Quebec Studies

Giants and Fat Ladies: Carnival Themes in Contemporary Québec Theater

Quebec Studies (1985), 3, (1), 160–168.

Abstract

Giants and Fat Ladies: Carnival Themes in Contemporary Québec Theater Jane Moss For those interested in popular festive forms, Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Carnival in Québec City are perfect examples of the survival of medieval French folk traditions in francophone areas of America. And it is no wonder that the Acadians and Québécois should have retained these festivals since their an­ cestors came to the New World in the seventeenth century, not long after François Rabelais achieved, according to the Russian critic, Mikhail Bakhtin, the most perfect expression of carnival humor. Twentieth-century French-speaking Canadi­ ans have not lost their taste for carnival laughter. Two plays recently produced and published in Québec illustrate the re­ newed appeal of Rabelaisian folk humor. Les Trois Grâces by Francine Ruel features three circus fat ladies and life under the bigtop. In Les drolatiques, horrifiques et épouvantables aventures de Panurge, ami de Pantagruel, Antonine Maillet brings Rabelais's characters to the stage. Before analyzing these up-dated versions of theatrical carnival, we should say something about the carnival spirit. Folklorists, anthropologists and literary critics have broadly defined carnival as a temporary liberation from prevailing truths and established order during which hierarchical rank, behavioral norms, the rules of logic and decent language are suspended. The French writer Roger Caillois describes the popular festival as a release from the monotony of everyday life when crowds of boisterous people drink, dance, disguise themselves, give in to their sexual, violent and irrational impulses in a mood of collective euphoria. According to Bakhtin, the carnival world includes ritual spectacles (such as comic feasts, pageants and freak shows), comic verbal compositions and parodies, and various kinds of billingsgate (that is, curses, oaths, ob­ scenities and vulgar talk). Barbara Babcock-Abrahams describes 1 2 3 4

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Moss, Jane