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Othello in Oman

Aḥmad al-Izkī’s Fusion of Shakespeare and Classical Arab Epic

Katherine Hennessey

A recent work of theatre from Oman, Aḥmad al-Izkī’s al-Layla al-Ḥālika (The Dark Night, 2010), weaves together themes and characters from Shakespeare’s Othello and the pre-Islamic epic ‘Antara Ibn Shaddād, imagining a series of encounters which ultimately allow the protagonists to escape the tragic ending of Shakespeare’s play. This article argues that this juxtaposition performs a clever and well-placed intervention in ongoing socio-political debates on the Arabian Peninsula surrounding issues of identity, citizenship and political participation, and that the play argues for inclusivity and tolerance in the face of deep-seated racism and rising sectarianism. Furthermore, while al-Izkī’s script provides a happy ending, the 2010 production directed by ‘Abd al-Ghafūr al-Balūshī suggested a darker warning against the continuing threat of political, ethnic and sectarian divisions across the Gulf, a warning that subsequent events have borne out.

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Graham Holderness

This is the second issue of Critical Survey dedicated to Arab Shakespeare. When I invited Margaret Litvin to edit the first, which appeared in 2007, the field hardly existed. Ten years ago in 2006 the World Shakespeare Congress in Brisbane hosted a panel on Arab Shakespeare that began to shape a new field of inquiry.

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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.

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The Taming of the Tigress

Fāṭima Rushdī and the First Performance of Shrew in Arabic

David C. Moberly

Few scholars have addressed Arabic adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew, though it remains among the most popular Shakespearean comedies in the Arab world. The first Arabic performance of Shrew in Egypt in 1930 marked a significant landmark in the history of Arab Shakespeares, as the translator rendered the play in colloquial Egyptian Arabic, rather than in the formal, classical Arabic accessible to the educated elite. As such, the play offered the uneducated Egyptian public – and women in particular – unprecedented access to this work of Shakespeare. Instrumental to the adaptation’s success was Fāṭima Rushdī, owner and lead actress of the company that performed this first Arabic Shrew. In this and other roles as one of Egypt’s first renowned Shakespearean actresses, Rushdī not only effectively recast Shakespeare in an Egyptian mould, but also cast Egyptians in a Shakespearean mould, with effects that still echo today.