Thursday, December 15, 2016

Says Othello: "Remember Aleppo"

Arabi21 News recently published a portrait of Aleppo in anticipation of its fall. Much of the article is an effort to emphasize the deep history of the city and its people. Alongside reminders that the city is among the oldest in the world, and listed among its contributions to world culture, the article states:

"Among the witnesses of Aleppo's public renown is that it is mentioned twice in the stories and plays of William Shakespeare, in Macbeth and in Othello."

The passages in question are, of course, the words of the First Witch in Macbeth, Act 1, Scene Three: "Her husband's to Aleppo gone, master o' the Tiger," a reflection of the city's place in the economy of Jacobean England, and of Britain's shipping ties in the Mediterranean.

The second is far more famous, as Othello's final speech before his death in Act 5, Scene 2, in which he describes his killing a Turk who had beaten a Venetian:

Soft you; a word or two before you go.
I have done the state some service, and they know't.
No more of that. I pray you, in your letters,
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice: then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely but too well;
Of one not easily jealous, but being wrought
Perplex'd in the extreme; of one whose hand,
Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes,
Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees
Their medicinal gum. Set you down this;
And say besides, that in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turban'd Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by the throat the circumcised dog,
And smote him, thus. [Stabs himself]

In a way, it is poignant that defenders of such a great city cite as evidence of its humanity the words of a writer such as Shakespeare. Syrians, after all, do not need Shakespeare in order to be human. There is much in Aleppo's history that is admirable and noteworthy, aside from two brief mentions by a writer from an island far away.

And yet, in light of current events, there is something very fitting in the fact that one of Shakespeare's most tragic characters ends his role with a speech that essentially says:

"Remember Aleppo"

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

New Translation of Midsummer Night's Dream in Egyptian Colloquial Arabic

Abd al-Raheem Youssef has just published a new translation of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream in Egyptian colloquial Arabic. To my knowledge (and according to the translator), this is the first time anyone has undertaken such a project. Though there are a number of translations of Midsummer in Modern Standard Arabic, few exist in the Egyptian dialect. This is reflective of a growing trend of Shakespeare translations into colloquial Arabic. Certainly curious to see more!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

400th Anniversary updates

Today being the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, now seems as good a time as ever to highlight a few things that have happened in the world of Arab Shakespeare scholarship since Margaret Litvin "passed the torch" for this blog at the beginning of the year:

Litvin's new book, co-edited by Marvin Carlson, recently came out. Entitled Four Arab Hamlet Plays, this collection features English translations of four prominent productions of Hamlet by Moroccan Nabyl Lahlou (Ophelia is Not Dead, 1968), Syrian Mamduh Adwan (Hamlet Wakes Up Late, 1976), Jordanian Nader Omran (A Theatre Company Found a Theatre and Theatred "Hamlet," 1984), Iraqi Jawad al-Assadi (Forget Hamlet, 1994). The book helps fill a growing need in global Shakespeare studies for similar translations in order expand the audience and readership of non-Anglophone Shakespeares. (

Another book by Sameh Hanna (University of Leeds), Bourdieu in Translation Studies: The Socio-cultural Dynamics of Shakespeare Translation in Egypt, was published by Routledge in late March. In it, Hanna explores Arabic translations of Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, and King Lear in light of Pierre Bourdieu's "sociology of cultural production." (

On April 5, the Globe to Globe Hamlet tour, which consisted of a company of actors from Shakespeare's Globe in London performing Hamlet in every country in the world at least once, finished its tour of the Arab world with a performance in Erbil, Iraq. This tour included performances in the West Bank and in refugee camps near (but not within) Yemen and Syria, as well as two shows in Malta (in lieu of Libya). The group's visit to Saudi Arabia on January 9th likely marked the first professional production of Hamlet on Saudi soil. (

Lastly, this blog received a shout-out on in a post by freelance journalist M. Lynx Qualey entitled "Arabic Shakespeares: From Theatre to TV to YouTube." The post features "out-takes" for another article of hers posted today at The New Arab: "The Arabic Shakespeares: Subversive, political, and entertaining."

In the near future, look forward to posts about the Shakespeare conference occurring today in Alexandria, Egypt (live-tweeted by @GlobalShaxpeare), as well as a prominent Egyptian Shakespeare scholar and translator of the 1920s and 30s who later immigrated to the United States and has been described as "immigrant zero" for Egyptian-Americans.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Passing the baton

After almost ten years of keeping up this blog -- sometimes obsessively, but alas often desultorily -- I'm delighted to hand it over to fellow Shaksbir-ologist David Moberly of the University of Minnesota.
Trained as a bona fide early modernist ("Turk" dramas, captivity narratives), David has more recently turned to modern Arabic adaptations of Shakespeare (1927-present). He has already been running a fantastic Facebook feed of Shakes-related Arabic news and cultural production, and he has contributed some fun movie notes to the Global Shakespeare online archive. We haven't met in person, but hopefully that will happen at the Arab/ic panel at the World Shakespeare Congress in London this coming August 5, 1:30-3pm.

Over to you, David -- مع ألف سلامة!

--Margaret Litvin