comedy of Errors, Montreal is set up as a wonderfully chaotic, accepting, feminine world with a vibrant nightlife while Toronto is a masculine, stoic city, with more traditional values. While the direct settings have been changed, the parallels between Montreal/Ephesus and Syracuse/Toronto remain evident. This echoes historic tensions that exist between Franco-Canadian Quebec and the Anglo-Canadian majority. Hinton himself has said, in an interview for the NAC that “[he] really tried to think of a way that best expressed these two ideas and thought of our own Canadian solitudes, the division of Quebec and English Canada” (National Arts Centre 2009).

The play’s other focus, relating to the omnipresent problem of cultural identity, is on marriage. Contemporary Canadian perspectives on marriage are a whole lot different than what they were in the 1500s. Women certainly have more of a voice and sense of agency, no longer subject to the discretion and orders of their father or husband. Even so, today’s society struggles with some of the same issues that concerned people in Shakespeare’s time, especially when considering notions of freedom and the expectations placed on partners within a marriage. Performing The Comedy of Errors within a modern set and style of dress really contextualizes this for the audience. “A key part of comedy is recognition” (National Arts Centre 2009). The audience is able to recognize the characters and directly relate to their experiences and their story. This aids the performance of the play comically and also expands the horizons of its accessibility.

There is something innately Canadian about these productions. Canada is well-known for its open-mindedness and acceptance of other cultures, traditions, and philosophies and perhaps this is one reason why Shakespeare remains such a celebrated playwright despite his native English origins. By modernizing Shakespeare’s language, adaptors are making his plays more accessible to a wide variety of Canadians from any and all walks of life. Shakespeare is not exactly an easy read nor are his language and rhetoric easily understandable in current contexts. Plays such as the ones discussed in this article contextualize Shakespeare for today’s audience through their use of slang, references to pop culture, as well as the inclusion of current social and cultural issues, making them entertaining and edifying for ‘white trash’ and academics alike. This break from the conventional mode of dialogue allows adaptors to put a bit of themselves back into Shakespeare. Shakespeare, a theatrical and literary phenomenon who has pervaded time with an allure that continues to inspire generations, has, literally and figuratively, become a powerful medium for expressing and perpetuating the Canadian voice.

Jennie Hissa (CASP URA/Research Associate)

For a master list of new updates to the CASP database click below:

New Book on Shakespeare and the Second World War

CASP is delighted to share in the announcement of the recently released Shakespeare and the Second World War: Memory, Culture, Identity, published by the University of Toronto Press. Co-edited by University of Ottawa English professor Irena Makaryk, and former CASP research associate and now doctoral candidate at the University of Ottawa, Marissa McHugh, the book makes a major contribution to understanding Shakespeare’s presence in world culture via productions, appropriations, and adaptations of his work created during the Second World War.

The following are photos from the November 1, 2012 book launch that took place in Ottawa.

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Description (from the UTP site):

 Shakespeare’s works occupy a prismatic and complex position in world culture: they straddle both the high and the low, the national and the foreign, literature and theatre. The Second World War presents a fascinating case study of this phenomenon: most, if not all, of its combatants have laid claim to Shakespeare and have called upon his work to convey their society’s self-image.

Shakespeare and the Second World War

In wartime, such claims frequently brought to the fore a crisis of cultural identity and of competing ownership of this ‘universal’ author. Despite this, the role of Shakespeare during the Second World War has not yet been examined or documented in any depth. Shakespeare and the Second World War provides the first sustained international, collaborative incursion into this terrain. The essays demonstrate how the wide variety of ways in which Shakespeare has been recycled, reviewed, and reinterpreted from 1939–1945 are both illuminated by and continue to illuminate the War today.

Introduction: Shakespeare and the Second World War.  IRENA R. MAKARYK (University of Ottawa)

German Shakespeare, the Third Reich, and the War.  WERNER HABICHT (University of Würzburg)

Shakespearean Negotiations in the Perpetrator Society: German Productions of The Merchant of Venice during the Second World War.  ZENO ACKERMANN (Freie Universität Berlin)

Shylock, Palestine, and the Second World War.  MARK BAYER (University of Texas at San Antonio)

“Caesar’s word against the world”: Mussolini’s Caesarism and Discourses of Empire.  NANCY ISENBERG (the Università degli Studi Roma Tre)

Shakespeare and Censorship during the Second World War: Othello in Occupied Greece. TINA KRONTIRIS (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki)

“In This Hour of History: Amidst These Tragic Events”: Polish Shakespeare during the Second World War. KRYSTYNA KUJAWINSKA COURTNEY (University of Lodz)

Pasternak’s Shakespeare in Wartime Russia.  ALEKSEI SEMENENKO (Stockholm University)

Shakespeare as an Icon of the Enemy Culture: Shakespeare in Wartime Japan, 1937-1945. RYUTA MINAMI (Shirayuri College)

“Warlike Noises”:  Jingoistic Hamlet during the Sino-Japanese Wars.  ALEX HUANG (Penn State University)

Shakespeare, Stratford, and the Second World War.  SIMON BARKER (University of Lincoln)

Rosalinds, Violas, and Other Sentimental Friendships: The Osiris Players and Shakespeare, 1939-45.  PETER BILLINGHAM (University of Winchester)

Maurice Evans’s “G.I. Hamlet”: Analogy, Authority and Adaptation.  ANNE RUSSELL (Wilfrid Laurier University)

The War at “Home”: Representations of Canada and of World War II in Star Crossed. MARISSA MCHUGH (University of Ottawa)

Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice in Auschwitz.  TIBOR EGERVARI (University of Ottawa)

Appropriating Shakespeare in Defeat:  Hamlet and the Contemporary Polish Vision of War. KATARZYNA KWAPISZ-WILLIAMS (University of Lodz)