Macbeth, written by Michel Garneau, was first performed by the Théâtre de la Manufacture at the Cinéma Parallèle in Montreal from October 31 to December 2, 1978. The text was published by VLB Éditeur in December of the same year. The play was produced again to great acclaim in 1993 by Robert Lepage as part of the Festival de théâtre des Amériques. Macbeth is the first of Garneau’s three Shakespearean “tradaptations” (to use his own neologism) to be published. Prior to Macbeth, Garneau also tradapted La tempête in 1973 for the École nationale de théâtre, but, as Denis Salter points out, “Garneau came to rewrite Garneau’s Tempest in the early 1980s” (63), so the text of La tempête which he finally published in 1989 differs from this earlier production. In 1989, Garneau also published Coriolan. Macbeth is the most radical of his three tradaptations, both in terms of the language employed and the discursive differences from the Shakespearean source text that are produced by this new vocabulary. At the other extreme, Coriolan rarely diverges from the Shakespearean source text, and the language is the most standardized of the three texts, employing no joual [Québécois working-class slang] to distinguish it from international French. La tempête lies in the middle between the two with mostly regularized spelling and syntax but some distinctly Québécois words.
The use, quality, and even the existence of the Québécois language was a key debate in Québec during the 1970’s to which Garneau contributed significantly with his “tradaptations”, especially Macbeth. In 1973, Michèle Lalonde wrote “La deffence et illustration de la langue quebecquoyse” [“The Defense and Illustration of the Québécois Language”], a manifesto for the protection and promotion of the Québécois language, which was closely modelled after Joachim du Bellay’s 1549 Deffence et illustration de la langue françoyse [The Defense and Illustration of the French Language] in which du Bellay pleads for the aesthetic beauty of vernacular French and its use, rather than Greek or Latin, in the composition of poetry. Not only does Macbeth arrive closely on the heels of Lalonde’s manifesto, but Garneau was also writing in the midst of the political debate surrounding the implementation of Loi 101, the Charte de la langue française, which passed in 1977 under the first Parti québécois government. As an answer to Lalonde’s challenge, Garneau’s plays promote the Québécois language, valorizing it not only over Shakespearean English, but also in regard to “standard” French, that is, français de France, which dominated most literal translations, and hence French-language productions, of Shakespeare in Québec until this time. Garneau’s Macbeth dispels the myth that only French in the style of François-Victor Hugo (whose prose translations of the complete works had a major impact on French and Québécois stage productions) can represent Shakespeare. Garneau’s texts exemplify the poetry and beauty of the Québécois language, and, by extension, Québécois culture.
Garneau’s “tradaptations” are neither literal translations of Shakespeare nor adaptations that largely modify the content of the source text. Tradaptation, as the word implies, involves both translation and adaptation in such a way that it defies distinctions between the two practices. As Leanore Liebleinobserves, the resistance to “standard” French translations combined with the adaptation/appropriation of Shakespeare’s cultural authority reveals how tradaptation exemplifies Québec’s “double colonization” by both French language purists and English hegemony (255). Salter asserts that tradaptation “is close to being oxymoronic, as it discloses the kind of prodigious doubling to which the translator’s identity … is necessarily subjected” as he seeks to preserve the linguistic heritage of the past and assert cultural autonomy in the present (63). Garneau thus uses the methods of both the translator and the adapter to create hybrid plays which articulate a carefully constructed discourse very different from Shakespeare’s: the need for Québec’s decolonisation from both France and Britain/English Canada. He employs several different techniques to integrate this nationalist discourse into the Shakespearean text.
In Sociocritique de la traduction, Annie Brisset, who has painstakingly documented Garneau’s use of metonymy in this play, concludes that Garneau’s foremost means of appropriating the text is by replacing the word “Scotland” with either the word “chez-nous” [home] or “pays” [country]. While this substitution is relatively simple and does not in and of itself make the play an adaptation, its repeated use throughout the play ultimately creates the desired effect. Although technically the Québécois Macbeth still takes place in Great Britain at the center of the Shakespearean canon, it simultaneously takes place on the margins of the British Empire, in Quebec, with its characteristic geographical and natural traits.
The second way that Garneau appropriates Shakespeare’s text is intertextuality. Just as his use of metonymy serves to Québécize the text, so too does Garneau’s insertion of typically Québécois motifs frequently found in the poetry of his contemporaries. Again, Brisset has led the way, having shown how Garneau reproduces motifs and themes common to the poetry of Paul Chamberland, Gérald Godin, and Gaston Miron, among others (236-51).
Garneau’s third technique for textual appropriation is the use of archaisms, both in terms of vocabulary and pronunciation. The language of the play, which to some extent in its written form resembles the joual of Michel Tremblay’s Plateau Mont-Royal, is best described as an approximation of the language used in 17th century New France under the ancien régime, prior to the Conquest by England in 1759. The language is thus Québécois in a pure laine form. Although remnants of this dialect were still spoken in the mid-1970’s in rural Gaspé, it is still archaic compared to Québécois spoken in the urban centers. The same can also be said, however, for some common elements of contemporary Québécois joual, such as words similar to moi and roi whose pronunciation in joual as moé and roé corresponds to how the words were pronounced in France when settlers first immigrated to New France.
Even more important than the linguistic techniques of metonymy, intertextuality, and archaism, however, Garneau’s trilogy conveys a variety of nationalist discourses through resonances to the political context of his time. Repeated emphasis on the themes of tyranny and liberation encourage the reader to draw parallels between specific situations within the world of the play and the socio-political history of Québec. Without changing Shakespeare’s plot or characters, Garneau subtly adapts several geographical and historical details in order to conflate the action within the world of Macbeth with the Conquest of New France as well as contemporary neo-colonialism believed to have resulted from it. The overlapping spatio-temporal markers produce a triple layer of signification, simultaneously locating the play in medieval Scotland, in 17th century New France, and in contemporary Québec. Distinctions between the layers of this palimpsest are blurred since the three spatio-temporal contexts are all linked by a single nationalist discourse centered on the country’s usurpation by a tyrant and its desperate need for liberation. Garneau’s text adds new layers of meaning to Malcolm’s disposition of the tyrant Macbeth who usurps his throne or, in La tempête, to Prospero’s reclamation of his usurped kingdom from his treacherous and deceptive brother Antonio.
Nationalist discourses in Québec in the late 1970s obviously were not homogenous. In fact, not all nationalist discourses then or now are also sovereignist; however, even those nationalists who didn’t reclaim total political independence still agreed that Québec formed a distinct nation with a distinct culture. Garneau’s valorization of the Québécois language makes the play nationalist even in those instances when the text does not directly call for independence. The use of a Québécois language implies the existence of a Québécois people. The translation of Shakespeare into Québécois also proves that Québécois is a language in its own right distinct from français de France. The tradaptations are thus successful in protecting and promoting the Québécois language because they illustrate the capacity of the Québécois language to reproduce Shakespeare’s so-called “genius” and to gain access to his so-called “universality”.
Andrès, Bernard and Paul Lefèbvre. “Macbeth: Theatre de la Manufacture.” Jeu 11 (1979): 80-88.
Brisset, Annie. Sociocritique de la traduction: Théâtre et altérité au Québec (1968-1988). Longueuil: Éditions du Préambule, 1990. See esp. chapters 3 and 4.
Hodgdon, Barbara. “Splish Splash and The Other: Lepage’s Intercultural Dream Machine.” Essays in Theatre 12.1 (1993): 29-40.
Lieblein, Leanore. “Cette Belle Langue: The ‘Tradaptation’ of Shakespeare in Quebec.” Shakespeare and the Language of Translation. Ed. A.J. Hoenselaars. London: Arden, 2004. 255-69.
Salter, Denis. “Between Wor(l)ds: Lepage’s Shakespeare Cycle.” Theater 24.3 (1993): 61-70.
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