Gary Wills on Shakespeare and Verdi

No Arab connection per se, and kind of unexpected to find Wills (brilliant polymath though he is) writing about this, but check out this great NYRB piece on the authorship of Shakespeare and Verdi, and the day-to-day theatrical work that was inseperable from it in both men’s lives.  Theatre shaped by actual conditions: not only sponsorship but available talent!  What a great idea.  (And what a frequent reality in Arab companies as well.)
Of course Verdi — whose work inaugurated Khedive Ismail’s opera house — was an even earlier and more decisive influence in Arab theatre than Shakespeare has been.
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Qadhafi: Shakespeare Was an Arab Named Shaykh Zubayr

I’ve been looking for a source for the widely known fact that Muammar Qadhafi claimed Shakespeare was not a native-born Englishman but, in fact, an Arab named Shaykh Zubayr.
Cork Milner’s site on the authorship controversy gives us this:

The most bizarre of all the pretenders is Muammar al-Qaddafi’s choice, Sheik Zubayr bin William. Quaddafi came up with his champion in 1989 when Radio Tehran announced that Libya’s “Great One” had declared that an Arab sheik named Zubayr bin William, who had been born in the sixteenth century, was Shakespeare.

I should point out that Qadhafi did not originate the bizarre claim that Shakespeare was a crypto-Arab.  Usually cited in jest, the Shaykh Zubayr “theory” holds that Shakespeare was actually an Arab Muslim living in Britain.  Various authors cite “evidence” including Shakespeare’s full lips and “Islamic” beard in the supposedly “un-English” Chandos portrait(above); his many treatments of mistaken or doubtful identity; and his allegedly unflattering views of Jews, Turks, and the British (supposedly clear in The Merchant of Venice, Othello, and the history plays).  Who but an Arab could harbor unfavorable views of precisely these three groups?

M.M. Badawi (“Shakespeare and the Arabs,” 1964) and Ferial Ghazoul (“The Arabization of Othello,” 1998) trace the Shaykh Zubayr authorship theory to a mid-nineteenth-century Lebanese satirical writer, Aḥmad Fāris al-Shidyāq; it was later taken up in earnest by Iraqi scholar Ṣafā’ Khulūṣī and then painstakingly refuted by Ibrāhīm Ḥamāda in a book-length essay, عروبة شكسبير (“The Arabness of Shakespeare,” 1989). Qadhafi drew Western headlines by mentioning it (perhaps jokingly? who can tell with such a lunatic?) in 1989.  

But the conceit of an Arab Shakespeare has also appealed to all kinds of intercultural writers addressing Western readers.  My favorite is Wole Soyinka in his essay “Shakespeare and the Living Dramatist” (replublished in Art, Dialogue, and Outrage). In a similar vein, Jordanian-Irish-American novelist Diana Abu Jaber in her novel Crescent has an Iraqi-American character invoke the theory, tongue-in-cheek, speaking to an American graduate student: “Did you know that Shakespeare’s favorite food was stuffed eggplant?  And there’s some who say that Shakespeare’s name was actually Sheikh Zubayr . . . There’s a nice thesis for you.’”  (132).  Sulayman al-Bassam resorts to a similar opening gambit in a 2005 Guardian column. So the authorship theory can be a playful bid for intercultural understanding, not only (as with Qadhafi) an insane claim of Arab cultural priority.
By the way, the would-be Arabic name preserves the phallic imagery of spear-shaking.  Zubr = penis.  So the diminutive zubayr, on one reading, is “little penis.”  Shake it, Will, habibi!