Tales of the Emperor is based on the life of Qin Shi Huang (circa 260–210 BCE), the “First Emperor” – he who unified China, gave it his name, built the Great Wall, entombed an army of terra cotta soldiers, authored legalism, erased history, insinuated governance, and established paranoia as a national characteristic. His dynasty did not outlive him but his influence permeates the present and, there is ample indication, will dominate the future.
The literary method of Tales of the Emperor is derived from the first Chinese attempt at “writing history” – the famous Historical Records of Ssu-Ma Ch’ien. Like that Chinese classic, Tales of the Emperor is motivated by the desire to understand the past by entering it, mixing testimony with anecdote, interpretation with invention, biography with characterization, objective analysis with passionate self-interest.
Birth to death, Tales of the Emperor tells the story of its central figure in a thematic rather than a chronologic narrative. In a mosaic of separate tales – some no more than fragments, others chapter-length – intersecting characters are presented, entwined, relinquished, among them a failed assassin, a wily adviser, an ironic architect, a castrated historian, an entire tribe of grave builders, and, of course, the wry, conflicted, everyday tyrant himself. The Emperor’s accomplishments are documented, his strivings are examined, and intimate tittle-tattle about him is indulged.
There’s only one principal theme: you find the antiquity you look for, or, in the language of the book: “history is the study of the paintings of great events.”
“Histories are written using histories, and canons are created, just as surely in the lives and works of performers and companies as in playwriting. Jack Winter’s own story fulfils all the requirements for canonization, and quite rightly. [His work] reminds us of the complexities of the artistic life … in particular, the powerful relationship between international, national, and local politics. But it also reminds us that all histories, any histories, are first of all personal.”
– Stephen Johnson, Theatre Research in Canada
About the author
Born in Canada, Jack Winter attended McGill University followed by the University of Toronto for a PhD in English literature. He has since held many university teaching positions across Canada in English literature, modern theatre, and creative writing.
From 1961 to 1967 Winter was resident playwright at Toronto Workshop Productions (Toronto, Ontario), where he wrote five stage plays: Before Compiègne, The Mechanic, The Death of Woyzeck, Hey Rube! and The Golem of Venice.
During his second tenure (1974–76) as resident playwright at Toronto Workshop Productions, he wrote four more stage plays: Letters from the Earth, Ten Lost Years, You Can’t Get Here from There, and Summer Seventy-Six (or Olympics ‘76).
His many awards and recognition for his work include the Toronto Telegram Theatre Award for the Best New Canadian Play, Canadian Film Award (Genie) for Best Documentary Film, Academy Award nomination for Best Short Subject, Visiting Writer’s Fellowship of the Eastern Arts Association, and Arts Council of Great Britain Creative Writing Fellowship.
"To a remarkable degree, [Jack Winter] seems to resolve the 'conundrum of the now.' While providing lucid windows into distant personalities and dynamics, [his work is] also thoroughly contextualized and firmly grounded in Jack’s wry and utterly contemporary sensibility [, comprising] both a priceless historical artifact and something far more insistent and current: the work of a true original.”
– Bruce Barton, My TWP Plays