Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project
Learn more about Voltaire!The Sanders Portrait

Welcome to the Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project

CASP Founder and Director, Daniel Fischlin

CASP Founder and Director, Daniel Fischlin;

photo courtesy of Dean Palmer

Welcome to the Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project, Version 2 (August 2007). Canadianshakespeares.ca is the online resource for anyone interested in how Shakespeare's plays have been transformed and adapted in Canada. But it also contains a wealth of material that relates to all things Shakespearean. With the launch of CASP Version 2, we are pleased to expand the already ample offerings on the site. These include a significant increase in multimedia files; multiple new pages on new areas of research with an emerging focus on French Canada; a huge amount of special resources, including documents, books, scholarly articles, reviews, images, and the like; a literacy video game and perhaps the most comprehensive and intensely multi-mediated study guide of Romeo and Juliet ever created.

Of especial interest as a major addition to the site is the Virtual Shakespeare Made in Canada Exhibit (VSMIC). The result of several years of research and development, the VSMIC image and video galleries contain hundreds of unique artefacts on all things Canadian and Shakespearean. They include multiple video interviews with the curators, experts, and academics who contributed their expertise to the project; hundreds of unique images, presented in easily accessible galleries; related documentation and scholarship––and they represent a first in terms of transferring a full scale museum exhibit, in this case the Shakespeare Made in Canada exhibit (January-June 2007) that saw thousands of visitors through its doors to a virtual teaching and learning space like CASP. We invite visitors to the site to explore the wealth of resources newly made available on the VSMIC pages.

Developed by the University of Guelph's Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project (CASP), founded and directed by Dr. Daniel Fischlin (School of English and Theatre Studies, University Research Chair), www.canadianshakespeares.ca houses an as-close-to comprehensive (and ever-growing), digital archive of performances, productions, playwrights, and other materials that date from pre-Confederation times to the present day. Included in our list of playwrights are such names as Timothy Findley, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Djanet Sears, Daniel David Moses, Rick Miller, and Robert Lepage. All told, at launch time (April 2004), this website contained well over six thousand pages of information on over 450 plays, which will be added to as the project continues. Since launching the site has continued to grow with the addition of major new Spotlight resources, a Shakespeare Learning Commons, the Interactive Folio: Romeo and Juliet, and multiple new pages on a significant range of materials. Additionally, the research for CASP has led to a six-month exhibit (January-June 2007)––Shakespeare: Made in Canada––held at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre at the University of Guelph featuring the Sanders Portrait and galleries devoted to Canadian theatre design, French Canada, the Stratford Festival, a Learning Commons for children and youth, and a host of ongoing activites that have mobilized knowledge about Shakespeare and Canada in novel ways.

CASP is an integrated virtual learning, teaching, and research commons devoted to the study of Shakespeare in Canada. The launch of this website marks the first stage of an intensive collaborative research effort whose next phase will involve the establishment of the Centre for Canadian Shakespeare Studies Online at the University of Guelph. Plans include further digitization of CASP's extensive archival holdings, the full bilingualization of the site (French/English), and the creation of learning modules for all educational levels based on the materials archived to the site.

The CASP project, which includes both this web site and hard copy archives of all the plays and play materials it catalogues, has been funded by a Premier’s Research Excellence Award (PREA) provided by the Province of Ontario and by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Standard Research Grant.

CASP is the first research project of its kind anywhere in the world devoted to the systematic exploration and documentation of the ways in which Shakespeare has been adapted into (and out of) a national, multicultural theatrical practice. One of the defining features of Canada's cultural (theatrical) heritage is the extent to which it relies on a dialogue with traditional Shakespearean theatre.

For better or worse, Canada's theatrical past is profoundly connected to Shakespeare, with productions, revisions, adaptations, and any number of spin-off representations a key feature of the Canadian cultural landscape. As stated in the Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia entry on Shakespeare:

The most produced non-Canadian playwright, his works are at the foundation of theatre in this country [Canada] and are performed in all styles at virtually all the major theatres, in French and in English, across the nation. Like Molière , the works of Shakespeare appear as keystones throughout the history of theatre here [in Canada]. His were among the first works performed in the New World, they were the raison d'être of the foundation of the nation's largest theatre (Stratford Festival), and they are still being taught in schools, with interpretations which change from era to era. ("Shakespeare," Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia)

As much as this Shakespearean presence is a function of Canada's colonial heritage with its dependency on immigrant cultures, it is also a function of how a new and emergent culture has sought to define itself in dialogue (and frequently against) the Shakespearean tradition. CASP is an attempt to document the fascinating permutations this dialogue has taken with the understanding that Shakespeare (or the Shakespeare effect) is situated at a key nexus in a wide array of cultural activities and referents.

Djanet Sears
Djanet Sears's Harlem Duet

Adaptation is also quickly becoming an especially Canadian approach to theatrical production.  In an article discussing adaptation in Canadian theatre, playwright Michael Healey says that “as the third wave of Canadian playwrights emerges, the desire to tell our own stories continues, but alongside that is the recognition that we can successfully bring our own sensibilities to texts that already exist” (Nestruck, J. Kelly.  “The motto of Canada’s dramatists: adapt or die.” The Gazette (Montreal) 23 July 2005: W2).  This same article observes that while translation and adaptation in French Canadian theatre have been standard for years as a means of bringing international works to francophone audiences, English Canadian adaptations and translations are relatively new.  In each case, however, these adaptive moves work to refigure both the ‘original’ work and its adaptation.

Moreover, Canadian scholarship has played a crucial role in providing the necessary social, historical, economic, religious and archival contexts for understanding the theatrical work Shakespeare produced. The Records of Early English Drama project housed at the University of Toronto, for instance, "provide proof that a man like Shakespeare––without a university education, untrained in the classical theatre tradition of the time, unacquainted with the manners of aristocracy––actually could have written the plays that are now universally regarded as the greatest in drama and literature" (Monika Stephenson. "Canadian scholarship gives the Bard a boost." The Globe and Mail. May 1, 2004. F9).

CASP, then, was conceived as an attempt to produce an archive of lost or forgotten theatrical materials and practices important both to Canada’s theatrical and literary histories, but also to Canada’s emergent sense of itself as a nation as mediated by these same materials and practices. To that end, we have collected information on over 450 plays in which some form of Shakespearean adaptation is at work. These plays span hundreds of years (over three centuries) in chronology and document a vast range of local, regional, national, transnational and multicultural theatrical realities that form a significant part of Canada's cultural heritage.

The sheer quantity of theatrical activity occurring in the genre of Shakespearean adaptation over an extended historical period marks a significant economic, artistic, cultural, and social investment in doing "something" to/with Shakespeare. CASP notes that this activity is over and above the theatrical work in which more conventional stagings and productions of Shakespeare occur (themselves always potentially adaptations).

Moreover, these adaptations, if anything, reinforce the crucial linkage between works of the imagination and the political and social contexts out of which they emerge. As Jane Henderson suggests in a recent online article linking Shakespeare to Canadian politics, especially in relation to issues of marriage and domesticity, "both art and politics are putting out ideas about the same thing; namely, they are imagining how people could identify and organize their experiences of attraction and devotion. Shakespeare's text is an inherited institution, as is the Canadian federal definition of terms of marriage" (Paul Martin, Meet Shakespeare). Such an association is but one of a multiple set of intersections between theatrical activity that uses Shakespeare as a key framing device and the wider cultural patternings and activities to which Shakespearean adaptation is pertinent.

Shakespeare's use of a wide variety of adaptive techniques and source texts in his theatrical writing and the recent explosion of Shakespearean adaptation studies also provide an important context for understanding the impetus behind CASP.

Willy shax
Shakespeare Graffiti: from the hip-hopera It Was All A Dream

The diversity of Shakespearean adaptation in Canada is staggering: from aboriginal and African-Canadian theatre through to colonial, postcolonial, fringe, multicultural, minority, popular culture, gay, lesbian, queer, and youth theatre. The CASP digital archive includes adaptations with a range of thematic predilections: from cowboy Shakespeare to vampire Shakespeare to club (rave and DJ) Shakespeare to hockey Shakespeare to TheatreSports Shakespeare to Shakespeare and the October Crisis of 1970.

In response to this diversity, we have designed this website to have multiple uses for a range of audiences––from students and teachers looking for access to classroom materials through to playgoers and theatre practitioners looking for production details and other sorts of information.

We have collected materials with inclusiveness as a key operating principle. Thus, no rigid definitions have been deployed in relation to key concepts like adaptation, Canadian, and Shakespearean. Indeed, many of our archival findings challenge such rigid definitions and open the door to productive interpretive debates in relation to how these three key terms intersect.

Finally, materials made available on the website represent only a small portion of the materials collected in a hard copy archive housed in the CASP offices at the University of Guelph. It is CASP's intention to digitize as many of these materials as possible in the future.

A number of features make this site unique:

1. The CASP Online Anthology, consisting of over 35 texts (most of them playscripts), is the first of its kind, and completely free to anyone with access to a web browser, making accessible a variety of Canadian playscripts and historical texts that have been either lost or unavailable until now. We are delighted, for instance, to publish for the first time John Wilson Bengough’s Puffe and Co., or Hamlet, Prince of Dry Goods, a comic play by Canada’s internationally famous cartoonist that had been lost for over a century. And we note that a substantial portion of the materials gathered in our archive are distinctive, critically unrecognized, virtually unknown, or unpublished save for here.

2. Using the technical expertise of programmers working for the University of Guelph, we have built an online database designed specifically for recording literary and theatrical information. It is fully searchable and contains significant amounts of data (on playwrights, productions of plays, awards, historical context, digital links and information, and so forth) that is constantly being updated. The content of this database is unique––no other database of its sort exists anywhere.

3. We have also developed a Spotlight page that allows us to digitize and organize materials from within our archives as a special focus section. Our intent in doing so is to provide access to a focussed grouping of materials that will be useful in a range of pedagogical contexts. We are pleased to have presented Aboriginal Adaptations of Shakespeare as our first Spotlight and to have since added to that a Spotlight on Slings and Arrows, the hit Canadian-made television series that riffs on adaptation, Canada, and Shakespeare in all sorts of fascinating ways. In the summer of 2007 we will be launching a third Spotlight on French Canada, the result of several years of research into the significant presence of Shakespeare in French Canadian and Québécois theatre.

4. The information in the Online Anthology and database is complemented by links to a range of secondary sources and multimedia materials. We have digitally recorded and transcribed exclusive interviews done with a variety of playwrights and have made them available online. We have also included clips from movies, photos, political cartoons in which Shakespearean referents figure, rare historical documents (like the first program for the Stratford Shakespearean Festival in Stratford, Ontario), and, where possible, other relevant audiovisual materials.

5. In April 2007, CASP launched a three-part literacy system that engages youth in language and media literacy learning while making a positive intervention in online game spaces.  This Online Integrated Learning System (OILS) is a hybrid online/in- or out-of-class system that fuses an interactive game play environment that is rich with language and media literacy content with in-class learning modules. 

The system allows teachers to use the huge volume of research and pedagogical material created by CASP to reinforce the online experience. 

The three main OILS components include ‘Speare: The Literacy Arcade Game (designed to teach literacy skills to youth in a familar game environment) and Chronos, a spelling game derived from similar design principles as 'Speare; the Interactive Folio: Romeo and Juliet, a virtual book that is quite simply the most multimedia rich version of the play ever created; and the Shakespeare Learning Commons, a place where students and teachers can access pedagogical modules designed by CASP.

The release of this system culminates several years of research activities aimed at mobilizing CASP's expertise in the representation of online information for a broader audience.

Please feel free to email us for more information. We encourage visitors to the site who have specialized knowledge (of a play, playwright, production, historical period, and so forth) to correct, supplement, or revise its materials.


Disclaimer: This site has been designed with only non-commercial, academic uses in mind. Although every effort has been made to secure permission for materials uploaded on the CASP site, in some circumstances we have been unable to locate copyright holders. Researchers using the site should accredit it following standard MLA guidelines on how to do so. Correct citation of information from the site is as follows:

Fischlin, Daniel. Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project. University of Guelph. 2004. <http://www.canadianshakespeares.ca>.

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