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English 605.02 Not About Heroes: Canada and the Theatre of War

Fall 2010
Wednesday, 12:30-3:00
Dr. Donna Coates

Course Description:

This course will survey the Canadian theatre of war from the Great War, the Second World War, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Iraq, to wars that could have been waged in Lebanon or Bosnia.  Although most of the plays from the Great War present Canadians displaying relatively uncomplicated support for Britain and “the Empire” and depict fighting men and women dedicated to the cause of peace, subsequent plays from the Second World War onwards express disillusionment with those patriotic ideals and challenge the long-treasured national mythology that Canadians are a nation of peacekeepers and quiet diplomats.  Notions of individual heroism, self-sacrifice, and fighting for a good cause are pushed to the background.  Several of the works on contemporary warfare are by indigenous and multicultural writers who have been, until recently, systematically excluded by poverty and discrimination from making public their (losing) side of the war story; their plays uncover secrets or unearth scandals hidden in the past, or reveal the kinds of power relationships that have shaped complex histories of colonization. 

Plays will be selected from:

Volumes One and Two of Canada and the Theatre of War, selected and edited by Donna Coates and Sherrill Grace (Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 2008 and 2010).

Volume One includes the following plays:

World War I:

The Lost Boys: Letters from the Sons in Two Acts 1914-1923, by R. H. Thomson (2001); Soldier’s Heart, by David French (2001); Mary’s Wedding, by Stephen Massicotte (2002); Dancock’s Dance, by Guy Vanderhaeghe (1996; Vimy, by Vern Thiessen (2007).

World War II:

Ever Loving, by Margaret Hollingsworth (1980); None is Too Many, by Jason Sherman (1997); Burning Vision, by Marie Clements (2002). 

Volume Two includes the following plays:

Scorched, by Wajdi Mouawad (2005); Palace of the End, by Judith Thompson (2008); A Line in the Sand, by Guillermo Verdecchia and Marcus Yousef (1997); The Monument, by Colleen Wagner (1993); Game of Patience, by Abla Farhoud (1996); Man Out of Joint, by Sharon Pollock (2010).

Additional plays on the syllabus include:

Billy Bishop Goes to War, by John Gray and Eric Peterson (WWI, 1981); Waiting For the Parade, by John Murrell (WWII, 1980); This Night the Kapo, by Robert Majzels (WWII, 2004), and Sweet Land of Liberty, a radio drama by Sharon Pollock (photocopied by the bookstore).

For additional background, students should also read:

The Fighting Days, by Wendy Lill (WWI, 1985); Quiet in the Land, by Anne Chislett (WWI, 1981); Goodness, by Michael Redhill (WWII, 2005); East of Berlin, by Hana Moscovitch (WWII, 2009); The Stillborn Lover, by Timothy Findley (the Cold War, 1993); Return: the Sarajevo Project, created by Sue Balint, Daryl Cloran, Alena Dzebo, Holly Lewis, Christopher Morris, Tanja Smoje, and Dylan Trowbridge (2006); The Adventures of Ali & Ali and the aXes of Evil, by Marcus Youssef, Guillermo Verdecchia, and Camyar Chai (2005); and Helen’s Necklace, by Carole Frechette (2007).

Students will also be expected to have read historical accounts of the events covered in the plays.

Theoretical and historical texts (few specifically on Canadian war drama) include the following:

Abella, Irving and Harold Troper. None Is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933-1948 (1982).
Berton, Pierre. Vimy (1986).
Buitenhuis, Peter. The Great War of Words: British, American, and Canadian Propaganda and Fiction, 1914-1933 (1987).
Busch, Briton C., ed. Canada and the Great War (2003).
Caruth, Cathy. Trauma: Exploration in Memory (1995).
Cobley, Evelyn. Representing War: Form and Ideology in the First World War (1993).
Eksteins, Modris. Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Nation (1989).
Filewood, Alan. “Performing Canada: The Nation Enacted in the Imagined Theatre.” Canadian Theatre Review 121 (Winter 2005): 9-16.
Forsythe, Louise. “Resistance to Exile by Girls and Women: Two Plays by Abla Farhoud.” Modern Drama 48.4 (Winter 2005): 800-18.
Fussell, Paul. The Great War and Modern Memory (1975).
Grace, Sherrill. Making Theatre: A Life of Sharon Pollock (2008).
Hodkinson, Yvonne. Female Parts: The Art and Politics of Women Playwrights (1991).
Knowles, Ric, ed. The Masks of Judith Thompson (2006).
Keshen, Jeffrey. Saints, Sinners, and Soldiers: Canada’s Second World War (2004).
LaCapra, Dominick. History and Memory after Auschwitz (1998).
Morton, Desmond. Fight of Pay: Soldiers’ Families in the Great War (2004).
---, and J. L. Granastein. Marching to Armageddon: Canadians and the Great War, 1914-1918 (1989).
Novak, Dagmar. Dubious Glory: The Two World Wars and the Canadian Novel (2000).
Rudakoff, Judith and Rita Much. Fair Play: Twelve Women SpeakConversations with Canadian Playwrights (1992).
Shirinian, Lore, ed. Under Fire: The Canadian Imagination and War (2004).
Tal, Kali. Worlds of Hurt: Reading the Literature of Trauma (1996).
Thompson, Jane, Jenny Hughes, and Michael Balfour. Performance in Place of War (2009).
Vance, Jonathan. Death So Noble: Memory, Meaning, and the First World War (1997).
Wallace, Robert, and Cynthia Zimmerman, ed. The Work: Conversations with English-Canadian Playwrights (1994).
---.  Playwrighting Women: Female Voices in English Canada (1996).
Wertheim, Albert. Staging the War: American Drama and World War II.
Zimmerman, Cynthia, ed. Sharon Pollock: Collected Works, Volume Three (2008).