Nationalizing Shakespeare in Québec: Theorizing Post-/Neo-/Colonial Adaptation
Jennifer Drouin, Allegheny College
Québec's political situation and multiple identities as a colonial, postcolonial, and neo-colonial nation make its adaptations of Shakespeare unique. By appropriating the canonical authority of Shakespeare's texts, Québécois adapters legitimize their local struggle for national liberation; however, this appropriation requires that they negotiate a fine line between the enrichment of Québécois culture and its possible contamination, assimilation, or effacement by Shakespeare's influence. This article proposes three reasons why Québécois playwrights choose to adapt Shakespeare more often than Molière: the indeterminacy of Shakespeare's texts; his "big time" status; and Québec's cultural distance from the British canon. These factors result in Québécois playwrights' irreverent, and hence liberating, approach to "le grand Will." Québec's overlapping post-/neo-/colonial identities make its relationship to Shakespeare distinct from that of English Canada. While Mark Fortier claims that Canadians are "undead" due to their ambivalence as settler-colonizers "from elsewhere," I argue that in Québec the national question eclipses forms of alterity in these adaptations of Shakespeare. Québécois adaptations tend to be oriented towards the creation of one multiethnic, national identity to which "others" must assimilate as the nation strives collectively for political sovereignty and legitimacy.
Shakespeare vs. Molière
Limping, Bastard Kings
|Hamlet-Quebec discovers federalist duplicity cloaked in sovereignist colours. (Gurik 1968, 41)|
|The king contemplates a ball of shit . . . (Ronfard 1977, 21) Art © Daniel Kieffer/VAGA, New York/SODART, Montreal|
Canada vs. Québec
|The authentic, because it is always predicated on a belatedly assimilative effect, signifies an identity crisis by way of a dialectic that presumes and requires the inauthentic (that which is assimilated) in order to give it meaning. Shakespeare's assimilation by state (read 'authentic') culture is used as a bulwark against incursions in state culture by its 'inauthentic,' nomadic margins. (326)|
|[T]here is always something un-Canadian about being Canadian, that the from-elsewhere is part of being here. Shakespeare, therefore, is one manifestation of from elsewhere at work in Canada. As such, Canadians confront Shakespeare as the cultural undead, neither dead nor living, not a person but an other forming part of living personalities, if only as part of the sublime personality, the otherness of the past, the remains of which reside here. Canadians too, in their specific ways, are the undead, although as noir subjects they may not always realize this. (342)|
|1.||The use of French accents on Québec and Québécois, although not always the standard procedure of translators in English usage, is a deliberate choice on my part in order to highlight the cultural specificity of Québec. Leanore Lieblein, Ric Knowles, and Daniel Fischlin all adopt the same practice.|
|2.||The Quiet Revolution was a period of massive social reform that began in 1960 shortly after the death of Maurice Duplessis, whose reign was labeled "la grande noirceur" [the great darkness], and the arrival to power of Jean Lesage's Liberal party, whose slogan was "Maîtres chez nous" [Masters in our own homes].|
|3.||I define adaptations as additions (although not reductions for the purpose of playing time), transpositions, or translations that alter significantly the content or meaning of the source text, as well as blatant re-writings. In drawing an admittedly fine line between certain translations and adaptations, I rely in part on Fischlin's and Fortier's theoretical discussion of adaptation in their introduction to Adaptations of Shakespeare (2000). Contrary to Linda Hutcheon (2006), I also limit the use of "adaptation" to dramatic playtexts whose trajectory from page to stage mirrors that of their Shakespearean counterparts because cross-generic adaptations, such as plays to novels, and cross-media adaptations, such as plays to films, necessarily involve a double process of adaptation to account for differences between genres and media. Hutcheon's broad use of "adaptation" across genres and media makes it an umbrella term that loses its theoretical usefulness.|
|4.||Québec's colonial experience is not, of course, comparable to India's. After the British conquest of New France in 1759, the French were allowed to continue to speak their language and Shakespeare was never used pedagogically as a tool of cultural imperialism, as in India. Unlike the rest of North America even, Shakespeare was not a staple of the francophone literary curriculum. English, however, did become the language of commerce, and francophones were largely denied access on the basis of language to the higher levels of business and social power until the adoption by the Parti Québécois government in 1977 of the Loi 101, which made French the official language of work and business in Québec and gradually enabled francophones to achieve social and economic power comparable to that of their anglophone counterparts, who had heretofore been the ruling class.|
|5.||Daniel Paquette, writer of Mon royaume pour un cheval, provided this reason for adapting Shakespeare in a telephone interview with the author on 17 January, 2007.|
|6.||Is Canada postcolonial? Is Québec? The postcoloniality of settler colonies has long been contested and continues to be debated by critics today. In the collection Is Canada Postcolonial? (2003), edited by Laura Moss, several critics, notably Moss, George Elliot Clarke, Neil Besner, Diana Brydon, Terry Goldie, and Stephen Slemon, theorize all sides of the question without arriving at a consensus; or, as Moss sums it up, they arrive at a "typical Canadian response": "an unequivocal 'yes. . . and no. . . and maybe'" or "'it depends'" (2003, 7). In Québec, and in French literary studies in general, the debate has lagged significantly behind for reasons explored seriously for the first time in a special issue of the journal Québec Studies in 2003, in which the response is much more categorical. Critics such as Robert Schwartzwald, Marvin Richards, Vincent Desroches, Amaryll Chanady, and Obed Nkunzimana, among others, all argue convincingly that Québec is postcolonial and that Québécois literary studies would be greatly enhanced by the application of postcolonial theory to Québécois texts. More specifically in terms of Québécois adaptations of Shakespeare, all the critical work on the subject by Denis Salter is heavily inflected by postcolonial theory.|
|7.||Joual is Québécois working-class slang. The term joual is believed to come from the pronunciation of the word cheval [horse] in this dialect. While the term has been mistakenly attributed to the journalist André Laurendeau, its usage dates back much earlier, to at least the 1930s. Although previously stigmatized because it was spoken by the working class, joual began to be valorized after the Quiet Revolution, most notably by Michel Tremblay's play Les Belles Soeurs (1972; first performed in 1968), the first play to be written in joual, as well as in popular music, such as Robert Charlebois' songs, and even by some nationalists who saw it as a pride-worthy part of Québec's cultural heritage. In fact, some words considered joual, such as moé [moi; me] and toé [toi; you], are actually the pronunciations used by royalty prior to the French Revolution. Since Québec was cut off geographically from the rest of France, the Ancien Régime pronunciation remained in use in Québec despite evolving into its current form in France.|
|8.||The application of the term "neo-colonial" to Québec would be contested by most Canadian federalists, but its use is relatively common in Québec. Most sovereignists argue that the Canadian government does indeed control Québec through indirect economic and political means, most notably through le déséquilibre fiscal [fiscal inequality], which restricts the Québec government's ability to enact policies in areas over which it has jurisdiction, such as health care and education. Some anti-democratic techniques include spying on Québec politicians and ordinary citizens, stealing Parti Québécois membership lists, and interference in the 1995 referendum through illegal spending and the facilitation of illegal voting. See Enquête sur les services secrets, Le livre noir sur le Canada anglais (3 vols.), and Les Secrets d'Option Canada, by former Radio-Canada investigative journalist Normand Lester, for further details on these and other events. Ostensibly, such approaches to Québec date to Lord Durham's Report on the Affairs of British North America, published in London in February 1839, which claims that the French of Lower Canada, were "a people with no history, and no literature" who ought to be assimilated by means of English immigration as well as a union of Upper and Lower Canada, which would make the French a minority and appropriate Lower Canada's finances to pay Upper Canada's debt.|
|9.||References to the works of Shakespeare come from the Riverside Shakespeare unless otherwise noted.|
|10.||Since my definition of "adaptation" privileges text over performance, the year listed in parenthesis following each title is either 1) the date of publication, or 2) if the text has not been published, the date of composition on the author's manuscript, or 3) failing that, the date of the first production.|
|11.||A notable exclusion from this list is the work of Robert Lepage, perhaps the most famous director in Québec and certainly the most successful on the international stage. As a director, however, he does not adapt Shakespeare's text so much as he stages the source text innovatively in performance. His two most original Shakespeare performances — Romeo & Juliette (1989), a bilingual production in collaboration with Gordon McCall, and Elseneur (1996), a one-man show — do not adapt the Shakespearean source text. Romeo & Juliette is a combination of the Signet edition in English and a literal translation in French by Governor General award-winning playwright Jean-Marc Dalpé. Elseneur is a literal translation of Shakespeare's Hamlet that is innovative in so much as Lepage performed all the roles himself with the aid of elaborate technology. Other exclusions are Oleg Kisseliov's Le Songe d'une nuit d'été (1998), which is also a literal translation derived from François-Victor Hugo, as well as Tibor Egervari's Le marchand de Venise de Shakespeare à Auschwitz (1993) and Michel Philip's L'ère des tempêtes ou Chacun pour soi! (1996), neither of which are "Québécois" as I define it here (based on the author's birth, residence during the play's composition, or the site of the play's first production), although Egervari's play, first performed in Ottawa, could be considered "French Canadian." The Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project (CASP) database search results list 175 entries as "French Canadian" adaptations, but this result includes all thirty-eight monologues from the 38 event as separate entries and does not always make a distinction between translation and adaptation, while including some stage productions as adaptations. In the latter two cases, further work is required to understand the relationship between adaptation and translation, and between adaptation and production.|
|12.||"Passer à l'action," literally "to proceed to action," could be translated as "to take action," but it is a notably Québécois expression which loses in translation its underlying emotional force and its double insistence on action with the verb "passer," "to proceed," which indicates a forward progression that is absent from the English expression "to take."|
|13.||In "Entre deux joints" ["Between two joints"] (1973), co-written with RIN leader Pierre Bourgault, Robert Charlebois sings, "Ta sœur est aux États, ton frère est au Mexique / Y font d'l'argent là-bas pendant qu'tu chômes icitte / T'es né pour un petit pain, c'est ce que ton père t'a dit / Chez les Américains, c'pas ça qu't'aurais appris." [Your sister's in the States, your brother's in Mexico / They make money there while you're unemployed here / You were born for a [little] roll [of bread, as opposed to a loaf], that's what your father said / With the Americans that's not what you'd have learned.] The rejection of the né-pour-un-petit-pain attitude thus embodies the generational divide between youth of the Quiet Revolution and their parents (who grew up accepting that they should settle for less (a roll being less than a loaf of bread), as well as the new generation's growing internationalism. The song's chorus also states poignantly the need to passer à l'action: "Ent' deux joints, tu pourrais faire qu'qu'chose / Ent' deux joints, tu pourrais t'grouiller l'cul" [Between two joints, you could do something / Between two joints, you could move your ass].|
|14.||From Latin, meaning "beyond the mountains," that is, the Alps, Ultramontanism, equally known as Ultramontanisme in French, was the point of view of Roman Catholics who supported the pope as supreme head of the church, as opposed to Gallicanism and other tendencies that opposed papal jurisdiction. Ultramontanism began in Québec in 1840 following the failure of the 1837-1838 Patriot Rebellions, and it peaked between 1867 and 1896. Ultramontane priests were strong advocates of the né-pour-un-petit-pain attitude. For an in-depth analysis, see Denis Monière's Le Développement des idéologies au Québec des origines à nos jours, especially chapters four and five.|
|15.||Lalonde's manifesto is closely modeled after Joachim du Bellay's 1549 Deffence et illustration de la langue françoyse. Du Bellay pleads for the aesthetic beauty of vernacular French and the use of French, rather than Greek or Latin, in the composition of poetry. Lalonde picks up key elements of du Bellay's text and expands the argument, first by situating the notion of language as a living tree in the specific historical context of Québec's linguistic isolation from France in the aftermath of the Conquest, and then how Québécois is not only as rich as français de France but also how it is less corrupted by anglicisms. She then identifies the two most common attitudes towards the Québécois language: one which ensconces the virtues of français de France while maligning joual and another, vice-versa, that extols joual to the detriment of all grammar.|
|16.||This is, of course, a reductive reading of Shakespeare's Macbeth and The Tempest. Like most adaptations, however, summary readings of the source text are precisely the interpretation against which the adaptation works, and this broad reading of the plot does, in fact, describe well the adaptation's use of the text.|
|17.||One example of this irreverent play is Ronfard's Lear, in which two Shakespeare figures, huddled together under "un parapluie typiquement 'british,'" "se lancent, avec verve et conscience historique [. . .] dans la grande narration du rêve de Clarence (authentiquement tirée de RICHARD III du grand William)" while the Fool figure drowns them, like Clarence, with a rain of "pipi de chat" [a typically British umbrella; jump into, with eloquence and historical attention, [. . . ] the long narration of Clarence's dream (authentically excerpted from the great William's RICHARD III); cat pee] (46-48, 50). This carnivalesque association of Shakespeare with the grotesque lower body also takes place when the Lear figure "contemple une boule de merde qu'il tient dans sa main, dans une posture qui rappelle Michel-Ange, Rodin, l'Hamlet traditionnel" [contemplates a ball of shit that he holds in his hand in a posture that invokes Michelangelo, Rodin, the traditional Hamlet] (21; italics in original stage directions).|
|18.||For an in-depth discussion of Ronfard's two plays, see my article, "Daughters of the Carnivalized Nation in Jean-Pierre Ronfard's Shakespearean Adaptations Lear and Vie et mort du Roi Boiteux," Theatre Research in Canada / Recherches théâtrales au Canada 27.1 (Spring 2006): 10-39.|
|19.||The 1970 October Crisis began when the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ) kidnapped British Trade Commissioner James Cross followed by Pierre Laporte, Québec's Minister of Manpower and Labour. Laporte was strangled to death by his kidnappers (Francis Simard, Bernard Lortie, Jacques Rose, and Paul Rose, collectively known as the Chénier cell of the FLQ) after he cut himself on broken glass while trying to escape and began bleeding profusely. Refusing to negotiate with the FLQ, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act, which suspended civil liberties and resulted in the arrest of almost 500 people without warrant. See Comeau, Cooper, and Vallières (eds.) for further details.|
|20.||"The long walk towards [the achievement of] the country."|
|21.||Antonine Maillet might, at first, appear somewhat out of place in the category of Québécois authors. Fischlin consistently situates William S in an "Acadian cultural context" because of Maillet's famous origins in Acadie (Fischlin 2002, 333). Yet this claim overlooks the fact that the play was written and first performed in Montréal, and, in fact, the play is not nearly as "Acadian" as her other plays, since it is written in so-called "standard" French rather than the Acadian language employed in many of her other texts, such as her novel Pélagie-la-Charette. In addition, despite her ethnic origins, Maillet is not only a descendent of deported Acadians, but an example of the necessity for most Acadians and French-Canadian artists to "immigrate" to Québec. Québec remains the only francophone region of Canada to receive adequate funding for literature and the arts, in large part because it has the demographic base to be self-sustaining and has thus developed many funding agencies in parallel to the "Canadian" organisms, which are supposed to promote bilingualism and multiculturalism, but which inevitably fall far short of the demand necessary to sustain and promote French culture outside of Québec. It is precisely because of this cultural and economic reality that I have included Maillet's work among "Québécois" adaptations. She represents an important part of the Québécois population: French-Canadian immigrants from other provinces. (The music industry best illustrates this cultural and economic reality; we need only think of Edith Butler from Acadie, Zachary Richard from Louisiana, and, more recently, Wilfred Le Bouthillier, the winner of Star Académie, also from Acadie.) Finally, the argument that Québec is the only francophone region of Canada with adequate cultural and economic resources for francophones outside of Québec to follow a career in the arts also extends to academia. Notably, Maillet completed her doctoral dissertation on Rabelais et les traditions populaires en Acadie at Université Laval in Québec City in 1970 and was a professor at the Université de Montréal in 1975-1976.|
|22.||Pure laine is generally translated in English as "dyed in the wool." The term refers to Québécois who are born and raised in Québec, speak with a Québécois accent, and show no traces of any particular immigrant origin.|
|23.||For example, on the cultural front, the most popular male artist at the 2004 Gala de l'ADISQ was Rwandan-born Corneille, who is well-known for his song about immigration, "Parce qu'on vient de loin" ["Because we come from afar"]. On the political front, the Bloc Québécois's election in January 2006 of 4 MP's from cultural communities (of 51 elected) testifies to a concerted effort of the sovereignist movement to build bridges with voters "from-elsewhere."|
|24.||On an anecdotal side note, and to acknowledge fully the reinscription in this paper of the binary of English Canada and Québec as two founding nations, I couldn't help but be struck by the irony that I completed this paper on the eve of what I used to call, when I lived in English Canada, Victoria Day, but which has been officially decreed by the Québec government "La journée nationale des Patriotes" in recognition and celebration of the rebels who took up arms against the rule of Queen Victoria. I don't think, therefore, that an analysis of Canadian and Québécois adaptations within this binary is entirely unjustified today, 170 years after the Patriot rebellions of 1837-1838.|
|25.||Joanne Tompkins proposes one solution to the problem of "multiculturalism" — a conceptual shift to "polynationalism". Tompkins' neologism "polynationalism" would "highlight the intersection of the competing forces of nationality, nationalism, ethnicity, identity, and subjectivity more accurately addressing the interdependent relationship of theories such as post-colonialism and feminism with multiculturalism. This would also rectify the frequent placement of multiculturalism in isolation or in opposition to a mainstream national paradigm. Poly-nationalism would not pretend to unite disparate groups that have hitherto resisted nationalist stereotypes; instead, it would reconsider relationships in contested space" (131, n. 7). In the context of Canada and Québec, polynationalism would require a return by English Canada to the concept of "two founding nations," which is still prevalent in Québec and which was the underlying principle of the Confederation at the time of its inception.|
|26.||This lack of alterity, or conflation of various forms of otherness under one banner, can be seen in the terms used to describe one's linguistic origin. In Québec, one is either a francophone, an anglophone, or an allophone. Allophone literally means "other speaker" and is the category into which all immigrants are lumped together. Hyphenated identifications (such as Irish-American, for instance) are not used in Québec.|
|27.||Gender does not truly become a central concern of Québécois adaptations until the 1990s, particularly in Pierre Yves Lemieux's À propos de Roméo et Juliette (1989), which features an openly gay Mercutio in love with Roméo, and Normand Chaurette's Les Reines (1991), which gives voice to the queens of Shakespeare's first tetralogy. None of these adaptations deals primarily with race, and class issues are always subsumed into nationalist issues since class divides tended to fall along linguistic lines until the effects of Loi 101 began to change the workplace; even today the percentage of anglophones in Québec who hold a postsecondary degree (and presumably a higher paying job upon graduation) is noticeably higher than that of francophones.|
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Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project (CASP). Edited by Daniel Fischlin. http://www.canadianshakespeares.ca.
Centre Des Auteurs Dramatiques: Quebec Plays in Translation.http://www.cead.qc.ca/eng/about_mission.html.
"Hamlet-Quebec discovers federalist duplicity cloaked in sovereignist colours." Photo courtesy of Robert Gurik.
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