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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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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-fi ve 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.1 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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Katherine Hennessey and Margaret Litvin

When the first Critical Survey special issue on Arab Shakespeares (19, no. 3, Winter 2007) came out nearly a decade ago, the topic was a curiosity. There existed no up-to-date monograph in English on Arab theatre, let alone on Arab Shakespeare. Few Arabic plays had been translated into English. Few British or American theatregoers had seen a play in Arabic. In the then tiny but fast-growing field of international Shakespeare appropriation studies (now ‘Global Shakespeare’), there was a great post-9/11 hunger to know more about the Arab world but also a lingering prejudice that Arab interpretations of Shakespeare would necessarily be derivative or crude, purely local in value.