I have an article in here about Sulayman Al-Bassam, complete critical history of his work up to and including the Richard III project.
Akhir Yom (The Last Day): A Localized Arabic Adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
Yvette K. Khoury
theatre research international · vol. 33 no. 1 pp 52–69
International Federation for Theatre Research 2008
This paper is an exploration of the 2004 Arabic adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet , which premiered in Casino du Liban in Beirut. The Last Day was created by Oussama al-Rahbani, who also composed the musical scores. The play shows how local Shakespeares resonate with the wider global field of study, which in turn echo East–West cultural interactions. The Last Day challenges our perception of the Other in Arabic drama as it questions intraculturalism within the conflict-ravaged Middle East. It prompts us to ask how we should address local Shakespeares in a global context, and how local knowledge illuminates our understanding of Shakespeare’s reception. This paper emphasizes the fluidity of the field of Shakespearean studies and the instability of East–West cultural divides.
An earlier version was given at the VII World Shakespeare Congress in Brisbane, 2006.
The current Journal of Arabic Literature has my piece on versions of Claudius in post-1975 Arab appropriations of Hamlet. Basically I argue that he turns into an invincible monster, a political Leviathan and sexual Minotaur who takes up the whole space of the play, leaving no space for real politics. I’m grateful to the anon. reviewer who made me figure out what I mean by “politics”… this pushed me to realize that you can in fact have power without politics, i.e., without members of a society having an opportunity to exercise their political natures in the Aristotelian sense. But what would political theatre or political agency mean in a context like that?
Anyway, here’s the link:
When the Villain Steals the Show: The Character of Claudius in Post-1975 Arab(ic) Hamlet Adaptations JAL 38:2, 196-219.
Periodically when you’re talking about Arab Shakespeare appropriation some mischievous soul will ask: “So, what do they do with The Merchant of Venice?” It’s a good (if not nice) question. Now we can refer it to Mark Bayer’s article in the current issue of Comparative Drama:
Mark Bayer, “The Merchant of Venice, the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the Perils of Shakespearean Appropriation,” Comparative Drama Volume 41 (Winter 2007-08 ), No. 4. See Project Muse for PDF and HTML.
Haven’t read it yet, but Bayer’s SAA paper on the same topic (2006) was interesting.
Almost a year later (who knows how the production has evolved by now?) my review of Sulayman Al-Bassam’s Richard III: An Arab Tragedy is out in the Winter ’07 Shakespeare Bulletin. Online through Project MUSE here: http://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/shakespeare_bulletin/v025/25.4litvin.html
And here are the nut grafs:
Included in the Complete Works Festival, Richard III: An Arab Tragedy was billed as a “response” to the main RSC production. It was an inspired commission. The Kuwaiti-British Al-Bassam oversaw a new Arabic translation of Shakespeare’s text and assembled a gifted pan-Arab cast. He
worked with costume designer Abdulla Al Awadi to reproduce (and parody) a variety of regional fashions, dressing Queen Elizabeth (Carole Abboud) in Qatar-esque “sophisticated hijab” and punctuating Lady Anne (Nadine Joma’a) with a pink handbag in the shape of a poodle. He recruited Kuwaiti musicians to perform a powerful score that drew on a range of Gulf Arab musical styles, offset with eerie post-modern compositions by Lewis Gibson. And, as he had done in his earlier Shakespeare adaptation, The Al-Hamlet Summit (staged in English in 2002 and in Arabic since 2004), Al-Bassam sought out contemporary Arab and Muslim
correlatives for Shakespeare’s treatment of rhetoric, religion, family, and politics.
However, Al-Bassam’s take on Richard III went a step deeper than allegory. Tickets were originally sold under the title “Baghdad Richard,” but Al-Bassam wisely decided against producing an adaptation centered on Saddam Hussein. Instead Richard III: An Arab Tragedy used Shakespeare’s play to orient Western viewers to some traits of Gulf Arab culture and politics. It also commented (pessimistically, I thought) on the chances that such an orientation could somehow make sense of the violence and suffering in the region. In fact, by showing how the very tokens of cultural exchange (traditional costumes, music, prayers, food rituals, rhetorical tropes, etc.) were cynically theatricalized and exploited by those in power, the production undercut its own ethnographic lessons even as it imparted them.
The current issue of Critical Survey brings together seven articles on Arab/ic adaptations, translations, and rewritings of Shakespeare’s plays. Beginning of my editorial is reprinted below (the PDF is here); you can see the whole issue (but your library needs to subscribe to Berghann Journals) here. Hurray! Many thanks to Prof. Graham Holderness for making this possible.
To my knowledge, this is the first essay collection in any language to be devoted to Arab appropriations of Shakespeare. Studies of international Shakespeare appropriation have mushroomed over the past 15 to 20 years. Excitement began to build in the 1990s, as several lines of academic inquiry converged. Translation theorists found in Shakespeare’s plays a convenient (because widely known and prestigious) test case. Scholars in performance studies, having noted how sharply local context could influence a play’s staging and interpretation, saw a need to account for ‘intercultural’ performances of Shakespeare in various languages and locales. Marxist scholars became interested in the fetishization of Shakespeare as a British cultural icon
which, in turn, was used to confer cultural legitimacy on the project of capitalist empire-building. Scholars of postcolonial drama and literature explored how the periphery responded. The “new Europe” provided another compelling set of examples. All this scholarship has developed quickly and with a great sense of urgency. Shakespeareans in many countries have contributed. By now there is a rich bibliography on Shakespeare appropriation in India, China, Japan, South Africa, Israel, and many countries in Latin America and Eastern and Western Europe.
Until recently, scholars of Arabic literature and drama were mainly passive participants in this growing Shakespeare conversation. The Arab world went unnoticed in the numerous edited volumes on international Shakespeare reception and appropriation. Though often aware of the major congresses on the subject, Arab scholars were rarely represented there. The World Shakespeare Bibliography Online, which catalogues materials in 118 languages, has had only
one active Arabic-speaking contributor in the past decade. Interesting studies of Shakespeare reception written in Arabic have not been translated. In English, a handful of articles and dissertations has represented the field. When scholars in Europe and the United States have occasionally mentioned ‘Arab Shakespeare’ to their colleagues, they have presented it almost as a novelty. Sometimes they have not hesitated to draw easy laughs by invoking the old legend
or joke that Shakespeare was really a crypto-Arab, ‘Shaykh Zubayr’.
However, this situation is changing quickly. In 2006 and 2007 the World Shakespeare Congress and the Royal Shakespeare Company, respectively, welcomed contributions by Arab playwrights. Shakespeareans and scholars of Arab drama and literature are getting better at talking to each other. (I should note that Graham Holderness has personally done much to help this trend with his involvement and encouragement over the past two years.) And as the essays in this issue will attest, Shakespeareans and Arabists alike are taking a variety of approaches to the question of what Arab readers, translators, rewriters, producers, directors, critics, and audiences do with Shakespeare.
Articles by Mark Bayer, Sameh F. Hanna, Khalid Amine, Rafik Darragi, Graham Holderness and Bryan Loughrey, Holderness, and me.