Book Reviews / Comptes Rendus

JENNIFER DROUIN. Shakespeare in Québec: Nation, Gender, and Adaptation

Peter Kuling
Wilfrid Laurier University


Shakespeare in Québec: Nation, Gender, and Adaptation

Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014. 286 pp.

1 Jennifer Drouin’s important new book, Shakespeare in Québec: Nation, Gender, and Adaptation, outlines the vital performance history of French language adaptations as expressions of identity, resistance, and revolution in Quebec. Her thorough theatrical, linguistic, and cultural research considers how “Québec’s rare status as a nation without full political sovereignty results [. . .] in its adapters choosing to appropriate Shakespeare in order to advance the nationalist social project” (4). Covering almost fifty years of Shakespeare in adaptation, from the Quiet Revolution until the political defeat of the province’s most recent sovereignist premier, Pauline Marois, Drouin outlines how Quebecois playwrights have historically borrowed Shakespeare’s voice and reconfigured his plays to express ideas related to ongoing civil and social independence. Drouin also links theatre and performance to the evolving identity of Quebec’s diversified and multicultural population. She considers metonymical intersections between gender and nation in adaptation, which often focus on issues of sexual violence and aggression towards a feminized Quebecois political body.

2 The book begins with a personal anecdote taken from Ric Knowles’s book Shakespeare and Canada (2004) about traveling through the United Kingdom on a BritRail pass while completing his PhD. Knowles describes his journey as a pilgrimage “in search of authenticity, authority, cultural identity” (qtd. in Drouin 11). Drouin’s research originates from a similar point of departure: like Knowles, she “made the same PhD research trip in search of authenticity on a purchased-in-Canada BritRail pass” (12). Drouin concludes, “[T]hirty years after Knowles’s pilgrimage of self-discovery, I and other scholars of my generation (the tail end of Gen-X) continue to experience Shakespeare as a central figure in the formation of our (post?-) colonial Canadian identity” (13). Drouin’s first chapter proceeds to outline relationships between “authentic” Shakespeare and different identities, cultures, and nations within post-colonial Canada. Employing Gérard Genette’s concepts of palimpsests and intertextuality, Drouin provides a new “Theory of Shakespearean Adaptation” in her second chapter that builds upon the work of scholars including Daniel Fischlin, Mark Fortier, Linda Hutcheon, and Ric Knowles. These first two chapters provide readers with important models for thinking about relationships between nations and adaptations, as well as ways to forego our contemporary obsession with the word “adaptation” by asking if this term really suits how we describe intertextual and intercultural experiences with Shakespeare.

3 The subsequent four chapters are organized chronologically, each focusing on plays emerging during a key period in recent Quebecois history. Drouin begins with Robert Gurik’s Hamlet, prince du Québec (1968), one of the first Quebecois adaptations of Shakespeare, which emerged just after Canadian centennial celebrations during Expo 67 in Montreal. Calling it “a profoundly nationalist play that articulates a clear prise de position in favour of sovereignty” (88), she provides insights into the lack of women in the play as well as its symbolic national codes and ideas of conquest and rape appearing throughout familiar yet modified scenes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. After establishing the starting point of her historical survey, Drouin moves into an examination of two of Marc Garneau’s Shakespearean “tradaptions,” Macbeth de William Shakespeare: Traduit en québécois (1978) and La tempête (1973/1989); tradaption uses “both translation and adaption in such a way that it defies distinctions between the two practices” (93). Translation and speech acts come to function as important elements of the performance history of Shakespeare in a divided Quebec testing the idea of separation from English Canada.

4 In her fifth chapter, Drouin examines Jean-Pierre Ronfard’s adaptations of King Lear and King Richard III, which “employ carnival and magic realism to parody the bastardized state” (112) that Quebec was beginning to be seen as during the first separation referendum in 1980. Ronfard’s adaptations of Shakespearean history plays provide unique intercultural insights on existing national divisions within evolving states. Making use of kings as characters fraught with concern for the future of their realms, Ronfard’s plays leave audiences with final images of Shakespearean “daughters as the survivors, inheritors, and sources of regeneration for fictional, bastard nations” (132). Continuing into the second referendum on sovereignty in 1995, Drouin’s final chapter discusses a wider range of examples of queer, feminist, First Nations, and bilingual/joual adaptations like Normand Chaurette’s Les Reines (1991), Antonine Maillet’s William S (1991), Madd Harold and Anthony Kokx’s Henry. October. 1970. (2002), and Yves Sioui Durand and Jean-Frédéric Messier’s Hamlet-le-Malécite (2004). The book closes by examining some of the ways that multiculturalism and identity have been both explored and overlooked during the resurgence of Quebecois sovereignty and nationalism from the late 1990s into the 2000s. Drouin reminds readers that despite the appearance of some progressive and innovative theatrical adaptations, “In Québécois adaptations of Shakespeare, nation trumps gender” (171) as well as other marginalized voices.

5 Drouin’s Shakespeare in Québec requires an astute eye for the unique details of Quebecois history, politics, arts, and culture. While she does an excellent job of navigating portions of the book containing multiple references to Quebecois political figures, language rights, referendums, and cultural differences, readers less familiar with both Canadian and Quebecois history will need to make use of her extensive endnotes, which provide an added level of richness for their succinct contextualization of theatre and political issues of different eras.

6 Drouin also includes an incredibly useful chronological list of adaptations of Shakespeare in Quebec since Hamlet, prince du Québec in 1968. This section will no doubt help future scholars and enthusiasts explore different examples of Shakespearean adaptation that Drouin mentions in passing, but will also serve as a valuable resource for anyone interested in Shakespearean adaptations more broadly. Shakespeare in Québec is exceptional Canadian scholarship, fully engaged with evolving concepts of identity, nationalism, and cultural heritage appearing in performance. As an extensive short history of Shakespearean adaptation in Quebec, it opens the door for new and future research on plays, performances, and politics inspired by Shakespeare in Quebec and also across Canada.