ENGL 4341: Modern Canadian Theatre

This is a survey course in Canadian drama from 1967 to 1992, a very rich twenty-five-year period that saw Canadian playwriting, performance, and production grow from obscurity to a lively, thriving component of Canadian literature and culture, as well as an international export. This course is designed to introduce students to contemporary drama and theatre in Canada through the study of twelve plays.


This course is designed to acquaint you with the dramatic literature and theatrical practices of a cross section of the best playwrights at work in Canada from 1967 to 1992. The first function of the course is to guide you through whatever obstacles may lie in the way of your understanding so that you can read and re-readand "stage" in your own imaginationthe 12 selected plays (and others of their time and place) with ease and pleasure. The course should also deepen and enrich your appreciation of live theatrical performance, and indeed film or television drama. The second function of the course is to cultivate your skills of observation and criticism through writing about what you see and think. When you successfully complete the course, you may have achieved more than the following aims, but you should at least be able to:

  • Analyze the experience of characters in some representativeCanadian plays dating from 1967 to the 1990s.
  • Describe the nature, range, and variety of the social and political criticism inherent in Canadian drama from the 1960s to the 1990s.
  • Describe the stylistic strategies utilized by modern Canadian dramatists, particularly the variations and combinations of realist, expressionist, and other theatrical techniques.
  • Analyze some of the central thematic concerns of these plays, including those that appear in some way to be distinctively Canadian (e.g., the role of Native people in Canadian history and the theatrical imagination).
  • Identify the styles and themes unique to individual playwrights, and compare and contrast them with those of others.
  • Describe the multiplicity of perspectives, including feminist, Native, and Quebecois that are operative in the modern Canadian theatre.
  • Utilize (although not necessarily agree with) published reviews and other literary and dramatic criticism in arriving at your own assessment of the preceding issues.
  • Demonstrate your familiarity with particular modern Canadian plays and your ability to read dramatic texts with critical intelligence by identifying (in the exam) selected excerpts from the plays, and commenting on their significance.

Course outline

ENGL 4341 is comprised of the following 12 units, each dealing with one play and its playwright:

  • Unit 1: Background to Modern Canadian Theatre and The Ecstasy of Rita Joe by George Ryga
  • Unit 2: Les Belles-Soeurs by Michel Tremblay
  • Unit 3: Walsh by Sharon Pollock
  • Unit 4: Jacob's Wake by Michael Cook
  • Unit 5: Zastrozzi: The Master of Discipline by George F. Walker
  • Unit 6: Billy Bishop Goes to War by John Gray with Eric Peterson
  • Unit 7: Toronto, Mississippi by Joan MacLeod
  • Unit 8: Polygraph by Robert Lepage and Marie Brassard
  • Unit 9: Moo by Sally Clark
  • Unit 10: Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) by Ann-Marie MacDonald
  • Unit 11: Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing by Tomson Highway
  • Unit 12: Lion in the Streets by Judith Thompson

Required text and materials

Students will receive the following:

  1. Wasserman, Jerry, ed. (2012). Modern Canadian Plays, Volume I. (5th ed.). Vancouver: Talonbooks.
    Type: Textbook. ISBN: 978-0-88922-678-4
  1. Wasserman, Jerry, ed. (2013). Modern Canadian Plays, Volume II. (5th ed.). Vancouver: Talonbooks.
    Type: Textbook. ISBN: 978-0-88922-679-1
  1. Conolly, L. W., ed. (1995). Canadian Drama and the Critics. (Revised edition). Vancouver: Talonbooks.
    Type: Textbook. ISBN: 978-0-88922-359-2

Audiovisual Materials:

Thompson Rivers University, Open Learning. ENGL 4341 USB. Note: the USB is included only in the print version of the course; in the web version, the clips of the audio and video materials are provided online.
Type: USB

Additional requirements

Print, self-paced students will need access to a computer to view a USB included in the course materials.


Please be aware that due to COVID-19 safety guidelines all in-person exams have been suspended. As such, all final exams are currently being delivered through ProctorU, which has an approximate fee of $35 involved. There will be more information in your course shell, on how to apply, if your course has a final exam.

In order to successfully complete this course, you must obtain at least 50 % on the final mandatory examination and 50 % overall. It is strongly recommended that students complete all assignments in order to achieve the learning objectives of the course. The total mark will be determined on the following basis:

Assignment 1 10%
Assignment 2 10%
Assignment 3 10%
Assignment 4 10%
Assignment 5-Term Paper 20%
Final Exam (mandatory) 40%
Total 100%

Open Learning Faculty Member

An Open Learning Faculty Member is available to assist students. Primary communication is by phone if you are taking the print version of the course and through the “Mail” tool in the Learning Environment if you are taking the web version. You will receive the necessary contact information when you start your course.

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