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Starring Joseph K. : four stage adaptations of Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial Malone, Paul Matthew


This dissertation takes as its premise the belief that privileging the text of a play as the site of meaning is inadequate, given the social nature of theatre. This privileging is evident in the low critical opinion of dramatic adaptations of prose works: the dramatic text, incomplete by nature, cannot compete with the self-sufficient narrative text which it adapts. Rather, as described in the introductory chapter, the socio-historical context of a production must be investigated to flesh out the meaning of the text. Four theatrical adaptations of Franz Kafka's novel Der Prozefi (1925) illustrate a history not only of Kafka reception, but also of society, politics and theatrical practice in Europe and North America. The first adaptation, Le Proces (1947), by Jean-Louis Barrault and Andre Gide, is interpreted in the second chapter in the context of post-Occupation tensions in France, including a sense of guilt left by collaboration. Against an intellectual backdrop of existentialism and absurdism, Le Proces renders Joseph K. as a Jewish victim of unjust authorities. The third chapter describes actor/playwright Steven Berkoff’s antipathy to the middle-class conformism of 1970s Britain, which turns his adaptation, The Trial (1973), into a highly personal protest in which K. is destroyed by bourgeois "mediocrity." Peter Weiss's German adaptation, Der Prozefi (1975), treated in the fourth chapter, attempts more sweeping Marxist social criticism, depicting Kafka's world as a historically specific Eastern Europe in the days leading up to the Great War: K. is a bank employee who, by refusing to ally himself with the workers, seals his own fate under exploitative capitalism. Finally, Sally Clark's Canadian The Trial of Judith K. (1989) is described in the fifth chapter as a cross-gender revision of the novel reflecting both a feminist critique of male oppression and the freedom of interpretation of canonical works enabled by North America's relative intellectual isolation from the canon's European roots. K., as a victim of patriarchy, is a woman. The diversity of these four adaptations pleads for the acceptance of dramatic adaptation as a creative form of interpretation, rather than as an ill-advised misappropriation, of its source.

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