- Shakespeare in Québec: Nation, Gender, and Adaptation by Jennifer Drouin
Taking up francophone Shakespearean adaptations that are rarely presented outside of Quebec, Jennifer Drouin’s monograph is at once informative and quirky. In connecting francophone Québécois creative material to anglophone critical work, Drouin’s goal is “to bridge Canada’s ‘two solitudes’” (vii), and she is largely successful in this pursuit. Noting that Québécois authors have been busy adapting William Shakespeare’s work since the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, Drouin counts over thirty relevant creative works written in French, not to mention translations. While she points to a Québécois pride in maintaining “‘la langue de Molière,’” the output of francophone Shakespearean material far outstrips any attention paid to the former author (3). Importantly, Drouin suggests that while the Québécois recognize Shakespeare’s cultural cachet they do not venerate his work; this level of appreciation allows authors a great deal of flexibility in reworking the playwright’s material. Weaving through the author’s study of textual hybridity, adaptation, and appropriation is her recognition that Quebec itself is a cultural nexus. Indeed, the region has a long history of colonization and appropriation, changing hands from France to Britain to Canada, simultaneously exerting colonial control over First Nations groups and also witnessing influxes of immigration from specific international sites. The result is a region with “colonial, anti-colonial, neocolonial, or postcolonial situations” developing at various points in its history (13), and “adaptation” as a concept becomes at once textually, politically, and socially inflected.
According to Drouin, Shakespeare’s works are capable of spurring new conversations of specific relevance to modern Quebec. Indeed, since the Quiet Revolution, plays focusing on gender, sexuality, nationalism, the 1970 October Crisis, the referenda of 1980 and 1995, and aids have all been produced. Chapter 1 tracks postcolonial discourses in contemporary Quebec, [End Page 222] comparing Québécois nationalism to iterations found in anglophone Canada and other English Commonwealth countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and Scotland. As she makes a case for differentiating postcolonial culture in Quebec from that in Canada, Drouin notes that Canadian anglophones often treat Shakespeare with what readers and playgoers take to be an appropriate level of gravitas, yet anglophone productions and adaptations have also been more willing to take up questions of culture, gender, and sexuality. At the same time, the author acknowledges that Canada’s “‘well-entrenched cultural institutions’” may allow for more self-reflexive critique: “‘a society that feels threatened by its marginality in a global context,’” on the other hand, could feel pressure to focus on a sense of nationalism before other concerns (15). Drouin’s first chapter is an ambitious study of Quebec’s national identity, and it tracks several relevant influences and concerns. This makes for an informative chapter but, unfortunately, one that also reads as slightly hodgepodge. The nationalist thread (or threads) in the chapter must hold together Shakespeare in Canada, Quebec, Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Catalonia, and India; British colonialism as metaphorical cultural rape; clerical nationalism in the Catholic Church; the Quiet Revolution; and feminist and queer positive political initiatives. The number and scope of concerns is thought-provoking, but the larger nationalist study occasionally gets lost.
Chapter 2 is more focused and takes up the issue of adaptation, analyzing the need to alter what is “alien,” thus fitting older work within a new context and social use, and Drouin crucially connects this understanding of adaptation to larger postcolonial processes (43). The author notes the capaciousness and plasticity in Québécois, adaptation, and Shakespeare, the three terms that establish a foundation for her book. She argues that, in the same way “[a]daptation involves making a Shakespeare that is foreign, alien, and other fit a particular conception of the self,” the Québécois must now alter an older sense of national identity—one based on having been “conquered” by foreigners—to embrace a newer collective identity founded on the progress that followed the Quiet Revolution (43). Drouin distinguishes...