Thursday, December 19, 2013

More on Sisi-mania

How did I miss this back in September?  Egyptian actress Lubna Abdel Aziz publicly wishing that she could have the greatness of Egypt's military savior Abdel Fattah El-Sisi... thrust upon her.  She writes:
Are heroes born, made or chosen? Perhaps, all of the above. William Shakespeare believed, “some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Our hero may be the latter, for he sought nothing, yet emerged unexpectedly, admired and beloved, and in full army regalia, smoothly assumed the role he was born for.
So smooth. More on Abdel Aziz's loony opinions, which have nothing to do with Shakespeare, at the NY Times' The Lede here.

"Othelliano" in Egypt

The bits of good news are that the Hanager is open and even before the lifting of Cairo's nightly curfew in mid-November, it seems people were somehow able to go.

Hanager opened with a production of Macbeth earlier before putting on a "popular" adaptation of Othello in early November, titled Othelliano and directed by Reda Hssanin. According to reviewers, it highlighted the comic and farcical aspects of the play and included various elements of "spectacle" such as puppet theatre.  Ahram articles here and here (in Arabic).  Facebook page for the show here.
And isn't their poster gorgeous?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Conference call on International Shakespeare (in Amherst, MA this March)

Sounds like Arabists would be welcome... 

International Shakespeare: Translation, Adaptation, and Performance

University of Massachusetts Amherst 
8-9 March 2014 
The Translation Center in partnership with The Renaissance Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, co-sponsored by the English Department and the Comparative Literature Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, invite scholars to its first annual conference, “International Shakespeare: Translation, Adaptation, and Performance,” on March 8-9, 2014. Paper proposals are welcome on a number of topics: case studies of translation, production, imitation or reception of Shakespeare worldwide, as well as on the impact of these phenomena on the interpretation of Shakespeare’s texts. The conference can integrate theories of identity, political perspectives, translation, readership, reception and censorship. Please submit 250-500 word abstracts to Marie Roche ( and/or Edwin Gentzler (  by Jan.15, 2014.

Shakespeare alive and well in Tunisia

Today was the third anniversary of Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation, the official spark that ignited the so-called Arab Spring. Whatever else may be happening in Tunisia (national dialogue, uneasy negotiations between secularists and Islamists
On BBC this morning, Lise Doucette began her polyglot report on Tunisia (download here; listen at 11:00 - then go back and notice the cultural politics of language, how Rachid Ghannouchi and some others speak beautiful standard Arabic, Beji Caid Essebsi predictably speaks French, the Salafists speak accented and French-inflected but extremely expressive English...) from a theatre, Toufik Jebali's Teatro, where the new cycle of his satirical show Klem Ellil Zero Virgule (Night Talk Zero Comma, or 0.00 as we might translate it in English) was playing to what others described as packed houses.
"And you use Shakespeare - why use Shakespeare in this very Tunisian production?" she asks Raouf Ben Amor, obviously intrigued."And is it a comedy?"  "Nooo, a tragedy," he insists jauntily. "A tragedy that we meet with as a comedy."
Jebali has posted 16 mins of clips from the show (with French subtitles) at  Look for the Hamlet lines starting around 2:57, where Hamlet's "Seems, madam?" speech is addressed (in English) to a niqab-wearing mannequin in a weird critique of Islamists' "customary suits of solemn black" and all the hypocrisy they connote.  Then around 6:50 for the inevitable 2B||!2B:
(It seems Ben Amor is taking the occasion to reminisce about his days as a theatre student in London in the 1970s.)

And of course, the obsession with morgues and gravediggers, the feeling of danse macabre throughout.  As reviewer Asma Drissi puts it:
Dans Klem Ellil zéro virgule, Shakespeare trouve bien sa place, les apparitions de Raouf Ben Amor dans des monologues d'Hamlet ou de Macbeth viennent souligner cette obsession de la mort. Des têtes, des membres, des corps avec des excroissances totalement difformes, des monstres, en somme... il semblerait que Jebali veuille nous dire que nous avons accouché d'un monstre!?
And she goes on to point out that the habit of reading between the lines of a play script, decoding the taboos, so well developed under the authoritarian Arab rulers of the past 40 years, still works to enhance theatregoers' pleasure in Tunisia even today:
Entre rires et émotions qui nous prennent à la gorge, Klem Ellil zéro virgule nous livre tout, sans discours directs et enflammés... lire entre les lignes et s'adonner à un exercice intellectuel pour décrypter les non-dits; c'est à cela que nous invite Jebali, mais on peut aussi se suffire au simple rire libérateur que nous offre cette pièce, le théâtre de Jebali a toujours fonctionné ainsi... A vous de choisir votre propre lecture des choses.
Among other bits of Shakespeariana in Tunisia: another show last summer from serial Shakespeare adaptaer Mohamed Kouka, called Shakespeare Ech Jebou Lena.  Apparently it "offers a humorous take on how Shakespeare's comedies are still relevant in contemporary society." 

And of course there's the semi-expat production of "Macbeth: Leila and Ben" (which has been mentioned here before) - enjoying quite a run after London's 2012 World Shakespeare Festival.  It was warmly received in Tunisia last spring. Although "much awaited" at the Carthage Theatre Days festival last month (which sounded amazing), it was canceled at the last moment for health reasons when director Lotfi Achour had to be hospitalized in Paris; Jebali's play was scheduled instead.  Hopefully Achour has recovered; last week the show toured to Sao Paulo, Brazil!  It's scheduled to open at Paris's Tarmac Theatre in January 2014.
offers a humorous take on how Shakespeare’s comedies are still relevant in contemporary society. - See more at:
offers a humorous take on how Shakespeare’s comedies are still relevant in contemporary society. - See more at:

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Shakespearean teaches/learns a lesson about R&J in Palestine

A fantastic column by Tom Sperlinger at Mondoweiss (many thanks to Refaat Alareer for sending it along!) explores a course module Sperlinger taught on Romeo and Juliet at Al-Quds University in Abu Dis, in the occupied West Bank.  At the end, after discussing the play for weeks, he asked students to think about adapting it to the Palestinian context.  Here's a photo of their whiteboard:

He gives excerpts from several students' adaptations, too.  The most interesting do NOT have Romeo as an Israeli Jew and Juliet as a Muslim Palestinian (or v-v), but rather make Romeo and Juliet into Palestinians from opposite sides of the Green Line.  For instance, TS writes:
In a rewrite by a boy called Qais, Romeo was Rami, a resident of Ramallah, and Juliet was Juweida, from Barta’a, a Palestinian village in Israel. Qais set the play towards the end of the second intifada (2000-2005), when it was nearly impossible for young men like Rami to go into Israel. Rami and Juweida can only meet on the internet, and ‘as if the existing political issues aren’t enough, their main problem is surprisingly family tradition’. Both families are Arab and both feel ‘bitterness’ about their country’s plight. But Juweida’s family are Israeli citizens and think ‘they are privileged and live within a modern, stable “country” and view Rami as a broke loser.’
And so on.  Apparently students at Abu Dis have all kinds of different ID cards and find themselves in such situations relatively frequently.  That institutional frame is more interesting to them than the simple Qays&Layla forbidden love aspect of it. 

Sperlinger concludes: "I no longer think that Romeo and Juliet is a love story."  In part this is because he has always thought of Rom and Juli as "teenagers" -- but living in Palestine has shifted his perception of what a teenager can be, do, understand, suffer.  Kind of a classic expat essay, but moving nonetheless.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

CFP: Essays on cross-cultural Hamlet translation

Reposting this from the ESRA list.  Any takers? 

Hamlet Translations
Call for Contributions
This interdisciplinary collection of articles discusses how Shakespeare's Hamlet has been translated into different languages and cultures at various historical moments (including our times) and for different purposes: performance, reading, artistic experimentation, language-learning, nation-building and personal identity-formation, among many others.
Hamlet, a central text not only of the Shakespearean canon but Western culture generally has travelled in translation worldwide; yet, as Laura Bohannan reminds us in “Shakespeare in the Bush”, the oft-cited universality of the story may not be more than a myth. There are many Hamlets, and rather than straightforward replicas of the original (indeed, which one?) they are texts that carry traces of their own time and place. Hamlets in different tongues may be seen as significant memory-places and multi-layered palimpsests. This volume is interested in shedding light on the many hues and refractions Hamlet gains in translation and, at the same time, reasons for its transcultural presence as cultural capital.
Contributions are welcome on any aspect of translating Hamlet, primarily in interlingual contexts (theatrical, literary, scholarly, retranslations, dramaturgical adjustments, surtitling productions, translations in manuscripts as well as those canonised and constantly re-edited, translations from English as well as from relay languages or indeed translation from English into English, nontranslation or a lack of translation). Different approaches will be considered: contextualised case studies (contemporary and historical), overviews focusing on a particular national culture, comparative articles, insights into language history, style and translation norms through Hamlet, gender- or social-class oriented analyses, character-based, scene-based or motif-based approaches, theoretical explorations, practitioners' reflections, and so on.
Please email a 300 word abstract accompanied by a short biographical note to the editor, Márta Minier, by 15 November 2013 to and
If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact the editor.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

El-Sisi as Macbeth

Bloody days in Egypt.  A Pakistani columnist (might they know a thing or two about military dictatorships propped up by a well-manipulated Islamist threat?) predictably and accurately invokes Shakespeare to size up the carnage, implicitly comparing Egypt's de facto ruler Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to Macbeth.  The interesting part is his critique of Mohamed El Baradei, the Nobel laureate/coup backer/fig leaf vice president/perennial tweeter of truth to power whose belated post-massacre bout of conscience has driven him to exile in Vienna.  El Baradei is compared, a bit shockingly to my eyes (is it the gender dimension? or the implication that he has actual blood on his hands?) to Lady Macbeth:
Interim Deputy President of Egypt, Mohamed Mustafa El Baradei, generally considered as a toady of the West, has resigned protesting the military crackdown. However, can he absolve himself of the responsibility? He cannot remove the innocent blood of thousands of innocent Egyptians off his hands like Shakespeare's Macbeth after the murder of Duncan:

“Will all great Neptune‘s ocean
wash this blood,
Clean from my hand? No, this my
hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red” (II:2).

Nobel Laureate El Baradei, rightfully considered as the enemy within, stands among them who have turned red the blue waters of the Mediterranean. History is witness that people, who have innocent blood on their hands and conscience, are judged even posthumously and most often they taste the fruit of their crops in their lives. Shakespeare again points this fact through Macbeth's soliloquy in Act 1 Scene VII very well:

“But here, upon this bank and
shoal of time,
We'd  jump the life to come.
But in these cases
We still have judgment here;
that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which,
being taught, return
To plague the inventor: this
even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our
poison’d chalice
To our own lips.”
I don't know enough about Pakistan to pinpoint the local targets of Syed Javed Hussein's critique, but it sounds like there might be some.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Pray for Egypt

Time out of joint. But in case anyone doubted the omni-relevance of Hamlet in Egyptian political culture, here's a typical, fairly vacuous example of a secularist writer in Egypt, Mona Ragab, organizing a column in the Al-Dustur newspaper (from Aug 12, before the latest bloody crackdown on Brotherhood supporters) as an extended riff on how the phrase "To be or not to be" (and she highlights its source) captures the great dilemma facing Egypt's identity today. She glosses "To be or not to be" as a choice "between survival and dissolution" (al-baqa' wa-l-fana' -- a Sufi-tinged phrase that has a history in Arabic Shakespeare translations), then "between success and failure."
«إما أن نكون أو لا نكون، هذه هى المسألة « هى عبارة شهيرة للشاعر الإنجليزى الخالد والأشهر ويليام شكسبير من مسرحيته الشهيرة «هاملت» والتى تحولت إلى أفلام سينمائية ومسرحيات بعدة لغات فاشتهرت فى أنحاء العالم
إلى يومنا هذا، وتحولت إلى حكمة حول البقاء فى اللحظات الصعبة، وهذه العبارة تعكس القدرة على الاختيار بين ضدين، إما البقاء أو الفناء، أو بين النجاح أو الفشل للإنسان، إلا أنها أيضاً تتعلق بكل القرارات الصعبة فى الحياة.
Egypt, she argues, must choose: to be the multi-religious nation with the 7000-year history, or to fall victim to the "terrorism" of "al-Ikhwan al-Muta-aslimin" (The Islamizing Brotherhood) against the will of the "vast majority of the Egyptian people." 
Accusations of fascism as well as symptoms of fascist behavior have not been lacking on either side of the latest wave of conflict in Egypt; as ever, Hamlet lends himself to such polemics. 
إن الشعب المصرى الآن أمام اختبار محدد فى هذا التوقيت الدقيق من تاريخ الوطن وبعد ثورة كاسحة ضد حكم الإخوان المتأسلمين وهو «إما أن نكون أو نكون»، إننا أمام مسألة مصير وطن عمره ٧٠٠٠ عام، وبقاء دولة بكافة مؤسساتها المختلفة، وشعب يضم مسلمين ومسيحيين تعايشوا معا ولم يفرقهم أحدا طوال هذا التاريخ الممتد عبر العصور ورغم تعاقب الحضارات على أرضه المباركة.
«إما أن نكون» هو خيارنا الوحيد كشعب عريق يريد دولة مدنية ديقراطية ومستنيرة وليست قائمة على الاتجار بالدين، وكحكومة ليس أمامها إلا أن تستجيب وأن تلتزم بإرادة الشعب المصرى، والـ٤٠ مليون رجل وامرأة وشاب وشابة ممن خرجوا لتفويض الجيش المصرى بمواجهة الإرهاب والعنف.
لقد رفض الشعب الإرهاب وأقصد بالشعب الشعب المصرى كله باستثناء عدد قليل يمثلون جماعة الإخوان المتأسلمين وأتباعها، والمرتزقة الموالين لها من غير المصريين والذين يحملون السلاح ويوجهونه بكل صفاقة إلى صدور المصريين بغية بيع الأرض المصرية وتقسيمها.
«إما أن نكون» هو اختيار لابد أن تترجمه الحكومة المصرية الانتقالية لوقف قتل المصريين وتفعيل القوانين التى تمنع التظاهرات والاعتصامات والمسيرات المسلحة والممارسات الإجرامية والتعذيب الوحشى والخطف الممنهج لمعارضيهم.
 I never said it was pretty, did I?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Antony & Cleopatra at FringeNYC: "These strong Egyptian fetters I must break"

It's interesting how few Arab adapters of Shakespeare do anything with Antony and Cleopatra. The best-known adapter, the Egyptian "poet of princes and prince of poets" Ahmad Shawqi, made a point of appearing to avoid Shakespeare's version in his own Tragedy of Cleopatra, although M.M. Badawi finds evidence of Shakespearean influence.

But if you're in New York this month and feel like exploring the play's Egyptian resonances, check out this American-made Tahrir-themed adaptation by The Porch Room on the NYC fringe.  The company's press release follows:

The Porch Room Presents
Antony & Cleopatra: Infinite Lives
The New York International Fringe Festival - FringeNYC
A production of The Present Company
August 9th - 25th| Tickets: $15-$18.
For tickets visit
Showtimes: 8/10 9pm |  8/11 2pm | 8/16 9:30pm |  8/18 4:45pm |  8/19 12noon
The Lynn Redgrave Theater  45 Bleecker Street  New York, NY 10012
The Porch Room is proud to present Anthony & Cleopatra: Infinite Lives as part of the 17th annual New York International Fringe Festival - FringeNYC.  The play, a sold out hit at last year’s Philly Fringe Festival, will be directed by John P. Dowgin; it was written by Pete Barry and J. Michael DeAngelis, with original text by William Shakespeare.  Just named a “Top Eight Must See” show at the Fringe by!
Antony & Cleopatra: Infinite Lives is the story of an Egyptian expatriate who gets caught between two revolutionaries - her fiancé, an activist director who tries to upend his commissioned Shakespeare production, and her brother, a nationalist fresh from the violence of Tahrir Square.  Drawn from the events of 2011, this original play juxtaposes the recent Egyptian revolution alongside Cleopatra's Egypt as seen by Shakespeare. 

The show features Samantha Apfel, Thom Boyer, Kelsey Bramson, Catherine Cela, Tara Cioletti, Nick Imperato, Chelsea Lando, David Mazzucchi, Nazli Sarpkaya, Jackie Sherman, Brandon Smalls, Kyle Smith and Thanh Ta.  Devin Plantamura and Dustin Karrat are returning to reprise the roles they originated at last year’s Philly Fringe Festival.
Original music by Rebecca Kotcher.  Costumes by Olivia Rutigliano.  Directed by John P. Dowgin.  Written by Pete Barry and J. Michael DeAngelis, with original text by William Shakespeare.  Produced by The Porch Room.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Juba Arabic Cymbeline tries to come home

Even the "As seen at Shakespeare's Globe" label doesn't seem to guarantee success...
An improbable sight can be witnessed in Juba these days: South-Sudanese actors dressed in traditional garb reciting Shakespeare in Juba Arabic. They are part of South Sudan Theatre Company, which has been fighting tooth and nail to help the art of theatre thrive in a difficult environment.
The rest of the France24 profile is equally complimentary/pessimistic.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Palestinian-themed Merchant of Venice in the Netherlands (scholarly article)

An article by Jessica Apolloni in this month's Shakespeare Bulletin examines a Moroccan-Dutch author's Palestine-themed Merchant of Venice adaptation. Here are the opening paragraphs:
Shylock Meets Palestine:Rethinking Shakespeare in Abdelkader Benali’s Yasser
University of Minnesota
Abdelkader Benali’s Yasser (2001), a recent adaptation of The Merchant of Venice, expands and complicates the cross-cultural tensions in Shakespeare’s play. Yasser is a monologue centering on the character Yasser Mansour, a Palestinian actor thinking through what it means to play the role of Shylock after growing up near the Israeli-Palestinian border in the 1980’s Intifada. While Yasser contemplates the idea of playing a Jewish character, he struggles to identify with Shylock as a member of the ethnic group that currently opposes Palestine. Benali examines questions of stolen, ascribed, and confused identity through Yasser’s plight to understand Shylock. In this process, the “fiction” of Shakespeare’s text permeates Yasser’s reality. Yasser claims his English girlfriend, who plays Portia, “forces him into Christianity,” and becomes his antagonist both on and off the stage; the pound of flesh becomes symbolic of the blood spilt in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and Yasser’s adult life in the West increasingly reflects a sense of Shylock’s persecution (Benali 12).1 Through Yasser’s reflections, Benali illuminates the fluid boundary between text, performer, and audience.
Situated within the growing interest in Shakespeare and the Arab world [how happy does that make me? -ML], Yasser adds a new layer to the continued process of understanding, adapting, and portraying Shakespeare.2 Benali uses the cultural baggage inherent in staging The Merchant of Venice to think through literature’s role in revealing violent tensions and also at times contributing to cultural conflict. In this process, Benali rethinks what it can mean to perform Shakespeare today. As the play progresses, Yasser Mansour finds a way to make sense of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by connecting imaginatively with Shakespeare’s creation of an earlier social system that situates Jews and Christians on opposing sides. In the porous relationship between [End Page 213] fiction and reality that is developed in Yasser, we see the means of establishing prejudice in literary works as well as their potential for creating common understanding. Benali places the violent cultural conflict of The Merchant of Venice center-stage, continually exposing the play’s problematic performance history in order to establish a dialogue with his audience. The cultural weight of Shakespearean performance becomes a ‘cultural touchstone’ for Benali’s discussion of the current Middle East conflict (or page ref if quotation). In Benali’s rethinking of Shakespeare, Yasser gets to the heart of cross-cultural conflict by looking at questions of identity and exploring literature’s power to create a common means of communication.
What it all seems to come down to, sadly, is that Palestinians are the new Jews. Here's her conclusion:

Yasser can then confidently state, “The Arab understands Shylock better than anyone!” (3). Through his persecution as a Palestinian, Yasser can empathize with Shylock’s plight in The Merchant of Venice. Although throughout the play we get a glimpse of what it would be like to grow up in the Intifada, a time of intense violence between Israelis and Palestinians, Yasser realizes that despite their constructed differences, there is no one better to play the role of Shylock than himself. Both Yasser and Shylock live in societies where they have indefinite legal and social existences, their communities enclosed within high-rising walls (Falke 230). The sixteenth-century indeterminate status of Jews in Europe parallels the current ambiguous status of Palestinians, with both identities lacking solidarity in sovereign, legal, and social statuses (Shapiro 175; Falke 233). Benali equates the violent cultural tensions occurring in Shakespeare’s text with current cultural conflict. Through the power of role-playing, Benali highlights the innate similarities between two perceivably opposing identities in Yasser and Shylock.
While Yasser realizes that no one is better suited to play Shylock than himself, the terrible prejudice he has faced in Western society is what creates this bond. Yasser and Shylock have come to an accord that is merely based on a mutual sense of violence, oppression, and injustice. Yasser’s journey leads us through questions of identity, the politics of staging Shakespeare, the impact of role-playing, and the horrific implications of cultural misunderstanding. Benali evokes Western perceptions and prejudices through the lens of Shakespeare in order to articulate an individual voice pleading for mutual respect. The last lines of the play illustrate a hopeless dream of Yasser’s, in which Lucy will move to Palestine with him so that she can see the place where he was born. Here, she will learn his language and finally stop seeing the difference between a Christian and a Muslim (42). Yet we know from what we have previously seen in the play that this is an impossible dream. Lucy not only ignores Yasser’s concerns over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but she also blatantly refuses [End Page 228] to understand Yasser’s culture. In the same way Portia refutes Shylock, Lucy suppresses Yasser’s challenging of current social structures. It appears nothing can overcome their antagonism, both on and off the stage. In Yasser’s final unattainable dreams, the play echoes the same sense of unease felt in the resolution to The Merchant of Venice, where the fantasy of a happy ending illustrates the long road still ahead in reaching mutual understanding.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

"Leila & Ben" in Tunisia

Once again, a London premiere is key to a successful staging in the play's original (?) intended context.  Check out coverage of Lotfi Achour's "Macbeth: Leila&Ben - A Bloody History" as it makes its triumphant "home"coming to Tunisia.
Reviewed by the Christian Science Monitor,
on the Tunisia Live blog, 
AFP (who neglect to mention that it opened in the UK). An "in-country and international tour" is apparently coming up ...

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

"To be or not to be an Israeli Arab"

Just came across this 2010 essay in Comparative Literature: "To Be or Not to Be an Israeli Arab: Sayed Kashua and the Prospect of Minority Speech-Acts."  Gil Hochberg's invocation of Hamlet (and, perhaps unintentionally, of a post-simple-nationalist Arab Hamlet tradition) in this context seems felicitous. Whose language to speak? Whose identity to embrace? Which cultural performances will "denote me truly"?

I saw Kashua speak at Tufts last spring, at a wonderful event co-hosted by Jonathan Wilson of the Humanities Center and my friend Amahl Bishara.  At the Tufts Hillel, of all places.  (The plaque behind him says, ironically, "How good and pleasant it is for us all to dwell together.")  Then went home and read his Second Person Singular in two nights.  His major intertext in that book is not Shakespeare but Tolstoy, The Kreutzer Sonata, seen through the prism of Hebrew translation at that. In any case, his observations on the paradoxes of upwardly mobile Arab-Israeli (as he calls it) identity are witty and convincing.

"Alas, poor Syria"!

This editorial cartoon by Habib Haddad just ran in Al-Hayat.  Poor Syria takes the place of the skull.  It's macabre and effective, partly because it follows the usual polemical pattern of personifying the nation as a single person with a single uncertain fate: in this case, Yorick.
h/t David Karjala.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Bashar as "Brutus or Macbeth"

Franklin Lamb at Countercurrents writes of Bashar al-Asad's most recent non-concession speech, delivered in operatic style at the Damascus Opera House:
The nearly 1,400 seating capacity Opera Theater was packed for yesterday’s presidential address, and as in the final scene of Mozart’s Opera, the conclusion of Bashar Assad’s performance was followed by, as Mozart wrote, “a night-long celebration” among many of his supporters here in Damascus. Basher Assad’s glory, as he tried to leave the stage last night and was swarmed by scores of admirers, may not have been that of Caesar’s, during the Gallic wars as the latter also portrayed a domestic crisis and challenge as a defensive struggle to save “Rome”. And granted, it is unlikely that Syria’s president will appear to his critics as posh as John Kennedy at Vienna’s Opera House. But the man connected with his audience (s) during his watershed speech. He excelled in delivery, content and, most critically, stating and advocating what he believes is his countryman’s case. While welcoming foreign advice on how to end the current crisis, he insisted that the Syrian people throughout their history of resistance to occupation and hegemony have rejected the orders from certain governments he referred to, in the current crisis, as the “masters of the puppets” who are every day causing death, destruction and deprivations across the Syrian Arab Republic. Admittedly sleep deprived, this observer, as he listened to Bashar Assad’s address was reminded of a Macbeth or Brutus soliloquy. I could not help but transpose in my mind Brutus’ plea in Act 3, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:
“Who is here so rude or unpatriotic that would not be a Syrian? Who is here so vile that will not love his country? If any, speak–for him
I have not intentionally or unjustly wronged. I pause for a reply.”
Following his presidential address to the nation, one local journalist, who is sometimes critical of the regime, elaborated–in answer to my question about Assad’s apparent enduring popularity during this tragic period for people of Syria: “It’s true. And it’s partly due to the fact that he is modest, even humble– and well-educated in contrast to some regional monarchs who are essentially illiterate and uninterested in the world outside their fiefdoms palaces.”
  ... but which is he, Brutus or Macbeth? 

I'm not usually a big fan of Fouad Ajami, but in this case (talking about John Kerry) I think he has hit on the right allusion:
Kerry said Assad delivered on the requests he made. But Fouad Ajami of Stanford's Hoover Institution says Kerry was "snookered."
"Bashar was a very, very talented man with his lovely lady, with his Lady Macbeth, with his wife, at charming foreign visitors and I think the charm worked on John Kerry," Ajami said.
 Because, as in Macbeth, the charm is an inextricable part of the slime.