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Ten Years On: A Second Special Journal Issue on Arab Shakespeares

Friday, February 3rd, 2017


A newly published special issue of the journal Critical Survey (29:3) includes eight articles, six book or performance reviews, and a playwright interview – a total of 212 pages on Arab versions and appropriations of Shakespeare. The following excerpt is drawn from the introduction by guest editors Katherine Hennessey and Margaret Litvin.


When the first Critical Survey special issue on Arab Shakespeares (CS 19:3, Winter 2007) came out nearly a decade ago, the topic was a curiosity. There existed no up-to-date monograph in English on Arab theatre, let alone on Arab Shakespeare. Few Arabic plays had been translated into English. Few British or American theatregoers had seen a play in Arabic. In the then tiny but fast-growing field of international Shakespeare appropriation studies (now ‘Global Shakespeare’) there was a great post-9/11 hunger to know more about the Arab world but also a lingering prejudice that Arab interpretations of Shakespeare would necessarily be derivative or crude, purely local in value.

A great deal – perhaps even the prejudice? – has changed. In Anglophone academia, the curators of any Shakespeare festival, edited volume, or university course with ‘global’ aspirations work hard to secure a contribution from an Arab perspective. They can now draw on several monographs, as well as the articles in that first CS special issue and many more in other publications, including several top journals of Shakespeare, theatre, and literature. In 2007 Sulayman Al-Bassam’s adaptation of Richard III became the first Arabic play commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company. By 2012, thanks largely to the RSC’s then-associate director Deborah Shaw, several Arab productions were commissioned as part of the World Shakespeare Festival timed to that summer’s Olympic Games in London. Arab institutions have also re-entered the arena. At the worldwide festivities marking the quadricentennial of Shakespeare’s death this year, for instance, one of the most ambitious events was organized by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt.

In these years the region itself has been an inexhaustible source of drama and, alas, tragedy. The Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, consumed as spectacle, brought the cable network CNN the highest viewer ratings in its history. As the Grand Mechanism swung around once more, recent struggles in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen (and their repercussions in Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria) have presented dramatic instances of eloquence, pathos, heroism, and carnage. Syria’s civil war and the resulting wave of Arab refugees into surrounding countries and Europe has lent a sudden, urgent power to once dusty or over-the-top violent classic texts from Homer and Greek tragedy to Shakespeare.


Richard III: An Arab Tragedy (2007),
dir. Sulayman Al-Bassam.


Arab theatre artists seeking to metabolize recent Arab-world events in or for the West have turned persistently to Shakespeare in particular – both from personal interest and in quest of a vocabulary their audiences (and sponsors) can understand. As state support for theatre has crumbled in many Arab countries, Shakespeare provides what Al-Bassam has called a ‘playable surface’: a slippery but usable platform on which an internationally mobile Arab artist can continue to produce work.[1] In response, artists have adapted both their texts and themselves. (Many Arab critics and scholars, fleeing abroad for safety or better working conditions, have done the same.) Topical new Shakespeare adaptations have probed the US occupation of Iraq (Al-Bassam’s Richard III: An Arab Tragedy, 2007); the wellsprings of political repression and revolt (his The Speaker’s Progress, 2011-12); Sunni-Shi‘a sectarian strife in Iraq and the rise of extremist Sunni movements (Monadhil Daood’s Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad, 2012); and the threat of recurring tyranny in post-uprising Tunisia (Anissa Daoud and Lofti Achour’s Macbeth – Leila and Ben: A Bloody History, 2012). Still more recently, Nawar Bulbul’s two projects in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp have cast Syrian children in versions of King Lear/Hamlet (2014) and Romeo and Juliet (2015), transfixing international journalists and others desperate for signs of hope.


The Speaker’s Progress (2011-12),
dir. Sulayman Al-Bassam.


But what about ‘local’ writers and directors, those who neither travel nor find international donors and audiences? Some Arab Shakespeare adaptations, such as the Upper Egypt-themed Lear TV series analyzed in this issue, do target a relatively homogenous audience within one country. Yet as the contributions in this issue make clear, one cannot draw a clear line between ‘global’ and ‘local’ Arab Shakespeares. From the very early twentieth century, translations into Arabic, whether literary- modernist or popularizing-vernacular, have been commissioned with one eye on Europe. Directors have reworked ideas picked up at international festivals or from Arab and international traveling companies. Moreover, some productions have regional rather than local or global significance. Whether pursuing audiences at ‘home’ or abroad, whether seeking to civilize the audience or float to fame on its expectations, any Arab artist who works with Shakespeare does so with a purpose. That has always been true but is perhaps most evident today. In the 21st century artistic climate of state withdrawal from the arts, festivalization, unpredictable funding, distracted audiences, self- and official censorship, and rising social stigma around the artistic professions in some Arab countries (not to mention the major security concerns that have made it hard to keep theatres open at all) – in this climate any decision to work with a canonical world source such as Shakespeare is taken strategically, for a reason; such work rewards analysis.


The Tale of ‘Aidarus Bin Mohammed al-Kindi (2013),
A Yemeni adaptation of The Merchant of Venice
from Aismur Ma’ish al-Siraj (The Lamp Will Keep You Company),
dir. Amin Hazaber.


This special issue offers a variety of perspectives on the history and role of Arab Shakespeare translation, production, adaptation, and criticism. With two essays and an interview focused on the twentieth century, we have avoided an exclusive and ahistorical focus on the present. We have also striven to strike a balance between internationally and locally focused Arab/ic Shakespeare appropriations, and between Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. In addition to Egyptian and Palestinian theatre, our contributors examine everything from an Omani performance in Qatar and an Upper Egyptian television series to the origin of the sonnets and an English-language novel about the Lebanese civil war. They address materials produced in several languages: literary Arabic (fuṣḥā), Egyptian colloquial Arabic (‘ammiyya), Moroccan colloquial Arabic (darija), Swedish, French, and English. They include veteran scholars, directors, and translators as well as emerging scholars from diverse disciplinary and geographic locations, a testament to the vibrancy of this field.

Naturally, there are many angles and manifestations of Arab/ic Shakespeare this collection leaves unaddressed, many avenues for future work; we have aimed for comprehension, not comprehensiveness. But in sum, it is a rich harvest. We thank Graham Holderness for inviting us to edit this special issue. We are grateful to our contributors for their diligence and to our peer reviewers for their insight. We believe that, taken together, the diverse fruits of their efforts constitute not only a set of new data points about how Arabs do Shakespeare but also a significant analytical contribution to the study of Shakespeare in translation and performance.


[1] Margaret Litvin, ‘For the Record: Interview with Sulayman Al-Bassam,’ in Alexa Huang and Elizabeth Rivlin, eds., Shakespeare and the Ethics of Appropriation, (New York: Palgrave, 2014): 221-240.



Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Presides Over Shylock’s Appeal

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Presides Over Shylock’s Appeal – Read The New York Times article


Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States — Steve Petteway, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States


Professor Diana Henderson and MIT students are in Venice, documenting the historic production of The Merchant of Venice and creating materials for publication on the MIT Global Shakespeares Video and Performance Archive.


Related News: 2016 Marks the 500th Anniversary of the Jewish Ghetto in Venice




Workshop: Korean Shakespeare in Theory and Practice

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

Hosted by the Korean Cultural Centre & Shakespeare Association of Korea

Leaders: Hyon-u Lee and Daniel Gallimore

Since 1990, more than 400 Korean Shakespeare productions have been staged in South Korea, many of them touring beyond the Korean peninsula. Yet now that Korean Shakespeare has become known among both audiences and academics beyond the Korean peninsula, there is a need for greater understanding of the traditional Korean theatre which Korean Shakespeares have so thoroughly adopted.

This workshop aims to introduce Korean Shakespeare Boom. Especially it will show how traditional Korean theatres are applied to Shakespearean productions. Hyon-u Lee and Daniel Gallimore will lead this workshop, and Yong Li Lan, Boram Choi, and Eleine Ng Hui Ru will read their papers. The workshop will also run in tandem with a Koreanized Taming of the Shrew by EDP, student drama club of Soon Chun Hyang University. Starting in 2007, this production has been staged successfully in Seoul, Tokyo, Nagoya, Singapore, New York, Boston, and Brisbane, receiving several awards at the College Student Shakespeare Festival hosted by the Shakespeare Association of Korea and National Theatre of Korea. This production was well acclaimed by professional reviewers, who gave it four or three stars, at Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2015. The particular use that this production makes of traditional Korean dance, music and theatre makes it an effective model of the Koreanization of Shakespeare.

Venue: The Korean Cultural Centre at London, Grand Buildings, 1 – 3, Strand, London, WC2N 5BW (Main Entrance on Northumberland Avenue)

Date: August, 8th, 2016.

Time: Workshop 5 PM/ Performance 7:30 PM

Ticket: Free

Register: Email or telephone 020 7004 2600


Petruchio (Min-joon Lee) faces Katherina (So-hyeon Jeong) in Act II, Sc. i. from The Taming of the Shrew at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.


Yohangza’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream comes to Wellesley

Monday, April 11th, 2016

Wellesley College celebrates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with Shakespeare on the Global Stage: A Festival of Performance and Scholarship. To kick off the festival, a keynote lecture will be given by Tiffany Stern and Hyon-u Lee on Saturday April 23 at 4:15pm. Yohangza, an internationally acclaimed theatre troupe from Seoul, South Korea, will perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7:00pm. Please see the links below for details about each event.

Details about keynote panel

Details about A Midsummer Night’s Dream performance

Register for tickets to performance



hyonu_lee_2013oct Professor Hyon-u Lee, Soon Chun Hyang University, is a long time collaborator of the MIT Global Shakespeares Video and Performance Archive and curator of several productions in our collection from South Korea. The Yohangza Theatre Company and Yang Jun-ung have been very generous in granting permission to MIT to archive and share their extraordinary work.



Hamlet Q1 adapted and directed by Hyon-u Lee, 2009

A Midsummer Night’s Dream adapted and directed by Yang Jung-ung, 2006

Hamlet directed by Yang Jung-ung, 2010

Pericles adapted by Hyon-u Lee and directed by Kim Kwang Lim, 2010

Hamlet the Actor adapted and directed by Sung Chon-mo, 2012




2016 Marks the 500th Anniversary of the Jewish Ghetto in Venice

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016
The Venetian Ghetto in Venice, Italy was instituted on 29 March 1516.

The Venetian Ghetto in Venice, Italy was instituted on 29 March 1516.


MIT’s Global Shakespeares and “The Merchant in Venice” project commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with the first ever on-site performance of The Merchant of Venice in Venice’s 500 year-old Jewish Ghetto.

Compagnia de’ Colombari is staging the play as part of the Ghetto Quincentennial. The play, running from 26-31 July 2016 has attracted the interest of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who will be adjudicating a mock trial involving Shylock and Antonio, the rival merchants of the play.

MIT President Rafael Reif and his wife, Christine, will be in attendance at the event. Literature Professor Diana Henderson, who serves on the Academic Advisory Board, will be participating in Ca’ Foscari University of Venice’s affiliated summer school course during the event and coordinating Global Shakespeare’s multimedia contribution to the Merchant in Venice project.


The Merchant in Venice Five performances:

Tuesday July 26, 2016 at dusk

Wednesday July 27, 2016 at dusk

Thursday July 28, 2016 at dusk

Friday July 29, 2016 at 5pm

Final Performance Sunday July 31, 2016 at dusk
(Rain date Monday August 1, 2016 at dusk)



New Translations of the Arab Hamlet Tradition

Monday, March 14th, 2016

To celebrate the release of Four Arab Hamlet Plays, a special evening of readings and discussion will take place at the Segal Theatre in New York on March 14, 2016. Co-editor of the book Margaret Litvin, Arab World Regional Editor for the MIT Global Shakespeares Video and Performance Archive, will participate via Skype.

The book features the plays:

  • Nabyl Lahlou (Ophelia is Not Dead, Morocco, 1968)
  • Mamduh Adwan (Hamlet Wakes Up Late, Syria, 1976)
  • Nader Omran (A Theatre Company Found a Theatre and Theatred “Hamlet”, Jordan, 1984)
  • Jawad al-Assadi (Forget Hamlet, Iraq, 1994)

plus an autobiographical sketch by Mahmoud Aboudoma (“Gamlet” is Russian for “Hamlet”, Egypt, 2006).

For more details about this event, please visit:


Four Arab Hamlet Plays, edited by Marvin Carlson and Margaret Litvin with Joy Arab. Published by TCG for the Martin E. Segal Theater Center, City University of New York.

Four Arab Hamlet Plays, edited by Marvin Carlson and Margaret Litvin with Joy Arab. Published by TCG for the Martin E. Segal Theater Center, City University of New York.

Available from Amazon or the Segal Center, and soon from TCG.




Shakespeare Happenings in Arizona

Monday, February 29th, 2016

Cris Busato Smith, Brazil Regional Editor for the MIT Global Shakespeares Video and Performance Archive, gave two talks at the 22nd Annual ACMRS Conference held 3-6 February 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona: “Brazilian Shakespeares,” delivered on February 4 as part of the panel “Dead at 400: Shakespeare, Cervantes and El Inca Garcilasco,” and “Ophelia in Contemporary Brazilian Art,” delivered on February 6.  This interdisciplinary conference in Medieval and Renaissance Studies is hosted by the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (ACMRS) at the Arizona State University. To learn more about the ACMRS, please visit

One of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio is touring the United States and currently on display February 15 to March 15 at the Arizona State Museum in Tucson. During this time, the University of Arizona is hosting many events to join in the celebration of 400 years of Shakespeare. One of its workshops, “Shakespeare First! From Page to Stage!” took place on February 20 and was streamed live to the Mesa Public Library and the Yuma Main Library. Dr. Busato Smith was on hand at the Mesa Public Library as a special guest presenting her talk: “‘Wheresoe’er Thou Art in this World’s Globe’:  the MIT Global Shakespeares Digital Archive”.

Cris Busato Smith also has a forthcoming essay publication in The Shakespearean International Yearbook, entitled  “What ceremony else?” Images of Ophelia in Brazil: the Politics of Subversion of the Female Artist.


Cris Busato Smith gives a live presentation at the Mesa Public Library.




When “Global Shakespeare” met the “Arab Spring”

Thursday, October 1st, 2015

How do Arab theatre makers navigate a “World Shakespeare” festival, maneuvering between interesting times in their home countries and the expectations of British and global funders and audiences? A recently published article by GS Arab world editor Margaret Litvin and two collaborators, Saffron Walkling (University of York) and Raphael Cormack (University of Edinburgh) explores some of the contingencies, ironies, and unexpected beauties of these collaborations.

Read or download it at


Palestinian Ashtar Theatre’s Richard II ©  Marc Brenner

Palestinian Ashtar Theatre’s Richard II © Marc Brenner



Iraqi Theatre Company’s Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad © Royal Shakespeare Company

Iraqi Theatre Company’s Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad © Royal Shakespeare Company



Tunisian Artistes Producteurs Associés’ Macbeth: Leila and Ben –  A Bloody History © Lotfi Achour

Tunisian Artistes Producteurs Associés’ Macbeth: Leila and Ben – A Bloody History © Lotfi Achour




New Book on Ethics, Shakespeare, and Appropriation

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

EthicsAt a time when Shakespeare is becoming increasingly globalized and diversified it is urgent more than ever to ask how this appropriated ‘Shakespeare’ constructs ethical value across cultural and other fault lines. Making an important new contribution to rapidly expanding fields of study surrounding the adaptation and appropriation of Shakespeare, Shakespeare and the Ethics of Appropriation (edited by Alexa Huang and Elizabeth Rivlin) is the first book to address the intersection of ethics, aesthetics, authority, and authenticity.

The collected essays approach ethics from a rich variety of perspectives: some explore how ethical issues in Shakespeare’s plays have been received and interpreted, some investigate the ethical commitments of Shakespearean appropriations, and some interrogate the ethical tenets that underlie the processes of adaptation and appropriation. As a whole, the volume suggests that appropriations are always on some level comparative and that their work has value in generating sites of discussion between otherwise strongly divergent frameworks of understanding.

In addition to Global Shakespeares co-founder Alexa’s co-introduction, also featured in the book are Global Shakespeares regional editor Margaret Litvin’s article and interview of Sulayman Al-Bassam.

The book is available through,, Palgrave, and elsewhere.


Lady Macbeth and Ophelia: Beyond Drowning and Sleep-walking

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

Cris Busato Smith, Brazil Regional Editor for MIT Global Shakespeares, delivered a lecture on Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at the Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, AZ entitled “Lady Macbeth and Ophelia: Beyond Drowning and Sleep-walking.” The event was well attended and generated many questions from the audience. The lecture was part of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies Public Programs Series.


About the Program
Both Lady Macbeth and Ophelia have intriguing stories that transgress the space of page from stage to real life. Whether in the guise of a ruthless, ambitious woman or a beautiful suicidal muse, both characters have exerted a strong appeal to popular imagination. This talk investigates the cultural contexts that prompted this interesting phenomenon.

About Cris Busato Smith
Cris Busato Smith is an MIT regional editor for Global Shakespeares and an ACMRS adjunct scholar. She has taught at both undergraduate and graduate levels in Brazil. She received an MA in English and American Literature in 1995, and a PhD in Literary Studies from the Federal University of Parana (the oldest university in Brazil) in 2007. She also held a Visiting Fellowship at the Centre for Cultural Analysis, Theory and History (University of Leeds, UK). Over the last fifteen years, Dr. Smith published numerous articles on literature and Shakespeare. She is the author of Representations of Ophelia in Victorian England (in press).