Opening of first "soliloquy" in Tanyus ‘Abdu’s Hamlet, 1901

أبتي أين أنت تنظر ما تم            صار عرصاً ذاك الذي كان مأتم
وغدت بعدك المآتم اعياداً           وذاك الثغر الحزين تبسم.

Why are the publishers having so much trouble getting this quotation to appear correctly in Arabic in the forthcoming issue of Shakespeare Studies?  Right-to-left issues are a pain.  My article on ‘Abdu will be in Shakespeare Studies Vol. 39, accessible via full-text humanities search engines as well as Google Books and the like.

Tanyus ‘Abdu’s "poetry" from Hamlet

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:

Early Arabic Shakespeare translations

This week I figured out which French translation was used by Tanyus Abdu, author of the first published Arabic Hamlet. (Hint: pick up John Pemble’s very entertaining Shakespeare Goes to Paris (2005). Then spend three days at Widener comparing half a dozen 18th and 19th-c French translations.)

It’s amazing no one has bothered to trace this before. It’s common knowledge that the early Arabic adapters/translators of Shakespeare were mainly Syrian-Lebanese immigrants to Egypt who knew French better than English and had absorbed the neo-classical aesthetics of French theatre. It’s even known that the earliest Arabic versions of Shakespeare were translated not from English but from French. (No surprise there — same thing happened in Russian, in Spanish, probably in plenty of other languages. Paris, capital of the 19th century, etc., etc.)

But… doesn’t this matter? Every critic and scholar I’ve seen notes the French mediation, then proceeds as though it never happened. They spill ink deploring or defending the “distortions” introduced by early adapters, especially Abdu and Mutran — without considering which of these distortions (like Abdu’s much-mocked happy ending!) were already present in their French sources. What a waste. Stop seeing it as a simple two-way exchange between Shakespeare and his Arab translator, and the literary argument about textual fidelity falls apart; even the Bourdieusian sociological argument (adaptation to the needs of Cairo’s emerging middle-class commercial theatre audience, then pursuit of autonomous aesthetic standards, etc.) can be made in a considerably more complicated and fruitful way.