Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Daughters of the Carnivalized Nation in Jean-Pierre Ronfard's Shakespearean Adaptations Lear and Vie et Mort Du Roi Boiteux

Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Daughters of the Carnivalized Nation in Jean-Pierre Ronfard's Shakespearean Adaptations Lear and Vie et Mort Du Roi Boiteux

Article excerpt

Quebec theatre abounds with Shakespearean adaptations (not counting translations, another genre entirely). Jean-Pierre Ronfard's texts contributed significantly to this corpus of adaptations which seek to appropriate "le grand Will" to work through Quebecois issues. In Lear (1977) and Vie et mort du Roi Boiteux (1981), we see the evolution of the importance of nationalism and feminism before and after the referendum. The nation is destroyed by Rabelaisian carnival, but carnivalesque death is always associated with regeneration, which, in Ronfard's works, is entrusted to regal daughters in whom we can find hope for the reconstruction of the nation once its bastardry has been celebrated. Ronfard's plays also comprise a metafictional critique of Shakespeare himself who literally enacts the theory of the death of the author while giving birth to another Shakespeare who is entirely Quebecois.

Des adaptations de Shakespeare abondent au Quebec (sans parler de traductions, un tout autre genre). Les textes de jean-Pierre Ronfard ont contribue de facon significative a ce corpus d'adaptations qui cherchent a approprier << le grand Will >> au service des enjeux quebecois. Dans Lear (1977) et Vie et mort du Roi Boiteux (1981), on voit l'evolution de l'importance accordee au nationalisme et au feminisme a la veille et au lendemain du referendum. La nation est rasee par le carnaval rabelaisien, mais la mort carnavalesque est toujours associee a une regeneration, qui, chez Ronfard, est confiee aux filles royales, chez qui on peut trouver espoir d'une reconstruction de la nation une fois que sa batardise ait etecelebree. Les pieces deRonfard porte aussi une critique metalitteraire sur Shakespeare lui-meme qui met en pratique litteralement la theorie de la mort de l'auteur, tout en faisant naitre un autre Shakespeare entierement quebecois.

Jean-Pierre Ronfard's Lear (1977) and Vie et mort du Roi Boiteux ["Life and Death of the Limping King"] (1981), (1) adaptations of Shakespeare's King Lear and Richard III respectively, employ carnival and magic realism to parody the bastardized state of the nation whose corruption and decay can be eliminated only by the rise to power of strong willed women. (2) Rabelaisian carnival dominates every aspect of these two Shakespearean adaptations; (3) food, drinking, rampant sexuality, and references to the grotesque lower body abound in every scene, but, since it is temporary, the result of carnival must ultimately be the reinstatement of social order. (4) For Mikhail Bakhtin, carnival is also about "death as renewal" (51), a regeneration of the social order which Ronfard locates in a generation of heirs both genealogically tied to the past and oriented towards the future. When the collapse of the nation precipitated by absentee male rulers finally reaches its nadir at the close of both plays, that is, when there is no old order left for the carnivalesque to reverse, only the daughters of the former rulers remain to take responsibility for the fate of the nation and lead it to a brighter future. Ronfard's plays thus highlight the interdependence of nation and gender in contemporary Quebec drama, and the different relative weights accorded to nation and gender in each play reflect the evolving social and political importance of these issues on the eve and in the aftermath of the first referendum on sovereignty. In addition, Ronfard's carnivalesque approach to adaptation illustrates the artificiality of the signifier "Shakespeare" as the embodiment of high culture, simultaneously appropriating and undercutting le grand Will's claim to cultural authority. (5)

Ronfard's two Shakespearean adaptations straddle a crucial turning point in Quebec's history, the 1980 referendum on sovereignty-association in which the "No" side won 59.6% to 40.4% over the "Yes:" The Quebecois population's struggle for political independence (the momentum for which was at a high point on the heels of the surprisingly strong, and first ever, Parti quebecois electoral victory in 1976), followed by their subsequent rejection of it, marks both of these plays. …

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