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.

Comparing Iraqi politicians to Othello

Writing on the Sotaliraq (Voice of Iraq) web site, op-ed writer Majid `Anqabi compares Iraq’s governing elite to Othello (in Arabic). The headline is “Shakespeare’s play Othello and the Fear of the Liberation Square Demonstrators.”
`Anqabi mentions the theory “held by specialist scholars” that Othello was insecure about Desdemona because he was unable to satisfy her sexually, and thus became vulnerable to jealousy and had to kill her. His analogy is that the ruling Iraqi elite, unable to satisfy its people (e.g., by providing normal state services) is insecure and feels forced to crack down brutally when they demonstrate in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. A new twist to the woman-as-nation analogy.  Also more evidence that most Arab readings of Othello are concerned with the spousal relationship, NOT the West.
Incidentally, the writer also invokes Safa’ Khulusi and his nickname for Shakespeare, Shaykh Zubayr.

No Othello in Tangiers

I should clarify that there has been a funny linguistic misunderstanding. Back in June, while I was in Morocco, I misread “Hotel Tanja” as “Otayl Tanja,” i.e., Othello — which is easy to do, because the two are spelled identically, and because I had forgotten that Moroccans use the French word hotel instead of the classical Arabic word funduq. I was further misled by one of the plays in the volume being called Zanqat Shaksbir — Shakespeare Street. Which turns out to be about a real street in Tangiers, with a plot very vaguely reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet but too far to be considered a Shakespeare adaptation. My friend Khalid Amine, head of the International Center for Performance Studies in Tangier set me straight. Consider it a lesson in di- or tri-glossia.

El Attar at CIFET

The Cairo festival also includes a show called F*** Darwin, Or How I learned to Love Socialism, by Egyptian playwright/director Ahmed El Attar. Unaffiliated with any state-funded theatre in Egypt, El Attar’s Temple Independent Theatre Company is producing the show under the banner of Montenegro. It’s actually a co-production with a Montenegrin group.

El Attar’s postmodern collage, About Othello, Or Who’s Afraid of William Shakespeare (co-written with Nevine El Ibiary) was produced in Geneva last November. Earlier (Sept 13-18, 2006) it played to mixed reviews at AUC’s Falaki Theatre, the only venue in Cairo that could handle the technical complexities of its 2.5-ton industrial set and many projection screens.

According to El Attar, the whole of F*** Darwin involves a family sitting on a couch, very static, in contrast to the many moving parts of his Othello. When the father speaks to the son, it is with excerpts from Gamal Abdel Nasser speeches. Which is kind of nice.

UPDATE 6/23/11: The link to the About Othello review has gone dead, but I found another one, by Waleed Marzouk for the Daily News Egypt.  Clips of this visually not very interesting show soon to come at MIT’s Global Shakespeares archive – stay tuned.

Sameh Hanna on two nationalist Egyptian Othellos

Sameh F. Hanna, Othello in Egypt: Translation and the (Un)making of National Identity. In Translation and the Construction of Identity (St. Jerome, 2005), 109-128. (This is the First Yearbook of the International Association of Translation and Intercultural Studies.)


The long held view that national identities are natural entities whose
formation is not conditioned by human agency, and hence are constitutive rather
than constituted, has been challenged by a whole range of scholarship which
underlined the constructedness of national identities and the role of
intellectuals in their formation. The role of translators, as intellectuals, in
fashioning and subverting versions of national identity is discussed in this
paper in relation to two translations of Othello in Egypt, one by Khalil Mutran
(1912), and the other by Mustapha Safouan (1998). The translation strategies
adopted by these two translators are deployed towards the (de)construction of
the national identity of the target culture. In reading the two translators’
(un)making of national identity, this article relates their translation
strategies to their discourse on translation.

Some parts of this article (on Mutran) are recapped in Sameh’s contribution to the 2007 Critical Survey volume. But this piece is really good on the language politics guiding the two translations: Mutran’s Levantine Christian need to forge an identity that is larger than Egypt yet not premised on Islam; Safouan’s post-Nasser and post-Gulf War reversion to Egyptian identity and use of the play for collective political psychoanalysis. Using Othello allegorically in just the opposite of an anticolonial way, Safouan casts him as the delusional Arab nationalist leader so caught up in his own glory that he murders his willing and competent nation (Desdemona). If Safouan is washing any dirty linen, he doesn’t care — anyway for an `ammiyya translation his public would be small.