Hamlet’s Arab Journey

Hamlet’s Arab Journey: Shakespeare’s Prince and Nasser’s Ghost

Published October 2011. Available from Amazon.com or directly from Princeton University Press (you can download the table of contents and Chapter 1 for free).

Soha El-Sebaie’s translation into Arabic was published by Egypt’s National Center for Translation, Cairo, in February 2017.


Academic and popular reviews are archived at Academia.edu and on the book’s Facebook page.

Cover: Hamlet's Arab Journey

Here’s the jacket copy:

For the past five decades, Arab intellectuals have seen themselves in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: their times “out of joint,” their political hopes frustrated by a corrupt older generation. Hamlet’s Arab Journey traces the uses of Hamlet in Arabic theatre and political rhetoric, and asks how Shakespeare’s play developed into a musical with a happy ending in 1901 and grew to become the most obsessively quoted literary work in Arab politics today. Explaining the Arab Hamlet tradition, Margaret Litvin also illuminates the “to be or not to be” politics that have turned Shakespeare’s tragedy into the essential Arab political text, cited by Arab liberals, nationalists, and Islamists alike.

On the Arab stage, Hamlet has been an operetta hero, a firebrand revolutionary, and a muzzled dissident. Analyzing productions from Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Kuwait, Litvin follows the distinct phases of Hamlet’s naturalization as an Arab. Her fine-grained theatre history uses personal interviews as well as scripts and videos, reviews, and detailed comparisons with French and Russian Hamlets. The result shows Arab theatre in a new light. Litvin identifies the French source of the earliest Arabic Hamlet, shows the outsize influence of Soviet and East European Shakespeare, and explores the deep cultural link between Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and the ghost of Hamlet’s father.

Documenting how global sources and models helped nurture a distinct Arab Hamlet tradition, Hamlet’s Arab Journey represents a new approach to the study of international Shakespeare appropriation.


Times Literary Supplement, Bidoun, Choice, Comparative Drama, Theatre SurveyTheatre Research International, Shakespeare Studies, Shakespeare Quarterly, and various blogs. New reviews will be archived at the book’s Facebook page, not here.

Jacket Endorsements:

“A fascinating look at how one of the Western world’s most iconic literary characters has been appropriated by Arabs as a symbol of secularism, nationalism, or Islamism, depending on the prevailing political mood. Hamlet’s Arab Journey is not just a brilliant work of literary analysis–it is a wholly new way of thinking about modern Arab literary and political culture. Indeed, Litvin presents readers with a fresh interpretation of Arab history in the twentieth century, one told through the lens of perhaps the most famous play in the world. This is bold, clever, and fresh scholarship, written in clear and accessible prose, and intended for anyone who cares about the power of literature to transform society–for good or bad.”–Reza Aslan, author No god but God and Beyond Fundamentalism

“In this highly commendable book, Litvin looks at the cultural and political reasons that explain readings of Hamlet through different intervals in recent Arab history. The book’s topic is wonderfully chosen and argued, and will gather the attention of a wide range of readers.”–Muhsin Jassim Al-Musawi, Columbia University

“Presenting a strong and convincing argument, fascinating details, good historical contextualization, and a fast-paced narrative, this engrossing book shows how various productions and manifestations of Hamlet are in conversation with each other and with an enormous range of intellectual and artistic regions in the Arab world. It will reanimate conversations amongst various audiences interested in contemporary Arab cultural creation, the interplay of politics and culture, and of course, Shakespeare.”–Marilyn Booth, University of Edinburgh

Chapter previews, courtesy of JSTOR, available here. Or use Google Books’ preview.


4 thoughts on “Hamlet’s Arab Journey

  1. I’m an Italian journalist living in Dokki (right now in Italy, back in Cairo in three days). I’m going to write an article about your book (and Arab revolution, of course). Can we meet?

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