The Land: A Play of Character, in One Act with Five Scenes (1914)
Sir Andrew Macphail, physician, man of letters, professor at McGill University, was born in 1864 in Orwell, Prince Edward Island. He studied at Prince of Wales College, Charlottetown, before attending McGill where he received his B.A. in 1888 and his M.D., C.M. in 1891. In 1907, Macphail was appointed McGill's first professor of the history of medicine-a chair he occupied for 30 years, and, in 1911, was founder and first editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal. (CASP notes the overlap in Macphail's career trajecotry with another McGill Professor who also produced a Shakespearean adaptation, Charles Moyse.) In 1914, at the age of 50, Macphail enlisted as a medical officer for the First World War, and spent twenty months at the Front with a field ambulance corps. He was knighted by George V, January 1, 1918, for his military and literary contributions. Macphail passed away in Montreal in 1938.
The Land: A Play of Character, in One Act with Five Scenes was published in The University Magazine, Montreal, in 1914. The University Magazine (1907-20) was a Montreal quarterly edited by Macphail, which succeeded the semiannual McGill University Magazine (1901-06). Macphail financially guaranteed the publication himself, and it attained a circulation of nearly 6000, with which Macphail advanced what he considered "correct thought" (Robertson http://www.canadianencyclopedia.ca/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0008246).
The play is a loose adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, which MacPhail uses to critique market speculation (see also Albert Ernest Knight's Canada, Fair Canada), class inequality, and what he saw as the disintegration of the family. His solution is a return to "the land" and to a rural agrarian society. The agrarian solution posited by Macphail was in sync with the longstanding notion of acriculturisme in Quebec, that is, a belief in the values of sustaining an agricultural society in which Catholic, domestic values were the norm. (Agriculturalism was one of what Michel Brunet calls "les trois dominantes de la pensée canadienne-française: l'agriculturisme, le messianisme et l'anti-étatisme" [the three main components of French Canadian thought: agriculturalism, anti-statism and messianism]"). Agriculturism was seen as one of the major impediments in the just and equitable treatment of women in Quebec society until, that is, the Quiet Revolution.
Macphail conducted agricultural experiments with his brother Jim at the Macphail homestead in Orwell, now a national historic site. They are credited with starting the seed potato industry on Prince Edward Island, and experiments in tabacco growing.
Macphail's writing, however, reveals a disturbing and cynical misogyny in his thinking that overpowers his agrarian idealism. Milicent Moray is MacPhail's 'Kate,' but while Shakespeare's Kate is sharp and witty, Macphail's Milicent is obnoxious and rude; she complains to her husband: "My life has been full of obstacles; first my father; then you; then both of you" (36). When her father Benjamin Haszard dies, Milicent believes she has inherited her father's fortune and can now purchase her "freedom" from her husband, and demands a formal separation. After she discovers that her father's fortune was lost on the stock market, she "surrenders" to her husband and agrees to live within what MacPhail sees as the "normal" relation between man and wife-"master and subdued" (78).
Macphail is equally backward in his treatment of women in the workforce, revealed in a conversation between Milicent and the nurse:
Milicent: There seems to be a conspiracy against women who work.
Nurse: The traitor hides in our own hearts. We are tempted continually to abandon our tasks.
Milicent: And woman's work is so ill paid.
Nurse: We are ill paid because we are uncertain and inefficient. (55) [indent]
By putting the defence of working women in the mouth of Milicent, Macphail tries to discredit women's movements as the indulgences of bored, upperclass women of leisure.
The play's ending is especially distasteful. Gavin Moray, John's father, concludes: "Where there is a cow there will be a woman: where there is a woman there will be life: whilst there is life there will be trouble" (82). The Land is a reminder of how Shakespeare was, and can still be, used to promote misogynistic and similarly hateful ideologies. It further reminds of the problematic relation between early Canadian agrarianism and issues pertaining to the social construction of gender not to mention the just and equitable treatment of women in early twentieth-century Canada.
Note: See Bradford James Rennie's The Rise of Agrarian Democracy: The United Farmers and Farm Women of Alberta, 1909-1921 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000) for some useful contexts on gender relations and agrarianism in Canada. For a variety of web resources relating to women and gender issues (including a link to the searchable database of Gender Studies in Agriculture) click here.
Robertson, Ian Ross. "Macphail, Sir Andrew." The Canadian Encyclopedea.
Robertson, Ian Ross. "University Magazine, The." The Canadian