Monday, October 27, 2014

New book chapter on Arab Awakening Shakespeares by Rafik Darragi

Prof. Darragi has an essay on "Shakespeare and the Political Awakening in the Arab World: An Analysis of Some Arab Adaptations of the English Bard," in here:
Picture of Shakespeare and Tyranny

Shakespeare and Tyranny: Regimes of Reading in Europe and Beyond

Editor(s): Keith Gregor
Contributors: Mariangela Tempera, Hywel Dix, Francisko Fuentes, Mario Victor Bastos, Noemi Vera, Michele De Benedictis, et al.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Palgrave "Global Shakespeares" Series: Call for Short, Quick Book Proposals

This new series, of whose editorial board I'm a member, is getting off to a great start.  It would be fabulous if some aspects of Arabic Shakespeare could be represented.

Global Shakespeares 
ISBN 9781137354907
Formats: Hardcover
Publisher: Palgrave Pivot
Series Editor: Alexa Huang

This series in the innovative Palgrave Pivot format explores the global afterlife of Shakespearean drama, poetry and motifs in its literary, performative and digital forms of expression in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Published within three months of acceptance of final manuscript, these landmark studies of between 25,000 to 50,000 words will capture global Shakespeares as they evolve.
Disseminating big ideas and cutting-edge research in e-book and print formats, and drawing upon open-access resources such as the 'Global Shakespeares' digital archive (, this series marks a significant
addition to scholarship in one of the most exciting areas of Shakespeare studies today.

More info and submission guidelines:

Friday, August 1, 2014

Hath Not a Jew Eyes? (on Gaza)

Reclaiming and deploying Shakespeare's Shylock as an exponent of empathic (if besieged) humanity, Israeli columnist Gilad Isaacs (@giladisaacs) movingly argues in today's +972mag that Europe's Jews have "lost their humanity" and succumbed to a kind of (uncharacteristic, he says) moral blindness in Gaza. Retelling the story of Jewish emancipation, near-extermination, and nationalist organization in Europe, he concludes:
The Jews are no longer knocking on doors to be let in. We have our own fortress now, bristling with arms. But the cost has been heavy; on the altar of nationalism and ethnic supremacy we have sacrificed the long-cherished ideal of common humanity. Israelis and Zionist Jews, and their most vociferous supporters, can no longer see themselves in the Palestinians. And what we are left with is the second half of Shylock’s speech:
And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Global Shakespeare postdoc in London and Warwick - deadline is SOON

The new Global Shakespeare project at Queen Mary University of London, run by David Shalkwyk and Jerry Brotton, is hiring two 2-year postdocs:

You can find lots more info on the Global Shakespeare collaboration at their new web site.

Monday, June 30, 2014

What hast thou to do with me, old Jephthah?

Illusions?  Allusions?  Both?  I'm reposting this letter from a reader:

Dear Professor Litvin
You might be interested in my discovery of a subtle illusion in Hamlet to the (ancient) Middle East war. As I explain on my website, Hamlet’s mention of “old Jephthah” is meant to point to these lines in the Biblical story of old Jephtha: Judges 11.12
… What hast thou to do with me, that thou art come against me to fight in my land?
Judges 11.13
…Because Israel took away my land… now therefore restore those lands again
I discuss this, and it’s connection with the Spanish Armada, on my free and and ad-free website, “Smith’s Hyper Hamlet”,
Please see the following essays on my website:
I Know a Hawk from a Handsaw – Hamlet and the Spanish Armada
Hamlet in a Nutshell – Hamlet Is an Anti-War Play
How to Love Hamlet –
Ray Eston Smith Jr

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Duwayri's "Shakespeare Rex" as a "belated" reworking

Congratulations to my friend, Cairo University English MA graduate Noha Ibraheem, on the publication of her book: "Belated" Shakespearean Mosaics: Modern Shakespearean Intertexts: Shakespeare Malikan, Mutabilitie and Shakespeare in Love (Lambert Academic Publishing, 2014).  

Those tantalized by Ferial Ghazoul's mention of Raf'at Duwayri's Shakespeare Rex in her article "The Arabization of Othello," or by my very brief analysis in Hamlet's Arab Journey: now you have a more complex and extended analysis of the play, based among other things on interviews with Duwayri himself.

I met Noha Ibraheem in Cairo: She was an outstanding participant in a workshop I ran at the National Theatre Center to introduce Egyptian theatre folk to the Global Shakespeares Electronic Archive.
At the time she was an assistant lecturer at the Department of English Language and Literature in the Faculty of Arts at Cairo University and working hard on her MA.  Meanwhile she found time to contribute to The Cambridge World Encyclopedia of World Actors and Actresses and to work as a scriptwriter, writing "Truth of Illusions," a radio series about Arabs in the US post 9/11. She's currently based in Germany.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Al-Hayat reviews Hamlet's Arab Journey

It's so gratifying to see my work finding an audience among Arab readers. A translation is underway at the National Center for Translation in Egypt; the translator is making steady progress.  Meanwhile, Al-Hayat has published an enthusiastic review,
not only highlighting my major findings (using them to contextualize the recent Shakespeare performance in Jordan's Al-Zaatari refugee camp) but also arguing that my approach is an example for cultural historians in general: "Beginning to rethink this [Arabs-and-West] binary could open the field to a new writing of political and cultural history and the Arab world."  Hurray!

ومن خلال متابعة رحلة هاملت إلى العالم العربي، تستنتج ليتفين ضرورة الخروج من هذه الثنائية التي شكّلت الحاضنة النظرية لأعمال تأريخ العالم العربي، حيث تصارع المستشرقون والمابعد استشراقيين حولها لعقود، من دون أنّ يشكك بها أحد. تخرج ليتفين من هذا التقليد من خلال البحث عن تأثيرات هاملت خارج الغرب، لتجد دوراً هاماً لهاملت شرق أوروبي وسوفياتي على القراءة العربية. كما تخرج عنه من خلال اكتشاف تقليد عربي في ترجمته وتطبيقه، بحيث لا يشكّل الغرب محاوره الوحيد.
بداية إعادة التفكير بهذه الثنائية قد تفتح مجالاً لكتابة جديدة للتاريخ الثقافي والسياسي في العالم العربي، بخاصة في شقّه الحديث، كتابةٍ تعيد البحث في البعد الكوني لسفر النظريات وارتحالها، وتعيد اكتشاف التقاليد العربية في التطبيق، بعيداً من مسألة الأمانة للنص من جهة، أو الأصالة الرافضة للنص من جهة أخرى. فتاريخ كهذا لا يحتمل سؤال «نكون أو لا نكون»، وقد يحرر الوجود التاريخي من ثقل سياسة تلك الصراعات الوجودية وتجاهلها للواقع، أكانت استشراقية أم ما بعد استشراقية.

Seeking contributions: Arab World section of Global Shakespeares Electronic Archive

The Global Shakespeares Electronic Archive needs your help.  We have video and/or descriptions of several productions up on our MIT-based online database.  But the other countries' areas are getting way ahead of the Arabic section.  We could use more material and more help contextualizing it!  In particular:
  • recent Shakespeare-related productions in Arabic: videos, interviews with directors, basic info
  • classic Shakespeare-related Arab/ic plays and films: video or YouTube links, contextualizing info
  • help summarizing, selecting, and subtitling!  We have some great stuff, like Yahya Fakharani's King Lear, that awaits curatorial attention. 
For more details, see  or contact us through this blog.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

NYT on Syrian Refugee King Lear in Zaatari Camp, Jordan

Arab Shakespeare functioned the way he often does in a recent, moving New York Times article by Ben Hubbard, "Behind Barbed Wire, Shakespeare Inspires a Cast of Young Syrians."
A heartwarmer. A breath of fresh air amid the relentless arid struggle that characterizes not only these refugees' lives but also most US news coverage of the Middle East.  More than that, a human interest story, using our familiar old Shakespeare (memories high school theatricals) to humanize the young refugees.

“The show is to bring back laughter, joy and humanity,” said its director, Nawar Bulbul, a 40-year-old Syrian actor known at home for his role in “Bab al-Hara,” an enormously popular historical drama that was broadcast throughout the Arab world.

Clumsily spliced (because even though it's a performance of King Lear, it has to end, of course, with an uplifting chant of Hamlet's "To be or not to be"), sparingly staged, the performance seems to have been heartwarming for the participants and their families as well.  If there were many contemporary resonances with Lear and Cordelia's plight, no one mentions them in the NYT piece.  But of course this is Shakespeare's darkest play and not unrelated to the situation in Syria: "As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods. They kill us for their sport."

Tangentially related, here's part of what one of my first-year students, Rachel Long, wrote last semester in introducing her midterm assignment, a short-story adaptation of King Lear 5.3 that she set in a POW camp:

This scene, set in recent times in an unspecified region, takes place immediately after Cordelia is defeated in battle by Regan, Goneril, Albany and Edmund. My intention in this scene was to briefly emphasize the descent of law and order into a struggle for power and control. This adaptation would attempt to do so by illustrating how King Lear begins in a structuralized environment where Lear is king with legitimate rules and laws, and is transformed into a structure where those who have power took it through force, namely through a civil war, and manipulation. The rest of the adaptation would ideally emphasize the means by which Regan, Goneril and Edmund plot to strip Lear on all political power.
And her adaptation begins:

Lear and Cordelia were transported in large, battered, old van, crammed full with other prisoners, so cramped that not a soul was able to sit down. As the van drew closer to the camp, the passengers slowly ceased to talk – and in the face of the immediate future neither Lear nor Cordelia could think of a single thing to say. Before this Lear had been quite vocal, imaging a world where he and Cordelia would escape and live by themselves, without cares. He was much relieved to be reunited with his daughter; and it seemed to restore much of his good cheer and sense. That cheer faded, however, not long after the vehicle started moving. Lear and Cordelia simply stood by each other now, holding hands, attempting to ward off the heavy trepidation about their destination, having little hope to give. Their fates were now in the control of Edmund, Regan and Goneril, whom Lear refuses to confront despite Cordelia’s urging. But Cordelia’s pleas fell on deft ears and she soon fell silent as she anticipate what was to come.
Cordelia’s first impression of the war camp was deeply unsettling. The buildings themselves were rather unassuming, having the appearance of large brick barnlike buildings which Cordelia knew used to function as soldier’s barracks many years ago, but now they seemed to possess an aura that screamed hopelessness. The landscape was barren, with no trees or shrubs in the near vicinity. The ground was mostly dirt, with large puddles of mud scattered throughout, evidence of a recent rainfall. A sign by the entrance proclaimed “War Camp Ogden, _________.” By avoiding the terminology “Prisoner of War,” their captors were able to avoid the requirements set by the Geneva Convention, which would guarantee fair treatment to prisoners. But the most disturbing facet of the camp was the lack of life. Other than the soldiers that policed it, there was no evidence of human activity. It seemed to be waiting to devour those unfortunate enough to step foot inside. New, unoccupied, but unspeakably weary at the same time. The entire camp was encircled with barbed wire and had guards posted at regular intervals, insuring beyond a doubt that no captive would escape. And in that moment, Cordelia knew she would never again leave this place.
  Yes, it's good when IR students do literature.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Special Issue on Global Shakespeares, reviews of Al-Bassam and Achour plays

Shakespeare (The British Shakespeare Association) Volume 9, Issue 3, September 2013
Special Issue on Global Shakespeares, edited by Alexander Huang
Video clips that accompany the articles are available on:
If interested in reading an article from the issue please contact Alex Huang (

Alexander C. Y. Huang
pages 273-290
Having reached a critical mass of participants, performances and the study of Shakespeare in different cultural contexts are changing how we think about globalization. The idea of global Shakespeares has caught on because of site-specific imaginations involving early modern and modern Globe theatres that aspired to perform the globe. Seeing global Shakespeares as a methodology rather than as appendages of colonialism, as political rhetorics, or as centerpieces in a display of exotic cultures situates us in a postnational space that is defined by fluid cultural locations rather than by nation-states. This framework helps us confront archival silences in the record of globalization, understand the spectral quality of citations of Shakespeare and mobile artworks, and reframe the debate about cultural exchange. Global Shakespeares as a field registers the shifting locus of anxiety between cultural particularity and universality. The special issue explores the promise and perils of political articulations of cultural difference and suggests new approaches to performances in marginalized or polyglot spaces.

Peter S. Donaldson
pages 291-303
Kinga Földváry
pages 304-312
Giselle Rampaul
pages 313-321
Juan F. Cerdá
pages 322-329
Nely Keinänen
pages 330-338
Anna S. Camati & Liana C. Leão
pages 339-341

Lucian Ghita
pages 342-346
Jyotsna Singh
pages 347-349
Margaret Litvin
pages 350-352
Carla Della Gatta
pages 353-355
Georgi Niagolov
pages 356-358
Jeffrey Butcher
pages 362-364
Review of Shakespeare's Othello (directed by Nikos Charalambous for the Cyprus Theatre Organization) at Latsia Municipal Theatre, Nicosia, Cyprus, 27 November 2010
Eleni Pilla
pages 365-366

Haylie Brooke Swenson
pages 367-372

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Merchant of Venice in Yemen

Thanks to Dr. Katherine Hennessey, we have a video clip and a lot of analysis of a March 2013 Yemeni Merchant of Venice adaptation up at the Global Shakespeares site.

For more on the production, and on the history of Shakespearean adaptations in Yemen, see her article: “Shylock in the Hadhramaut?  Adaptations of Shakespeare on the Yemeni Stage” by Katherine Hennessey, Arablit 3:5, June 2013.

How cool is this?  Thanks, Katherine!

Staged reading of Al-Bassam's Al-Hamlet Summit in NYC

Hey NYC folks! Go see the staged reading of The Al-Hamlet Summit at NYU-Gallatin, 
and/or this discussion at Columbia,
then write in (to the comments section below) and tell me what you thought.
You can find out what I thought (a few years ago) here.

Here's the NYU info:

Mar 10, 2014 | 6:30 PM-8:30 PM

A staged reading of Sulayman Al-Bassam's powerful and provocative play followed by a panel discussion.
About the Play:
A startling piece of new writing that borrows from Shakespeare’s plot to create a poetic and powerful critique of contemporary political scenarios, set in the cauldron of Middle East discontent. The familiar characters of Shakespeare’s play are delegates in a conference room in an unnamed modern Arab state on the brink of war. Having gained control of a modern Arab state, a ruthless dictator attempts a westernized experiment, in thrall to arms dealers and propped up by US dollars. Yet a catastrophic war is brewing, he is besieged by enemy neighbors from without, and a growing politicized Islam from within, and his predecessor’s son Hamlet is plotting revenge...
Cast List:
Hamlet – Hadi Tabbal*
Ophelia - Beth Pollack
Gertrude - Lameece Issaq*
Claudius - Ramsey Faragallah*
Polonius - Alok Tewari*
Laertes - Amir Darvish*
Arms Dealer - David Letwin*
U.N. Messenger - Katherine Romans
Fortinbras - Alec Seymour
Stage Directions - Kelsey Burns
Security - Charles Kennedy & Alec Seymour
Stage Manager - Laura Skolnik*
*Members of AEA
Date + Time Mar 10, 2014 | 6:30 PM-8:30 PM
Location Jerry H. Labowitz Theatre for the Performing Arts

Monday, February 3, 2014

Versions of Macbeth on the Egyptian stage

One thing the Arab uprisings have achieved for sure: an increase in the number of Macbeth productions.  The play was never much performed before, for obvious reasons.  Now it can be -- though I'm sure directors still have to tread with care.
This season the Cairo-based director Khaled Galal, who has previously done spoof or pastiche versions of Antony and Cleopatra and Hamlet, has assigned the directing students at the state-funded Creativity Center to do different versions of Macbeth.  These will be performed throughout the month of February, according to Al-Masry Al-Youm. Looking forward to hearing about these.

Monday, January 27, 2014

"South Sudan: To Be or Not to Be"

A Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a documentary film about (I gather) the troupe behind the South Sudanese Cymbeline that played in 2012 at the Globe in London. Details and video here.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"Prutus fall on sord for bolitical reason"

Here is Anthony Thwaite's "Girdle Round the Earth," the poem with which I'll open my MLA paper this year. 
For a wonderful video of Thwaite reading and discussing it (and yes, he does the ethnic accents), see Francis Gilbert's interview here.

Girdle Round the Earth

'King Rear was foorish man his girls make crazy'
Says something certainly about the play.
'Prutus fall on sord for bolitical reason'
Is unambiguous, though not the way
We native-speakers might have put it, who share
A language with the undoubted global poet.
In Tokyo or Benghazi, he abides
Our questioning syllabus still, will never stay
For an answer as the candidates all stare
Into the glossaried cryptograms he hides.

O Saku Seppiya, Shakhs Bey-er, O you
Who plague the schools and universities
From Patagonia to Pakistan,
From Thailand to Taiwan, how would it please
Your universal spirit to look down
And see the turbans and burnouses bent
Above your annotated texts, or see
Simplified Tales from Lamb by slow degrees
Asphyxiate the yellow and the brown?
To pick up the quotation, 'thou art free'---

But Matthew Arnold, schools inspector, who
Saw you 'self-school'd, self-scann'd', could not have known
How distantly from Stratford and the Globe
With British Council lecturers you've flown:
Midsummer Nights in Prague and Kathmandu,
Polonius stabbed dressed in a gallabiyah,
Shylock the Palestinian refugee,
And Hamlet's father's Serbo-Croat groan,
Dunsinane transported to Peru,
Kabuki for All's Well, Noh for King Lear.

'To be or not to be. Is that a question?'
The misquotations littering the page,
The prose translations fingermarked with sweat,
You prove again, world-wide, 'not of an age
But for all time', the English Ala' ad-Din,
The Western Chikamatsu, more than both
And different from either, somehow worth
Those sun-baked hours in echoing lecture-halls,
On torn tatami or dune-drifted stage:
'Lady Macbeth is houswif full of sin',
'Prince Hel is drinkard tho of nobel berth.'

The back story is fun:

Does Asma Assad [heart] Lady Macbeth?

The Syrian First Lady's web site has been hacked, probably some time ago. They did a rather good job:
I am Asma Assad. I am the wife of a vicious war criminal.  He murders innocent civilians. He sends his henchman to torture children, snipe innocent civilians, rape women, young girls, and boys. He is currently decimating my hometown, Homs. He bombs mosques, churches, hospitals and his brutality knows no limits. He is trying to pit Alawites against Sunnis against Christians and against Kurds. I told him this will not work, but he is confident that it will. He thinks he can fool the American public with pleasant interviews.
On the list titled "My Heroes" on the right side of the bio page, nestled between Marie Antoinette and her father, Fawaz Akhras: Lady Macbeth.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Hamlet to be performed in Riyadh

The Literary Club in Riyadh is resuming performances of "cultural theatre" after a hiatus of many years. Any guesses which play they're opening with? Details here (in Arabic).

Hamlet on world tour

An article reprinted by the Sharjah-based Arab Theatre Authority here (in Arabic) promises a world tour of the Globe's Hamlet, to something like 200 countries, including the island of St. Lucia. But no mention of performances in the Arab world. I imagine there will be some. You can follow @worldhamlet.  It seems Dominic Dromgoole is approaching this with his customary feistiness; as he told the Guardian:
"I think having a lunatic idea is a very good thing, it's a great way to keep everybody focused and dazzled and delighted by the ambition and energy of the company," said the artistic director, Dominic Dromgoole. "If we're going to do every country in the world it has to be every country, we're not going to leave anyone out. All the 'Stans, South and North Korea – we're very keen to get into North Korea. Antarctica? Fuck yes."

"Nasser wants to be the modern Julius Caesar of the Mediterranean"

Google News is amazing. Was searching for something else and found this report about the Shakespeare-infused worries of US Ambassador Hank Byroade, from page 3 of the Tuscaloosa News of April 22, 1956:

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