Mounir Abou Debs’ Hamlet

Just wanted to draw attention toBlogger ImproBeirut‘s helpful comment on a much earlier post, alerting me to a photo just posted on the Mounir Abou Debs Facebook fan page:
“Check this link… you can find a picture from the 1967 production directed by Mounir Abou Debs of Hamlet, on the right hand side is Michel Nabaa along with Antoine Kerbage playing the king and Reda Khoury on the far right as Hamlet’s Mother.”
Great! Now anyone feel like tracking down and examining Adonis’ translation?

Adonis’ translation of Hamlet – produced in Baalbek, 1967

Does anyone know anything about this production?  I was just working on a reference book entry on Arabic Hamlet and came across some remarkable photos from it in an an old article by Suheil Bushrui (Middle East Forum, Spring 1971, pp. 54-64).

The production is mentioned on the festival web site (click on 1967), but no detail or photo is given.  Here’s what I know.
Translation: Adonis (Ali Ahmed Said)
Director: Mounir Abu Dibs (the legendary Ba’albek Festival founder – more here)
Production: Ba’albek Theatre Troupe
Locations: Byblos, Deir al-Kamar, and Ba’albek
Date: 1967 — apparently at that year’s Ba’albek summer festival? Right after the 1967 war??

Cast: will post more as I find out.  For now all I know is that Michel Naba’a played Hamlet. Choreographer/dancer Georgette Gebara did the choreography and played the Player Queen in the play-within-a-play.

Apparently the show enjoyed a very involved audience, as this joke repeated online testifies:

Years ago, a performance of Hamlet in Arabic took place in Byblos with Michel Naba’a in the lead role (Directed by Mounir Abou Debs in Arabic). During the scene when the Ghost appears and advises Hamlet on what to do, as he is leaving, he says to Hamlet in Arabic “LA TANSANI YA HAMLET”. [Don’t forget me, Hamlet.] Hamlet shrieks out “ANSAAK????”. [Forget you???] Whereupon, the audience joined in : “Da KALAAM??”.

(Here is “Ansaak, Da Kalaam?” [Forget you? What an idea!], the Umm Kulthum song the joke is referring to.)

But it seems not to have been new in 1967, but rather (and this would make much more sense, both war-wise and Shakespeare-quadricentennial-wise) in 1964 or earlier.  A Mounir Abou Debs adaptation of Hamlet is mentioned as early as 1963 in a UNESCO report, as an example of the televised drama in Arabic that was raising the overall cultural level of Lebanese TV programming.

Another UNESCO report, this one a book-length 1981 study by Joseph Abu Rizk titled La Politique Culturelle au Liban, cites the production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (among a long list of other prestigious works) as evidence of “le niveau atteint par le theatre [libanais].” (67-68).

If you’re in Lebanon at the moment (though you probably have other things on your mind), you might be able to find more info and/or some photos of the Hamlet production somewhere in here.

Shakespeare for the blind in Lebanon

Can anyone help with this most worthy query from the leaders of Empowerment through Integration, Inc., an NGO that works with the blind  (

This summer we are running day camps for blind kids ages 6-16 in Beirut and Tripoli, Lebanon. As part of our curriculum, we are having the kids rehearse and perform some short plays and a puppet theater.

I would like to have the older kids “watch” an Arabic-language version of a Shakespearean play.
Do you by any chance have video recordings of theater productions that would be suitable for a young audience? I need the media itself (i.e. DVD) in order to show it.

Please send any leads to me or, better, contact the organization directly.

‘To Be or Not To Be’ in Lebanon?

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.

Saad Hariri as Hamlet

Google just came across (on what looks to be some right-of-reasonable Jewish-themed blog) this satirical sketch comparing Saad Hariri to Hamlet (pursued by ghost of his father Rafik, even as evil stepfather Hassan Nasrallah seduces the weak mother/land, Lebanon-Gertrude).  Someone posted it back in January, when Saad’s government collapsed. 

Hamlet [to himself]: And this is why I have returned from Dubai? When I could have as well managed the business from there, enjoying myself like a pig in the mud? Or even from London… oh London, London… And here, what do I have here? Shia, Sunni, Christians, Druze all scheming and aiming to kill each other, the heat, the Syrians, the Hezbollah, the Israelis for crying out loud… who needs all this crap? Now this revenge schtick too… no, I definitely should get a ticket and scram!

The framing is better than the writing, but whatcha gonna do?  Unlike Hamlet, Saad Hariri has never been known for his eloquence.

Obama depicted as Hamlet on Libya

It is predictable that, even as Qadhafi is typed as Richard III or any of a number of other Shakespearean villains, Barack Obama gets described as Hamlet.

From Hip Hop Republican, 3/22/11

A few highlights:

  • Newsweek in a piece called The Big Dither:  “The president has been more Hamlet than Macbeth since the beginning of the revolutionary crisis that has swept the desert lands of North Africa and the Middle East. To act or not to act? That has been the question. The results of his indecision have been unhappy.”
  • Victor Davis Hanson generalizes the lack-of-leadership thing to Obama’s presidency as a whole: “Hamlet couldn’t quite ever act in time — given all the ambiguities that such a sensitive prince first had to sort out. In the meantime, a lot of bodies piled up through his indecision and hesitancy.”
  • This caricature from Crystal Wright’s piece at Hip Hop Republican.
  • And of course the Right Side News has to weigh in: “We have a ‘Hamlet on the Potomac’ in our Oval Office.  If you listen closely you can hear Obama twisting himself into knots asking the wrenching question:  ‘To lead… or NOT to lead?’ (Our apologies to Bill Shakespeare!)”
  • Former CFR chairman Leslie Gelb begs to differ (and engages in some Shakespeare interpretation in the process).
  • And Saul Landau in Counterpunch goes even further, denouncing the whole Hamlet role as a trap into which Obama has fallen.

It’s interesting to see the Anglo-American view of Hamlet as hesitator, quite at odds with the typical Arab view of Hamlet as revolutionary martyr/hero, getting a tiny bit of play in the Arabic press through translations of articles by American pundits.  Here’s the one by Victor Davis Hanson (in Arabic, in the Gulf-based al-Bayan) and here’s the Leslie Gelb piece on hypocrisy.

Beirut conference – Shakespeare and the Orient

Due Jan 21 2011
American University of Beirut
The American University of Beirut is hosting a three-day conference on Shakespeare’s Imagined Orient on 4-6 May 2011. Speakers include Jonathan Burton (West Virginia University), Gerald Maclean (University of Exeter, UK), Margaret Litvin (Boston University), Daniel Vitkus (Florida State University) and Richard Wilson (Cardiff University). Shakespeare studies has recently experienced a noticeable and dramatic geographical shift. As the textual landscape of Shakespeare’s drama changes, it takes new forms and now points to new horizons, namely the East and the Orient, and more particularly the Levant. From the blasted heaths of England, Shakespeare moves to the most arid and yet fertile soils of the Levant. The aim of the conference, in this emergent field, is to reconsider Shakespeare’s diffusion from both Pre and Postcolonial Middle Eastern perspectives and to examine Shakespeare’s critical relevance to understanding religion and politics on both a local scale (in the Middle East/the Orient) and globally. Reaching across disciplinary boundaries, Shakespeare’s Imagined Orient aims to prove how the critical and artistic reception of Shakespeare in the Orient is paramount to apprehending and reinventing Shakespeare as a cultural and social bridge uniting the “East” and the “West” in the landscape of global culture. The organisers of the conference hope to offer a critical insight into Shakespeare and Early Modern political theology that would help refashion, remap broader issues that engage the status of cultural and religious identity, nation, and individuality in the landscape of global culture. With such issues in mind, we invite submissions concerning the following range of topics: – Representations of the Orient in Shakespeare’s Work, – Christian/Muslim Representation/Interaction on Shakespeare’s/the Early Modern stage, – Local/Global Shakespeare (from a Middle Eastern perspective), – Shakespeare’s women and the Orient, – Desire, Phantasm, and the Orient, – Identity and Nationhood, – Material Culture and the Imagined Orient on Shakespeare’s Stage.

Please send abstracts (300 words) or session proposals and brief CV by 21 January 2011. Notifications will be sent by 15 February 2011. On your abstract please include your name, institution, city and state or country, email address and phone number. E-mail your abstracts/session proposals as a Word file. Please note that each presentation is limited to 25 minutes (including questions). Full details can be downloaded from the conference website at Questions may be addressed to the conference chair: Prof. Francois-Xavier Gleyzon at
Department of English
American University of Beirut
Fisk Hall, Rm 229
PO Box 11-0236
Beirut 1107 2020 – Lebanon
The conference is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the British Council, the Anis K. Makdisi Program in Literature, the Office of the Provost, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Center for American Studies and Research at the American University of Beirut.

Yvette Khoury on Akhir Yom

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.