The Martyrs of Love and the Emergence of the Arab Cultural Consumer

in Critical Survey
Author: Mark Bayer 1
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  • 1 American University of Beirut mark.bayer@utsa.edu
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Sometime around 1890, Romeo and Juliet became the first Shakespeare play translated into Arabic and staged at a public theatre. The classic love story proved exceedingly popular among theatregoers in Cairo, and it remained in the repertory of Iskandar Farah’s theatrical company and its various successors for over twenty years, even while it was simultaneously revived by other troupes. The success of this production has been duly noted. The popularity of Shuhada’ al-Gharam [The Martyrs of Love], as it was known, remains somewhat puzzling, however, since it was in many respects completely foreign to its early Arab audiences who had very little familiarity with Shakespeare, and especially the genre of tragedy. But if it was unfamiliar to them, replete with the melodramatic songs of the fl amboyant pop star Salama Hijazi, and punctuated with comic sketches, recited poetry and cabaret-style music between acts, it would strike Western viewers of Shakespeare as equally exotic.

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