Canadian Shakespeare News

The Davin Report: Shakespeare and Canada’s Manifest Destiny

The Davin Report:  Shakespeare and Canada’s Manifest Destiny sets out to overturn the settled and pristine landscapes managed and organized around Canadian nationalism by revisiting the history of Nicholas Flood Davin (1843-1901) and his literary, social, and political life that used “noble inspirations,” such as Shakespeare, to settle territories.

Sorouja Moll’s research investigates Davin’s theatrical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet called The Fair Grit along with his other poetic, journalistic, and political writing and questions the interconnectedness of literature and politics and its cultural, social, and gendered manifestations in Canada.  Davin, who is named the architect of the residential school system by Amnesty International, was commissioned by the John A. Macdonald’s government to study the industrial school system in the United States; subsequently, on March 14, 1879, Davin submitted The Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-Breeds(also known as The Davin Report), which recommended the establishment of the residential school system in Canada.

Davin, in his writings comprising Eos – A Prairie Dream, The Fair Grit, The Davin Report, and his work as The Regina Leader editor and writer, fortified and drew upon Shakespeare and its associative nostalgic, elitist, and empire-building ideologies, like Manifest Destiny, in the name of progress, civilization, and capitalism.  Davin’s role in the violence of nineteenth-century territorial expansionism influenced, and continues to inform, governmental policies and social constructions that contribute to the present day complexities for Native communities in Canada.

Moll’s paper examines how Shakespeare is used as a tool to see the world, a literary device that has the potential to destroy and also heal. Playwrightdirector Yvette Nolan, artistic director of the theatre company Native Earth Performing Arts Inc. (NEPA) in Toronto, Canada, questions, as one method of healing, the complexities of leadership and community.  Nolan adapts Shakespeare to scrutinize stories and to address histories that resides below the surface, and while fiercely political, Nolan strives to (re)empower the lives and voices of Canada’s indigenous peoples.

The Canadian Adaptation of Shakespeare Project (CASP) continues to present the ways that Shakespeare has been used, interpreted, and redeveloped as part of a vast array of theatrical activities associated with Aboriginal communities across the country. For further reading and resources on similar issues, please visit the CASP Spotlight on Canadian Aboriginal Adaptations of Shakespeare.

The Death of a Chief Featured by CASP

Author: Sorouja Moll
Date: Mon, 31 Jul 2006 13:33:41 EST

Yvette Nolan and co-adapter/co-director Kennedy Cathy MacKinnon’s Shakespearean adaptation The Death of a Chief rebuilds and restructures the historic tragedy of Julius Caesar to address Aboriginal issues concerning politics, gender, class, race, and nation. On Saturday, February 18, 2006, the adaptation’s fourth workshop was performed by Native Earth Performing Arts at FOOT 2006 – The Festival of Original Theatre “Performing Adaptations” at the Robert Gill Theatre (University of Toronto). For Nolan, it’s all about the process, a process in understanding the complexities of community, ambition, power, betrayal and the lives of Native people in Canada today ; a process of theatre reworking historic and present day political systems to make leaders more accountable to the people.The Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project’s (CASP) webpage for The Death of a Chief offers links to additional resources and information. For the essay concerning The Death of Chief, as well as access to two versions of the workshops’ scripts and a comparative study to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, please visit the CASP Online Anthology.  For an interview with director/playwright Yvette Nolan, where Nolan discusses her work on The Death of a Chief, political structures, and the process of adaptation, please visit
CASP’s Interview.

The CASP Multimedia page about The Death of a Chief includes a 17-image slide show, as well as the conference program from the 2006 workshop.  The CASP Spotlight page features a spotlight on Canadian Aboriginal Adaptations of Shakespeare where information concerning aboriginal adaptations of Shakespeare and aboriginal-themed adaptations are featured, as well as several additional links to important centres devoted to developing aboriginal theatre, like Native Earth Performing Arts.  The Death of a Chief is scheduled for full production in 2007.

“Native Earth Performing Arts is Canada’s oldest professional Native theatre company. Dedicated to creating and producing Native theatre and dance” (qtd. from Native Earth Performing Arts website). The Canadian Adaptation of Shakespeare Project is grateful to Nina Lee Aquino, Marketing and Development Coordinator, at Native Earth Performing Arts (NEPA) for her assistance in producing the web page for The Death of a Chief.

To be or not to be, eh? Canada loves to rewrite Shakespeare

It began with the typical English teacher’s dilemma: students love Shakespeare’s stories, but stumble over the writer’s 500-year-old language.

So University of Guelph professor Daniel Fischlin went looking for adaptations—plays that take classic plays and characters as starting points, but make major changes to update the language and give them new relevance.

He was bowled over by what he found.

“I expected to turn up maybe 50 Canadian adaptations,” he says. “But, there turned out to be more like 500.”

From the 1871 political satire Measure by Measure, or, The Coalition in Secret Session! to 2000’s The King #5 Henry—a hockey version of Henry V performed in a rink—Canada has been adapting Shakespeare’s classic plays for more than 100 years.

And this passion for Shakespeare doesn’t stop in English Canada. Surprisingly, a quarter of all the adaptations he’s found so far are in French.

So just why is Canada mad for adaptations? Partly, Fischlin speculates, it’s the peculiarly Canadian tendancy to “take the mickey out of high culture.”

But whether it’s to poke fun or to celebrate, the number of adaptations Fischlin found was too much material for a book or even a CD-ROM.

With help of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada he has given these adaptations a home on the web: —a place students and teachers alike can go to seek out everything from Normand Chaurette’s Les reines to a rap version of a Midsummer Night’s Dream

And there’s a touch of irony to all this. When he started his academic career, Fischlin swore he’d avoid doing Shakespeare research. “There’s just so much out there,” he says. “I didn’t think there was a need for any more.”

Now, with the site expanded to include essays, multimedia, and even online educational games, he’s sitting at the centre of the largest Shakespeare website in the world.

To learn more about SSHRC-supported research, visit

Words / Nombres de mots : 320 

Deadline / Date limite : June 7

Destination : SSHRC News Canada 

Managing Editor / Réviseur responsable : Jennifer McCarthy 

Author / Auteur : Michael MacLean

Photo caption / Légende photo :

Researcher name / Nom du chercheur : Daniel Fischlin

University / Université : Guelph

Program / Programme : SRG

Year Funded / Année financée : 2002, 2005