Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project
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Shakespeare's Rugby Wars (2001)

Chris Coculuzzi and Matt Toner

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Download Daniel Fischlin's Foreword to Shakespeare's Sports Canon by Chris Coluluzzi and Matt Toner

According to rugby mythology, the sport began in 1823 when a student of Rugby School, William Webb Ellis, "with fine disregard for the rules of football (soccer) as played in his time, first took the ball in his arms and ran with it, thus originating the distinctive feature of the Rugby game" (http://www.rugbyfootballhistory.com/originsofrugby.htm). The history of ball-in-hand games, however, can be traced to many locations in Europe and around the world, back as far as the bronze age. In medieval England games of football were considered dangerous enough to warrant laws forbidding them: "Edward II passed a statute forbidding Londoners to 'hustle over large balls' and Edward III order[ed] his sheriffs to suppress the game" (http://www.rugbyfootballhistory.com/originsofrugby.htm).

Shakespeare's Rugby Wars
 

The actual invention of rugby occurred when the rules of the game were standardized and codified, when rugby football was distinguished from association football (soccer). In the 1860s, English schools and universities adopted and adapted a standard set of rules for rugby, and then exported it to the colonies. Rugby appeared in Canada in the 1860s, brought here by immigrants, regimental armies, and the Royal Navy (http://rugbycanada.ca/index.php?lang=en&page_id=4). The first recorded game in Canada took place in Montreal in 1864.The Grey Cup, now the championship trophy of the Canadian Football League, was originally donated in 1909 by the popular Governor General Earl Grey to be awarded to the national rugby football champions. There is something appropriate, then, about using a sport invented as a rebellion against the rules of football by the sons of the rulers of the British Empire, and popularized around the world by British soldiers, to adapt Shakespeare's Wars of the Roses history plays in Canada.

Chris Coculuzzi
Chris Coculuzzi
Matt Toner
Matt Toner

With Shakespeare's Rugby Wars, Chris Coculuzzi and Matt Toner faced the challenge of condensing the tetralogy (1 Henry VI, 2 Henry VI, 3 Henry VI, and Richard III) into an eighty-minute play. In the first scene the Earls of Somerset, Suffolk, Exeter, Salisbury and Warwick, and the Duke of York pick red or white jerseys instead of roses in imitation of 1 Henry VI 2.4. From then on the action takes place in the form of a rugby match, with tries representing battle victories, short speeches lifted from the plays given in interviews from the sidelines, the occasional bloody murder, and a streaking by Jack Cade. John Falstaff and Christopher Marlowe provide live commentary for the match (until Marlowe is killed and replaced by Robert Greene) in the style of contemporary sports analysts. Marlowe explains the historical context for the 'match' in the pre-game coverage:  

It's a bit of a departure from our regular fare at Robert St. playing field as we have the House of Lancaster vying with the House of York. At stake, the English championship and a chance to take on the French side in the upcoming Five Nations Cup. And that's no easy task, with France on the warpath and the loss of her best player--Henry V--England's not doing too well on away games. (4)

The player interviews are conducted by Raphael Holinshed, whose Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland was Shakespeare's main source for the history plays. After the deaths of York and Rutland, Holinshed catches up with Richard:

Holinshed:
Richard, losing both your father and your youngest brother Rutland must be a very tough thing. How do you think it will affect your chances in the second half?
Richard:
Well, clearly we're going to have to rethink our middle game. Warwick and George will both have to step up a bit to make up for it. But I reckon we're in pretty good shape. (25-26)

This sort of sports jargon is intermixed with quotations from Shakespeare, similar to Wayne and Shuster's "The Shakespearean Baseball Game." But while the genius of Wayne and Shuster's sketch is that Shakespeare quotations are interwoven into the dialogue, part of the comedy in Shakespeare's Rugby Wars is in the theatrical patchwork.

Holinshed:
With your father out of the picture, someone's got to step up for leadership of the York side. It looks like that someone is Edward. Should we look for you to step up your play as well?
Richard:
Raphael, Raphael, I do but dream on sovereignty;
And so I chide the means that keeps me from it;
And so I say, I'll cut the causes off:
I'll drown more sailors than the mermaid shall;
I'll slay more gazers than the basilisk;
I'll play the orator as well as Nestor,
Deceive more slily than Ulysses could,
And, like a Sinon, take another Troy!
Holinshed:
So, does this mean you'll be looking for a trade in the off-season....?
Richard:
Something like that. (26)

Coculuzzi and Toner may be "offside," however, when they have the Yorkists perform the Haka. The Haka, also called "Ka mate, Ka mate" (haka is the generic name of Maori dance), is the Maori dance performed by the All Blacks (New Zealand's national team, named after the colour of their shirts) as a challenge to their opponents before each match. The first time the Yorksts perform the Haka it turns into the Tetley Tea dance (15). The second time, the Haka is performed "lovingly and softly" to lure Clarence back to the York side (28). This seems to me to be a misappropriation of the Maori dance, performed out of context by Canadian actors representing historical figures from the nation that annexed New Zealand in 1840.      

Gordon Lester

Download Script
Link to Database
Link to Interview with Chris Coculuzzi
Link to Shakespeare in Sports

Download Daniel Fischlin's Foreword to Shakespeare's Sports Canon by Chris Coluluzzi and Matt Toner


http://rugbycanada.ca/index.php?lang=en&page_id=4

http://www.rugbyfootballhistory.com/originsofrugby.htm

 

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