Prague! Shakespeare! Tuesday is your last chance for discounted early registration at the World Shakespeare Congress, to be held July 18-22.
Rafik Darragi and I are co-organizing what promises to be a small and interesting seminar on “Shakespeare on the Arab Stage.” Scheduled for the last afternoon of the conference, so if the discussion gets really exciting we can adjourn directly to the pub. Stalkers and gawkers welcome! Download the draft program here: http://www.shakespeare2011.net/repository/doc/shakespeare2011-prague-congress-programme-matrix.pdf
I first began studying Arabic fourteen years ago in part because, on my first trip to San Francisco, I had randomly met Palestinian lawyer Raja Shehadeh’s cousin Nabil and immediately afterwards, walking into a used bookstore, stumbled on a copy of Shehadeh’s memoir, The Third Way. That’s part of what helped inspire my interest in the language and, eventually, in Arab appropriations of Shakespeare.
I want to quote Shehadeh here to illustrate how deeply the imagery of Hamlet — particularly but not exclusively the young angry Hamlet of Act I — has become interwoven with formulations of Palestinian identity, Arab identity, and the conflict over Palestine. This is from Shehadeh’s interview in David Grossman’s 2002 book The Yellow Wind (also reviewed here). He says:
Of the two ways open to me as a Palestinian — to surrender to the occupation and collaborate with it, or to take up arms against it, two possibilities which mean, to my mind, losing one’s humanity — I choose the third way. To remain here. To see how my home becomes my prison, which I do not want to leave, because the jailer will then not allow me to return.
I believe it is no stretch to read Shehadeh’s refusal to “take up arms” as related to Hamlet’s hesitation during the “to be or not to be” soliloquy — how to commit oneself to fighting an evil so huge that, like a “sea of troubles,” it will simply swallow up the humanity of anyone who engages with it? Shehadeh’s “to surrender… and to collaborate” are symbolically identical, in Arab political discourse, with Hamlet’s “to die, to sleep.”
Two unsatisfactory options which leave him searching for a “third way,” one that lets his essential humanity be recognized and gives him (at least) a voice in shaping how his history comes out. You can see where the impulse comes from. Even if you question its efficacy. (And now his latest book, ever searching for a place to stand, seems to be harking back to the Ottomans.)
A documentary about the international tour of Al-Bassam’s Richard III: An Arab Tragedy premiered last month. Would love to hear from anyone who has seen it. Press release here, film website here.
Co-directed by Kuwaiti businessman and arts producer Shakir Abal with British TV director Tim Langford, Richard III “An Arab VIP” is a topical and timely documentary that melds Middle Eastern politics with onstage drama and offstage reality. In the film, the camera follows a pan Arab troupe of actors as they travel the world between the USA and the Middle East rehearsing and performing a highly acclaimed version of Shakespeare’s Richard III as conceived from a contemporary Arab perspective by renowned Kuwaiti dramatist Sulayman Al-Bassam. In addition to the highly dramatic performances by the exemplary troupe of actors, the 70 minutes film also includes interviews with the cast and crew as well as behind-the-scenes footage that shows what it is like to tour a top-notch stage play in sometimes less than perfect circumstances. The film is in English and Arabic with subtitles.
Some high-cultural aspirations to enliven your rainy Wednesday.
These “poems” are from the slim 1925 diwan published shortly before his death by Tanyus ‘Abdu (طانيوس عبده), with a brief but glowing preface from none other than Khalil Mutran. These are not really very poetic — not even soliloquies so much as arias meant to be sung by Shaykh Salama Higazi (who later recorded some of them for Odeon Records).
Hamlet’s “monologue of the skull” (bottom right):
Another version of “Monologue of the Skull” as well as two poems for Ophelia, “Wada`a Husna'” (Farewell, Beauty), and “Bayn Narayn” (Between Two Fires, which stands in for the clumsy “Doubt that the stars are fire” poem Hamlet includes in his letter to Ophelia):
Finally, most famously, “Hamlet and his Mother,” an aria about which Muhammad `Awad Muhammad reminisces in his introduction to his own Hamlet translation as late as 1972.
Here is the man himself:
A production of Jawad Al-Assadi’s “Insuu Hamlit” (first performed 1994 in Cairo, published 2000 in Beirut) directed by Issa Dhiab is touring Kuwait. Recently performed at Gulf University in Mushrif. Al-Siyasa newspaper has details here (in Arabic).
Another 2B moment from the rhetoric of the Arab revolutions. This one’s a Facebook group called
Tunisie To be or not to be – شعب تونس نكون او لا نكون
Here’s the slide from my AUB talk that the Daily Star reporter was alluding to. I took this photo in late Feb 2005 – it’s the graffiti around Martyrs’ Square (later Liberty Square) in downtown Beirut, where people were commemmorating the Valentine’s Day 2005 car-bomb assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. Can you see the faint writing, in English, right at the bottom of the photo?
|“To be or not to be now is the time.”
And here’s another example of Lebanon-related “to be or not to be” rhetoric: Walid Jumblatt (this was before he broke with the March 14 grouping) saying a rally was absolutely crucial to the existential future of Lebanon.
|“Notre combat c’est “être ou ne pas être.” No hyperbole or anything.
Flew home from glorious Beirut yesterday. Sigh.
Under the nice headline “Was Shakespeare an Orientalist?” Beirut’s Daily Star covers our just-concluded conference on “Shakespeare’s Imagined Orient” at AUB. Splendidly organized by Francois-Xavier Gleyzon of AUB’s English department, the conference staged a conversation some of the most important scholars working to remap Shakespeare’s relationship to the Muslim world. Five men were at the center of this conversation: Jerry Brotton, Dan Vitkus, Gerald Maclean, Jonathan Burton, and Gil Harris. My talk was really marginal to the whole thing (I’m not an early modernist), but for obvious journalistic reasons (even if she is not Arab, her readers are), the Daily Star reporter seized on it. She thus ironically supported Ferial Ghazoul’s thesis (in “The Arabization of Othello“), which my talk was trying to problematize: the idea that when Arabs look at Shakespeare, “their point of view” (many Arabs, one point of view) leads them to an immediate and almost exclusive focus on the representation of people like themselves. Well, perhaps such narcissism is only human. Which of us can pick up a friend’s book without looking up our own name in the index?
Swear to Allah, it’s not theatre! ArtsEmerson in Boston has officially announced its 2011-12 season, and Sulayman Al-Bassam’s pseudo-post-but-actually-meta-theatrical The Speaker’s Progress, a dark and jam-packed take on Twelfth Night, is on the schedule for October 12-16. Details and a video clip here.