Shakespeare’s Orientalism Revisited

A Postcolonial Study of the Appropriation of Arabic/Islamic Allusions and Matters in the Bard’s Oeuvre

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  • 1 Department of English Language and Literature, University of Jordan, Amman, Jordan
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This article attempts to document and examine the corpus of Arabic and Islamic allusions and references in Shakespeare's drama and poetry in line with postcolonial discourse and theory. The works of Shakespeare incorporate a large body of Arabic/Islamic matters, which the Bard has gleaned from different sources, such as travel literature, narratives of pilgrims, history annals and common tales of the Crusaders. However, these matters are sporadic in Shakespeare's works, woven into the fabric of various plays and poems. For example, Shakespeare has thematically used a set of allusions and references to the Arab world such as Arabian trees, the Prophet Mohammed, the Turk, Aleppo, Jerusalem, and many others. Shakespeare has also presented three Oriental characters in his plays: the Prince of Morocco, Shylock and Othello, each with distinctive ethnic and personal traits. A scrutiny of Arabic and Islamic matters in the works of Shakespeare from postcolonial critical perspectives reveals that Shakespeare has a vague idea about Arabs and the Orient at large. Therefore, Shakespeare represents the Orient as the other; his Orient is rather exotic and bizarre, posing as an impending menace to Europe.

Contributor Notes

Mahmoud F. Al-Shetawi is a professor of English literature in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Jordan, Amman. He taught at Yarmouk University, Jordan, and other Arab universities such as the University of Qatar, Doha, and Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University, Riyadh. Al-Shetawi supervised dozens of PhD dissertations and MA theses in Jordan, and served as external examiner on many doctoral and masters examination committees in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. He has published scholarly articles in Journal of Intercultural Studies, Australasian Drama Studies, World Literature Today, Shakespeare Yearbook, Critical Survey and other academic journals published in Arab countries. His research interest falls mainly in Shakespeare studies, comparative drama and postcolonial drama, and he has published widely on the adaptation and appropriation of Shakespeare in Arabic literature. Al-Shetawi has just finished the manuscript of a book entitled Shakespeare's Arab Journey: Studies in Cross-Cultural Encounters. He is currently working on post-9/11 Arab-American drama and theatre.


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