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.