The Quest for the Sonnet

The Origins of the Sonnet in Arabic Poetry

in Critical Survey
Author: Kamal Abu-Deeb1
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  • 1 University of London
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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. –Eds.

Contributor Notes

Kamal Abu-Deeb is Emeritus Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature at SOAS, University of London. He has taught at Oxford, Pennsylvania, Berkeley, Columbia and Dartmouth as well as at Arab universities. His recent publications include a philosophical/political text on freedom, The Book of Freedom (in Arabic, 2012), and a complete translation into Arabic of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (2011). In 2016 he received the Sultan Bin Ali Al Owais Cultural Award. He lives and works in Oxford.