- Shakespeare in Québec: Nation, Gender, and Adaptation by Jennifer Drouin
Shakespeareans outside Québec and Canada may find Jennifer Drouin’s Shakespeare in Québec: Nation, Gender, and Adaptation to be a curious hybrid. At its core are four chapters that offer solid, methodologically conservative “close textual readings” (4) of Québécois dramatic adaptations of Shakespeare written or published between 1968 and 2004 (Drouin is not concerned with the plays in production or with adaptations to other genres or media). These chapters are introduced by an equally conservative “theory of Shakespearean adaptation” in the book’s second chapter (42), which makes a case for fidelity, intentionality, linearity, universalism, and essentialism in the classification and assessment of literary/dramatic adaptation and appropriation. The titles of these central chapters, however, draw attention less to the adaptations themselves than to the specifically Québécois nationalist political contexts in which they were produced: “The Quiet Revolution,” “Tyrants and Usurpers,” “The First Referendum,” and “The Second Referendum”—citing key moments in Québec’s political history rather than in the plays. The framing first chapter (“Postcolonial Shakespeares and Gendering the Québec Nation”) and conclusion (“Québec v. Canada: Interculturalism and the Politics of Recognition”) locate the central chapters within political debates that have little to do with Shakespeare or adaptation, and advocate for the nationalist/sovereignist cause. The first chapter, after summarily surveying postcolonial Shakespeare adaptations in English Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, and the protoseparatist Scotland and Catalonia (all in nine pages), focuses on a potted history of Québec organized around the problematics of nation, gender, and a vigorously defended nationalism.
Drouin is admirably open about her politics. She points in her acknowledgments to her prior work for Québec’s nationalist Parti Québécois, and includes a dedication without translation “à toutes celles et à tous ceux qui ont milité et qui militent toujours pour que le Québec devienne un pays souverain, indépendant, et libre” (ix) (to all those women and men who have fought and still fight for a sovereign, independent, and free country of Québec). And she articulates an informed feminist and queer gender positioning throughout. But it is often difficult to reconcile these two positions and to reconcile either with dramatic adaptation of Shakespeare.
The book’s great strength is to introduce Shakespeareans to nine important Québécois adaptations (one of which consists of six plays and an epilogue) and to supply in the appendix a comprehensive list of such adaptations from 1960 to 2013. As such it also serves as a productive companion volume to Leanore [End Page 378] Lieblein’s 2009 anthology, A Certain William: Adapting Shakespeare in Francophone Canada, which includes translations of three adaptations analyzed by Drouin. These analyses are nuanced and instructive, paying particular attention to nationalist politics and representations of gender and sexuality. The third chapter’s explication of the (for non-Québécois) complex allegories of Robert Gurik’s Hamlet, prince du Québec (1968), for example, details the political resonances of the action while pointing to the play’s absence of women and its problematically homophobic evocation of the nationalist use of “federasty” (7) to characterize the Canadian federalist treatment of Québec. Chapter 4, one of the best and most supple, focuses on language issues—always a hot topic in Québec, and particularly so during the 1970s—by way of a detailed reading of Michel Garneau’s linguistically rich “tradaptations” of Macbeth (1978) and La tempête (1973/1989). But “for Garneau, as for Gurik,” Drouin laments, “nationalism, not gender issues, remains the primary motivation for appropriating Shakespeare’s cultural authority” (89).
Over the next two chapters the focus shifts from nation to gender and other forms of difference. Chapter 5 focuses on Jean-Pierre Ronfard’s Lear (1977) and his seven-part epic adaptation of Shakespeare’s first tetralogy, Vie et Mort du Roi Boiteaux (1981), both in the context of the first Québec referendum on “sovereignty association” (112...