Fall 2018


Brush Up on Your Shakespeare: Canadian Adaptations of the Bard (55+)

Perhaps the greatest homage paid to William Shakespeare is when other playwrights adapt, rewrite and reposition his work to address the concerns of their times. In that respect, Canadians have a long-standing love affair with the Bard.

Together we will look at three contemporary Canadian plays that rework Julius Caesar, Othello and Romeo and Juliet. Our playwrights’ treatments include feminist rewriting, historical repositioning, and Indigenous, English and African-Canadian perspectives. Brushing up on the Shakespeare plays will help us make the most of the course, so we’ll pair each adaptation with the original: one week we’ll read the Shakespeare play and the following week the adaptation. Prepare to be dazzled, provoked, confused and amused by what Canadian playwrights do with the Bard.

Note: This course involves required readings.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

This course is available at the following time(s) and location(s):

Campus Session(s) Instructor(s) Cost Seats available  
Vancouver 6 Annie Smith $115.00 30 Register

What will I learn?

Week 1: Love Under Siege: Love and Betrayal in a Citadel of War

Othello, in the last century, was understood as a play about inter-racial love and women caught in the cross-fire of male ambition. What new can we discover about this play for our times? What are the different levels of politics in the military installation? What are the perceived threats that impact the choices that Othello makes? Is Iago the only villain? How does grief overwhelm reason?

Week 2: Hidden Pasts and a Lover's Revenge: Othello's Prequel as Imagined by a Black Canadian Woman Writer

Harlem Duet by Djanet Sears challenges the accepted paradigm of Othello's passion for Desdemona by imagining a continuum of inter-racial relationships in the Harlem of 1860, 1928, and 1997, where Othello's first wife, Billie, is betrayed by his desire for a white woman—Desdemona. The play "explores the effects of race and sex on the lives of people of African descent. It is a tale of love” (Sears). It is also a tale of madness caused by grief, a theme that is examined in the original play.

Week 3: Lovers in a Dangerous Time: The Cost of Knowing Who You Are

Romeo and Juliet is one of the great love stories of the western world—adapted many times in many settings. Can we, as people who have seen the many stages of love in our own lives, recapture that magic of first infatuation? What self-knowledge comes from that first innocent sexual upheaval? Shakespeare draws on a rich romantic poetic tradition where the act of love is "the little death"—an irony he examines in this play that could almost be a comedy.

Week 4: A Spoof with Some Bite: Feminist Comedy Turns Shakespeare's Tragedies Inside-Out!

Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet by Anne-Marie MacDonald is a witty, clever and irreverent reworking of Othello and Romeo and Juliet with lots of gender-bending, mistaken identities, academic posturing, and rollicking fun. MacDonald brings her own stage experience as an actor into an often ludicrous yet logical challenge to Shakespeare's tragic worlds. You will never see these plays the same way again.

Week 5: An Honourable Traitor or a Self-deluded Conspirator?  A Question of Motive and Effect

Shakespeare's plays are always set in a political context and Julius Caesar is no exception. The play asks questions that span centuries: how does the popular imagination, fired by portents, influence issues of state? What does it take to bring down a dictator who is perceived to be a hero? Does sharing guilt with others lessen one's personal culpability? Is the vacuum left by a coup an open invitation to new perfidy? 

Week 6: Indigenous Politics and Death of a Chief: A Parallel Reading of Julius Caesar

Yvette Nolan's exploration of Julius Caesar plants Shakespeare's text into an Indigenous context. Her play was built on four workshops with actors at Native Earth Performing Arts in Toronto during the Iraq War. This complex exploration asks many questions about power and the abuse of power as a cycle of colonial oppression. Nolan’s interview with Sorouja Moll, included in the course pack, provides fascinating insights into her process as an Indigenous playwright.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

There is required reading for this course.

Any print version of

·       Djanet Sears, Harlem Duet

·       Ann-Marie MacDonald, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)

These books will be available from the SFU Bookstore or at your local or online bookstore.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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