Spring 2017 – Shakespeare for Our Times

Shakespeare for Our Times

Tuesdays, April 4 to May 23, 2017 – 10:00 am to 12:00 noon

Shakespeare’s stage characters have continued to occupy pre-eminent places in our artistic imagination ever since his death on April 23, 1616 – 400 years ago! This series explores our fascination with his creations, as expressed in different media – stage, screen, opera, musicals. Some are controversial: Kate, the Shrew; Shylock, the Jew; Richard III, the Monster. Some are beloved: Falstaff; Romeo and Juliet. All are firmly rooted in our cultural heritage.

Shakespeare scholars from several Ontario universities look at plays by Shakespeare
and his influence on writers and composers down to the present day

April 4 “Theatre is not a nursing home”
Merchants of Venice of the Stratford Festival                                                          Ted McGee

The mere announcement that The Merchant of Venice would be part of the Stratford Festival’s 1955 season sparked controversy. Critics of that first production condemned its “pure, unadulterated antisemitism” and theatre-goers in 2013 walked out of the show for the same reason. Every production since 1955 has had to manage that controversy, one famously cutting the forced conversion of Shylock, another forcing him to don a crucifix. This talk, drawing primarily on the collections of the Stratford Festival Archives, examines textual revisions and staging decisions of several Stratford shows in order to explore how they attempted to sharpen, exploit, defuse, or comprehend and contain the controversial issues of the play.

April 11 The Taming of the Shrew:                                                                              Alan Somerset
Modern and not-so-modern anxieties and four Stratford productions

When did Shakespeare’s play first begin to arouse anxieties about the “taming,” and how have the last four Stratford productions faced, or failed to face, the issue?

April 18          Two in Tune: Verdi Celebrates the Bard                                   Linda Hutcheon                                                                                                                                          Michael Hutcheon

Calling Shakespeare the “greatest searcher of the human heart,” Giuseppe Verdi set Macbeth early in his career, but then ended it decades later with adaptations of both Othello (Otello) and The Merry Wives of Windsor (Falstaff – his one and only comedy).

April 25     Shakespeare’s “Native English”                                                          Alysia Kolentsis

Shakespeare came of age during a period of rapid transition for the English language. This talk explores the rich and dynamic linguistic climate of Shakespeare’s time, and it considers how we might trace the influence of the changing English language on Shakespeare’s works.

May 2        And what should I do in Illyria?”: the literary setting of Twelfth Night                                                                                                                                                          Elizabeth Pentland

Why did Shakespeare set one of his best-loved comedies in Illyria? What did his contemporaries know about this Adriatic region, and why did the playwright think it would make a good setting for a gender-bending romantic comedy? We will explore how Shakespeare took up Illyria’s ancient history as he adapted a popular Italian tale for the stage during the final years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign.

May 9      Richard III – Monster or Mr. Nice Guy?                                                    Norma Rowen

“Cheated of feature… Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time/ Scarce half made up… I am determined to prove a villain.” With these words Shakespeare introduces his celebrated portrait of Richard III. Hunchbacked, ugly, totally immoral, he carves his way to the throne through seas of blood. Over the years, however, opposition to this view has emerged. Supporters of the historical Richard maintain that he has been seriously maligned. The recent unearthing of Richard’s skeleton in a Leicester parking lot has only intensified the controversy. Norma Rowen reviews the historical evidence and examines anew Shakespeare’s portrayal. Is it itself a grievous distortion, or did Shakespeare get some things right after all?

May 16     Hamlet Goes to the Movies                                                                         Alan Somerset

Since 1900 when Sarah Bernhardt first portrayed Hamlet on silent film, Hamlet has seen the screen in more than 80 films, TV productions and videos. The Danish prince has become a recurrent icon of popular culture, and his most enigmatic soliloquy, “To be, or not to be, that is the question…” is a byword for puzzlement. In film this most inward and mysterious hero meets a popular medium that is determined, in Hamlet’s own words, “to pluck the heart out of my mystery.” This talk discusses four well-known Hamlet films, starring Laurence Olivier (1948), Mel Gibson (1990), Kenneth Branagh (1996) and Ethan Hawke (2002). We will view film clips focusing on Hamlet’s relationship with the women in his life (Ophelia and Gertrude) and looking at himself in the “To be, or not to be” soliloquy.

May 23      Shakespeare on the Broadway Stage                                                             Linda Beck

The Boys of Syracuse, Kiss Me Kate, West Side Story. These are just three of the Broadway musicals that are heavily influenced by Shakespeare. Linda will examine what happens when you put Shakespeare onstage with Rogers and Hart, Cole Porter and Leonard Bernstein.