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The Quest for the Sonnet: The Origins of the Sonnet in Arabic Poetry

Kamal Abu-Deeb

Keywords: Frederick II; Giacomo da Lentini; Ibn Hamdis al-Siqilli; Ibn Sahl al-Ishbili; Ibn Sana’ al-Mulk; muwashshah; Petrarchan sonnet; Shakespearean sonnet

Abstract

For decades, Arab and Western scholars have wondered about a possible genealogical relationship between the European sonnet and earlier Arabic poetic forms such as the muwashshah form popular in Muslim Spain. Published in 2011, Kamal Abu-Deeb’s Arabic translation of Shakespeare’s Sonnets not only offered a well-received complete translation of the sonnets; it also proposed a bold theory of how exactly this genealogical link might have worked. In the section of his introduction excerpted here, which he has rewritten in English (with a special English epilogue) for this issue at our request, Abu-Deeb lays out an argument that the polyglot Sicilian court of Frederick II (1194–1250) was the forum in which poet Giacomo da Lentini, father of the Italian sonnet, might have heard, adopted and adapted Arabic poetry of muwashshah type. Abu-Deeb also discusses what he calls his ‘fantasy’ of an Arab origin for Shakespeare’s name. We present this valuable document to you as Abu-Deeb wrote it, with minimal editorial alterations.

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