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Vanishing Intertexts in the Arab Hamlet Tradition

Margaret Litvin

A scorpion, its poisonous tail torn out, runs desperate circles around a piece of burning coal. A small boy sits in front of a screen, watching a film of a play translated from one language he does not understand into another. Twenty-five years later, these two events – an upper- Egyptian game, a Russian film of an English play – coalesce into a one-act play called Dance of the Scorpions, an Arabic-language offshoot of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This, at any rate, is the simple etiology offered by the offshoot play’s creator, Egyptian playwright/ director Mahmoud Aboudoma. Let me summarise Aboudoma’s offshoot play and two versions of his first Shakespeare encounter before pointing to the larger questions these stories help to frame. This article will then make a start at addressing those questions.

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Editorial

Margaret Litvin

To my knowledge, this is the first essay collection in any language to be devoted to Arab appropriations of Shakespeare. Studies of international Shakespeare appropriation have mushroomed over the past fifteen to twenty years. Excitement began to build in the 1990s, as several lines of academic inquiry converged. Translation theorists found in Shakespeare’s plays a convenient (because widely known and prestigious) test case. Scholars in performance studies, having noted how sharply local context could influence a play’s staging and interpretation, saw a need to account for ‘intercultural’ performances of Shakespeare in various languages and locales. Marxist scholars became interested in the fetishisation of Shakespeare as a British cultural icon which, in turn, was used to confer cultural legitimacy on the project of capitalist empire-building. Scholars of postcolonial drama and literature explored how the periphery responded. The ‘new Europe’ provided another compelling set of examples. All this scholarship has developed quickly and with a great sense of urgency. Shakespeareans in many countries have contributed. By now there is a rich bibliography on Shakespeare appropriation in India, China, Japan, South Africa, Israel and many countries in Latin America and Eastern and Western Europe.

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Introduction

Katherine Hennessey and Margaret Litvin

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Contributors

Khalid Amine, Mark Bayer, Rafik Darragi, Sameh F. Hanna, Graham Holderness, Margaret Litvin, and Bryan Loughrey

Notes on contributors