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Volume 39, Number 2 (2018)

“Pedant Needs More Paunch”: Reviving Robertson Davies’s Annotations from his Performance Copy of The Taming of the Shrew

January 23, 2019


Director Robertson Davies’s 1949 production of The Taming of the Shrew with the Peterborough Little Theatre won the Louis Jouvet Trophy for best direction at the Dominion Drama Festival in Toronto, garnering critical praise as the DDF’s first full-length Shakespearean play. Davies’s performance copy for this production has recently been discovered in his personal book collection, donated to Queen’s University’s W. D. Jordan Special Collections and Music Library. Never previously examined or transcribed, this text incorporates director’s notes and critiques, music cues, blocking, omissions, and alterations, offering invaluable insights into Davies’s 1949 Elizabethan interpretation of this play. Reviving Davies’s annotations reveals new information about this specific production, one that challenged mid-twentieth century Canadian staging conventions. PLT’s Shrew emerges as a lighthearted and detail-oriented comic romp invested in historicity, its Commedia dell’Arte flavour likely imported from Tyrone Guthrie’s 1939 Old Vic production in which Davies acted. The mentorship model that Davies implemented with PLT he replicates in his first novel, Tempest-Tost (1951), where he draws directly upon his Shrew notes and directorial experience as well. Revising the “maturation myth” narrative of Canadian theatre, McKague’s study of Davies’s play situates nonprofessional theatre as intrinsic to the fabric and history of Canadian culture.