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 15 to 20 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 fetishization 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.
Until recently, scholars of Arabic literature and drama were mainly passive participants in this growing Shakespeare conversation. The Arab world went unnoticed in the numerous edited volumes on international Shakespeare reception and appropriation. Though often aware of the major congresses on the subject, Arab scholars were rarely represented there. The World Shakespeare Bibliography Online, which catalogues materials in 118 languages, has had only
one active Arabic-speaking contributor in the past decade. Interesting studies of Shakespeare reception written in Arabic have not been translated. In English, a handful of articles and dissertations has represented the field. When scholars in Europe and the United States have occasionally mentioned ‘Arab Shakespeare’ to their colleagues, they have presented it almost as a novelty. Sometimes they have not hesitated to draw easy laughs by invoking the old legend
or joke that Shakespeare was really a crypto-Arab, ‘Shaykh Zubayr’.
However, this situation is changing quickly. In 2006 and 2007 the World Shakespeare Congress and the Royal Shakespeare Company, respectively, welcomed contributions by Arab playwrights. Shakespeareans and scholars of Arab drama and literature are getting better at talking to each other. (I should note that Graham Holderness has personally done much to help this trend with his involvement and encouragement over the past two years.) And as the essays in this issue will attest, Shakespeareans and Arabists alike are taking a variety of approaches to the question of what Arab readers, translators, rewriters, producers, directors, critics, and audiences do with Shakespeare.
Articles by Mark Bayer, Sameh F. Hanna, Khalid Amine, Rafik Darragi, Graham Holderness and Bryan Loughrey, Holderness, and me.
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