Essays on Modern Quebec Theater

By Joseph I. Donohoe Jr.; Jonathan M. Weiss | Go to book overview

The Hermaphrodite as Cultural Hero in Michel Tremblay's Theater

Ruth B. Antosh

T he subject of this essay is a mysterious and perverse figure who flits in and out of Tremblay's work, teasing readers and spectators with its duality. I refer to this figure as "the hermaphrodite," after the mythical son of Aphrodite and Hermes, whose body was forever entwined with that of the love-struck nymph Salmacis.

Although many dictionaries and studies on gender use the terms hermaphrodite and androgyne synonymously, I accept the distinction suggested by Kari Weil in her Androgyny and the Denial of Difference. Weil contrasts the myth of the androgyne in Plato's Symposium with the story of Hermaphroditus as presented in Ovid's Metamorphoses, suggesting that although Plato's ideal beings emblematize a "spiritual or psychological state of wholeness and balance,"1Ovid's description of Hermaphroditus's union with Salmacis is far less positive, for the boy is virtually raped by the amorous nymph, and struggles to escape her unwelcome advances. It is only when the gods intervene that the two become one grotesque entity, "no longer / Two beings, and no longer man and woman, / But neither, and yet both."2 Thus, if the androgyne is a harmonious union of male and female, the hermaphrodite is a wavering, imperfect mingling of the two sexes. While the androgyne depends upon "a stable opposition between male and female," the hermaphrodite is a being in flux, characterized by "constantly shifting lines of difference."3

Tremblay's troubled transvestites seem to me to fit Weil's definition of the hermaphrodite rather well, particularly in his plays La Duchesse de Langeais, Hosanna, and Damnée Manon, Sacrée Sandra,

-207-

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