Ursa Major


92 pages
ISBN 1-894031-66-0
DDC C812'.54





Reviewed by David E. Kemp

David E. Kemp, a former professor of drama at Queen’s University, is
the author of The Pleasures and Treasures of the United Kingdom.


Robert Bringhurst is an internationally renowned poet, linguist, and
typographer who lives on Vancouver Island. He is the author of The
Elements of Typographic Style (a seminal text in its field) and over a
dozen books of poetry. He is also known for his translations of the
works of the great Haida myth tellers, notably Ghandl’s Nine Visits to
the Mythworld.

The thing that strikes the reader first about Ursa Major is the quality
of its production: a softcover book in French wraps and dark blue cloth,
it positively exudes quality. Ursa Major is, of course, the
constellation known as “The Great Bear,” and the story of its
formation is one of the universal tales of world mythology.
Bringhurst’s play—more masque than play, in fact—uses a polyphone
technique that allows multiple speakers and multiple languages and
traditions to collaborate to tell the story.

As in French traditional masques such as Milton’s Comus, speech,
song, music, and movement all combine in an interdisciplinary way.
Aspects of the Cree tradition are juxtaposed with elements of the
mythologies of classical Greece and Rome. The effect is to illuminate
the richness of metaphor that we have inherited from all three

Bringhurst’s play is a brave experiment with the speaking voice and
with the spoken word, a work that explores how speech can be musical and
how music can speak. Difficult to produce and even more difficult to
cast, Ursa Major must offer the ultimate in artistic satisfaction for
anyone involved in its staging.


Bringhurst, Robert., “Ursa Major,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/17843.