- Shakespeare in Québec: Nation, Gender, and Adaptation by Jennifer Drouin
A welcome addition to the burgeoning literature on adaptions of Shakespeare, Jennifer Drouin’s book argues for distinctive Québécois practices of rewriting “le grand Will” as part of a larger decolonization project aligned with Quebec’s unique status as a nation within a nation, one that has “complex colonial, postcolonial, and neocolonial relationships with France, Britain, and English Canada.” With a specific focus on issues of gender and nation, Drouin takes on the remarkable ways in which contemporary Québécois playwrights address Shakespeare through what she terms obsessive rewritings of the Bard, a point highlighted by the fact that since the Quiet Revolution of 1960 “more than thirty such French-language adaptations of Shakespeare have been written in Québec,” making Shakespeare “one of Québec’s major authors.”
With a dedicatory address to those who have militated or continue to militate for Quebec’s sovereignty, the book has the odd distinction of being written in English about how an English author has been conscripted for nationalist Québécois purposes, and published by an English-Canadian press with presumably an English audience in mind. The book’s six chapters range from theoretical excursions into postcolonial Shakespeares and gendering the Quebec nation, through to a theory of Shakespearean adaptation (redux), followed by historically based chapters that begin with the Quiet Revolution and culminate with the second referendum on Quebec’s sovereignty in 1995. [End Page 461]
Ambitious in scope and pugnacious in tone, the book makes a valuable contribution to adaptation studies within the scope of how these frequently get troped in national or nationalist terms, while also addressing the significance of gender in nationalist discourses. Drouin is at pains to argue for more specific notions of adaptation that systematize the term, placing her reading firmly at odds with, for instance, Mark Fortier’s notion of wild adaptation, wherein the continuum of adaptation practices resists reductive and systematic critical analysis, or Don Moore’s notion of spectral adaptation, wherein textual hauntings (after Derridean notions of hauntology) constitute a form of iridescent presencing and intertextuality. As Drouin argues in a discussion of Linda Hutcheon’s A Theory of Adaptation, “[t]his ‘everything counts’ logic renders the term ‘adaptation’ too indistinct to be meaningfully functional.”
The virtue of Drouin’s approach is precisely that it is so firmly rooted in a very specific sense of an absolutely unique historical archive that has much to teach us politically, theoretically, and aesthetically. Drouin, to her credit, and whatever one’s take on the range of adaptive theories, from fidelity models to wild adaptation, lays out a clear frame for understanding what she means by Québécois adaptations, defined as “a play, written by an author born or living in Québec, that rewrites significantly Shakespeare’s text yet retains sufficient ties to Shakespeare to constitute more than a passing allusion to his titles or characters.” These strictures constitute their own fascinating diorama of the theoretical problems this book confronts: it ties place and birth to nationality and identity (seeming to rigidify much more fluid constructs in which hybridity and irreducibility are operative); it suggests a high-wire act that balances between significant rewriting and “sufficient ties” (fidelity) that are more than passing allusions (leaving unclear who is authorized to define thresholds of significance and passing allusions); and it leaves out of this frame both the authorial intent (or lack thereof) and the reader and critical reception in ways that limit the play of imagination in both the construction and reception of an adapted work.
That said, the scope of the close-reading practices the book deploys in specific relation to Québécois authors is a revelation. Drouin has a keen ear for how to perform historicist readings in ways that unveil theatrical creation as fundamentally imbricated in political, aesthetic, and situational contexts that are utterly unique to Quebec. From an inspired reading of Robert Gurik’s Hamlet, prince du Québec (1968) as an avatar of...