ENGLISH 504 (Studies in Drama)—Winter 2006


Canadian Theatre and American Power


From its beginnings English-Canadian theatre has been implicated in the complex web of historical, geographical, political, economic and cultural relationships joining and dividing Canada and the United States.  Negotiating the porous borderline has been an ongoing Canadian obsession.  So it should be no surprise that the various strategies Canadians have assumed in their vexed relationship with Americans should recur throughout the history of Canadian theatre, along with the postures of defensiveness, assertiveness and ambivalence.

English-Canadian theatre, like Canadian nationhood itself, has developed in response to American power. From around the time of Confederation through the intensely nationalistic 1970s, theatre in English-speaking Canada functioned as a microcosm of Canada’s dynamic geopolitical position between Britain and the United States in what historian John Bartlet Brebner termed the North Atlantic triangle.  Over the past thirty years, with the waning of British influence and a rapidly changing demographic, Canadian playwrights engaging in repositioning and redefining national identity within new notions of border and nationality still do so with an eye to the intersections between Canada and the United States.

This course will examine how selected English-Canadian playwrights have responded to American political and cultural power, real or perceived, in the process of helping to invent Canadian tradition and imagine Canadian community in the shadow of America’s grotesque threats and tantalizing promises. We will look at the ways they have tried to conceive and re-conceive, defend and erase a border that is both geographical and metaphorical, both a barrier and a site of transformational possibility.

Readings will be drawn from history, theatre history, and historiography; border theory, postcolonial theory, theory of the grotesque; and about 20 plays from the 1880s to the present.


Required Texts:

Jerry Wasserman, ed., Modern Canadian Plays, Volume Two, 4th ed. (Talon)

Marie Clements, Burning Vision (Talon)

Daniel David Moses, Almighty Voice and His Wife (Playwrights Canada)

Marcus Youssef, Guillermo Verdecchia, Camyar Chai, Ali & Ali and the Axes of Evil (Talon)

Course Pack: (Contents follow)

            from Carl Berger, The Sense of Power

from J. H. Thompson and S. J. Randall, Canada and the United States: Ambivalent Allies

Alan Filewod, “National Theatre, National Obsession” (1990)

Russell Brown, “The Written Line” (1991)

Bernard K. Sandwell, “The Annexation of Our Stage” (1911)

Merrill Denison, “Nationalism and Drama” (1929)

William Henry Fuller, H.M.S. Parliament (1880)

J.N. McIlwraith, Ptarmigan (1895)

Catharine Nina Merritt, When George the Third Was King (1897)

Merrill Denison, Brothers in Arms (1921)

Robertson Davies, Overlaid (1949)

Reuben Ship, The Investigator (1954)