- Shakespeare in Quebec: Nation, Gender, and Adaptation by Jennifer Drouin
This is an important study in English of the presence of Shakespeare, the canonical author of the anglophone literary tradition, in the challenging environment of Quebec’s aspirations as a distinct and distinctive francophone society. Jennifer Drouin’s stance, evident in the introduction and conclusion to each chapter, and in the female pronouns used for the general categories of reader and author, is feminist and gender-orientated. She is nevertheless clear that, notwithstanding the strong feminist credentials of Quebec, the ever-present national issue almost always comes first. For her anglophone readers, she therefore includes, alongside a survey of post-colonial Shakespearian adaptations worldwide and a methodological reflection on the differing aims of translation, adaptation, and appropriation, a succinct yet thorough account of the sociocultural and political history of Quebec since the British conquest of 1759–63. This provides an essential context and constant reference for her subsequent discussion, organised chronologically by decade (Chapters 3–6) according to the well-established sociopolitical periodisation of modern Quebec. Robert Gurik’s Hamlet, prince du Québec (1968) offers political allegory (‘être ou ne pas être libre’ – ‘to be or not to be free’) with satirical portraits of contemporary politicians for the nationalist surge of the 1960s. Michel Garneau’s ‘tradaptations’, Macbeth (1978) and La Tempête (1973/1989), mirroring the 1970s sovereignty debate, foreground issues of tyranny, usurpation, and language. Feminist and gender issues, previously swamped by nationalist preoccupations, gain prominence in the 1980 referendum run-up and defeat, in Jean-Pierre Ronfard’s carnivalesque treatments of Lear (1977) and Vie et mort du Roi Boiteux (1981), adapted from Richard III. Ronfard, not uncoincidentally, was the husband of feminist author Marie Cardinal and Drouin’s analysis of these two plays has particular verve and bite. Gaining focus from the second referendum defeat (1995) and Quebec’s subsequent emphasis on francophone interculturalism, Shakespeare adaptations post-1990 draw on a plurality of voices. But the national issue dominates still in Normand Chaurette’s Les Reines (1991), Madd Harold and Anthony Kokx’s Henry, Octobre 1970 (2002), and Yves-Siou Durand and Jean-Frédéric Messier’s First Nations’ reworking Hamlet le Malécite (2004), overshadowing the feminism [End Page 142] of Antonine Maillet’s William S (1991). In a main text of just 191 pages, Drouin achieves the considerable feat of successfully combining and integrating sociopolitical context and perceptive literary analysis of her chosen adaptations. Inevitably, compression produces the occasional oddity. The apparent claim, based on his sexual orientation, that ‘fear of federasty’ precludes national recognition for Michel Tremblay, Quebec’s iconic playwright and novelist (p. 26), is patently off-beam, and the characterisation of joual as working-class slang rather than a social variety of French is also inaccurate. Elsewhere, the conflating of Anglo-Scottish relations from 1296 on with the current independence debate in Scotland (p. 21) is highly misleading, while a subsequent linking to Catalonia, a ‘non-Commonwealth’ country (p. 23) reads oddly to the British ear. Such small irritants aside, Drouin is consistently scholarly and well informed. Extensive notes, a substantial bibliography, and a chronology of Shakespeare adaptations complete her stimulating account of Shakespeare’s double status in Quebec’s self-affirmative politico-cultural imaginary as both differentiated alien ‘other’ and universal artistic icon.