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: