Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula

Since the turn of the millennium, the Arabian Peninsula has produced a remarkable series of adaptations of Shakespeare. These include a 2007 production ofMuch Ado About Nothing, set in Kuwait in 1898; a 2011 performance in Sharjah ofMacbeth, set in 9th-century Arabia; a 2013 Yemeni adaptation ofThe Merchant of Venice, in which the Shylock figure is not Jewish; andHamlet,Get Out of My Head, a one-man show about an actor's fraught response to the Danish prince, which has been touring the cities of Saudi Arabia since 2014. This groundbreaking study surveys the surprising history of Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula, situating the current flourishing of Shakespearean performance and adaptation within the region's complex, cosmopolitan, and rapidly changing socio-political contexts. Through first-hand performance reviews, interviews, and analysis of resources in Arabic and English, this volume brings to light the ways in which local theatremakers, students, and scholars use Shakespeare to address urgent regional issues like authoritarianism, censorship, racial discrimination and gender inequality.

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Global Shakespeares Series Editor Alexa Alice Joubin Department of English George Washington University Arlington, VA, USA

The Global Shakespeares series, edited by Alexa Alice Joubin, explores the global afterlife of Shakespearean drama, poetry and motifs in their literary, performative and digital forms of expression in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Disseminating big ideas and cutting-edge research in e-book and print formats, this series captures global Shakespeares as they evolve. Editorial Board Mark Thornton Burnett, Queen’s University Belfast Peter Donaldson, MIT Mark Houlahan, University of Waikato Douglas Lanier, University of New Hampshire Dennis Kennedy, Trinity College Dublin Margaret Litvin, Boston University Ryuta Minami, Shirayuri College, Tokyo Alfredo Michel Modenessi, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México David Schalkwyk, Queen Mary University of London Ayanna Thompson, George Washington University Poonam Trivedi, Indraprastha College, University of Delhi More information about this series at

Katherine Hennessey

Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula

Katherine Hennessey American University of Kuwait Salmiya, Kuwait

Global Shakespeares ISBN 978-1-137-58470-0 ISBN 978-1-137-58471-7  (eBook) Library of Congress Control Number: 2018938319 © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2018 The author(s) has/have asserted their right(s) to be identified as the author(s) of this work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, express or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover illustration: Tree growing in rocky landscape overlooking ocean, Homhil Protected Area, Socotra, Yemen Cover credit: John Lund/Getty Images Printed on acid-free paper This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Macmillan Publishers Ltd. part of Springer Nature The registered company address is: The Campus, 4 Crinan Street, London, N1 9XW, United Kingdom

For Stephen, my inspiration in all things

Advance praise for Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula

“The arrival of Shakespeare on the stage of Arab cultural life around the turn of the 19th century was one of the earliest markers of the burgeoning of a new sensibility in the centre of cultural activity of the Arab world (Cairo, Damascus, Beirut, and Baghdad) as well as in one space in the margin: Yemen. In these regions, the arrival of the Bard played a significant role in shaping the new spirit of revival and quest for modernity. “His recent arrival in the margin (Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states), has occurred in the midst of a process of genuine cultural and literary transformation, driven by a powerful modernist vision that had already vitalised the margin and generated a strong movement that aspired to change the world and devoted its energies to free society from its traditional world view and unleash its creative powers. In this process Shakespeare has been re-shaped by an already vibrant creative space and a new Shakespeare has been born, draped in attractive local colours and performing new functions. “Katherine Hennessey’s outstanding book traces these processes with a remarkable degree of sensitivity, intelligence, knowledge and sympathy. But above all, it does so with illuminating acts of interpretation formulated by an impressive, often daring, oppositional critical consciousness. “[…] On a light-hearted note, this book leaves you wondering whether The Merchant of Venice was a Shakespearian play that developed an ancient Yemeni folktale, or a Yemeni folk tale that embodied the degree to which Shakespeare’s impact seeped through to form a fountain of creative energy in the folkloric traditions of remote villages in the furthest regions of the Arab world. “This book does a lot more than simply enrich Shakespearian studies; it adds a new Shakespeare, totally unknown to the West, to the many Shakespeares that we all love and cherish, a Bard who does a great deal more than we associate with vii



his genius: he contributes on the deepest and most existential levels to the shaping of real life for whole societies, for different social groups, minorities, communities and individuals, in regions of the world that aspire for a brighter future and more humane forms of social interaction and organization.” —Kamal Abu Deeb, Emeritus Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, UK “Shakespeare holds a dominant position in modern theatre history in much of the world, and the theatre of the Arab world is no exception. His influence has been well documented in those parts of the Arab world most studied by Western (and Arab) theatre scholars. The English dramatist’s position in the theatre of the Arabian Peninsula, the heart of this world, has, however, up to this point received almost no attention. This important and wide-ranging new study by Katherine Hennessey is therefore particularly important and welcome… Students of theatre of the Arab world as well as scholars interested in the global influence of the English dramatist will undoubtedly find this study an essential addition to their bookshelves.” —Marvin Carlson, Sidney E. Cohn Distinguished Professor of Theatre and Performance, Comparative Literature and Middle Eastern Studies, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, USA “We need to keep learning more and more about the global phenomenon that is Shakespeare. Katherine Hennessey’s outstanding book is the first to introduce us to the complexities and riches of Shakespeare in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the other countries of the Arabian Peninsula. I was fascinated and excited by her study, learning much from her as an excellent and endlessly helpful guide to these many cultures’ widely varying engagements with Shakespeare.” —Peter Holland, McMeel Family Chair in Shakespeare Studies at the University of Notre Dame, USA “Stressing artists’ ability to create community through Shakespeare, this book offers a new and sympathetic glimpse into cultural life on the Arabian Peninsula. Academic and general readers alike will enjoy Hennessey’s visits to Gulf universities, expatriate enclaves, international festivals, and local theatre companies, from Abu Dhabi’s Resuscitation Theatre to a Shakespeare-as-folklore performance in Yemen.” —Margaret Litvin, Associate Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature and founding director of Middle East and North Africa Studies at Boston University, USA


Time and time again as I was conducting the research for this book, scholars and theatre practitioners from across the Arabian Peninsula and throughout the world shared their time, their camaraderie, their insights and their stories with me in conversations and interviews. I am grateful to all of them for their unstinting generosity, courage and honesty. Many have truly gone above and beyond the call of duty, conceding multiple-hour interviews on the phone or in person, providing me with scripts, performance videos and photos, and/or responding with alacrity to what must at times have seemed an unending stream of emails. I would like to single out for special thanks Shakir Abal; Sulayman Al Bassam; Shahd Alshammari; Iman Aoun; Bedouin Shakespeare Company members Edward Andrews, Eleanor Russo, Jonathan Kemp and Jonathon Reid; Rosalind Buckton-Tucker; Elizabeth Crowder; Padraig Downey and the Danu Theatre Troupe; Kathy Downs; Christopher Gottschalk; Lutfi Hamoud; Maggie Hannan; David Hollywood; James Lambert; Mione van der Merwe, Femke Marischler, Patricia Slade and Rebecca Wyatt of the Doha Players; Conall Morrison; Rubén Polendo; Alison Shan Price and the cast of the Kuwaiti Antigone (2015); the Q Brothers; Michael Roes; Faisal Salah, Faisal Jadir, Rashid Yacine, and the cast of Resuscitation Theatre’s A Comedy of Errors (2015); Fatma Al-Shukaili; Nasser Al-Taee; and Anthony Tassa and the cast of The Arabian Nights (2015) at the American University of Sharjah, for the light they have shed in person, via email and/or on the phone. ix



I would also like to salute my friends and colleagues among the ­theatre practitioners in Yemen, all of whom are currently suffering precisely the kind of violence, destruction and internecine strife that for years their work strove, Cassandra-like, to warn against. In particular, Muna Ali, Anis Al-Ansi, Abd al-Nasser Al-‘Arasi, Ibrahim Al-Ashmuri, Fatima Al-Baydhani, Husayn Al-Dhafiri, Amani and Marwa Al-Dhamari, Amin Hazaber, Manal Al-Mulaiki, Saleh Al-Saleh, Munir Talal, and the late Sam Al-Muallami (Allah yarḥamhu). Upon such sacrifices, the gods themselves throw incense. The Global Shakespeare program at the University of Warwick and Queen Mary University of London provided moral and material support over the course of the research process. I am grateful to Margaret Litvin for her valuable critique of an early draft of this manuscript; to my colleagues at the American University of Kuwait, in particular Farah Al-Nakib, Benjamin Crace, David Hadbawnik, George Irani, Malek Mohammad, and Abid Akbar Vali, for their feedback on various chapters of this text, and to Abdulrahman Al Farhan, Malek Mohammad, and AUK English major Abdullah al-Qouz for enhancing my understanding of the recent Saudi performances cited here. Last but certainly not least, I extend my thanks and appreciation to my friend and colleague Victoria Hightower for her generous and insightful comments on a near-final draft of the full manuscript. All of their comments have improved the final product; any errors or omissions are, of course, fully my own. I have presented individual and comparative facets of this argument to the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the BBC (Birmingham 2015), and at conferences organized by the International Federation for Theatre Research (Warwick 2014), the Gulf Research Meeting (Cambridge 2014), the Gulf Studies Symposium (Kuwait 2015), New York University Abu Dhabi (“Shakespeare as Global Cultural Heritage” 2015), Theatre Without Borders (Paris 2015), the International Association for the Study of Irish Literature (York 2015), the British Association for Irish Studies (London 2015), the London Shakespeare Seminar (2016), the Othello’s Island Conference (Cyprus 2016), the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Alexandria 2016), the World Shakespeare Congress (Stratford-upon-Avon and London 2016), SOAS (London 2016), Queen’s University Belfast (2016), Trinity College Dublin (2016), the Shakespeare Association of America (2017), and the American University of Dubai (2018). The questions and discussion that followed those presentations have enriched and nuanced the content presented here.



I would like to thank Palgrave’s “Global Shakespeares” series editor Alexa Alice Joubin for extending the opportunity to publish this text in her series, and for her sage advice and collegial guidance throughout the process. My thanks as well to my family, in particular Carol and Tim Hennessey, and Anne and Steve Steinbeiser, for their love and support, and to my grandparents and grandparents-in-law—to Kitty and Jack Ludwick, Kit and Francis Hennessey, Raymond and Annamarie Steinbeiser, and Charles and Julia Petrarca—whom I will always think of as models of wisdom, kindness and integrity. Finally, to my husband, Stephen Steinbeiser, who has carefully read and incisively commented on multiple drafts of this manuscript, cheerfully accompanied me to a staggering number of Shakespeare performances, and who consistently quickens my mind and warms my heart: my thanks to you are beyond all words. Even Shakespeare’s.


Introduction: All the Perfumes of Arabia 1 Chapter 1. “Abstract and Brief Chronicles”: Shakespeare on the Peninsula in the Twentieth Century 43 Chapter 2. Sparking Debate: Shakespeare in the University Classroom 83 Chapter 3. Challenging Segregation: Shakespeare in Performance at Gulf Universities 117 Chapter 4. Negotiating Censorship: Shakespeare on Tour in the Gulf 149 Chapter 5. Creating Communities: Shakespeare and “New Local” Theatre in the UAE and Qatar 179 Chapter 6. Respecting Difference: Shakespeare in Oman, Yemen and Saudi Arabia 209 Chapter 7. Modeling Inclusion: Shakespeare in Kuwait 249




Conclusion: The Peninsula in 2016, the “Year of Shakespeare” 299 Appendix: ACA-LC Transliterations of People’s and Place Names 319 Index 323

Citation Style and Note on Transliteration

This text uses a streamlined version of Chicago NB style for citations; the endnotes all provide abbreviated references to cited sources, with details provided in full in the References section. Where necessary, I have transliterated Arabic-language terms and play and article titles in this text following ALA-LC (American Library Association-Library of Congress) format, which uses diacritical markings for Arabic letters like ṣād, ḍād, and ṭāʼ, and marks hamzas with an apostrophe and the letter ‘ayn with a left single quotation mark. When marking short and long vowels, I have turned to Hans Wehr’s magisterial Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic (Spoken Language Services, 4th ed., 1993), and for simplicity’s sake, I follow Wehr rather than ALA-LC in rendering tā’ marbūṭa as a, rather than ah (hence Fitna, for example, rather than Fitnah). When writing people’s and place names, I have provided a simple, diacritic-free transliteration. In cases where a place name has more than one commonly accepted simplified transliteration (e.g. Ḥaḍramawt: Hadhramawt, Hadhramaut, or Hadhramout) I have opted for the one that I think would be most legible to non-Arabic speakers (in this case, Hadramawt). Many Arabic surnames are compounds that begin either with the hyphenated definite article al- (meaning “the,” as in al-Najjār, “the carpenter”) or with the unhyphenated noun Āl (meaning “family, clan or tribe of,” as in Āl Su‘ūd, “the House of Saud,” the Saudi royal family). xv


Citation Style and Note on Transliteration

It is an accepted convention to alphabetize these by ignoring al- in the former cases, but retaining Āl in the latter. Al-Najjar would thus appear under N in the References, while Al Saud would be listed under A. To make this text as user-friendly for non-Arabic speakers as possible, however, I have departed from this convention: all surnames of these types are prefixed with Al-, capitalized and hyphenated, and are alphabetized under A in the References. An appendix at the end of the text provides a list of proper names and places with facing, full-diacritic transliteration, for readers curious about exact pronunciation and Arabic orthography.



Abu Dhabi Festival Arab Open University The Arab Shakespeare Trilogy American University of Kuwait American University of Sharjah American United School of Kuwait British Council Bedouin Shakespeare Company British School Al-Khubairat Dubai International Academic City Dubai Community Theater and Arts Center Gulf Cooperation Council Gulf University of Science and Technology Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmed Cultural Center King Abd al-Aziz Public Library King Abdullah University of Science and Technology King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals Kuwait Little Theatre Kuwait University Kuwait Oil Company Lothan Youth Achievement Center London School of Economics Ministry of Culture Manama Theatre Club New York University Abu Dhabi One World Actors Centre xvii




Qatar National Convention Centre Royal Opera House Muscat Royal Shakespeare Company Resuscitation Theatre Staged in Kuwait Sultan Qaboos University United Arab Emirates United Arab Emirates University Yemen-America Language Institute Young Shakespeare Company Zayed University

List of Figures

Introduction: All the Perfumes of Arabia Fig. 1 Yemeni Merchant of Venice, courtroom scene 4 Fig. 2 Fitna reveals her disguise to Aydarous 5 Fig. 3 YSC Macbeth: Macbeth meets the witches 12 Fig. 4 YSC Macbeth: Macbeth and murderers 13 Fig. 5 Map of the Arabian Peninsula 20 Chapter 1 Fig. 1 Yemeni director and theatre pioneer Muhammad Abdullah Sayigh Fig. 2 Muhammad Al-Duqmi, Yemeni director and adapter of Othello Fig. 3 Scene from a Yemeni performance in the late 1940s Fig. 4 Yemeni actor Ismail Lambo

47 51 52 52

Chapter 2 Fig. 1 Theater Mitu’s Hamlet/UR-Hamlet 84 Chapter 3 Fig. 1 AUK’s Julius Caesar 119 Fig. 2 AUK’s Much Ado About Nothing 122 Fig. 3 “Apartheid wall,” AUK’s Julius Caesar 128 Fig. 4 Macbeth in Arabia, banquet scene 131 Chapter 4 Fig. 1 Ashtar’s Richard II: Actor Nicola Zreineh as Bolingbroke 156 Fig. 2 Piya Behrupiya [Twelfth Night] 158



List of Figures

Chapter 5 Fig. 1 Publicity poster for Resuscitation Theatre’s Al-Malik [Cymbeline] 190 Fig. 2 Doha Corniche 198 Fig. 3 Map of Qatar 199 Chapter 6 Fig. 1 Yemeni Merchant of Venice: Fitna in disguise 219 Fig. 2 Michael Roes’s An East-West Macbeth 225 Chapter 7 Fig. 1 OWAC’s Julius Caesar 280 Fig. 2 OWAC’s Romeo and Juliet 282

Conclusion: The Arabian Peninsula in 2016 Fig. 1 Barakah Meets Barakah. Barakah and Maqbool 308 Fig. 2 Barakah Meets Barakah. Barakah’s dream 308

List of Tables

Introduction: All the Perfumes of Arabia Table 1 Statistical snapshot of the Arabian Peninsula 22 Chapter 2 Table 1 First university in each country on the Arabian Peninsula



Introduction: All the Perfumes of Arabia

Sana’a, Yemen 2013 I climb out of a ramshackle taxi at the intersection of Baghdad and Algiers Streets, having attentively surveyed the bustling urban scene in the immediate vicinity before opening the door. In the wake of Yemen’s “Arab Spring” protests, this neighborhood has developed a reputation as one where foreigners have to be highly cautious, and just three weeks earlier, in mid-February, four armed gunmen had attempted to abduct a female expat as she left her residence off Baghdad Street. Fortunately, when she and her guard called for help, her neighbors came running, forcing the gunmen to flee, though not before they fired some shots into the wall surrounding her compound. Were the bullets that lay buried in the concrete a marker of spite and disgruntlement that the gunmen’s plan had failed? Or a warning that they’d be back? The incident is at the back of my mind as I wind my steps around the concrete barriers that block Baghdad Street to all but pedestrian traffic. It is early March, and the sun is warm on the black polyester fabric of my abaya and ḥijāb.1 I took to wearing these when out in public soon after my arrival in Yemen in 2009. Back then, the decision was motivated by a “When in Rome…” spirit of willingness to conform to the normative cultural practices of my host country. Since 2011, however, it had also become a welcome means of being less conspicuous when out on the streets. But I have never deluded myself into thinking I am invisible or © The Author(s) 2018 K. Hennessey, Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula, Global Shakespeares,




unrecognizable. I have great affection for this country and for many of its people, but I am not of it. I do not blend in. The dust creeps into my shoes as I walk the seventy-five or so meters that separate the busy commerce of Algiers Street from the relative quiet of the entrance to the Yemen-America Language Institute (YALI). Small boys in faded clothes, some of them barefoot, trill “Hello, hello!” in English as I walk by, to which I smile and respond in Arabic, “marāḥib.” A little girl in her mother’s arms looks at me as we cross paths and her big dark eyes widen. The street is littered with candy wrappers and blue and black plastic bags. When I arrive at the gate, a security guard from YALI checks my bag and waves me through a metal detector. I walk into the institute’s courtyard, which is shaded from the sun by a faded blue tarpaulin stretched between the institute’s buildings, about three floors above. As I have described it up to this point, this experience is rife with the standard stereotypes that the name “Yemen” conjures up: militants, firearms, women in black (me, in this case), heat, dust, poverty. But here at the language institute, an event is taking place that provides a powerful counterweight to such stereotypes: a theatrical performance. I’ve come to YALI to see a play entitled ‘Aysmir Ma‘ish al-Sirāj, Yemeni Arabic for The Lamp Will Keep You Company.2 I’ve arrived slightly early, and the courtyard is buzzing with activity. Young men are setting up hundreds of plastic chairs for the audience, and audible behind-the-scenes banging and shouting suggest a few midnight-hour adjustments to the platform that has been erected to serve as the stage. The courtyard is soon packed with the institute’s students, who laugh and chat with each other, excited about the prospect of a few hours of free live entertainment. A dozen or so expats have also arrived and, with a recognizably Yemeni sense of hospitality, students sitting in the front rows offer the foreigners their seats. Aziz Al-Hadi, the institute’s director, provides some warm words of welcome (in perfect American English, as YALI is, after all, an English language institute) to the audience and the acting troupe. He then invites Fatima Al-Baydhani, the Yemeni woman who, more than anyone else, has contributed the vision and effort that have brought this performance into being, to say a few words of introduction. Al-Baydhani speaks to the audience in Arabic, with a graceful apology for her lack of fluency in English, and explains the genesis of this performance in an extensive project designed to collect and document the oral



literary heritage of Yemen. Seven representatives of Mīl al-Dhahab (“The Golden Mile”3), a heritage preservation organization that Al-Baydhani established in the year 2000, have traveled to all twenty-one of Yemen’s provinces, seeking out local storytellers and poets in towns and in remote rural villages, and recording their recitations. In a majority of the cases, the storytellers were female, and many of them were elderly. In fact, as Al-Baydhani notes, in the intervening years some have passed away. Without the database created by Mīl al-Dhahab, their tales would have died with them. To celebrate this element of Yemen’s literary heritage and to bring her organization’s work to the attention of the general public, Al-Baydhani gave a transcribed selection of the storytellers’ recitations to three Yemeni writers, including the celebrated and provocative novelist and playwright Wajdi Al-Ahdal,4 inviting them to create a work of theatre using the tales as a basis. The authors dramatized the Yemeni folktales as a charming set of plays-within-a-play—the performance which, Al-Baydhani proudly informs us, we are about to see. To an accompaniment of Yemeni music on the oud (the Middle Eastern analogue to the lute or the mandolin) and drums, a colorful cast of characters take their turns on the stage: a lovesick Sultan, a veiled shepherdess, a woodcutter; a beautiful young woman and her courageous beau, who defy her father’s attempts to keep them apart; a lonely housewife and the jinnī of the lamp that gives the play its title, who magically appears after her husband’s daily departure and regales her with wonderful tales of shape-shifting and sorcery. The audience responds to the performance with considerable enthusiasm, roaring with laughter at the jokes, whistling at surprises, shouting encouragement and advice to the characters on stage. And in the midst of all this, Shakespeare appears, speaking Yemeni Arabic, and wearing traditional Yemeni dress. By which I mean not that we see Shakespeare as a character in the play, but rather that we see one of his plays performed as a Yemeni folktale. For one of the stories incorporated into ‘Aysmir Ma‘ish al-Sirāj is a retelling of The Merchant of Venice. The elements of Shakespeare’s plot are clearly visible on the stage. We see that in order to pay the dowry of the woman he loves, the young hero borrows money from a rich moneylender, not heeding the gravity of the condition that he will forfeit a pound of flesh if he fails to repay on time. After the young man defaults, the moneylender insists on the



Fig. 1  Yemeni Merchant of Venice, courtroom scene. Foreground: the judge, perplexed, in white; Fitna in disguise in blue and yellow. Photo by Wagdi Al-Maqtari, courtesy of YALI/Akram Mubarak

execution of the penalty and a legal battle ensues (Fig. 1). When the presiding judge reluctantly concludes that the agreement must be enforced, a masked youth intervenes in court on the young man’s behalf, reasoning that the agreement entitles the moneylender to a pound of flesh, but no blood. The young man is saved, and eventually discovers—after his wife has tested his loyalty—that the masked youth was his wife in disguise (Fig. 2). (The “disguise” has been obvious to the audience since the courtroom scene, as it is in Shakespeare’s play, yet its revelation still meets with fervent applause and cries of approval from the audience.) There are differences between this performance and Shakespeare’s Merchant, of course. Here the characters are all Yemeni, and the geography has shifted from Venice to the Hadramawt, Yemen’s massive eastern province. Certain elements from the play have been simplified: minor characters and events are cut, and Antonio and Bassanio merge into a single character, Aydarous Bin Muhammad Al-Kindi, of the Hadramawt’s Kinda tribe. The gold, silver and lead casket scenes are reduced to a riddle posed to her suitor by Fitna, the Yemeni analogue to Portia. It’s bare bones and not particularly poetic: there is no “quality of mercy,” no “hath not a Jew eyes?” and the entire arc of the plot is reduced to less than half an hour. Also, its author isn’t Shakespeare. It’s Zaynab, a fifty-year-old female storyteller from the town of Seyoun in the Hadramawt.



Fig. 2  Fitna reveals her disguise to Aydarous. Photo by Wagdi Al-Maqtari, courtesy of YALI/Akram Mubarak

Al-Baydhani, who has a passion for world literature, tells me privately that she was delighted by the Shakespearean echoes in Zaynab’s story, but at no point does Zaynab’s recitation or the performance at YALI make any direct mention of Shakespeare or of The Merchant of Venice. In performance, this is the tale of Fitna and Aydarous, presented not as an adaptation of The Bard but as a treasured piece of the literary heritage of Yemen, passed down by Yemen’s own bards. ***

Doha, Qatar 2015 I sit on a sofa in an apartment on one of the upper floors of one of the residential towers in The Pearl-Qatar complex on the north side of the city of Doha, admiring the views of the skyline and bay from the windows. Built on land reclaimed from the bay, on the site of a former pearl diving bed, and designed to look in aerial view like a string of pearls on a necklace, The Pearl is a huge mixed residential and commercial complex dotted with chain and boutique stores and restaurants. Like much of the urban fabric of the contemporary Arabian Gulf, The Pearl—which bills itself as “the most glamorous address in the Middle East”—is a work in heady progress; new construction is in evidence at every turn. The Pearl is also novel in terms of the economic opportunity it represents for Gulf



expats: it is the first development complex in Qatar to allow expatriates to purchase freehold property. Companionably sipping coffee and tea with me are Trish Slade, Femke Marischler, and our host Rebecca Wyatt, three members of the Doha Players. Each played a role in the acting or the administration of the Players’ March 2015 performance of Macbeth at the Black Box Theatre at Hamad Bin Khalifa University. Founded in 2010 and located in “Education City”, a cluster of universities and educational institutions in the city’s north-west suburbs, the university is a relatively new institution in Doha. The Doha Players, by contrast, have been performing since 1954, making them one of the oldest community theatre troupes in the Gulf. For the Players’ Macbeth, Wyatt served as the stage manager, Marischler played one of the witches, and Slade took the role of Lady Macduff. Wyatt, Slade and Marischler take turns describing the challenges posed by the transient nature of expat life in the Gulf—the difficulties of making friends, of finding outlets for creativity, of creating a life for yourself that is not bound up with your job, your co-workers and your place of employment. For all the opportunities it offers, expat life can be isolated and alienating, particularly in countries where communities are as segregated as they are in Qatar. But the description of these difficulties is merely a preface to all three women’s ringing endorsement of the Doha Players as a group that has brought them together with other creative and outgoing personalities, all of whom want to collaborate on the common goal of putting on a memorable and entertaining show. Repeatedly, the three women stress the sense of community they’ve found through the Players, and the way that participation in the group has made them feel rooted in Doha in a way that nothing else has. Working with the Players, they tell me, is like suddenly having an extended family when you’ve spent weeks and months feeling that you’re out of place and far from home. In the US, community theatre is occasionally spoken of with a certain degree of disdain, as the work of amateurs or part-timers who lack the talent or commitment to participate in professional productions. But such a jaundiced view misses a fundamental point: community theatre is not only theatre whose members all live in a particular local community. It can also be theatre that creates a community where one previously did not exist. We all want to entertain and be entertained, and to find outlets for creativity and imagination and self-expression, and most of us also



want to feel that we belong and contribute to the places in which we live. The Players are a community theatre troupe in this deeper sense of enacting, or calling into being, a community. And this particular community has a uniquely fraught relationship with Shakespeare. On March 19, 2005, in the middle of a performance of the Players’ colorful, Pacific-island-set production of Twelfth Night, a suicide bomber attempted to ram an SUV packed full of explosives into their theatre. Fortunately the attacker was unable to reach the theatre itself, but the car bomb detonated in the parking lot, killing the bomber and the director of the Players’ production, and injuring twelve others. The reasons that prompted the bomber to target the theatre remain unclear, more than a decade on. Did the fact that the Players were performing Shakespeare somehow factor into the attacker’s twisted logic?5 Whatever his underlying rationale might have been, the group stayed determinedly away from Shakespeare’s work for almost a decade, until director Mione van der Merwe took it upon herself to coax them back. She first organized an interactive outdoor Shakespeare-themed festival called Shake It Up! A Journey Through Shakespeare in November 2014, which Wyatt co-produced. Five months later, van der Merwe directed the Players’ production of the Scottish play, which premiered on the tenth anniversary of the bombing. Given that history, Macbeth was a darkly brilliant choice on van der Merwe’s part: a play that makes horrifyingly clear that violence begets only violence, and that those who are willing to kill innocents to achieve their ambitions will themselves inevitably end in madness or despair. And what better way to exorcise any actors’ lingering fears that Shakespeare could provoke danger than by successfully performing a play proverbial for the theatrical superstitions and the legends of bad luck that cling to it? No doubt some members of the cast breathed a sigh of relief when the run concluded, but others found their appetite for Shakespeare whetted, and in November 2015 the group staged The Tempest—a ­ play that raises the questions of “who owns” and “who belongs” more pointedly than any other in the Shakespearean canon, in its exchanges between Caliban and Prospero. In Qatar, a rentier state where citizenship carries with it vast economic privileges, but where nearly 90% of the population are not and never will be citizens, belonging and ownership are hot-button issues—too hot for debate in most public fora, yet ones that can be touched upon with kid gloves, including those made



by the glovemaker’s son from Stratford. The Players’ Tempest also made playful but keen points about the performative nature of human identity. In a region that goes to substantial lengths to keep its female and male citizens segregated, and where authority figures consciously attempt to instill rigid notions of national identity, co-directors James Mirrione and Kim Sturgess cast van der Merwe to play Prospero (as a male), and costumed their cast, composed of diverse nationalities, in early modern Arab-North African attire, complete with turbans and pointed slippers. In short, to declare their rights to belong and to construct an identity for themselves in Doha, the Players turned to Shakespeare. ***

Kuwait City, Kuwait 2017 I stand in the open-air courtyard of the American United School of Kuwait (AUSK6) on a mild February evening, admiring the bright red buds on the green shrubs in decorative planters around the perimeter, which pleasingly contrast the white marble and grey steel of the ­courtyard. The hundred and fifty or so attendees at this evening’s event are warmly welcomed: waiters circulate with trays of canapés, and a massive dessert table with five tiers of assorted mini-tarts and cheesecake bites caters to the local predilection for sweets. Guests of varied nationalities are laughing and chatting. English predominates, with Arabic also clearly audible. AUSK is a co-ed private school for students from pre-kindergarten through tenth grade, located in the Sabah al-Salem neighborhood south of the city center. The school boasts a student body drawn from thirty-five different countries, and its facilities include an indoor pool, a skateboarding park, and a plush theatre/auditorium. It’s impressive enough to prompt one online recruiter to gush that it will make American teachers want to move abroad.7 It is the theatre that has drawn us all to the school tonight—more precisely, a Shakespeare-themed performance on the AUSK stage, by the visiting UK-based Young Shakespeare Company (YSC). YSC, which aims to bring “inspirational educational theatre” to schoolchildren of various ages, tours primarily to elementary and secondary schools in the UK, but can also be engaged for international tours. In this case, the impetus to bring the troupe came from a local community theatre group



called Staged in Kuwait (SIK), while the United Education Company of Kuwait, chaired by Shaykha Dana Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, granddaughter of the current Emir, sponsored the evening’s event. This is the final performance of the YSC’s six in Kuwait: they have toured to three other schools and put on two prior performances at AUSK, for AUSK students and student groups from other local schools.8 Before the evening’s program commences I have an opportunity to talk to Tim Waddell, Artistic Director of SIK and long-time resident in Kuwait. He tells me that SIK does very little Shakespeare: their production choices are driven by economic realities, and Shakespeare simply doesn’t sell tickets in Kuwait the way that, for example, Broadway musicals do (SIK’s recent productions include Seussical the Musical, Shrek, and a Sinbad pantomime). Waddell also explains that while Englishlanguage theatre—which has a long history in Kuwait—has always been driven by expats and has attracted predominantly expat audiences, his organization has succeeded in gradually building up a Kuwaiti audience base, which he estimates now constitutes around half of the spectators for a given SIK performance. When the attendees file into our seats in the auditorium, Waddell takes to the stage. He introduces the evening and explains, among other things, that he needs two volunteers from the audience to play the roles of the murderers in tonight’s production. He runs through the script, asking us all to recite the murderers’ lines; laughter ensues when the audience learns that, at least for tonight’s performance, the murderers only have to say one thing, repeated five times: “Ay, my good lord.” The phrase is a direct quote from Macbeth 3.4, though it only represents a fraction of the First Murderer’s response to Macbeth in line 25.9 In Shakespeare’s text, the First Murderer has twenty-one lines, the Second Murderer six, but tonight, apart from this one phrase, all the rest have been cut to facilitate audience members’ participation. When Waddell asks which two audience members will be brave enough to come up on stage during the production at a cue from Macbeth, he sparks a flurry of waving hands. He selects a young man from the fifth row and a young woman sitting further back; both seem eager to play their roles. The YSC actors then commence a forty-five-minute, audience-­ participatory introduction to the play and to particular elements of their performance. The actors explain their motivation and their interpretation of their characters’ unspoken thoughts. They describe the range of performative choices available to actors in interpreting the text. They



even provide a brief introduction to the principles of stage fighting, all accompanied by lively examples. Some of these push the envelope of conservative theatrical conventions in the Gulf, which generally shy away from depicting sexual content on stage. For example, the actors delve into the content of Macbeth 1.7, where Macbeth and Lady Macbeth debate whether to proceed with their plot to kill Duncan. They explain that the actor playing Lady M (here, the YSC’s Chloe Levis) has a range of options available to her as she attempts to persuade her husband to carry out the murder. Levis first deconstructs lines 35–44: … Was the hope drunk Wherein you dressed yourself? Hath it slept since? And wakes it now to look so green and pale At what it did so freely? From this time Such I account thy love. Art thou afeard To be the same in thine own act and valour As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life, And live a coward in thine own esteem, Letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would’ …?

She then provides two contrasting examples of how one could recite them, first with fury, then with biting sarcasm. The YSC then throws the discussion open to the audience: how might we suggest she attempt to convince Macbeth? One attendee suggests “crying,” so Levis tearfully recites the lines a third time, collapsing towards the end and delivering the last two curled up on the stage, weeping and pounding the boards with her hands. The audience clearly enjoys the histrionics, which are strongly reminiscent of a style of declamation popular among female actors in Middle Eastern soap operas and television serials, a fact of which Levis may or may not be aware. Then another audience member suggests “she seduces him,” at which Levis began to caress Macbeth (Sebastian Christophers)’s face, leaning into his body and wrapping her arms around him. “Let’s keep it PG-13, guys,” advises another cast member, to more laughter from the audience. Again, I wonder whether the actors realize that this admonition, surely used as a punchline when giving this performance to audiences of UK schoolchildren, is also appropriate to the context of performance in the Arabian Gulf, where young female and male actors merely touching each



other on stage remains something of a taboo, let alone portraying seductive behavior. But the fearless company press on, to Lady Macbeth’s graphic depiction of breast-feeding and infanticide: … I have given suck, and know How tender ‘tis to love the babe that milks me. I would, while it was smiling in my face, Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you Have done to this. (54–9)

Here the audience’s reaction is somewhat muted, some perhaps embarrassed by the evocation of breasts and nipples in this local context, others likely perturbed that the lighter spirit of play and experimentation has taken an unavoidably dark and violent emotional turn. Levity returns as the actors poll the audience to decide whether actor Jessica Dives should portray Malcolm as a conquering hero or a weaker, less confident figure (a majority prefers the latter), and as Macbeth and Macduff (Joseph Tregear) walk the group through some of the conventions of stage fighting, including—of course!—a play for laughs where one actor is stage-kneed in the testicles. The actors then pass to a highly truncated, but still original language, version of Shakespeare’s play. The production is fast-paced and energetic, and director Christopher Geelan has incorporated some unique features: the witches are an increasingly eerie trio of zombie-like children (Fig. 3); the cast sing lines from Scots Gaelic folk songs; Macbeth suffocates his wife, in what one might interpret as a mercy killing. The production also incorporates some young actors and dancers from Kuwait, who play Banquo’s son Fleance and extras at Macbeth’s coronation feast, all of whom acquit themselves capably. The same cannot be said for the young woman whom Waddell had asked to play the Second Murderer, who rushes out of the auditorium, cell phone in hand, well before her cue, and does not return. An attack of stage fright? News of a family emergency? Has she, like Donalbain, fled to Ireland never to be seen again, yet another example of the misfortune that the Scottish play carries with it? Fortunately, when Macbeth gives his cue, the First Murderer jumps up from his seat in the auditorium and runs with alacrity up the stairs to the stage. A quick-thinking Waddell jumps in to play



Fig. 3  YSC Macbeth, Macbeth meets the witches. Photo by Dhari Al Fozan, courtesy of Tim Waddell and Staged in Kuwait

the Second Murderer, and the two repeatedly declaim “Ay, my good lord” to audience applause (Fig. 4). After the show I conduct a brief interview with Geelan. To my query about whether the troupe had changed any of the elements of their show for performance in Kuwait, or whether he notices any differences in the way students in Kuwait have responded, Geelan replies that Tim Waddell had been involved in coordinating the Globe-to-Globe Hamlet’s performance in Kuwait (as one stop on Shakespeare’s Globe’s 2016 roundthe-world tour of that production10), but had decided that this year he wanted to host a performance geared towards children rather than adults: He wanted something that would go out into the schools and be for schools. Because what we devise is specifically for schools in the UK, there was very little that we changed to perform here, and very little difference in the responses. The schools here varied massively from school to school, but they do in the UK as well … So the cultural specificities of being here is only one of so many other factors that affect how the performance goes differently. What’s far more interesting is whether they’ve seen live theatre before, and how well they know the play and are familiar with it.11

For many of the student audience members in Kuwait, the YSC’s Macbeth may well be a first experience of live theatre, and one that



Fig. 4  YSC Macbeth, Sebastian Christopher as Macbeth, Tim Waddell and volunteer audience member as murderers. Photo by Dhari Al Fozan, courtesy of Tim Waddell and Staged in Kuwait

provides an uncommon glimpse into the process of developing and adapting Shakespeare for the stage. Geelan and the YSC have cleverly constructed their performance to appeal to a wide range of student interests, knowledge, and abilities. They’ve found ways to bring budding student performers onto the stage, to provide them insight into the actor’s choices in constructing a role, and to make them feel that a Shakespearean text is something with which they can play and experiment. This evening, they have scattered seeds on the ground in Kuwait. Time will tell how many of them will take root. *** Taken together, these three examples illustrate several of the intriguing facets of the phenomenon this book calls “Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula.” One of the most obvious of these is the wide range of languages in which Shakespearean performances take place, of which Shakespeare’s own is only one possible choice. Others include rewritings in contemporary English, or translations into Modern Standard Arabic,



into regional dialects, or into a hybrid of the two, with dialect often used to comedic effect. A second point of note is that audience demographics on the Peninsula vary widely from city to city and from one historical moment to another. In Yemen, the overwhelming majority of theatrical performances take place in Arabic, and audiences are generally Yemeni with an occasional sprinkling of expats. In countries like Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, however, we find both Arabic-language theatre, attended predominantly by Gulf citizens and other Arab residents, as well as theatre in English, for which the audiences are heterogeneous, particularly in cities with a highly cosmopolitan populace, like Doha and Dubai. Third, Shakespeare inhabits a complicated niche on the Peninsula. He sometimes appears with great fanfare, arriving from abroad, his advent heralded by advance publicity and media coverage. At other times he travels incognito, like a sultan from the Arabian Nights disguising himself to walk amongst his people, or Henry V in his borrowed cloak in the camp at Agincourt. Repeatedly we find him as community spokesperson, or as the alpha member of the high school clique, the one who sasses the teachers and defies the principal, leaving his classmates wondering how he gets away with it. His phrases, plots and characters carve subterranean channels within public discourse and performance, like fragments of legendary lost cities hidden beneath the sands of the Empty Quarter.12 He is at once an icon of Anglo-/Western culture, prompting enthusiasm and flutters of adoration from some quarters and suspicion, even hostility, from others, and at the same time his work is so much a part of certain cultural fabrics that Arabic-speaking actors and playwrights can claim his tales as their own—“Shakespeare in the original Arabic!” as a 2016 panel at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature put it.13 This is tongue-in-cheek, of course, as was nineteenth-century SyroLebanese author Ahmad Faris Al-Shidyaq’s suggestion that Shakespeare was actually an Arab by the name of Shaykh Zubayr.14 Yet, inspired by Al-Shidyaq’s jest, Iraqi scholar Safa Khulusi wrote a lengthy article entitled Dirāsa Ḥawl Shaksbīr (“A Study of Shakespeare,” 1960), which argued that Shakespeare must have been of Arab ancestry. Khulusi buttressed his contention with (among other things) an ingenious list of parallels between Shakespeare’s plots and tropes and those of pre-Islamic literature and The Arabian Nights, and a questionable description of the



Chandos portrait, which he claimed depicted Shakespeare with a Middle Eastern complexion and an Islamic-style beard.15 Khulusi’s argument sparked a series of debates in the Arab world that were protracted and at times bizarre—as for example when the claims later expanded to include an Andalucian origin (and a conversion from Islam to Catholicism) for Shakespeare’s ancestors, or in 1989, when Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi publicly endorsed the “Shaykh Zubayr” theory. While we might be tempted to dismiss such claims as rank nonsense, they should nevertheless provoke us to ask why these speculations would arise in the first place, and what political or cultural purposes they might serve. As UAE-based Shakespeare scholar Abdulla Dabbagh argues, the outlandish nature of a small number of these assertions should not preclude due consideration of the “peculiar affinity” that many Arab translators, authors and critics have perceived between the world of Shakespeare’s plays and their own realities.16 And surely it behooves us to investigate the mysterious links of transmission, translation and adaptation that allow the plot of The Merchant of Venice to become enmeshed in the repertoire of a female storyteller from the Hadramawt, in a tale decked in the trappings of local history, making no reference whatsoever to Shakespeare, whether as author, model, icon or source of cultural capital. Moreover, as the Macbeth in Kuwait example intimates, theatrical performances on the Peninsula must contend with regimes of censorship (a subject explored in detail in Chapter 4). These vary in severity from place to place, as well as across time and genres. Across the Peninsula censorship can occur at official levels, for example when public performances must obtain licenses and permissions, and a censor approves, edits, or rejects scripts. It can occur at a socio-cultural level, where audiences’ or critics’ objections to content may derail a production or compel actors and directors to change elements of the performance. These two types of censorship encourage a third: self-censorship, i.e. writers’ and directors’ deliberate avoidance of provocative content. Particularly in the Gulf, as critic Nehad Selaiha has compellingly argued, levels of censorship can be so suffocating that many theatre-makers experience “a feeling of being incarcerated, besieged and having to speak through metaphors and symbols.”17 And the feeling extends to other domains as well—to universities, for example, where students worry that expressing controversial opinions in class discussion will subject them to reputation-staining



gossip, and where professors have been rebuked, and in some cases fired, for perceived criticism of the government or of time-hallowed ‘ādāt wa taqālīd’ (“customs and traditions”)—a sensitive subject in the Gulf, due in part to concerns that the large numbers of foreign residents are diluting citizens’ sense of national identity.18 Under such circumstances, some opt to speak through Shakespeare. As James Shapiro recently noted, Shakespeare’s global importance lies not in his supposed status as a universal artist, but rather as a means through which people around the world can speak with greater freedom about uncomfortable or provocative topics.19 This book argues that in the Arabian Peninsula, Shakespeare has repeatedly offered theatremakers a means of producing provocative work with a certain degree of cover from censorship and criticism. Sulayman Al-Bassam, British-Kuwaiti playwright and director of The Arab Shakespeare Trilogy, avers that the cultural cachet attached to the Bard acts as “body armour” to protect authors and actors from “the censor’s whip.”20 This contention was borne out in interviews that I conducted in 2015, 2016 and 2017 with scholars and theatre practitioners across the Gulf, who cited the utility of Shakespeare as a springboard for discussion of contentious socio-political issues, and as a means of circumventing the Gulf’s ubiquitous regulations governing the censorship of public performance. And in certain cases, the utility of Shakespeare is directly related to the complexities of his language: as a Dubai-based director told me in 2015, “We perform Shakespeare because the censors don’t understand Elizabethan English.”21 The three examples provided also suggest some of the choices that characterize my approach to and exploration of the phenomenon of Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula. As the first-person narration implies, my research strategy has included being present for as many Shakespeare-themed performances and personally interviewing as many practitioners as possible. This approach is, in certain ways, a phenomenological one, insofar as I attempt to document and to analyze the experience of watching and/or participating in particular theatrical performances, and to explore how the micro- and macro-contexts in which they take place—including but not limited to local, regional, and international current events—may influence theatre practitioners’ choice of a play, and/or inflect audience members’ interpretation of a performance. My three examples are also quite recent—2013 to 2017—and this is an accurate reflection of the book’s content. Though I provide



a historical overview of Shakespeare on the Peninsula in Chapter 1, twentieth-century productions are infrequent and sporadic. The twentyfirst century, by contrast, has witnessed a flourishing of Shakespearean study and performance on the Peninsula, for reasons that this book aims to make clear. Thus its main thrust is performances of Shakespeare since the year 2000, and in particular from 2005 to the present, when this phenomenon attains critical mass. In terms of this book’s objects of inquiry, I have considered fair game anything Shakespeare-related that occurs or is created on the Peninsula, including but not limited to university courses, seminars, and conferences; professional, semi-professional, student, and community theatre performances of Shakespeare, as well as touring productions; performances, texts, and films inspired by or in dialogue with Shakespeare; online media and video; lectures, presentations, and events at literature and theatre festivals; and publications by resident scholars and/or the region’s publishing houses. Inspired by the barrier-breaking work of Shakespearean scholars like Michael Dobson in Shakespeare and Amateur Performance (2013), Andrew James Hartley et al. in Shakespeare on the University Stage (2015) and Douglas Lanier in Shakespeare and Modern Popular Culture (2002), this book embraces genres and productions that some readers or commentators may disdain as too “lowbrow” or too low-budget to warrant academic investigation—“small-time” as opposed to “big-time” Shakespeare, to borrow Michael Bristol’s distinction.22 I do not assume, for example, that a professional theatre troupe is better able to express the socio-political concerns of the Peninsula’s residents than community or university theatre performers. The former may have more resources, training, and experience, but they also have more to lose if putting on a provocative production, where the latter may actually be subject to fewer limits and constraints. Some readers may find the inclusion of an example of Shakespearean performance from Yemen next to those from Doha and Kuwait somewhat surprising. Despite the sound arguments advanced by prominent scholars for treating the Arabian Peninsula as a coherent sub-region23 within the Arab world, much scholarship (as well as much journalism) about the Arabian Peninsula still tends to divide it into two spheres, with Yemen on one side and the Gulf states on the other. There are certain justifications for doing this, among them the fact that poverty-stricken Yemen is on a very different economic trajectory from its oil-rich neighbors (due in no small part to its current status as a battleground, quite



literally, in the Saudi vs. Iranian rivalry for regional power and influence). Yet this dichotomy obscures the long-standing historical, economic, and cultural links that connect Yemen to its neighbors in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Furthermore, the prevailing perception of Yemen as a place where violence and humanitarian crises are endemic, in contrast to the Gulf’s prosperity and stability, misses a fundamental point. Yemen is an outlier on the Peninsula in many respects, but some of those are actually positive rather than negative. Until the current turmoil exploded in September 2014, Yemen was the Arabian Peninsula’s only (albeit tenuously) functioning democracy, in contrast to the Gulf’s sultanates, emirates and kingdoms.24 It had a bicameral parliament and an independent judicial system, and had conducted a pioneering National Dialogue in an attempt to resolve the fractious conflicts unleashed by the events of the so-called “Arab Spring.” It had a reasonably free and critical press, by regional standards, and—of particular interest for this study—a theatre scene that was, of all those on the Arabian Peninsula, the least constrained by censorship and surveillance. It is also, as we shall see, the region’s pioneer in Shakespeare performance. In short, Yemen rewards scholarly attention, and this book takes it as a central, even a model, contributor to the Peninsula’s history of theatre and Shakespeare. Similarly, in examining the societies of the Gulf, Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula rejects a number of presuppositions about and hierarchies among the various members of the Peninsula’s population. As my Doha example attests, in this book “Shakespeare in Qatar” includes Shakespeare as performed or studied not only by Qatari citizens but by all residents of Qatar, whatever passport they may carry, and regardless of how lengthy their period of residence may be. I do not assume that, for example, a performance of Shakespeare in Arabic by Gulf citizens is more “authentic” or more valuable than an English-language performance by expatriate residents, or by a mixed citizen and expat troupe. In fact, I argue that performances by troupes whose members hail from various ethnic, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds may better reflect the contemporary cosmopolitan demographics of Gulf societies than do all-citizen troupes. Alexa Alice Joubin’s argument that “the traffic of global Shakespeares constitutes a postnational space—venues where national identities are blurred by the presence of touring performers, transnational corporate sponsors, and theatre companies with international team members”25 is



particularly resonant in the Gulf, where resident expatriates dominate audiences and theater administrations, and where local theater troupes are increasingly diverse. Despite extensive attempts on the part of Gulf governments to create and inculcate concepts of national identity based on ethnic, linguistic, and religious criteria, whereby the citizen is normatively defined as ethnically Arab, an Arabic speaker, and an adherent of Sunni Islam, the story Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula tells is multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and set in “a postnational space that is defined by fluid cultural locations rather than by nation-states.”26 This book thus aims to follow the example set by contemporary theatre practice by crossing borders between nations and between linguistic and ethnic communities. In so doing, it utilizes Shakespeare as a unique vantage point from which to survey a complex region in the throes of massive cultural transformation, as the urban centres of the Arabian Gulf attempt to reinvent themselves as sleek cosmopolitan capitals of culture, art, and performance; as formerly robust bonds between the member states of the GCC are frayed by a conflict that pits Qatar against Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain; and as Yemen teeters at the edge of an existential abyss. To examine the myriad ways in which these seven countries produce knowledge about and performances of Shakespeare’s work is one way to begin to grasp the complexities of the contemporary Arabian Peninsula, and to measure the pace of its changes. The Peninsula: Terms and Demographics Before delving further into the Peninsula’s relationship to Shakespeare, I want to provide a very brief overview of this book’s terrain and its cultural context, and a delineation of its several overlapping geographical terms. For the purposes of this book, the phrase “the Arabian Peninsula” references, collectively, seven nation-states: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Yemen (Fig. 5). This delineation of territory corresponds to the region’s contemporary political borders. From a geographical perspective, however, the landmass of the Arabian Peninsula also technically includes the southern parts of both Iraq and Jordan—territories that lie, respectively, within the Iraqi and Syrian Deserts.27 Both of these states have theatrical traditions that merit academic analysis, but for reasons of space, among



Fig. 5  Map of the Arabian Peninsula and neighbouring countries, including significant locations mentioned in this book. Designed by David Wallace

others, I have chosen to focus this text only on those seven states whose territory lies fully within the Peninsula itself. Though Iraq’s history of theatre began decades earlier and flourished in the twentieth century to a much greater extent than that of its neighbors to the south, and though it also includes several prominent Shakespearean productions, these will be referenced in this text only insofar as they impact or serve as a model or an impetus for Shakespearean productions in the seven countries under consideration.



Since the first six nations on the above list (that is, all of them except Yemen) are also the founding members of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, more commonly known as the Gulf Cooperation Council, this book sometimes collectively refers to those six as “the GCC.” I also employ the terms “the Gulf states” and “the Arabian Gulf states” as useful shorthand for those same six nations, all of which possess at least some coastline running along the Arabian Gulf. In other texts and contexts, the phrase “the Gulf states” often includes Iran and Iraq as well, but in this book the phrase is used only to collectively indicate Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. It is important to note that though the terms “Arabian Gulf” and “Persian Gulf” refer to the same body of water, the choice of one versus the other has become highly politicized, as Saudi Arabia, which favors the former, and Iran, which prefers the latter, square off in a rivalry for regional influence. My choice of the term “Arabian Gulf” is not intended as an endorsement of the Kingdom’s geopolitical maneuvering. (In fact, had this study included consideration of Shakespearean performances in Iraq and Iran,28 I would likely have used “Yemen and the Persian Gulf states” as shorthand for its geographical focus.) Rather, the choice simply emphasizes that this study focuses on the Arabic-speaking countries of the Gulf, rather than including Farsi-speaking Iran. The Arabian Peninsula is, as Ahmed Kanna notes, productively studied “as a region—or better, a regionalized object of knowledge—and also as a place produced at the intersection of geopolitics and local politics, of local, national, and transnational processes.”29 Yet the Peninsula is also, simultaneously, an ensemble of individual nation-states, each of which plays its own distinctive role on the regional and the global stage. It is crucial to recognize that each of the seven nation-states located on the Arabian Peninsula possesses its own unique history, demography, politics and economic conditions. Further, each of these nations has its own history of performative practices such as poetry recitation, song and musical composition, and storytelling, though these lie for the most part outside the scope of this book.30 Table 1 provides a snapshot of a few salient indicators of the distinctive character of each of the seven nations in question.31



Table 1  Statistical snapshot of the Arabian Peninsula Population Population Size (nationals) (foreign (sq. km) residents) Bahrain 606K (45%) Kuwait 1,163K (31%) Oman 2,301K (70%) Qatar 280K (12%) Saudi 19,428K Arabia (70%) UAE 1,500K (16%) Yemen

26,470K (99%)

740K (55%) 2,589K (69%)33 986K (30%) 1,990K (88%) 8,325K (30%) 7,900K (84%)34 267K (1%)

GDP per Date of capita, independence 201632






















Ruling family, type of government Al Khalifa, Kingdom Al Sabah, Emirate Al Bu Sa‘id, Sultanate Al Thani, Emirate Al Saud, Kingdom Al Nahyan, Federation of Emirates Republic

Saudi Arabia stands out for its land mass and its population size; Qatar for its GDP; Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE as states whose national populations are outnumbered by foreign residents, with the latter two states having a particularly high ratio of foreign residents to nationals.36 In terms of ethnicity, religion, and economic status, the foreign resident population of the Gulf spans the spectrum. The largest segment of foreign residents are generally Indian expatriates, who represent around 25% of the total population of the UAE and Bahrain, and 20% in Kuwait. In the UAE, an additional 20% of the total population has roots in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Egyptians are the UAE’s largest non-Emirati Arab minority, at around 4%, while Jordanians, Palestinians, Lebanese and Yemenis each clock in at around 1–1.5% of the total.37 Western expatriates residing in the UAE constitute only a tiny fraction of the overall population: all together, expats from the UK, the US, Canada,and western Europe represent only around 3%. Similar statistics prevail in Bahrain, while in Qatar, Indians (24%), Nepalese (17%), Filipinos (9%) and Egyptians (8%) form the largest swathes of the foreign resident population. Qatari nationals represent a mere 12% of the whole; UK and US citizens, a collective 1.5%.38



Though Islam is the official religion of each of these states, in practice the population of the Gulf is a mosaic: various sects of Sunni, Shia, and (in Oman) Ibadhi39 Muslims, as well as Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and adherents of other faiths, like the tiny Jewish populations of Bahrain, Oman, and Yemen. Indeed the mosaic is a useful metaphor for the various communities that exist in the Gulf, which in recent decades have tended to be fractured, insular, and socially exclusive, broken into enclaves along ethnic and economic lines, but which must be understood in their relationship to each other and to the larger whole. Foreign workers in the Gulf are predominantly male, leading to massive gender imbalances in states like Qatar, where women compose less than a quarter of the total population, and the UAE, where they represent less than a third. In Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Oman, the female population ranges from 39 to 45% of the whole.40 Much of the expat population of the Gulf is transient, arriving on short-term contracts and work visas and leaving when those can no longer be renewed. Other foreign residents may live in the Gulf for decades—and some foreign families, for generations.41 But pathways to citizenship in the Gulf countries for non-nationals are extremely rare,42 in part because the economic benefits of citizenship are so generous. Most (but not all43) nationals of the Gulf states enjoy free health care and education, often including scholarships to study abroad; the possibility of lifetime white-collar state employment; no taxes, and government subsidies on necessities like food and utilities. Similarly, an elite stratum of expatriate workers, while not enjoying the same level of privilege as Gulf nationals, are paid handsomely for work in the oil and natural gas industries and sectors like communication, transport, and finance. Somewhere in the middle of the Gulf’s economic spectrum, we find a group whose diversity makes them more difficult to describe: the middle but upwardly mobile expatriate strata of Gulf society, who have come to the region in search of career opportunities and/or a level of remuneration that would be difficult to attain in their countries of origin. These expats may hail from elsewhere in the Middle East, as well as from the Americas, Europe, Australia or Asia, and it is, by and large, members of this group that participate in the Peninsula’s performances of Shakespeare. On the far opposite end of the spectrum are those manual and domestic laborers whose abuse and exploitation have made chilling ­



recent headlines.44 Such workers labor, quite literally, under the burden of a system which requires them to obtain sponsorship—in Arabic, kafala (kafāla)—from an employer in order to obtain a work permit and, in many cases, an exit visa. The kafala system effectively ties a sponsored worker to his or her employer, who can dictate various working and even living conditions. In the face of attempts by workers to protest or to unionize, some employers have exerted pressure by confiscating passports or withholding salary payments, and though such actions are technically illegal, the workers have little to no recourse to local court systems. With little real oversight and few attempts to hold sponsors to account, workers’ rights abuses have run rampant: Human Rights Watch has repeatedly documented cases in which working conditions amount to modern day indentured servitude.45 In December 2015 Kanishk Tharoor argued in The Guardian that the UAE operates “a 21st-century caste system, stratifying Emirati citizens, well-heeled foreign professionals, and the huge underclass of workers from south and south-east Asia.”46 Thus while Gulf societies are incredibly diverse and cosmopolitan—polyglot, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural—they are also gated and enclaval, more layer cake than melting pot. There is no excuse and no justification for the abuse and exploitation of migrant laborers. But the prevailing caricature of the Gulf’s economic system as one where overfed nationals snooze in air-conditioned offices built by underpaid third world migrants gasping in the sweltering heat is also insufficiently nuanced, a fact which recent scholarship has attempted to address. For example, in “The Openness-Equality Trade-Off in Global Redistribution,” Glen Weyl argues that the GCC’s unique willingness to admit numbers of migrants that dwarf their citizen populations has proved surprisingly effective in addressing global wealth gaps—much more so, in fact, than foreign aid and development donations by Western countries.47 Many migrant workers earn salaries in the GCC that are orders of magnitude larger than they could expect in their countries of origin, and many remit substantial portions of their earnings to family members who have remained at home. Moreover, as anthropologist Andrew Gardner points out, cold hard cash is not the Gulf’s sole attraction: some migrants have fled unrest or ethnic persecution in their countries of origin.48 However, as Gardner’s and other scholars’ research makes clear, insecurity, exploitation, physical hardship and danger characterize the lives of many unskilled and semi-skilled migrant workers in the Gulf.49 And even when their toil brings the sumptuous



new mega-theatres and opera houses of the Gulf to completion, these workers generally do not have the money, the time, or the freedom to come to see Shakespeare performed on those stages, let alone to perform Shakespeare, or anything else, themselves.50 Even if we grant the GCC’s effectiveness as a means of redistributing global wealth, it is clear that in domestic terms the GCC’s rentier economic system concentrates riches and power in the hands of an elite stratum of wealthy citizens, most often ones who are members of or have close ties to the ruling royal families. More broadly speaking, in the Gulf, citizenship itself serves as a Bourdieusian form of capital, the possession of which carries privileges and economic opportunities to which non-citizens are barred51; the “trade-off” referred to in Weyl’s title is, to put it baldly, the fact that citizens of countries like Qatar are willing to accept such high levels of migration precisely because it is so unlikely that migrants will ever attain the privileges of citizenship. In the absence of a means to acquire citizenship, upwardly mobile residents aim to amass other forms of capital, including cultural c­ apital, and they seek alternate modes of belonging. Anthropologist Neha Vora describes the Indian residents of Dubai as “impossible citizens,” but notes that though they lack a formal pathway to naturalization as Emiratis, they continue to participate in the city’s economic, cultural, and social life in a range of informal and affective modes that would normally be associated with citizenship.52 An analogous argument could be made about many of the various expatriate communities in the Gulf. And in fact this book will argue that participation in community activities like drama and performance, particularly of Shakespeare, offers to citizens and non-citizens alike a share of local cultural capital, and a means by which to express the desire to belong and to contribute to their context. As noted, each of the Gulf states has its own unique history, demography, political configuration, and economic conditions. By and large, however, these are much more similar to each other than they are to the conditions prevailing in Yemen, the Peninsula’s second-largest state in terms of surface area, the largest in terms of its national population, and by far the poorest, its per capita GDP a mere fraction of the others’. Yemen’s national population is composed of Yemeni citizens, with foreign residents composing a mere 1% of the overall population. Yet, as we shall see in Chapter 1, Yemen possesses by far the region’s longest and richest history of both theatre and of Shakespearean performance by nationals.



“That which but seems unlike”: Shakespeare’s London and the Twenty-First-Century Gulf I will not argue that contemporary Gulf societies are a twenty-first-century analogue to Elizabethan London; the differences in culture and geography, history and technology are far too great.53 Yet if I were asked to name the place on our globe that, mutatis mutandis, most closely resembles the London of Shakespeare’s day, my thoughts would spring to Dubai, to Kuwait City, to Doha—to pulsing, crowded, cosmopolitan cities on the water, exhibiting the absolute extremes on the spectrum of wealth and privilege, with a burgeoning middle class prepared to spend money to entertain themselves, ruled by a monarch and an autocratic elite characterized simultaneously by a lofty sense of their own power and a pervasive fear that shadowy outside forces are targeting them. Let me draw out just a few of the parallels: • Exponential population increase and rapid urbanization. Between 1550 and 1600 the population of London increased more than 300%, from around 80,000 inhabitants to more than 200,000, due primarily to in-migration from less populated rural areas to England’s largest urban center.54 In the half-century from 1960 to 2010, the populations of all six of the GCC states rocketed upwards (e.g. from 4.1 million to 28.1 million in Saudi Arabia, or from a mere 92,600 to a staggering 8.3 million in the UAE55), with population growth overwhelmingly concentrated in urban areas. • Cosmopolitanism. Elizabethan London attracted foreign residents in numbers that were, at that time, quite significant (more than 7000 were recorded in a 1593 census of the city’s “strangers”).56 These included French and Dutch immigrants (many of them Huguenots fleeing religious persecution on the European mainland) and diplomats, traders, and merchants from Scandinavia, Central and Eastern Europe, Turkey and Morocco. This diversity seems to have piqued Shakespeare’s interest, as reflected in the foreign settings and the “strangers” of various provenance we see in his plays. The urban centers of the contemporary Gulf are likewise, as noted above, magnets for both high-skilled and manual laborers from other parts of the Arab world as well as from the West, Southeast Asia and elsewhere. • Record levels of both economic opportunity and economic inequality. Foreigners were attracted to Elizabethan London for



economic reasons, above all. A 1573 inquiry found that over a third of the city’s 7143 “strangers” stated that “their coming hither was onlie to seeke woorke for their living,”57 a refrain that would sound familiar among many migrants to the Gulf today. Moreover, resident foreign merchants punched well above their weight in London’s overseas trading; historian Jeremy Boulton estimates that though foreigners represented only 3% of the London population, they “controlled between one-fifth and one-third of the capital’s import trade” in both the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. If we take the Gulf’s well-remunerated cadres of white-collar expat experts and consultants as the analogue to Shakespearean London’s foreign merchants, we find they represent a similarly small fraction of the overall population, as well as a hugely significant one in terms of driving economic development.58 The twenty-first-century Gulf, of course, differs from Elizabethan London in that its population is also composed of tens of millions of foreign workers who fill low-to-medium-skilled occupations. Yet both societies feature a vast wealth gap between the richest echelons and the poorest. In sixteenth-century London, individuals and joint-stock companies could amass immense wealth, and Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries enriched private citizens while leaving the destitute bereft of the charitable sustenance that the religious orders had previously provided. Exploited Nepalese and Bangladeshi laborers are one contemporary Gulf analogue to Elizabethan London’s struggling poor, but so are, for example, the 2 to 4 million Saudis who live below the poverty line despite their country’s immense oil wealth.59 • Suspicion of non-native populations. Boulton notes that “the stranger population [in Elizabethan London] was counted regularly, its trading activities were supervised and controlled by customs officials and it was subject to heavier rates of taxation under the parliamentary subsidies.”60 The contemporary Gulf analogues to this are the Byzantine regime of paperwork, background checks, X-rays and blood tests required for work and residency permits, and foreign residents’ payment for services provided free to citizens. Further, a 1571 petition accused foreign residents of failing to integrate into London’s larger communities: “they are a common wealth within themselves, trade in partner shippe with strangers, … keepe themselves severed from us in church, in government, in trade, in



language and marriage,”61 even complaining that “strangers” were “taking bread out of our mouths.”62 In the Gulf much of the separation between native and foreign communities is state-driven, intended (or at least rhetorically constructed) as a means of protecting citizens from corruptive foreign influences. And the lament likewise exists, though in different terms: citizens complain less about foreigners taking jobs and income, and more—particularly in countries like Qatar, where non-Qataris constitute almost 90% of the population—about the dilution or loss of national identity, about being forced to communicate in English rather than Arabic, and about the increasing “minoritization” of citizens within their own country.63 • Suspicion of theatre on both political and religious grounds. Shakespeare, of course, participated in theatre at a time when Puritans like Philip Stubbes condemned plays as “the Devil’s exercises”: “Do they not maintain bawdry, infinite foolery, and renew the remembrance of heathen idolatry? Do they not induce whoredom and uncleanness?”64 The fundamentalist Islamic scholar Ahmed Ben Saddik (1889–1946) made similar arguments in his 1941 text Definitive Proof that Acting is Forbidden, where he argued, among other things, that theatre leads “women to prostitution.” Ahmed’s brother Abdullah later published a fatwa against acting on the grounds that it was “a heretical doctrine” contrary to Islam, which encouraged “idle talk,” “vanity,” and “lies,” all of which would lead participants to damnation.65 Though the Ben Saddik brothers were from Morocco, and lived in the mid-twentieth century, their reasoning has a contemporary Gulf parallel in Saudi clergy’s deep suspicion of theatre, cinema, and music. In January 2017, for example, Saudi Grand Mufti Abdulaziz Al-Shaykh described the performing arts as a “depravity” that encourages “mixing between the sexes,” which in turn “corrupts morals and destroys values.”66 In political terms, of course, theatre has the potential to be highly subversive, in its enactment of alternative realities or of conflict, rebellion, deposition, or regicide, and in the license that it provides to an actor to speak from behind the mask of a character. Elizabethan authorities worried that the crowds that gathered in theatres might spread both disease and public disorder; theatres were summarily closed during outbreaks of the plague, and



performances were subject to the approval of the Master of the Revels, who could order that inflammatory lines and scenes be cut or rewritten.67 In the Gulf, as Bahraini scholar Ibrahim Abdullah Ghalloom has argued, censorship by government officials has robbed theatre of its ability to challenge existing pieties; theatre is permitted to exist only to “consolidate the status quo, be it religious, political, or ethical.”68 I could continue by citing any number of other parallel facets, like the echoes of the violence of the Reformation and the Tudor period’s alternating persecutions of Catholics and Protestants in the inflammatory rhetoric and the proxy battles of the Saudi/Sunni vs. Iran/Shi’a rivalry—or the Gulf and early modern political system of autocratic monarchy, bolstered by recourse to religious rhetoric and, often, by a cult of personality attached to the head of the nation. As in Elizabethan London, the use of public executions or corporal punishment (flogging, beheading) is a means of demonstrating the power of the state and the consequences of illegal behavior in twenty-first-century Saudi Arabia, where Riyadh’s Deera (Dīra) Square—crudely nicknamed “Chop-chop Square”—serves as a modern-day Tyburn. More palatably, we might consider the ways in which certain Gulf royals are following the pattern laid down by Elizabeth I in her patronage of the theatre, through their investment in and encouragement of the development of particular cultural pursuits, like Qatari Shaykha Al-Mayassa Al-Thani’s passion for art acquisitions and film,69 or Saudi prince Alwaleed Bin Talal’s initiatives to foster objective, centrist journalism,70 or the numerous members of Gulf royal families who serve as sponsors or patrons of theatre troupes and/or dramatic productions.71 But the central argument of this book is not about the parallels between Shakespeare’s London and the contemporary Gulf. Rather, this book attempts to examine each of the countries on the Arabian Peninsula to tease out both the links and the distinctions between their individual and unique histories and identities, using the study and performance of Shakespeare over the course of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first as an access point. In so doing, it demonstrates that theatre in the Arabian Peninsula, and performances of Shakespeare in particular, provide the region’s residents with opportunities to express contentious opinions, and to create communities that cross the region’s gender, religious, ethno-linguistic, and other divides.



“Put Your Discourse into Some Frame”: The Structure of this Book To set more recent Shakespearean developments in context, this book opens with a brief historical survey of performances of Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula in the twentieth century. Among the productions considered in Chapter 1 are Yemeni adaptations of Julius Caesar and Hamlet (the former performed in 1948 as a commentary on the British colonial occupation of Aden, the latter as a meditation upon the violence of the occupation of the city by northern forces during the 1994 civil war); adaptations of the Merchant of Venice in Qatar and Oman; and a Saudi appropriation of Hamlet. The subsequent chapters in this book trace six strands of contemporary regional engagement with Shakespeare. Chapter 2 examines the ways in which Shakespeare is constructed as an object of study throughout the Peninsula—how his works are taught in university level classes, presented in seminars and public events, and celebrated at conferences and symposia, and what types of classroom and public discussions may spring up around them in the face of the Gulf’s constraints on academic freedom and free speech. It opens with a brief consideration of Shakespeare-related resources available in the Peninsula, and the challenges of translation. It then explores the experiences of professors teaching Shakespeare in Kuwait, Oman and Abu Dhabi, illustrating both the diverse range of Shakespearean pedagogy and the risks and rewards of using Shakespeare to raise provocative issues in the classroom. Since tertiary education is a relatively new phenomenon in the region,72 and since the quantity and variety of universities and courses of study has expanded exponentially over the course of the twenty-first century, this chapter also provides a contextual history of higher education and educational institutions in the Gulf. Chapter 3 examines performances of Shakespeare at Gulf universities. Most of these are in English rather than in Arabic translation, and take place on the stages of private universities that follow an American liberal arts curriculum, or at US and European branch campuses or offshoots. Yet in both directorial vision and audience reception these ­ performances can be intimately imbricated with contemporary local debates about sexuality, politics, and national, sectarian and gender identity. This chapter examines, among other things, a production of Julius Caesar in Kuwait that protested a gender segregation directive, and an Antony and Cleopatra in Sharjah that culminated in a marriage proposal.



Throughout the chapter I argue that performance on the Peninsula’s university campuses, Shakespearean performance in particular, creates micro-communities among students of different backgrounds, and offers a means of resistance to entrenched social divisions. Chapter 4 examines productions of Shakespeare imported to the Gulf from elsewhere. In contrast to the student productions examined in Chapter 3, these performances are generally professional shows that have won accolades at international performing arts venues before coming to the Gulf, and for which the main rationale seems to be entertainment, profit, and the creation of a (passive) culture of theatre-going. From the mega-stages of the Gulf, like the Royal Opera House Muscat, to “local” institutions like the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Center, this chapter examines the types of productions that are brought into the Gulf to appeal to Gulf audiences, and the new meanings that these performances can generate even on a temporary visit within the local context. Above all, this chapter uses the experiences of touring productions to shed light on the complexities of the region’s censorship regulations. The knowledge and understanding of Shakespeare generated by the study and the performances described in Chapters 2, 3, and 4 feed into the analysis of the performances considered in Chapters 5, 6, and 7: independent, “local” performances of Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula. That is, Shakespeare outside the context of an educational institution or an international tour: rather, Shakespeare in local drama troupes, run by expatriates or by nationals, ranging from amateur community performances to the intensely professional work of, for example, the “SABAB” theatre troupe, under the direction of Sulayman Al-Bassam. Chapter 5 focuses on recent English-language Shakespearean performances in Qatar and the UAE, while the primary focus of Chapter 6 is Shakespeare in Arabic-language theatre and film in Oman, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Chapter 7 analyzes a selection of twenty-first-century performances in both languages in the emirate of Kuwait, and considers the reception one particular Kuwaiti Shakespearean performance received when it played in the UAE, to audiences composed of students and female members of the royal family. The central argument of these three chapters is that a common thread unites these performances, despite their geographic and linguistic disparities: all of them use Shakespeare to challenge prevailing assumptions, from within the region as well as beyond it, that identity constructs on the Arabian Peninsula are static and monolithic, and all of them serve



as a counter-balance to the endemic forces that render Gulf communities segregated and transient. As such, these efforts provide an alternative and inclusive framework for participation in urban life and civil society. I term this framework “the new local,” since it redefines the state of belonging to a particular locale. Rather than enacting a staunch divide between citizens and expatriates of all stripes, or staging normative constructs defined against excluded or marginalized segments of the population, the troupes in question embrace and embody heterogeneity and diverse modes of belonging, both on stage and in their interactions with each other offstage. Performances of Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula thus illustrate the various means by which groups and individuals across the region can reorganize and redefine themselves, both to comment on problematic issues within their societies and to model different and more inclusive types of community. They suggest a future trajectory for the region that is increasingly characterized by the embrace of diversity and creative self-expression, despite the obstacles and the limitations that currently impede it. The Conclusion provides a snapshot of what the region’s theatre-makers were able to achieve during the 2016 “Year of Shakespeare” celebrations, and speculates upon the impact of Shakespearean performances yet to come.


1. See Note on Transliteration in Front Matter. 2. Unless otherwise noted, all translations from the Arabic in this text are mine. 3. As is typically the case with Arabic to English translation, this is only one of multiple possibilities: Mīl al-Dhahab could, with equal validity, be rendered as “Mile of Gold,” “The Golden Inclination,” or “The Tendency Towards Gold,” and Al-Baydhani has explained to me that she wanted the name to have multiple resonances. Given the organization’s aim, and if granted a bit of poetic license, one might also translate the phrase as “The Quest for Treasure,” the treasure here being literary. 4. Al-Ahdal ran afoul of the Yemeni government for allegedly “insulting the army” in his 2002 novel Qawārib Jabalīya (Mountain Boats). When the Ministry of Culture brought criminal charges against him and his publisher, Al-Ahdal fled to Damascus. Only after German Nobel laureate Günter Grass made a forceful personal request to then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh was Al-Ahdal permitted to return safely to Yemen.



Cognizant of the risks, Al-Ahdal continues to write about taboo subjects like women’s sexuality and political corruption in Yemen. See for example his novel A Land Without Jasmine, trans. William Hutchins, Garnet 2012, and his play A Crime on Restaurant Street, trans. Katherine Hennessey, published in the online journal Arab Stages, Vol. 4 (October 2016). 5.  For an argument that it was, see Holderness and Loughrey, “Rudely Interrupted.” 6. The school actually uses the acronym AUS, but I have added the K here to avoid confusion with the American University of Sharjah (also AUS), performances at which are explored in Chapter 3. 7. “If you’re an American licensed teacher who’s been hesitant to finally apply and commit to teaching abroad, then maybe seeing the facilities at the American United School of Kuwait will change your mind,” according to Brett Montrose, in “You have to see the facilities.” 8. Geelan, interview. 9. When quoting Shakespeare in this text, I have used the spelling, punctuation, and line numbering provided in The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, edited by Wells and Taylor. 10. For more on which, see the Conclusion. 11. Geelan, interview. 12. The Rub‘ al-Khālī (literally “the Empty Quarter”) is the vast sandy desert that encompasses around a quarter of a million square miles of Emirati, Omani, Saudi and Yemeni territory in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula. Lured by tantalizing tales of the lost frankincense city of Ubar, explorers like St. John Philby and Sir Ranulph and Ginny Fiennes spent years searching the sands of the Empty Quarter for the city’s archeological remains. In 1992 Fiennes and archaeologist Nicholas Clapp claimed to have found the site of Ubar at Shisr, in modern day Dhofar, Oman (see Fiennes, Atlantis of the Sands, and Clapp, The Road to Ubar). Clapp also traversed Yemen in search of the archeological remains of the kingdom of Sheba, and recounts that his local guides regaled him with campfire stories attributed to, among others, “Sheik Zubayr”: “stories from afar, [the guides] concurred, for Sheik Zubayr’s characters didn’t have Arabic names like Ali or Muhammad; their names were Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. Who knows,” Clapp asks, “how Shakespeare’s characters came to declaim and die in the sands of Southern Arabia?” (Clapp, Sheba, p. 160). 13.  For the festival listing, see “Shakespeare in the Original Arabic!” For further depictions of Shakespeare in an other-than English original, cf. the “original Hungarian” anecdote in the epigraph to Kennedy’s Introduction to Foreign Shakespeare, or Lanier’s discussion of Star Trek’s



invocation of “Shakespeare in the original Klingon,” in the opening of his Shakespeare and Modern Popular Culture. 14. Ahmad Faris Al-Shidyaq (1806?–1887) is author of the iconoclastic and hilariously satiric travelogue Kitāb al-sāq ‘alā ‘l-sāq (1855), recently translated to great acclaim by Humphrey Davies as Leg Over Leg, in the Library of Arabic Literature series from NYU Press, 2013. 15. This portrait, attributed to painter John Taylor, hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London and can be seen on the NPG website,, or on Wikipedia’s “Chandos Portrait” page, https:// 16. Dabbagh, Shakespeare, the Orient, and the Critics, p. 1. 17. Selaiha, “Theatre in the Gulf.” 18. For some of the various fora in which this concern has been raised, and the forms such anxieties take, see for example Musharbek, Rabbit Hole; “Qatar’s First National Identity Seminar”; Al-Quttab, “My Identity”; and “Initiatives.” 19. Shapiro, “Comment.” 20. Al-Bassam, “An Essay.” 21. I have opted to keep this source anonymous, on the off chance that the next scripts this director submits to the censor’s office might receive additional scrutiny as a result of this quotation. 22. Bristol, Big-time Shakespeare. 23. See for example, Carapico, “Arabia Incognita,” as well as the various contributions to “Theorizing the Arabian Peninsula.” 24. The degree to which Yemeni society can actually be classified as democratic is a complex question. The seminal work on the significance of democratic “openings” for civil participation within Yemeni society is Carapico’s Civil Society, which provides a nuanced depiction of the successes of and the limits on democratic initiatives in the country. Moreover, as scholar Sarah Phillips points out, there is a stark disjuncture between democracy as rhetorically promoted by the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh and the actual levels of democratic participation that the country’s power structures permit. See Phillips, “Yemen: The Centrality of Process.” 25. Joubin, “Global Shakespeares as Methodology.” 26. Ibid. 27. See for example Al-Sharkawi’s discussion of the borders of the Arabian Peninsula in The History and Development of the Arabic Language. 28.  For some intriguing reflections on Shakespeare in Iran see Rizzo, “Staging,” and Greenblatt, “Shakespeare in Tehran” (together with the numerous critical responses to it). For a nutshell history of Iranian



translations of Shakespeare, see Farkhondeh, “Shakespeare’s Iranian Translators.” 29. Kanna, “Towards a Critical Cartography.” 30. For a recent and accessible introduction to this material, see Urkevich, Music and Traditions. 31. Demographic statistics from the region are notoriously approximate, and figures comparing numbers of nationals to foreigners—a particularly sensitive issue—must be taken with a grain of salt. These statistics are compiled from a number of sources, including the CIA World Factbook and economic and population data published by the UN and the World Bank. In each case I have privileged those sources that had the most precise and most recently published or estimated figures. 32. World Bank, GDP per capita data. All figures are for 2016 except for Kuwait’s, which was not available for that year; I have thus used the 2015 statistic instead. 33.  Based on a combination of World Bank population figures and CIA percentages. 34. Business in Qatar magazine, a monthly periodical published in Doha, conducted its own census of Emirati vs. foreign workers in the UAE and claims that as of 2015, Emirati nationals were a mere 10% of the total UAE population (Snoj, “UAE’s population by nationality”). 35. North Yemen gained its independence from the Hamid Al-Din Imamate in 1962, South Yemen upon the British departure in 1967. The two Yemens were reunited in 1990. 36. Attiya Ahmad estimated the disparity to be even higher several years ago, stating that the non-citizen population composed more than 90% of the overall population in both Qatar and the UAE (“Beyond Labor”). These figures may thus represent a temporary decline; it is possible that future census data will indicate a rebound to higher levels, particularly in Qatar, as construction continues on the 2022 World Cup Stadium and other massive projects. 37. Snoj acknowledges that figures for Egyptians and Lebanese residents may be slightly underestimated. 38. Governments in the Gulf tend to publish census data that breaks down the population statistics according to “national” and “foreign”; the CIA World Factbook generally confines its “foreign residents” statistics to a listing of the two or three largest foreign populations. For this much more nuanced breakdown I am indebted to the demographics research by Snoj on the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain, as cited above. 39. See Hoffman, Essentials of Ibadi Islam, for an introduction to this “distinct sect of Islam that is neither Sunni nor Shi‘ite” (p. 3). 40. Calculated using 2015 gender ratio data from the CIA World Factbook.



41.  This is especially true in the case of Arab families from elsewhere in the region—particularly Palestinians, but also Egyptians, Syrians and Lebanese—as well as certain Indian and Southeast Asian families. See Dsouza, “Growing up in Qatar,” for a blog posting describing the childhood memories of a Qatari-born Indian resident whose family lived in Doha for over four decades. 42. These do exist, but are often directed towards the achievement of particular governmental ends, as for example Bahrain’s offer of citizenship to Sunni foreigners who agreed to serve in the ranks of the Bahraini police or military, an offer aimed both at shoring up those institutions’ loyalty to the government during the Arab Spring protests, and at increasing the size of the nation’s Sunni minority. Cf. Joyce, Bahrain, pp. 115–116. 43. The exceptions include, among others, the estimated two to four million Saudi citizens currently living under the poverty line—for a brief introduction to which, see Sullivan, “Saudi Arabia’s Riches.” It should be noted as well that a number of Gulf states subdivide their citizens into categories with gradations of access to government benefits; Qatar, for example, has two such classes, Kuwait seven. Kuwait also possesses a “Bidoun” population (the label is short for bidūn jinsīyah, “without nationality”): more than a hundred thousand people who claim Kuwaiti nationality but to whom the government has not granted citizenship, counter-claiming that the bidoun are trying to take advantage of the economic benefits of Kuwaiti citizenship when they are actually citizens of other Arab states. For the latter, see e.g. Koningsor, “Protests Spread to Kuwait,” and Kennedy, “Is the Bidoun Jinsiyya Cause for Spring?” 44. See for example Badger and Cafiero, “Kingdom of Slaves”; Begum, “Gulf States Fail”; and Oladipo, “Kenyan domestic workers.” For a detailed look behind the lurid headlines at the broader issues facing Gulf migrant workers, see Kamrava and Babar, eds., Migrant Labor in the Gulf. 45. Human Rights Watch, “The Island of Happiness.” 46. Tharoor, “The Louvre.” 47. Weyl, “The Openness-Equality Trade-Off.” 48. Gardner, “Why Do They Keep Coming?” 49. See for example Kamrava and Babar, eds., Migrant Labor in the Gulf. 50. There are rare exceptions to this rule. Rubén Polendo, whose artistic and pedagogical work at New York University Abu Dhabi is explored in Chapter 2, for example, notes that one of his students had embarked on a clandestine “theatre of the oppressed” project with a group of local laborers (Polendo, interview). And Padraig Downey, director of Dubai’s Danu Theatre, recounts that an Indian laborer commuted two hours every day via buses and the metro to participate in the rehearsals and performances of Palestinian playwright Amir Nizar Zuabi’s I Am Yusuf and This is My Brother, produced by Danu in 2015 (Downey, interview).



51. Harald Bauder’s exploration of this phenomenon in Germany and Canada (“Citizenship as Capital”) is, I would argue, equally if not more applicable in the Arabian Gulf, where citizenship carries with it an even wider range of material benefits in terms of living expenses, education, health care, etc. 52. Vora, Impossible Citizens. 53. I also do not intend the following to suggest, in orientalist or reductionist fashion, that the Gulf or Islamic culture more broadly is either undergoing, or in need of, a “renaissance.” However thought-provoking the analogies may be, it would be patently absurd to expect (or to want) contemporary Arabian Gulf history to follow patterns or models laid out in the UK and Europe centuries ago. 54. See for example “The Demography of Early Modern London.” 55. World Bank, World Development Indicators. 56. Selwood, Diversity and Difference, p. 2. 57. Quoted in Scouloudi, Huguenots, p. 44. 58. Ellis et al., review of Returns of Strangers. 59. Sullivan, “Saudi Arabia’s Riches.” 60. Ellis et al., op. cit., 224. 61. Quoted in Ellis et al., op. cit., 225. 62. Luu, “Taking the Bread.” 63. See Babar, “The Cost of Belonging.” 64. Stubbes, “Anatomy of Abuses,” p. 225. 65. Ben Saddik’s letter, entitled in Arabic Iqāmatu Al-Dalīlī ‘Alā Ḥurmati Al-Tamthīlī, is quoted by Amine and Carlson in Theatres of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, p. 104. Amine and Carlson go on to discuss the work of other Muslim scholars who reach the conclusion that theatre is by no means prohibited in Islam. Abdullah Ben Saddik’s fatwa is cited in Amine and Carlson, “Islam and the Colonial Stage.” 66. See Al-Rashed, “Saudi Arabia’s Big Debate”; and Shoard, “Saudi Arabia to Continue Ban.” 67. Paterson,  The Stagecraft of the Revels Office. 68. Quoted in Selaiha, “Theatre in the Gulf.” 69. The Guardian describes the Shaykha as “the most powerful person in art,” noting that she and the Qatari royal family are estimated to spend a staggering £600 million (approximately 800 million USD) per year on art acquisitions and cultural pursuits (Brown, “Qatar’s Sheikha Mayassa”). 70. Bin Talal, a billionaire Saudi entrepreneur who has been likened to an Arab Warren Buffett, attempted to launch a news channel called al-‘Arab in Manama, but it was taken off the air after its first day because it televised an interview with an anti-Bahraini-government activist. See “Prince Al-Waleed’s TV.”



71. As already noted, the United Education Company chaired by Kuwaiti Shaykha Dana Al-Sabah sponsored the YSC’s performances of Macbeth. Emirati siblings Shaykh Zayed Bin Sultan Bin Khalifa Al-Nahyan and his sister Shaykha Hissa support educational performance tours to the UAE by the Bedouin Shakespeare Company, whose work is examined in Chapter 4. Shaykha Hussah Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah lent her support and that of the venue the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyya, of which she serves as Director General, to the Kuwaiti performance of Sulayman Al-Bassam’s Richard III: An Arab Tragedy, and so forth. 72. The region’s first university, King Saud University in Riyadh, was established only in 1957. This is not to say that no one from the region pursued higher education before that point; as we shall see in Chapter 1, elite families often sent their children abroad to study, whether to better-developed urban centers like Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad, or further afield (a practice that still continues today).

References Ahmad, Attiya. “Beyond Labor: Foreign Residents in the Gulf States.” In Migrant Labor in the Gulf. Doha: Center for International and Regional Studies, Georgetown University in Qatar, 2011. Al-Bassam, Sulayman. “An Essay on Richard III, an Arab Tragedy: On the Burden of Text, Nation, and Histories.” In The Arab Shakespeare Trilogy. London and New York: Bloomsbury Methuen, 2014. Al-Quttab, Jasmine. “‘My Identity’: Enhancing National Identity of Emirati Students.” Khaleej Times, 30 October 2016. Al-Rashed, Abdulrahman. “Saudi Arabia’s Big Debate on Cinema and Concerts.” Arab News, 16 January 2017. node/1039556/columns. Al-Sharkawi, Muhammad. The History and Development of the Arabic Language. Abingdon: Taylor & Francis, 2016. Al-Shidyaq, Ahmad Faris. Kitāb al-sāq ‘alā ‘l-sāq [1855]. Translated by Humphrey Davies as Leg Over Leg. Library of Arabic Literature series. New York University Press, 2013. Amine, Khalid, and Marvin Carlson. “Islam and the Colonial Stage in North Africa” (2012). Amine, Khalid, and Marvin Carlson. The Theatres of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia: Performance Traditions of the Maghreb. New York: Palgrave, 2012. Babar, Zahra. “The Cost of Belonging: Citizenship Construction in the State of Qatar.” Middle East Journal 68:3 (2014): 403–420.



Badger, Sam, and Giorgio Cafiero. “Kingdom of Slaves in the Persian Gulf.” Foreign Policy in Focus: The Nation, 16 September 2014. http://www.thenation. com/article/kingdom-slaves-persian-gulf/. Last accessed 9 November 2015. Bauder, Harald. “Citizenship as Capital: The Distinction of Migrant Labor.” Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, 33:3 (July–September 2008), 315–333. Begum, Rothna. “Gulf States Fail to Protect Domestic Workers from Serious Violence.” Human Rights Watch, 16 October 2015. https://www.hrw. org/news/2015/10/16/gulf-states-fail-protect-domestic-workersserious-violence. Bristol, Michael. Big-Time Shakespeare. London: Routledge, 2005. Brown, Mark. “Qatar’s Sheikha Mayassa Tops Art Power List.” The Guardian, 24 October 2013. oct/24/qatar-sheikha-mayassa-tops-art-power-list. Carapico, Sheila. “Arabia Incognita: An Invitation to Arabian Peninsula Studies,” Robert Schumann Centre for Advanced Studies, EUI Working Papers No. 2002/12, European University Institute. Carapico, Sheila. Civil Society in Yemen: The Political Economy of Activism in Modern Arabia. Cambridge University Press, 1998. CIA World Factbook, Listings for Gulf Countries and Yemen. https://www.cia. gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/. Clapp, Nicholas. The Road to Ubar: Finding the Atlantis of the Sands. Wilmington, DE: Mariner, 1999. Clapp, Nicholas. Sheba: Through the Desert in Search of the Legendary Queen. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2001. Dabbagh, Abdulla. Shakespeare, the Orient, and the Critics. Pieterlen and Bern: Peter Lang, 2010. “The Demography of Early Modern London Circa 1550 to 1750.” Cambridge University Official Website. earlymodernlondon/. Downey, Padraig. Interview with the Author via Skype, 29 May 2017. Dsouza, Priya. “Growing Up in Qatar in the 70s Was All About Community.” Priya Dsouza Communications. Ellis, J., J. Walton, and J. Boulton. A Review of Returns of Strangers in the Metropolis 1593, 1627, 1635, 1639. A Study of an Active Minority, edited by Irene Scouloudi (Quarto Series of the Huguenot Society of London, vol. lvii). London: Huguenot Society of London, 1985. Urban History 14 (1987), 224–225. Farkhondeh, Reza. “Shakespeare’s Iranian Translators.” British Council: Iran, n.d.



Fiennes, Ranulph. Atlantis of the Sands: The Search for the Lost City of Ubar. London: Penguin, 1992. Gardner, Andrew. “Why Do They Keep Coming? Labor Migrants in the Gulf States.” In Migrant Labor in the Gulf, edited by Mehran Kamrava and Zahra Babar, 41–58. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. Geelan, Christopher. Interview with the Author at the American United School of Kuwait, 1 February 2017. Greenblatt, Stephen. “Shakespeare in Tehran.” In Shakespeare in Our Time: A Shakespeare Association of America Collection, edited by Dympha Callaghan and Suzanne Gossett. London: Bloomsbury Arden, 2016. Hoffman, Valerie J. The Essentials of Ibadi Islam. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2012. Holderness, Graham, and Bryan Loughrey. “Rudely Interrupted: Shakespeare and Terrorism.” Critical Survey 19:3 (2007), 107–123. Human Rights Watch. “Bahrain: Reinstate Ousted Students, Faculty.” Human Rights Watch Website, 24 September 2011. news/2011/09/24/bahrain-reinstate-ousted-students-faculty. Human Rights Watch. “The Island of Happiness: Exploitation of Migrant Workers on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi.” Human Rights Watch website, 19 May 2009. exploitation-migrant-workers-saadiyat-island-abu-dhabi. “Initiatives to Preserve the National Identity of the UAE.” United Arab Emirates Government official website, 2017. initiatives-to-preserve-the-national-identity-of-the-uae. Joubin, Alexa Alice. “Global Shakespeares as Methodology.” Shakespeare 9:3 (September 2013), 273–290. Joyce, Miriam. Bahrain from the Twentieth Century to the Arab Spring. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Kamrava, Mehran, and Zahar Babar, eds. Migrant Labor in the Gulf. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013. Kanna, Ahmed. “Towards a Critical Cartography of the Political in the Arabian Peninsula.” Theorizing the Arabian Peninsula Electronic Roundtable. Jadaliyya, 22 April 2013. Theorizing-the-Arabian-Peninsula-Roundtable-Towards-a-CriticalCartography-of-the-Political-in-the-Arabian-Peninsula. Kennedy, Dennis. “Introduction: Shakespeare Without His Language.” In Foreign Shakespeare: Contemporary Performance, edited by Dennis Kennedy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Kennedy, Susan. “Is the Bidoun Jinsiyya Cause for Spring in Kuwait?” In The 2013 WEI International Academic Conference Proceedings. Istanbul: West East Institute, 2013.



Koningsor, Christina. “Protests Spread to Kuwait Over Rights of Stateless.” The Atlantic, 19 February 2011. Lanier, Douglas. Shakespeare and Modern Popular Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Luu, Lien Bich. “‘Taking the Bread Out of Our Mouths’: Xenophobia in Early Modern London.” Immigration and Minorities 19:2 (2000), 1–22. Montrose, Brett. “You Have to See the Facilities at the American United School of Kuwait.”, 22 December 2015. https://www.teachaway. com/2015/12/22/you-have-see-facilities-american-united-school-kuwaitwith-photos-and-job-postings. Musharbek, Fatima. Rabbit Hole (student documentary film), 2011. Oladipo, Tomi. “Kenyan Domestic Workers ‘Abused in Saudi Arabia’.” BBC News, 1 September 2015. Paterson, Morton. “The Stagecraft of the Revels Office during the Reign of Elizabeth.” In Studies in the Elizabethan Theatre, edited by Charles T. Prouty. Cambridge: Shoe String Press, 1961. Phillips, Sarah. “Yemen: The Centrality of Process.” In Beyond the Façade: Political Reform in the Arab World, edited by Marina Ottaway and Julia Choucair-Vizoso. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (2008), 231–259. Phillips, Sarah. Yemen and the Politics of Permanent Crisis. Adelphi Series. London: Routledge, 2011. Polendo, Rubén. Interview with the Author via Skype, 9 November 2015. “Prince Al-Waleed’s TV Launching in Qatar After Bahrain Closure.” The New Arab, 13 March 2016. prince-al-waleeds-tv-launching-in-qatar-after-bahrain-closure-1. “Qatar’s First National Identity Seminar Discusses Key Issues.” Gulf Times, 20 October 2014. Rizzo, Jessica. “Staging Shakespeare’s Tragedies in Tehran: An Interview with Iranian Director Mohammad Aghebati.” Vice, 7 June 2015. https://www. Scouloudi, Irene. Huguenots in Britain and France. New York: Springer, 1987. Selaiha, Nehad. “Theatre in the Gulf.” Al-Ahram Weekly Online, Issue 943 (April 2009), 16–22. Selwood, Jacob. Diversity and Difference in Early Modern London. New York: Routledge, 2016. “Shakespeare in the Original Arabic!” Emirates Airline Festival of Literature event listing, for panel featuring Abdulla Al Dabbagh, John Julius Norwich, and Sulayman Al Bassam, 9 March 2016. p-1147-shakespeare-in-the-original-arabic.aspx.



Shapiro, James. Comment during Q&A at the Ireland and Shakespeare Symposium at Princeton University, 5 March 2015. Shoard, Catherine. “Saudi Arabia to Continue Ban on ‘Immoral, Atheistic Cinema.’” The Guardian, 18 January 2017. film/2017/jan/18/saudi-arabia-ban-immoral-public-cinema-grand-mufti-sheikh-abdulaziz. Slade, Patricia (“Trish”), Femke Marischler, and Rebecca Wyatt. Interview with the Author in Doha, 17 April 2017. Snoj, Jure. “UAE’s Population by Nationality.” BQ Magazine, 12 April 2015. uae-population-by-nationality. Stubbes, Philip. “Anatomy of Abuses (1583).” In Voices of the English Reformation: A Sourcebook, edited by John N. King. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014. Sullivan, Kevin. “Saudi Arabia’s Riches Conceal a Growing Problem of Poverty.” The Washington Post, 1 January 2013. 2013/jan/01/saudi-arabia-riyadh-poverty-inequality. Tharoor, Kanishk. “The Louvre Comes to Abu Dhabi.” The Guardian, 2 December 2015. louvre-abu-dhabi-guggenheim-art?CMP=share_btn_tw. “Theorizing the Arabian Peninsula” (Electronic Roundtable). Jadaliyya, 2013. Urkevich, Lisa. Music and Traditions of the Arabian Peninsula. New York: Routledge, 2015. Vora, Neha. Impossible Citizens: Dubai’s Indian Diaspora. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013. Wells, Stanley, and Gary Taylor, General Editors, with John Jowett and William Montgomery, eds. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 2005. Weyl, E. Glen. “The Openness-Equality Trade-Off in Global Redistribution.” Published online October 2016 at cfm?abstract_id=2509305; forthcoming in The Economic Journal. The World Bank, GDP Per Capita Data for Gulf Countries and Yemen, 2015 and 2016. The World Bank, World Development Indicators for Gulf Countries and Yemen, 2016. cid=GPD_WDI.

Chapter 1. “Abstract and Brief Chronicles”: Shakespeare on the Peninsula in the Twentieth Century

This chapter provides a survey of performances of Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula over the course of the twentieth century. I have recorded here all of the productions that I have found documented in reputable sources, in English and in Arabic, though undoubtedly there are other Shakespeare performances which have not left a written record, or which my research has not yet uncovered. Admittedly, what is recorded here is tantalizingly incomplete. In a number of cases, the only available information is a title and a year (sometimes approximate) of performance, and even the more detailed accounts provoke more questions than they answer about language, aesthetics, and the material conditions of performance, not to mention the interpretation and reception of each performance within its particular geographic and historical context. Even in this fragmentary form, however, the survey serves to illustrate two main—and contrasting—points: first, that Yemen has a surprisingly rich history of Shakespearean performance, stretching back over the course of the twentieth century; and second, that Shakespeare only rarely appears in Gulf repertoires prior to the turn of the millennium. The twenty-first-century flourishing of Shakespeare in the Gulf states is thus unprecedented. Yet his works do appear on Gulf stages at significant historical moments throughout the twentieth century. Furthermore, across the region, a triptych of Shakespeare’s plays—Othello, The Merchant of © The Author(s) 2018 K. Hennessey, Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula, Global Shakespeares,



Venice, and Romeo and Juliet—are by far the most frequently adapted and staged in this period, while Hamlet, immensely popular over this same time period elsewhere in the Arab World,1 makes fewer twentieth-century forays into the Peninsula than we might expect. This survey explores the complex reasons behind these choices, and reflects upon the combination of audience expectations, director’s preferences, and local historical context that may have conditioned them.

A Brief History of Shakespeare in Yemen Yemen may well be the only country on the globe that can lay claim to a history of theatre that begins with a performance of Shakespeare.2 According to Sa‘id Aulaqi, the foremost historian of Yemeni theatre, the first documented public performance by Yemeni actors was a production of Julius Caesar in Arabic translation, which occurred in 1910 in the port city of Aden.3 Aden, which possesses a large natural harbor, is situated on the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, about a hundred miles east of Bab al-Mandab (the southern entrance to the Red Sea). In the early modern period, it proved a useful stopping point on sea routes to India. In the decades before Shakespeare’s birth, Aden was sufficiently cosmopolitan and flourishing to have piqued the interests of both the Ottomans and the Portuguese, who vied with each other for control of the port over the course of the early sixteenth century. The Ottomans eventually prevailed, and clung to Aden tenaciously from 1548 into the seventeenth century, after which control of the port devolved to a local potentate, the Sultan of Lahj. In 1839, the British established a base in Aden, to facilitate maritime trade via the Red Sea and to protect that trade against piracy. The initial occupation of Aden took place in the wake of an incident in which looters from Aden and the surrounding coast plundered a sunken British ship, upon which the British Raj dispatched a warship from Mumbai under Commander Stafford B. Haines to demand compensation from the Sultan of Lahj. Failing to obtain a satisfactory response from the Sultan, Haines’s warship bombarded the port, the Royal Marines stormed the town, and the Sultan handed over the territory, for which he was paid an annual sum as compensation. “Aden Province,” or “Aden Settlement,” as the port and the immediate surrounding area (75 sq. miles in total) were initially known, was



governed during that time period as part of the British Raj; its officials were appointed through the Bombay Presidency, and its currency was the Indian rupee. The history of Aden in the second half of the nineteenth century was, generally speaking, one of slow but tangible economic and cultural development, the pace of which picked up after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, when the port assumed increasing importance as a coaling station for British steamships passing through the Red Sea on their way to India. It is important to remember, however, that Aden’s history had long been one of travel, trade and cultural exchange. For centuries preceding the British occupation, the port had hosted traders of diverse background. The great fourteenth-century Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta, who visited Aden around 1330, recorded that its inhabitants included both Indian and Egyptian traders; in fact, Ibn Battuta was so impressed with the trading links between Aden and southwest India, and with the arrivals of large ships from Calcutta, Kanbayat (Cambay) and Kollam, that he referred to Aden as marsā ahl al-hind, “the Indians’ port.”4 Documents from the Cairo Genizah demonstrate the presence of a Jewish community in Aden as far back as the tenth century, and the port also attracted traders from East Africa. The incorporation of Aden into the network of Indian Ocean port cities controlled by the British Empire helped the city’s already existing tendencies towards cosmopolitanism to flourish and, in the early 1900s, helped spur the creation of Yemen’s first theatrical performances, starting with Julius Caesar. By 1910, Aden had been under British control for over seventy years.5 The actors who had taken up the challenge of performing Shakespeare were students at the Government School in the oldest inhabited area of Aden, the neighborhood of Crater, so dubbed because it sits within the cone of an extinct volcano. By 1910, Crater was home to two performance spaces, though these were only rudimentarily equipped: one in a building that later became known as Mr. Hamoud’s Cinema— remarkably, still extant and still hosting live theatrical performances over a century later6—and another called the Nātak, later renamed al-Masraḥ al-Malikī (The Regal Theatre/Cinema), both in the Qatia neighborhood.7 These had been established in 1904 and 1908 respectively, set up by the Indian community of Aden to host performances in those years by visiting Indian theatre troupes—at least one of which was likely a Parsi theatre troupe, for which Aden was only one stop on an extended tour to various cities on the Indian Ocean that had significant Indian


communities.8 These elaborate Indian performances quickly became the talk of the port city, and inspired an enterprising group of young Yemenis to put on their own show. The Yemeni performance, however, took place not within either of the aforementioned performance spaces but in the open air, in a public square, on a small raised stage likely constructed for that purpose and dismantled afterwards. That fact unfortunately represents the sum total of the historical record of this performance. We do not know what text the Government School students used; their performance pre-dates by two years the publication of Arabic translations of the play by Sami Al-Juraydini and Muhammad Hamdi,9 so perhaps the students had studied the play in English in school and created their own translation.10 Nor do we know what prompted them to choose this play, and whether they perceived in it any echo of the socio-political dynamics of their own society. Perhaps, stirred by newfound enthusiasm for theatre after the Indian troupes’ visits, they reached for the theatrical text that was nearest to hand and found Shakespeare’s play in their schoolbooks, not merely available but also pre-validated by their instructors and educational system. Yet, as in other imperial outposts, performances of Shakespeare in south Yemen should not automatically be interpreted as a homage to Britain, or as an attempt by a local population to slavishly imitate its colonial masters. Julius Caesar is, of course, a play which portrays a revolt against and the assassination of an arguably tyrannical ruler, and it is at least possible that the actors intended it as a critique of the British claim to Aden. (And as we shall see, Yemen’s next production of Julius Caesar had definite anti-colonial overtones.) The next recorded Yemeni public performance in Aden was also Shakespeare—this time Romeo and Juliet in Arabic translation, staged at an indefinite date before the outbreak of the First World War.11 Unfortunately, we know even less about this performance than the first one. Could it have been modeled on the 1908 Indian performance of Shīrīn and Farhād, one of two productions that celebrated the grand opening of the Natak Theatre? One of the pioneers of Adeni theatre, Muhammad Abdullah Sayigh (Fig. 1),12 recounted that the final scene of this performance had etched itself upon his memory: the tragic spectacle of the tombs of the play’s title characters—Farhad, who kills himself upon hearing the false news that his beloved Shirin is dead, and Shirin, who kills herself in turn to avoid being forced to marry a young prince after Farhad’s death.13 The decision to stage Romeo and Juliet may have been prompted in part by its parallels to this highly successful local performance.



Fig. 1  Yemeni director and theatre pioneer Muhammad Abdullah Sayigh. Courtesy of Bilal Hussein and Al-Funoon magazine

After the conclusion of World War I, a third Yemeni troupe staged a production of Egyptian theatremaker Nagib Haddad’s late nineteenth-century musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, entitled Shuhadā’ al-Gharām (Martyrs for Love).14 With an eye to both commercial success and his local habitus, Haddad had liberally adapted Shakespeare for Egyptian audiences. His production, as Mark Bayer notes, was “replete with the melodramatic songs of the flamboyant [late nineteenth-century Egyptian] pop star Salama Hijazi, and punctuated with comic sketches, recited poetry and cabaret-style music between acts,” an eclectic formula which proved wildly popular in Egypt’s fledgling turn of the century theatre scene.15 According to Aulaqi, the Yemeni production of Shuhadā’ likewise enchanted its own local audiences,16 but the performance is something of a mystery. It is unclear how the script (or perhaps more accurately, the template) for Haddad’s play would have traveled to Yemen from Egypt—though the latter was, like Aden, under British occupation at the time, a fact that undoubtedly would have facilitated travel between the two. Haddad’s adaptation could have been brought back by an Adeni merchant, who’d seen the production during his stay in Cairo, or been carried, either in hard copy or as a set of crystal-clear memories of an enjoyable night out, by an Egyptian teacher coming to join the staff of one of the British government schools. Whatever the vagaries of its journey, however, Shuhadā’ set down roots upon its arrival in Aden: as Yemeni theatre developed, numerous local theatre troupes experimented with Haddad’s music hall template, incorporating music, poetry and improvised comedic sketches, sometimes bearing little to no connection to the plot, into their own performances.


Shakespeare’s texts, translated and adapted, are thus a central facet of the early history of Yemeni theatre; they pave the way for what eventually develops into the richest history of theatre of any country on the Arabian Peninsula. Though few beyond the borders of Yemen are aware of it, over the course of the twentieth century and into the twentyfirst, Yemen has produced talented and prolific playwrights, and gifted actors, actresses, and directors. Theatre occurs most often in Yemen’s two major urban centers, Sana’a in the north and Aden in the south, but there are records of theatrical performances even in remote villages. Every major urban center throughout the country has its own official theatre troupe supported by the Ministry of Culture, and most Yemeni cities have independent, amateur or semi-professional theatre groups as well. Performances take place in public squares, schools, and cultural centers, on the radio and on television, and even within the ranks of the military. Yemeni plays by Yemeni authors on Yemeni themes exist alongside Yemeni adaptations of Arab playwrights like Tawfiq Al-Hakim and Saadallah Wannous, and of European authors like Brecht, Pirandello, Racine and Shaw, American playwright Tennessee Williams, and Shakespeare, who is by far the most commonly staged non-Arab author in Yemen. It is important to note that from the mid-1920s onwards, Yemen’s Shakespearean performances occur as one subset of increasingly varied theatrical activity: there are also Islamic history plays and scripts that draw on Yemeni folklore and the Thousand and One Nights, as well as a more realistic/naturalistic tradition whose characters and plots are drawn from the Yemeni populace and its quotidian struggles. The overwhelming majority of these plays are staged in the south rather than the north—a reflection of the colonial legacy in Aden and its environs, but also a result of the xenophobic nature of the Imamate that controlled Yemen’s northern territory until it was toppled by the Republican revolution. If we examine the 1940s, a particularly interesting decade for Shakespearean performance, we find an Othello and a Romeo and Juliet staged in the city of Lahj, not far from Aden, and a post-World War II adaptation of Julius Caesar called Al-Sha‘b wa Qayṣar (The People and Caesar), directed by Uthman Suqi. According to Aulaqi, Suqi and his troupe applied for a license to perform the play in wartime but, wary that its questions of patriotism, tyranny, and revolt might tap into a vein of



local discontent with the British occupation of Aden, British authorities in Aden first refused to grant the license, then offered one conditional on such heavy editing that the actors tabled the idea.17 But the end of the war and the lifting of wartime censorship regulations gave the troupe the necessary leeway to perform the text as they saw fit, in or around 1948. The amended title, The People and Caesar, suggests that Suqi’s vision did have a Yemeni nationalist undertone, raising al-sha‘b (an Arabic word often used to indicate “people” in a national or ethnic sense, e.g. “the Palestinian people,” as opposed to al-nās, used to indicate “people” in the more generic sense of “human beings”) to the level of the tragic hero. The new title suggests that responsibility for this Caesar’s assassination lies not merely with a motley band of conspirators but with a homogeneous bloc of the population that stands in opposition to his tyranny. Egypt had gained its independence from Britain in 1922, the British had recognized the Al Saud claims to Saudi territory in 1927,18 and amidst the turmoil and the aftermath of World War II, decolonization movements had gained traction around the globe. Surely this play, produced in the wake of the Syrian (1945) and Indian (1947) declarations of independence, might have prompted some viewers to wonder how much longer Aden would remain a Crown Colony,19 and how much violence throwing off the British yoke might entail. The People and Caesar thus serves as an early analogue to the phenomenon that this book describes as “new local” theatre, insofar as it utilizes a performance to prompt an audience to reconceptualize existing power dynamics, and to raise the question of who belongs to and has rights within the local environment. Ironically, however, if the play was intended as a critique of British imperialism, published reviews of the play single out the actor who played Mark Antony for giving the production’s most moving and powerful performance. Writing in Fatāt al-Jazīra, the Arabic-language newspaper founded in 1940 by Adeni intellectual, author and lawyer Muhammad Ali Luqman, theatre critic Abdullah Ba Sahi singles out for praise the actor Mahmoud Ba Kharibah, whom he describes as “tall in stature, elegant in Roman dress, artful in his speeches” and delivering a performance as Antony that “filled the audience with overwhelming emotion”20—all of which implies that the audience’s sympathies skewed, like Shakespeare’s plebians’, towards the dead Caesar and his surviving allies—that is towards the ciphers for Britain in this context.


The extant reviews also suggest that The People and Caesar was played in the style of Haddad’s Shuhadā’: to lighten and vary the mood, the tragedy was interspersed with musical numbers and improvised comedic sketches (a fact which, one assumes, might also have blunted the emotional impact of any political analogies that Suqi was trying to draw). Perhaps Yemeni director Muhammad Al-Duqmi (Fig. 2) should have adopted a similar approach to his 1952 production of Othello in Aden, which held audiences rapt until the ending, apparently in the hope it would be a happy one: The audience disliked it; they returned from the performance in a state of agitation and vitriol. The fundamental reason for the audience’s indignation, their dissatisfaction with Othello, was the overwhelming harshness of its tragedy—especially in its ending, with the deaths of the various protagonists who had played noble roles in the play. The audience could not fathom Shakespeare’s rationale for putting an end to the lives of these heroes, while Iago, the malice-ridden criminal, was left alive.21

To conform to the tastes of his irate spectators, Al-Duqmi rewrote Shakespeare’s final scene. In the new ending, Othello discovers Iago’s deception; Iago is tried and sentenced to death, his head to be severed with a sword; and Othello and Desdemona reconcile and live happily ever after. Al-Duqmi’s version, appropriately retitled Jizaʾ al-Khiyāna (The Punishment of Treachery), proved immensely popular—the first, but not the last, Yemeni analogue to Nahum Tate’s 1681 rewriting of King Lear to give the play a happy ending.22 While Al-Duqmi’s selection of this Shakespearean text indicates his admiration for the towering canonical playwright of the Western world, his rewriting of the climactic scene demonstrates his recognition that a Shakespearean text is not chiseled in stone, but can be approached with a certain degree of creative license and adapted to harmonize with the perspectives of a local audience—even when this entails changing the genre of a given work from a tragedy to a comedy. Al-Duqmi could have pointed to precedents much nearer to him than Tate in time and space for this sort of creative license: Egyptian translator Tanyus Abduh, for instance, whose 1901 translation of Hamlet concludes with Hamlet triumphantly reclaiming his father’s throne.23 Yet Al-Duqmi’s rewriting of Othello is a thought-provoking case: not one in which an author assumes theatregoers’ proclivities or takes the wind of prevailing



Fig. 2  Muhammad Al-Duqmi, Yemeni director and adapter of Othello. Courtesy of Bilal Hussein and Al-Funoon magazine

dramatic conventions and shapes a theatrical text to meet them, but one where riled-up spectators vocally reject a text that has disappointed their expectations, and (successfully) demand that it be changed to suit them. Al-Duqmi likely chose to stage Othello at least in part out of respect for Shakespeare’s towering reputation, but if his audience members were aware of that reputation, they certainly did not allow it to mute their critique. All of the roles in Al-Duqmi’s production were played by men, just as they would have been in Shakespeare’s day. Indeed, male actors played all roles, male and female, in public theatrical productions in Yemen until 1956, when Nabiha Azim became the first woman to appear on the Yemeni stage. Over the first half of the twentieth century a handful of Yemeni actors were much admired for the grace and beauty with which they performed female roles (Fig. 3).24 Thus in The Punishment of Treachery, the role of Daydamūna (Desdemona) was recited by an actor named Ismail Sa‘id Hadi, while Saleh Abdulrahman played ‘Utayl (Othello), and Ismail Lambo, Ya‘qūb (Iago). (The rendering of the names of these characters in Arabic provides us with a clue to the translation that the troupe had chosen—almost certainly Syro-Lebanese translator Khalil Mutran’s 1912 text, in which Mutran attempted to “Arabize” the names and dialogue.25) According to Aulaqi, among Yemeni actors Lambo (Fig. 4) was “well-known for taking up the difficult roles of villains and criminals—his believability in character always elicited the spectators’ wrath, and he met with verbal abuse and cries of condemnation when playing


Fig. 3  Scene from a Yemeni performance in the late 1940s, apparently with a Yemeni actor (quite convincingly) playing a female role. Courtesy of Bilal Hussein and Al-Funoon magazine26 Fig. 4  Yemeni actor Ismail Lambo. Courtesy of Bilal Hussein and AlFunoon magazine

these roles”27—another indication of the powerful and vocal response of Yemeni audiences to action depicted on stage, a characteristic that continued to hold true at the Yemeni theatrical performances I attended through mid-2014. Other occasional performances of Shakespeare in Yemen occurred in the 1950s—a Hamlet late in the decade, a Romeo and Juliet in 1957— and in the 1960s a Yemeni director named Muhammad Awudh Ba Saleh



and his troupe, based in Shihr in the eastern province of the Hadramawt, staged a Merchant of Venice, a Hamlet and a Julius Caesar. Though she would have been very young at the time, Zaynab—the storyteller from Seyoun whose adaptation of the Merchant plot provided the material for the first performance described in this book—may have heard about Ba Saleh’s production of Merchant from a member of the audience, or perhaps even seen it herself, and later integrated the tale into her repertoire of recitations. Other playwrights and directors experimented with Shakespeare’s texts in the 1960s, creating their own Shakespeare-inspired works, with the action reoriented in Yemen. In 1966, for example, Yemeni author and director Omar Al-Rakhm produced a play called Jahīm al-shakk (The Fires of Doubt), which transplants the theme of star-crossed lovers from warring families from Romeo and Juliet into a recognizably Yemeni context: a blood feud between two branches of the same family, set in rural Yemen. When Ali, the young hero of The Fires of Doubt, heedless of the murderous conflict between members of the previous generation, falls in love with Fatima, daughter of his uncle Shaykh Mubarak (played by Al-Rakhm), tribal mediators see an opportunity to bring the blood feud to an end. But suspicious that the marriage proposal is a mere ploy on the part of the young man’s family, Mubarak refuses. Soon after, Mubarak discovers Fatima talking with Ali at a local wedding, unsheathes his jambīya,28 and threatens to kill her. To protect his beloved, Ali wrests Mubarak’s dagger away and stabs him with it. As Mubarak lies bleeding, he commissions his son to avenge his death. Fortunately Fatima and a last-breath change of heart from Mubarak intervene to prevent more bloodshed. The families are reconciled, and the lovers happily married—another example of Yemenis rewriting Shakespearean tragedy as comedy.29 The Fires of Doubt was broadcast live from the Aden television station, established by the British in 1964 in a somewhat belated attempt to counter the growing influence of Nasserist radio propaganda. From mid-1965 to mid-1969, the station hosted a popular weekly program called Masraḥ al-Talafizyūn (Television Theatre), which live-aired a new performance every week for four years, in genres from satiric comedy to melodrama to detective fiction. Despite the almost comically cramped and constrained conditions under which its staff labored, this program opened a new chapter in Yemeni theatre—a chapter that provided


Yemeni actors, actresses, directors and playwrights with a regular, professionally run and remunerated outlet for their creative efforts.30 But the available records suggest that in the subsequent period, Yemeni theatre moved away from Shakespearean models and towards more contemporary and more local plotlines and characters. This makes eminent sense, given the anger provoked by the “Aden Emergency,” the insurgency against British rule that broke out in 1963 and the resultant crackdown, which culminated in the British departure from Aden in 1967 and the establishment of the People’s Republic of South Yemen.31 Lingering anti-British sentiment was one reason for South Yemen’s playwrights to avoid Shakespeare, but the new socialist republic’s increasingly close ties with the Soviet Union also provided them with a different set of theatrical touchstones and models. Thus The Fires of Doubt (a darkly appropriate name for a play broadcast in the midst of the Emergency) was followed only by a smattering of Shakespearean performances in the 1970s and early 1980s, most of which are productions at schools in the south. Moreover, Yemeni theatre historian Yahya Muhammad Sayf traces a decline in all Yemeni theatrical activity over the course of this period.32 Public performance was only one casualty among many in late twentieth-century Yemen, as economic decline and political instability repeatedly provoked full-blown wars: one between North Yemen and South Yemen in 1979, a civil war in the South in 1986, and the North–South civil war in 1994, after the imperfectly executed reunification of the two Yemens in 1990.

To Be Yemeni, or Not to Be? Hamlet and the Ba Kathir Festival The single example of Yemeni Shakespeare from the 1990s that my research has thus far uncovered is a production of a play entitled Akūn aw Lā Akūn (To Be or Not to Be). The National Theatre Troupe from Aden performed this adaptation of Hamlet, adapted and directed by Wa’el Abdullah, at the Third Festival of Yemeni Theatre in 1995.33 As noted above, Hamlet was staged sporadically in Yemen over the course of the twentieth century, but made few documented waves in terms of critical commentary or audience reception. This production, however, posed the question in its title at a crucial moment in the nation’s history.



Originally conceived as a means of encouraging pan-Yemeni unity after the 1990 reunification, the Festival of Yemeni Theatre remains a significant, recurring event on Yemen’s cultural calendar.34 It usually runs for around two weeks, featuring a different performance each night, and treats attendees to an eclectic selection of Yemeni and international scripts, in performances that run the gamut from experimental theatre to musicals. But in contrast to prior and later iterations, the 1995 festival, held in Sana’a from 26 September to 14 October, had an overarching theme: it was dedicated to the celebrated Arab playwright Ali Ahmed Ba Kathir (1910–1969), author of sixty plays, five novels, and two volumes of poetry.35 Born in Sourabaya, Indonesia, to parents from the Hadramawt, Ba Kathir traveled extensively before eventually settling in Cairo, where he spent the majority of his life and career. His literary models were predominantly Egyptian, foremost among them the Cairene dramatist and “prince of poets” Ahmed Shawqi (1868–1932). Thus Ba Kathir is often referred to as an Egyptian playwright. But Yemeni theatre historians and practitioners like to remind their Egyptian counterparts that Ba Kathir was of Hadrami extraction, that he spent his formative years with his parents and his uncle in the Hadrami city of Seyoun, and that his first play, Humām (written 1933), was inspired by and set in the Hadramawt. In the wake of the 1994 civil war—triggered by the South’s announcement that it was re-seceding from the North after four years of fractious unity, and which resulted in the northern forces’ devastating occupation of Aden in July 1994—the move to dedicate the 1995 theatre festival to Ba Kathir clearly had a double resonance. It aimed to reclaim the celebrated Arab dramatist as a Yemeni of whom the twice-reunited nation could be proud, and—since the Hadramawt is a southern Yemeni province—to acknowledge the contributions of the South to Yemen’s national culture. The event would provide a show of national unity, with northern scholars and theatremakers joining with their southern counterparts to applaud one of the latter’s illustrious sons. Emotions running high, Abdullah and the Adeni National Theatre Troupe opted to stage Shakespeare, rather than a play written by Ba Kathir himself. On one level, this could still be interpreted as a homage to the Hadrami dramatist, who had translated Romeo and Juliet into blank verse during his early years in Egypt,36 and whose oeuvre contains numerous echoes of Shakespeare’s tragedies.37 Moreover, as Ulrike


Freitag has pointed out, Ba Kathir’s very first play, Humām, incorporates a Romeo-and-Juliet type subplot, in which a pair of star-crossed lovers from the Hadramawt die of broken hearts when family members stubbornly prevent their marriage.38 Ba Kathir even weaponized Shakespeare, rewriting Merchant in 1945 as Shaylūk al-Jadīd (The New Shylock), an anti-Zionist propaganda play set in Palestine in the 1940s.39 If Abdullah and the Adeni troupe had been primarily motivated by a desire to salute the Hadrami dramatist, they could easily have chosen one of Ba Kathir’s Shakespearean plays. Instead, they chose Hamlet, a play which must, at the time, have spoken to the open wounds and the suppressed anger of the defeated South. The political resonance is glaringly obvious: • Old Hamlet as southern sovereignty, personified in Yemeni Vice President (and leader of South Yemen prior to unification) Ali Salem Al-Beidh, who had left the transitional government in 1993 to protest the perceived marginalization of southern interests and concerns, and who was eventually forced to flee to Oman (though he would reappear fifteen years later as champion of a revitalized southern secessionist movement, the ḥirāk). Al-Beidh and his fellow southern leaders were sentenced to death in absentia, but the true corollaries to Old Hamlet’s murder were the deaths of thousands of soldiers and hundreds of civilians in the violence. • Claudius as smiling, smiling Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose death grip on power in Yemen would not loosen for another eighteen years. • Hamlet as the youth of southern Yemen—afraid, angry, leaderless, desiring revenge but doubtful of their ability to achieve it. In such a context, the famous “to be or not to be” speech must have resonated with both the nihilistic impulse to be done with life after witnessing the ravages of war, and the realization that many in the South had not chosen, or would not choose, “to be” part of a united Yemen. The play was a brave choice for a southern troupe to perform at a festival in the northern capital city, and though memories of the production details have faded over the intervening twenty years, my colleagues among the theatre practitioners in Sana’a remember Abdullah’s Akūn aw



Lā Akūn as a powerful play. Yet it seems not to have inspired much imitation: records of Shakespearean production over the subsequent years are quite sparse. Only recently has Shakespeare returned to the Yemeni stage, in the 2012/13 production of The Merchant of Venice described in the introduction, which we will examine in additional detail in Chapter 6.

A Brief History of Twentieth-Century Gulf Shakespeare Whereas Yemen has a long tradition of Shakespearean adaptation and performance, the Gulf does not. That much can be said with certainty, despite the difficulties of tracing the history of theatre in the Gulf states—a history which is both relatively short, dating back in most cases a mere half-century or so, and poorly documented, with few published scripts or performance archives. The texts that aim to provide a chronological survey of Gulf theatre are almost all written in Arabic, which limits many Western scholars’ access.40 These surveys also often lack an accompanying scholarly framework: some provide incomplete bibliographies or imprecise indications of source material, or rely on actors’ and directors’ anecdotes and/or the author’s personal experience as participant or spectator without sufficiently contextualizing them for those seeking to understand the milieu. To complicate matters further, most Gulf theatre historians contain their subject within the boundaries of a particular nation. From studies that focus, for example, on Kuwaiti comedy or the historical drama in Bahrain, it is difficult to glean a sense of the broader context of the evolution of theatre across the Gulf.41 Yet the opposite approach also has its pitfalls—most obviously, that a broad geographical survey can fail to take into account the uniqueness of each Gulf nation’s historical development, its demographics, and how theatre both impacts and is impacted by its particular economic, political, and social context. Last but not least, studies of theatre in the Gulf generally focus on Arabiclanguage theatre, ignoring its connections to the region’s vibrant history of English-language, expat-driven theatre. The following survey aims to provide a brief overview of the development of both theatre and education in the region over the course of the twentieth century, firstly because the two are intimately intertwined,


and secondly as a context from which to evaluate the achievements of the twenty-first, which form the majority of this book’s subject matter. Looking at the sheer enormity of recent development and construction in the Gulf—the record-breaking Burj Khalifa skyscraper, the colossal Clock Tower in Mecca, the sprawling new airport complexes in Dubai and Doha—it is easy to forget that less than a century ago, the great cities of the Gulf amounted to little more than “tiny fishing ports, smuggler depots, imperial fuelling stations, or Bedouin encampments … miniscule and often nomadic populations, without urban traditions or distinct national identities.”42 In the early decades of the twentieth century, for the majority of Gulf children, education entailed memorization of the Qur’an and the acquisition of rudimentary arithmetic and Arabic reading and writing skills (though those from wealthier families would have had access to tutors and additional subject material). A handful of private schools were available to cater to the needs of specific foreign resident communities across the region—Persian, Indian, and later Western expatriate—as were missionary schools founded by American and European churches.43 The Al-Ahmadiya primary school in the Deira quarter of Dubai, founded in 1912 by wealthy pearl trader Shaykh Ahmed Bin Dalmuk, is one example of an early Gulf attempt to systematize childhood education, but where both education and theatre are concerned, Bahrain and Kuwait are the region’s pioneers, with records of scattered performances in elementary schools as early as 1919 and 1922 respectively.44 The appearance of theatre as a pedagogical tool in the Gulf coincides with the end of World War I and the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, a period which historian David Commins pinpoints as the transition between an “era of British supremacy” and the commencement of a decades-long process of modern state formation in the region.45 Britain’s “informal empire” in the Gulf developed gradually between 1820 and 1920, through a series of strategic treaties and agreements intended to quell factional strife and intra-Gulf conflicts, and thereby to protect maritime trade against violence and piracy. Such treaties effectively offered British military protection to ruling shaykhs throughout the region, requiring in return that the shaykhs accept British control of their foreign affairs—and increasingly over the course of the twentieth century, British intervention in their domestic policies as well. In early 1919, for example, the British Political Agent in Manama, following a set of UK government regulations called the Bahrain



Order-in-Council,46 claimed jurisdiction over Bahrain’s foreign residents. In 1920, the ruler of Bahrain, Shaykh Isa ibn Ali Al-Khalifa, under British pressure, agreed to the formation of the Manama Municipal Council, composed of foreign and Bahraini appointees. By 1923, having lost confidence in Shaykh Isa’s commitment to political and economic reforms, the British convinced the ruler to step down in favour of his son Hamad. The early school plays in Bahrain should be understood in this context of the royal family’s simultaneous admiration for British competence and anxiety about their growing influence upon Bahraini affairs. Bahrain’s first “modern” public school (as distinct from both traditional Qur’anic schools and private foreign-run institutions), the Hidayah School for Boys, was established in 1919 at the behest of another of Shaykh Isa’s sons, Abdullah, upon his return from a visit to post-war England. The recruitment of administrators and teachers from Egypt and Syria, countries which at that time had much more advanced educational systems, affirmed the school’s commitment to a modern curriculum that would emphasize reading, writing and arithmetic alongside religious studies, and likely contributed to the introduction of school plays—for the most part, dramas based on pivotal events in Islamic history—as a pedagogical tool, and a means of constructing a sense of shared Arab history and identity that could be contrasted with the British model. Similarly, the first recorded performance in Kuwait occurred at the Ahmadiya School in 1922, the year after that school’s establishment.47 The play was written and directed by Kuwaiti historian Abd al-Aziz Al-Rasheed, one of the Ahmadiya’s Arabic teachers, and was performed in the school’s courtyard. It seems to have served as a paean both to Kuwaiti nationalism and to the pioneering nature of the school, which offered English among other “modern” subjects.48 The 1920s and 1930s witnessed a slow but palpable increase in the availability of Arabiclanguage elementary education in Bahrain and Kuwait, with teachers recruited from Egypt, Syria and Palestine who helped to integrate school performances into local curricula. Shakespeare does not appear till later, however. In these early decades, school plays eschew the content of Western drama, preferring, as noted, to dramatize significant moments in Arab and Islamic history. This was not a foregone conclusion: Jacob Landau’s enumeration of Arabiclanguage translations of Shakespeare between 1848 and 1956 demonstrates that Egyptian publishing houses in particular had made a broad range of the Bard’s work available in Arabic as early as the mid-1920s,


with several translations specifically intended for use in schools.49 But a dearth of Shakespeare in the Gulf over the course of this period, whether in performance or in the classroom, is understandable given the relative novelty of the educational system, and the fact that these schools were primarily concerned with providing students with basic literacy and numeracy skills. Secondary education, an option restricted to children of wealthy Gulf families, was outsourced to Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt. The first secondary schools in Bahrain, for example, were not established until 1939, as increasing revenue from oil production allowed the fledgling state to invest in the expansion of the educational system.50 As access to education increased, dramatic performance began to migrate outwards from Gulf schools to other social spheres. Amateur performance became a popular activity in social and sports clubs, particularly in the 1940s and 1950s,51 as literary societies across the Gulf began to take an interest in theatre and drama, often looking to Shakespeare and Molière as models. Across the Gulf, this period coincides with an expansion in state budgets due to oil production and exportation, and with investment in infrastructure and health care, raising living standards significantly for Gulf nationals. It also corresponds to an influx of expatriate employees working in the oil industry and other developing sectors. Western expats, hungry for community and entertainment outside of work hours, set up clubs and associations of all kinds, including amateur drama troupes. In Kuwait in 1948, George Price of the Kuwait Oil Company (KUOCO) and his wife Joan established the KUOCO Independent Players, an expat amateur theatre group that was soon rechristened the Kuwait Little Theatre (KLT), in a nod to their diminutive original premises: a small hut with a stage platform just eighteen inches off the ground.52 The KLT’s popularity soon outstripped the capacities of its original venue, however. They moved, both literally and metaphorically, to wider spaces—to a larger performance space in 1953, as well as to neighboring countries like Iraq and Bahrain, where they took performances on tour (facilitated at times by use of KUOCO’s company airplanes). The KLT’s repertoire included musicals, comedies and murder mysteries, but to the best of my knowledge, the troupe never attempted Shakespeare. Yet their example and the spread of their reputation throughout the Gulf encouraged the formation of troupes elsewhere—the Doha Players, for example, established in Qatar in 1954. Like the KLT, the Players



started small, but—given the pace of change in Qatar since oil exports had begun in 1949—with a provocative choice of material. The Players’ first production was a British play called Bird in Hand (1927) by John Drinkwater, which treats the tension between a religiously devout and socially conservative father who views the changing mores of his society with deep suspicion, and a daughter desperate for the freedom to pursue her interest in the arts and in her handsome suitor—a plotline that could have been interpreted as an analogue to conservative Qatari society and the social restrictions placed on its young women, and to local anxieties that Qatari traditions and morals were being eroded by modernity and development.53 Over the following years, as the Doha Players continued to perform, Qatari social and community clubs began to put on their own amateur theatrical productions,54 and Qatar’s ministry of education, headed by Shaykh Khalifa Al-Thani (who would become Emir in 1972), began to take an interest in theatre. In addition to recruiting non-Gulf Arab teachers to staff Qatar’s expanding school system, the ministry also brought Egyptian academic and director Mustafa Al-Bandari to Qatar to train budding Qatari theatre-makers. Al-Bandari’s production of The Merchant of Venice in 1963–1964 is the first recorded Shakespeare adaptation performed by Gulf nationals.55 As its new title The Merchant of Basra suggests, Al-Bandari moved the setting of the play to the Arab world, to the Iraqi port-city of Basra (situated on the Shatt al-Arab river north of Kuwait and occasionally referred to as “The Venice of the East”). The production featured Musa Zaynal, one of the pioneers of early Qatari theatre, in the role of Kūhīn (Shylock).56 Emirati theatre historian Habib Ghuloom Al-Attar notes laconically that the director “made some changes to the play to conform to the taste and culture of his audience” but provides no further specifics, thus leaving us to wonder what this play might have signified to Qatari audiences.57 Historically speaking, Merchant has proved a popular play across the Arab world. Muhammad Bakir Twaij claims it was one of the earliest plays by Shakespeare to be translated into Arabic (in 1885, though that text has since been lost) and staged (by the al-Qirdāhī troupe in Egypt),58 though other scholars give the palm for first translation to Khalil Mutran in 1922.59 Over the course of the twentieth century Merchant was by far the most frequently staged Shakespearean comedy across the Middle East, and it frequently appears as a foundational or inaugural theatre event: Egypt’s National Theatre Troupe performed


Merchant as part of their inaugural season in 1935–1936, for example,60 while noted Iraqi directors Ibrahim Jalal and Sami Abd al-Hamid both directed productions in Baghdad early in their careers, in 1948 and 1965 respectively.61 Similarly, as we shall see, directors in both Qatar and Oman selected Merchant for their troupes’ inaugural performances. Why Merchant, in particular? There are a range of possible motivations, like the play’s diverse cast of characters, its memorable plot twists and riddles, or its (arguably) crowd-pleasing ending. For some theatre practitioners, perhaps Portia’s lines, “How far that little candle throws his beams—So shines a good deed in a naughty world” (5.1.90–91), seemed to encapsulate their aims of establishing their own or their troupe’s artistic reputation. And of course, within the Middle East over the course of the twentieth century, Merchant was often played (or rewritten, as in Ba Kathir’s case) as an anti-Israeli or anti-Zionist drama.62 Yet worth noting are the facts that one frequently recurring comment on Merchant within Arabic-language criticism interprets the play not within the framework of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but rather as a morality tale warning of the dangers of usury, which is forbidden in Islamic law,63 and that a number of influential Arab literary critics have viewed Shylock empathetically.64 Al-Bandari’s choice may not have had any political motivations: it is possible he was simply influenced by the fact that the National Theatre in Cairo had decided to open its season that same year with Merchant.65 Conversely, if the choice was intended to have a political resonance, the exact nature of that resonance is up for debate. The new title The Merchant of Basra suggests that he may have intended it as a meditation on the perilous position of Iraqi Jewish communities, historically concentrated in Baghdad, Mosul and Basra. According to legal scholar Carole Basri, from 1958 to 1963 the government of Iraqi leader Abd al-Karim Qasim had been “particularly benevolent” towards Iraqi Jews, but Qasim was overthrown in a Ba‘athist military coup in February 1963, and the new regime swiftly instituted restrictions targeting Iraqi Jews’ rights to property and employment.66 Thus a 1963–1964 production of Merchant would have taken place against the backdrop of these regional upheavals. Yet as with so many of the Peninsula’s early experiments with Shakespeare, exactly what form it took remains tantalizingly unclear. Gulf theatre continued to develop over the 1960s and 1970s, but Shakespeare takes little part in the repertoire. English-language troupes



seem to privilege lighter fare and easier laughs, an understandable choice given the nature of their membership as amateur performers, many of them moonlighting after long days at work, putting on plays for audiences hungry above all for an enjoyable evening’s entertainment. Their reluctance to touch him may also stem from a certain sense of intimidation, not just regarding Shakespeare’s text and language but also given the towering achievements of “big-time Shakespeare” performances on UK and US stages and screens during these decades. How, a KLT member might have asked him or herself, could an amateur actor on a stage in the sandy wastelands of Al-Ahmadi outside Kuwait City hope to match the stage presence of an Olivier or a Gielgud? Shakespeare likewise appears rarely within Arabic-language theatrical practice in the Gulf in this period, but the reasons are somewhat different. The last of the Gulf states to achieve independence—Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE—do so in 1971, and it seems that in the years surrounding that date, Arabic-language theatrical practice was increasingly instrumentalized as a means of celebrating and inculcating a sense of national identity, particularly by newly minted ministries of culture. Some Gulf theatre practitioners of the period may have deliberately avoided Shakespeare as an undesirable vestige of British influence; others may simply have preferred to write and perform recognizably Qatari or Emirati plays. This holds true until the late 1970s, when one of the first permanent theatre troupes to be established in Qatar, Masraḥ al-Aḍwa’ (The Theatre of Lights),67 stages Othello,68 followed in 1980 by a production of the same play, directed by Khalifa Al-Irayfi, and performed by Bahrain’s Masraḥ Awal, or Awal Theatre, established in 1970.69 Awal is both a pre-Islamic name for Bahrain and the Arabic word meaning “first”—an appropriate moniker, given that it was the first Bahraini troupe to exist independently, rather than as an offshoot of a literary society or social club.70 It is not clear whether the Qatari performance inspired the Bahraini troupe’s choice of text. It is possible that each reached the decision independently: each troupe was wellestablished and Awal was celebrating its tenth anniversary, so performing one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays may have seemed a fitting marker of the troupe’s mature talent. But why Othello, in particular? Iraqi scholar Ferial Ghazoul has argued that out of all of Shakespeare’s plays, Othello is the one that most deeply speaks to questions of identity and belonging across the Arab world:

64  K. HENNESSEY No work of Shakespeare touches chords of Arab sensibility and identity so much as the tragedy of Othello. For one thing, the hero is a Moor and therefore an ‘Arab.’ Furthermore, he is not simply an Arab character in an Arab context; he is an Arab in Europe, necessarily evoking all the complex confrontations of Self/Other in a context of power struggle.71

The members of both of these theatre troupes had seen their nations attain independence in 1971 and had experienced “the oil revolution”: the dramatic increase in the price of oil from late 1973 onwards, providing Gulf governments with previously unimagined revenue, and allowing them to push forward infrastructural and construction projects of enormous magnitude. It is at this point that the demographics of the Gulf states began to shift towards the contemporary patterns described in the introduction, through the massive influx of expatriate labor. For example, in a mere five years, between 1975 and 1980, a million new expatriate workers arrived in Saudi Arabia, filling positions that ran the gamut from highly skilled engineer to manual laborer.72 Governments began to redistribute oil wealth to citizens through services, subsidies, and public sector employment; national identity in the form of citizenship became “an economic asset, a claim to a share of national wealth.”73 In such a context the story of Othello, who descends from the pinnacle of power, success, and happiness to the nadir of misery, might have seemed a useful cautionary tale, a warning to citizens not to allow their swiftly rising standards of living to blind them to the continuing injustices and deceptions of the world. There are other possible resonances as well, of course. Both Bahrain and Qatar experienced sizeable population growth in the 1970s, the former increasing by almost 70%, from around 212,000 to around 360,000, between 1970 and 1980, and the latter more than doubling from 110,000 to 224,000 over the same period.74 High fertility rates among the national population accounted for part of this increase, but the majority was due to an increase in the population of foreign residents, of which Bahrain gained approximately 75,000 and Qatar perhaps 90,000.75 Some troupe or audience members may have taken the fact that the noble Moor places his trust in the duplicitous Iago as a reminder to be on their guard against the potentially pernicious influences of foreigners in general, or of the elite stratum of Western expatriate experts in particular.



A further consideration may well have been the play’s commentary on gender roles, marriage and infidelity, as Othello is a play that is as much about gender as it is about race. Across the Gulf, the 1970s were a decade in which women played increasingly public roles in society and in the workforce. As May Seikaly has noted, By the middle of the 1970s, women were very visible in Bahraini society. The younger, more educated urban generation discarded the abaya, drove cars, took part in political demonstrations, communicated with male colleagues from their student days and from work, and were involved in politics … Women’s societies, female sections of sports clubs, and professional organizations gave them a role. They also aimed at achieving an equal footing with men … [and] were confident enough to compete with men for jobs and scholarships.76

Sophia Pandya likewise describes the 1970s in Bahrain as a “time of social upheaval,” in which both male and female citizens traveled abroad to Arab countries like Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq to study, and women’s organizations petitioned for greater political and legal rights.77 But in the later years of the decade, Pandya asserts, a revival of conservative Islamic practice across the Middle East began to take hold in the Gulf,78 bringing promoters of women’s rights into conflict with those who advocated for gender segregation and a more patriarchal social hierarchy. Thus both the Qatari and the Bahraini Othello were performed amidst simmering tensions about the proper place of women in Gulf society, and it is intriguing to speculate how those tensions might have inflected the actors’ portrayals of their characters, or audiences’ reception of them. Would any have seen Desdemona’s death, not as a tragic slaying of “the sweetest innocent that e’er lifted up eye” (5.2.206–207), but rather as divine retribution for defying her father’s will by choosing to marry Othello? Alternatively, might her murder have prompted commentary about the use of violence against women as a means of preserving male honor? Or might Iago’s and Emilia’s exchange in the play’s final scene— EMILIA (to Iago) … He says thou told’st him that his wife was false. I know thou didst not. Thou’rt not such a villain. Speak, for my heart is full. IAGO I told him what I thought, and told no more

66  K. HENNESSEY Than what he found himself was apt and true. EMILIA. You told a lie, an odious, damnèd lie, Upon my soul a lie, a wicked lie (5.2.180–188)

—have sparked debate about the practice of some shari‘a courts of placing greater value on testimony given by a male witness than by a female one?79 And what might Qatari and Bahraini performers and audiences have made of Emilia’s defense of adulterous wives in the “I might do’t as well i’th’ dark” harangue of Othello 4.3? The year 1980 witnessed not only the Bahraini Othello but also the ten-year anniversary of the reign of Omani Sultan Qaboos Bin Said, who deposed his father in 1970 in a palace coup. Upon his accession Qaboos swiftly embarked upon an ambitious development and modernization program, investing significant amounts of the country’s increasing oil wealth in infrastructure, health, and education, all desperately needed.80 The new Sultan had inherited a population with a mere 5% literacy rate, but in the first decade of his rule the number of schools in Oman increased exponentially, from a mere three (for boys only) in 1970 to hundreds (for both boys and girls) by 1980. As in the other Gulf examples we have seen, as Omanis’ access to education expanded, so did amateur theatre activities in social clubs, most prominently the Domestic Club and the Oman Club in the capital Muscat.81 In 1980, a group of young Omanis with an interest in drama asked the newly launched Omani Ministry of Information and Youth to support their efforts to establish a serious theatre troupe. Like the Qataris before them, the Omanis looked to Egypt for theatrical assistance: the Ministry invited Egyptian director Mustafa Hashish to found and train the Masraḥ al-Shabāb (The Youth Theatre) in Muscat. And just like his compatriot Al-Bandari in Qatar, Hashish chose The Merchant of Venice as the troupe’s first production.82 Two things are noteworthy here. First, where early Yemeni theatre seems to have looked first to India and then to Britain for its theatrical models, the Gulf looked to Cairo. This was a logical choice, given that from the late nineteenth century through much of the twentieth, theatre in Egypt had developed swiftly and arguably to higher production standards than anywhere else in the Middle East, as did the Egyptian educational system, many of whose graduates filled administrative and teaching positions in the Peninsula’s budding schools and bureaucracies. Thus for troupes in the Gulf, seconding Egyptian theatrical expertise made



eminent sense. Likewise, over the same period—due in no small part to the history of British colonial domination in Egypt from 1882 to 1956— Egypt served as the point of origin for the preponderance of Arabic translations of Shakespeare. This fact demonstrates that, as elsewhere in the world, the transmission of knowledge about Shakespeare is not, as is often assumed, a unidirectional flow from an Anglophone point of origin like London to points of reception and imitation elsewhere. Rather, as Margaret Litvin has argued, Arab audiences came to know Shakespeare through a kaleidoscopic array of performances, texts, and criticism from many directions: not just the “original” British source culture but also French, Italian, American, Soviet, and Eastern European literary and dramatic traditions, which at times were more influential than Britain’s.83

In the case of the Arabian Gulf, Egyptian experts played a crucial role in the dissemination of knowledge about Shakespeare, and about the means and ends of staging his work. The second noteworthy point here is that both of these Egyptian directors chose to stage The Merchant of Venice with their fledgling theatre troupes. As noted above, in a Middle Eastern context it is tempting to jump to the conclusion that this choice bears a link to the IsraeliPalestinian conflict, and that Shylock appears as a cipher for Zionism. But in Oman in 1980 audiences may well have found other elements of the play more thought-provoking. According to Omani playwright and theater historian Abd-Elkarim Bin Ali Bin Jawad, Merchant in Oman proved “a controversial choice. Not only was the play complex and challenging theatrically, but it also dealt with social and religious issues that Omanis were not accustomed to seeing dealt with in a public way. As well, three women were in the cast.”84 If the mere presence of female actors on stage was problematic, then how would audience members have responded to Portia impersonating a man (4.1), or chafing at the fact that her father had decided to arrange her marriage through a bizarre riddles-and-caskets game (1.2.23–26), or threatening to welcome the doctor of laws to her bed in retaliation for Bassanio having given away her ring (5.1.223–233)? Perhaps in some cases impulses to voice offense at the play’s content were muted by the fact that this performance took place within the celebratory context of the Sultan’s anniversary, and with clear


support from Omani officialdom. As Bin Jawad notes, “the ministry supported the production and helped the group to find a suitable space in which to rehearse.”85 The Ministry also brought in other theatre experts—“designers, make-up artists, a stage manager and technicians”— to work with the actors, and arranged for lighting and sound equipment to be brought from Omani Television to the Continental Theatre in Muscat, where the production took place. Participants were given six months to prepare and rehearse before a gala opening night on 18 November—the holiday known as Omani National Day, observed on the Sultan’s birthday, which in 1980, the tenth anniversary of his accession, was celebrated with particular fervor. Jawad states that Hashish’s The Merchant of Venice set new standards for theatre in Oman: “The show was an immense success and set the stage for the development of an ongoing and ultimately more professional theatrical community.”86 The dedication of so much time and so many resources to a cultural production was also a prescient tribute to Sultan Qaboos, who would go on to lend his personal encouragement and support to major artistic developments in Oman, including the establishment of the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra in 1986 and the Royal Opera House Muscat in 2011. In educational terms, too, the production was a harbinger of things to come: by the mid-1990s, theatre was a significant part of the Omani educational curriculum, with Omani schools routinely performing Shakespeare as well as Molière.87 By the mid-1980s, Shakespeare had begun to appear on the curriculum of universities across the Gulf. Rosalind Buckton-Tucker, a British professor with experience teaching English language and literature at universities in Kuwait, Oman, Iran, and elsewhere, recounts that her students at United Arab Emirates University (UAEU, founded in 1976 in Al-Ain), were so captivated by their in-class reading of Macbeth that they decided to stage a performance of the banquet scene, in Shakespearean English, in the university auditorium.88 Since the scene was only around ten minutes long, Buckton-Tucker suggested a simple modern-dress reading, but the students wanted period costume: they took images of Elizabethan doublets and hose to local tailors, and had them made to order. The role of Lady Macbeth posed a larger obstacle: students at UAEU studied in gender-segregated classes, and having a woman appear on stage with a group of young men was not an option—not even if the woman in question was their professor, Buckton-Tucker herself.



“What I would have liked,” she recalls, “was to have one of the boys play the part as a woman, but nobody was prepared to do that.” Instead, the students requested that she use a tape recorder to record her voice speaking Lady Macbeth’s lines, which another student would play from behind a screen at the appropriate cues (a decision prompted in part by the fact that Buckton-Tucker was directing the performance, and could thereby do so from in front of the stage, rather than on it or in the wings). Despite its brevity, the performance was a gala event—university administrators including the president were invited to attend, and the students organized a lavish banquet for audience members, paid for, like the costumes, out of the university’s generous activities budget. The experience proved so successful that one of the student performers—the nephew of Shaykh Sultan Bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi, ruler of the Emirate of Sharjah and a proponent of regional theatre and drama89—suggested that the group take their performance on tour to Sharjah. Here, the troupe had somewhat less success: the performance was sparsely attended due to a conflicting local event, and the tape of Lady Macbeth’s speeches went missing, forcing a last-minute scramble for a tape recorder and a new recording. Interestingly, Buckton-Tucker recalls that in this case, though she had offered to read the lines from behind a screen, an Egyptian professor from UAEU who had accompanied the group insisted upon recreating the recording. It is not uncommon in the Gulf to find Arabs from other regions assuming the roles of interpreters and/or cultural gatekeepers, mediating linguistically and otherwise between Gulf Arabs and non-Arab foreigners, explaining to the latter what the former will or will not find gauche or offensive (a phenomenon which we will examine in more detail in Chapter 4). It is at least possible that such explanations occasionally paint Gulf Arab audiences as more conservative than they actually were or are. Of course, there were other audiences for Shakespeare productions in the Gulf in this period as well. Buckton-Tucker recalls that Jolyon Kay, who served as the British consul-general in Dubai from 1985 to 1990,90 staged a modern dress performance of Henry V, with both male and female cast members, in the discotheque of the Hyatt Regency Hotel during his tenure.91 Each act began with a video projected onto a screen at the back of the stage, featuring a well-known real-life newscaster from Dubai TV, who, in the manner of Henry V’s Prologue, provided a brief summary of and context for the action. Taken together, the student Macbeth and the consul’s Henry V provide us with a sense of the


range of possibilities for English-language Shakespearean performance in the UAE in the mid-1980s: on the one hand, a single-scene performance driven by young Gulf Arabs striving for a level of Elizabethan authenticity (and/or exoticism), with Lady Macbeth represented via a tape recording, and on the other, a full-length production orchestrated by a British diplomat-cum-thespian, employing modern dress and video projection, and staged in the potentially transgressive space of a hotel nightclub.92 In the late 1980s and 1990s Gulf Shakespeare seems to gravitate away from Shylock and Macbeth and towards Romeo and Juliet. In 1988, Bahraini novelist and playwright Amin Saleh rewrote Romeo and Juliet as Rūmiyū al-Farīj (Romeo the Unparalleled); Saleh’s play was performed by the Awal Theatre troupe in 1993, under the direction of Abdullah Malek.93 In 1992, Oman’s Youth Theatre performed a Shakespeare-inspired play entitled al-Falāj (The Canal), a Romeo-andJuliet-style romance by aforementioned Omani theatre historian AbdElkarim Bin Ali Bin Jawad, in which the love that blossoms between the young protagonists ‘Abūd and Sāra in their peaceful Omani village is depicted in a tender balcony scene.94 Yet in Jawad’s play the conflict that drives the lovers apart arises not from feuding parents but from clashing cultures, symbolized by the return to the village of Sara’s brother Sayf, with a foreigner named John in tow. John proceeds to take over the management of Sayf’s family property, importing foreign labor to till the fields while Sayf enjoys the high life in the nearest city. Unlike Abud, an educated Omani who cultivates his own land using a savvy combination of new technology and time-tested methods, the new workers have no understanding of Omani agriculture, and they eventually destroy the traditionally constructed canal system that for centuries had allowed the villagers to water their crops—a clear warning to Omani audiences about the encroachment of nefarious foreign influences on their own culture and traditions. This play was written and performed in the wake of the “Omanization” policies that the Sultanate embarked upon in 1988, in an attempt to reduce its dependence upon expatriate labor by encouraging more Omanis to join the workforce. This fact helps to explain the play’s characterization of Abud as both romantic hero and thoughtful, hard-working farmer, and its denigration of the lazy wastrel Sayf: Shakespearean adaptation in support of the Sultan’s economic strategy.



Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, yet another Egyptian director produced a third Shakespeare play. In 1991 Gamal Qasim, working with the Dammam branch of the Saudi Society for Culture and the Arts,95 adapted Hamlet as al-La‘ibūn (The Players), focusing on the play-withinthe-play scene in which Hamlet attempts to “catch the conscience of the king” (2.2.607). Since, till early 2018, Saudi Arabia banned actresses from the public stage96—though Saudi women could act in film and television, and in all-female casts for private and university productions—this choice may have been motivated by a desire to minimize or eliminate the play’s female characters, Gertrude and Ophelia, in order to avoid the awkwardness and/or the ambiguous sexuality of having them played by male actors.97 The Kingdom has one of the shortest histories of theatre of any country in the world, and its very first production had set a precedent of editing female characters out of scripts. Public performances in the Kingdom date back only to 1973, when Saudi playwright Ibrahim Al-Hamdan produced an Arabic adaptation of Molière’s Le Médecin Malgré Lui (A Doctor in Spite of Himself) in Riyadh, under the title Ṭabīb bil-Mish‘ab. Al-Hamdan’s script cut the role of Jacqueline altogether, and made Martine and Lucinde male rather than female.98 Were Lady Macbeth to stand before a Saudi theatre practitioner and intone “Unsex me here,” he might well respond with a shrug, “We’ve had practice.” With The Players, our sole example of Shakespeare on the twentieth-century stage in Saudi Arabia, our brief historical survey of Yemeni and Gulf Shakespeare concludes. In the next chapter, we turn our attention to the twenty-first century, and the forms of knowledge of Shakespeare that are produced at universities on the Arabian Peninsula.


1. Margaret Litvin explores this phenomenon in Hamlet’s Arab Journey. 2. This segment is a condensed version of the performance history presented in my articles, “Shylock in the Hadhramawt?” and “Now I Shall Believe.” The crucial Yemeni texts documenting the nation’s theatre history— unfortunately still only available in Arabic—are the following: Aulaqi, Sabaʿūn ʿāman; Al-Asmar, al-Masraḥ fī ’l -Yaman; Sayf, ‘Alam al-adab; Al-Maqāliḥ, Awwalīyāt; and Sa‘īd, Nušū’ wa taṭawwur. 3. Aulaqi, Sabaʿūn ʿāman, p. 35. 4. Ibn Battuta, Riḥlat, pp. 250–251.


5. For a detailed history of the British in early twentieth-century Aden, see Gavin, Aden Under British Rule. 6.  The cinema has since been renamed Harakayn Sīnamā (Hurricane Cinema), but remains the property of the original owner’s family. Under the direction of Mr. Hamoud’s grandson, Lutfi, the Hurricane continues to offer performance space to local theatre artists, notably the Khalīj ‘Adan (Gulf of Aden) troupe, headed by the talented young Adeni playwright and director Amr Gamal. My thanks to Lutfi Hamoud for his warm welcome and his explanation of the Hurricane’s history during my visit to the cinema in 2013. 7. Aulaqi, Sabaʿūn ʿāman, pp. 14–15. Natak is the Indic word for ‘drama’ or ‘play’, as Kathryn Hansen of the University of Texas at Austin, a specialist in nineteenth and twentieth-century Parsi theatre, has brought to my attention (Hansen, email). 8. Aulaqi mentions that the troupe, under the direction of an impresario named Jamlat(?) Shah, stopped in Aden on their way home to India from unspecified locations in Africa. Hansen has helped me to corroborate the feasibility of Aulaqi’s account, by confirming that Parsi Indian theatre troupes toured in Malaysia, Singapore and as far as London as early as the 1880s, and that they would have had in their repertoire a number of the plays that Aulaqi mentions (see n. 7 and Hansen, email). 9. For more on which, see Hanna, Bourdieu in Translation Studies. 10. Four government schools are established in Aden in 1866, 1879 and 1880, three providing a modern curriculum in Arabic, one in English. Gavin, Aden Under British Rule, p. 193. 11. Aulaqi, Sabaʿūn ʿāman, p. 35. 12. Ibid., p. 15. 13. The tale of Shirin and Farhad is one part of an extended narrative poem by the twelfth-century Persian author Nizami Ganjavi (1141–1209). Ganjavi also penned Layla wa Majnūn, a “Romeo and Juliet”-esque romantic epic poem, based on the pre-Islamic tale of star-crossed lovers Layla and Qays, Majnūn Layla. 14. Aulaqi, Sabaʿūn ʿāman, p. 35. 15. Bayer, “Martyrs for Love”, p. 6. 16. Aulaqi, Sabaʿūn ʿāman, p. 35. 17. Ibid., pp. 45–6, 77. 18. Through the 1927 Treaty of Jeddah, Britain recognized the claims of Abd al-Aziz Al-Saud to Najd and the Hijaz, which were united in 1932 as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 19. Aden was accorded this status in 1937. 20. Aulaqi, Sabaʿūn ʿāman, p. 77. 21. Ibid., p. 82.



22.  Like Al-Duqmi’s rewriting of Othello, Tate’s adaptation proved more popular with his audiences than Shakespeare’s play, taking pride of place on the English stage until 1834, when actor William Charles Macready returned to Shakespeare’s script. One might also argue that Tate’s The History of King Lear is not so much a newly minted happy ending as a return to the plotline laid out in the source material Shakespeare used: i.e. Holinshed’s Chronicles and the anonymous play The True Chronicle History of King Leir, both of which conclude with Lear’s return to the throne. 23. See Hanna, “Decommercialising Shakespeare,” p. 31. Margaret Litvin has argued convincingly that this departure from Shakespeare’s plot may have occurred not through deliberate choice on Abduh’s part, but because he was translating from Alexandre Dumas père’s mid-nineteenth-century French translation of Shakespeare’s text, which rewrote the ending of Hamlet to better suit the conventions of French neo-classical drama. See Litvin, “The French Source.” 24. Aulaqi, Sabaʿūn ʿāman, pp. 46, 80. 25. For an extended analysis of the “Arabization” of Othello in Mutran’s text, see Hanna, “Decommercialising Shakespeare.” 26. The question of whether the actor playing the female role in this photo is in fact male or female is one I have debated with Adeni historian Bilal Ghulam Hussein, author of the magisterial ‘Adan: Tarīkh Waṭan, who generously provided me with the photos used in this chapter. He is convinced that the photo depicts an actress, but I believe this could in fact be an illustration of the convincing gender illusion that Aulaqi describes. The crux of the issue is the age of the photograph: al-Funoon dates it to 1948, eight years before Azim (according to Aulaqi) becomes the first Yemeni woman to appear on the public stage. If both the dating and Aulaqi are correct, then the photo shows us a male actor playing a female role. But the magazine also states that this is a photo from the play The People and Caesar, which may well be incorrect: the Arab dress of the male character does not correspond to reviews of that play, which specifically mention actors playing in “Roman attire.” It is probable, then, that this is a photograph from a different play, and possibly a different time period. 27. Aulaqi, Sabaʿūn ʿāman, p. 64. 28. The curved dagger, symbol of masculine honor and courage, worn by Yemeni tribesmen in a sheath attached to an ornate belt, fastened at the waist. 29. See Aulaqi, Sabaʿun ʿaman, pp. 158–159. 30. For more on this see Aulaqi, Sabaʿūn ʿāman, pp. 141–184. 31. The Republic was short-lived; in 1970, after a radical Marxist coterie took power within the National Liberation Front, they renamed the country


the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, as it was known until reunification in 1990. 32. Sayf, ‘Alam al-adab, p. 18. 33. Sa‘id, Nashu’ wa Taṭawwur, p. 101. 34. For an extended analysis of a more recent Yemeni Theatre Festival, see Hennessey, “Drama in Yemen” and “Explosions and Ill Omens.” 35. Omotoso, ‘Alī Aḥmad Bā Kathīr, p. 27. 36. A fact to which Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka alludes in his brief, whimsical exploration of the parallels (and the divergences) between the pre-Islamic tale of Majnūn Layla (for which, see n.13) and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, in “Shakespeare and the Living Dramatist.” 37. Omotoso points out echoes of Julius Caesar and Macbeth in Ba Kathir’s Sirr Shahrazad (Shahrazad’s Secret), op. cit., p. 184. 38. Freitag, “Dying of Enforced Spinsterhood,” pp. 2–27. 39. For more on Ba Kathir’s play and the portrayal of Jews in Ba Kathir’s drama more generally, see Wazzan, al-Yahūd; Al-Shetawi, “The Merchant of Venice in Arabic”; and Bayer, “The Merchant of Venice.” 40. Two useful exceptions for those looking for basic outlines of Gulf theatre history in English are Al-Attar’s Development of Theatrical Activity and the appropriate country entries in the World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre. 41.  For which see Makkawi, Al-Kūmīdiya fī al-masraḥ and Al-Khattir’s Al-Masraḥ al-Tarīkhī. 42. Khouri, “The Incredible Development.” 43. Shirawi, Education in Bahrain. 44. Al-Attar, Development of Theatrical Activity, p. 67. Other scholars provide different dates; Saleh Al-Ojairi, for example, claims that the first school performance in Kuwait took place in 1924 (Al-Ojairi, “Theatre in Old Kuwait”). He may have in mind the second play authored by Abd al-Aziz Al-Rasheed and performed by the Ahmadiya students, for which see n. 48. 45. Commins, The Gulf States, particularly Chapters 5 and 6. 46.  Actually issued in 1913, the implementation of these regulations was delayed by the onset of World War II. See Radhi’s Judiciary, pp. 25–30. 47. The Ahmadiya was Kuwait’s second “modern” school; its first was the Mubarakiya, established in 1911. According to scholar Abdulrahman Alebrahim, the Mubarakiya did not teach languages other than Arabic; the addition of English to the Ahmadiya curriculum was one of Al-Rasheed’s innovations (Alebrahim, “Kuwaiti Intellectuals”). 48. Al-Attar, Development of Theatrical Activity, p. 67 and “The Anniversary of Independence.” Alebrahim also notes that Al-Rasheed wrote a second play, which was published in Baghdad in 1924 and performed by the



Ahmadiya students, entitled al-Muḥāwara al-Iṣlāḥīya (The Reformer’s Dialogue), which favorably compared Al-Rasheed’s educational innovations to more traditional pedagogy (Alebrahim, “Kuwaiti Intellectuals”). 49.  Among the early twentieth-century texts intended for student use, Landau cites Muhammad Hamdi’s translation of Julius Caesar (1st ed. circa 1912; 2nd ed. 1922); Umar Abd al-Aziz Amin’s 1925 translation of Henry VIII, complete with explanatory notes; and a school edition of The Merchant of Venice, translated by Ahmad Al-Aqqad, Radwan Abd al-Hadi and Ahmad Uthman Al-Qiraibi in 1926. See Landau, Studies, pp. 269–272. 50. Commins, p. 144. 51. See for example, Al-Khozai, “Bahrain,” p. 63. 52. Sharma, Kuwait Little Theatre. 53. Published by Sidgwick & Jackson in London. This play is now largely forgotten, but its premiere at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre starred Peggy Ashcroft and a young Lawrence Olivier in the roles of daughter Joan and her suitor Gerry. 54.  Muhammed Abdul Rahim Kafoud indicates three Qatari clubs, Nādī al-Tali‘a, Nādī al-Jazīra and Nādī Kibār al-Muwaẓẓafīn, as particularly significant in this regard (Kafoud, “Qatar,” p. 199). 55. Al-Attar, however, ascribes to this production a date in the mid-1950s (Development of Theatrical Activity, p. 65)—an example of the contradictions in basic production information that scholars can encounter when trying to sift through historical records of Gulf performances. 56. Al-Kalbani, al-‘Abūdīya wa ’l-Ḥub, p. 13. 57. Al-Attar, Development of Theatrical Activity, p. 65. 58. Twaij, Shakespeare in the Arab World. 59. Mark Bayer, for example, categorically states that “an Arabic version of The Merchant of Venice was neither performed nor published until 1922,” while according to Mahmoud Al-Shetawi “there is every indication that The Merchant first appeared in Arabic in the late nineteenth century, long before the appearance of Mutran’s version.” These quotes appear, respectively, in Bayer’s “The Merchant of Venice,” p. 473, and in an early draft of Al-Shetawi’s “The Merchant of Venice in Arabic,” where the discussion of late nineteenth-century translations appears on pp. 10–11. It was removed, however, from the later version of al-Shetawi’s article, published in 1994. 60. Khalil Mutran was appointed the troupe’s first manager, and among the plays he selected for the first season were Merchant and Lear, in his own translations. Al-Shetawi, “The Merchant of Venice in Arabic,” (early draft) p. 15.

76  K. HENNESSEY 61. The date of Abd al-Hamid’s production raises a question as to whether his choice could have been influenced by the success of the 1963–1964 Qatari production. Historically, Baghdad has been something of a metropole to the Arab Gulf periphery, but it is at least possible that the latter performance—and its Iraqi setting—might have prompted Abd al-Hamid to embark upon his own production. 62. For which see Bayer, “The Merchant of Venice.” 63. See Twaij, op. cit., p. 54. 64.  Notably Ibrahim al-Mazini and Jathibiya Sidqi, quoted in Twaij, pp. 362–363. 65. Al-Shetawi, “The Merchant of Venice in Arabic” (early draft), p. 16. Of course, this fact could also have caused some confusion among scholars of Gulf theatre: it is possible (though in my estimation not probable) that Al-Attar (see n. 55) is in fact correct to date the Qatari production to the 1950s, while other scholars have conflated the dates of the Qatari production with the Egyptian one. 66. See Basri, “The Jewish Refugees,” pp. 685–686. 67.  Founded in 1966, according to Muhammad Abdul Rahim Kafoud (“Qatar,” p. 201). 68. Al-Attar, Development of Theatrical Activity, p. 115 (exact year not specified). 69. Al-Attar, Development of Theatrical Activity, p. 96. 70. Al-Khozai, “Bahrain,” p. 61. 71. Ghazoul, “The Arabization of Othello.” Vol. 50, No. 1 (Winter 1998), p. 1. 72. Commins, pp. 201–202. 73. Commins, p. 203. 74. World Bank, “Population Data.” 75. As noted in the introduction, statistics that break Gulf populations down by nationality are often approximate. For a glimpse into the complexities of tracking the demographics of Qatari citizens, let alone the expat communities, see Winckler, “How Many Qatari Nationals Are There?” 76. Seikaly, “Women and Social Change in Bahrain,” p. 421. 77. Pandya, Muslim Women and Islamic Resurgence, pp. 140–1. 78. Ibid., pp. 17–18. 79. A practice often justified by reference to the ayat al-dayn, or “debt verse” in the Qur‘an (2.282), which requires two men to witness a loan contract, or—if two men are not available—then one man and two women. Significant debate continues over the exact significance of this verse and its implications for women in Islam. 80. Commins, p. 204. 81. Abd-Elkarim Bin Ali Bin Jawad, “Oman,” pp. 182–3. 82. Al-Attar, Development of Theatrical Activity, p. 105.



83. Litvin, Hamlet’s Arab Journey, p. 2. 84. Bin Jawad, “Oman,” p. 184. 85. Ibid. 86. Ibid. 87. Ibid., p. 182. 88. Buckton-Tucker, interview. 89. The Emir is also a playwright. His personal website lists him as the author of ‘Awdat Hūlākū (The Return of Hulagu), 1998, and nine subsequent plays (“H.H. Sheikh Dr. Sultan Muhammad al-Qasimi”). 90. Years of service given as listed in “A Directory of British Diplomats,” p. 279. 91. Buckton-Tucker, interview, and email correspondence with the author, 24 December 2017. 92. From 1988 to 1992, local audiences also had several opportunities to see performances by the London Shakespeare Group, whose tours to the UAE were facilitated by the British Council. For more, see Clark, Emirates Diaries. 93. Al-Khozai, “Bahrain,” p. 60. 94. Al-Attar, Development of Theatrical Activity, pp. 160–163. 95. Al-Hayik, ‘Al-Masraḥ al-Su‘ūdī. 96. In February 2018, in a remarkable reversal of decades’ worth of gender segregation regulations within the theatre, an official Saudi government decree granted women the right to perform on the public stage. Actress and university professor Maisa Sabihi was among the first to seize the opportunity, performing a one-woman show that she had written a decade previously, on 10 February at the Jeddah Comedy Club. More controversially, that same weekend university student Najat Muftah became the first Saudi woman to act on stage with a cast of male actors, in— of all things—an Arabic language adaptation of the Disney musical film The Emperor’s New Groove. Muftah played the scheming counselor Yzma, who plots to usurp the Emperor’s throne (not exactly a whole-hearted endorsement of women’s participation in the realm of politics). See, for example, Hameed, “Saudi actress,” and Nabbout, “A woman is starring.” 97. Al-Azma, “Saudi Arabia”, p. 214. 98. Al-Azma dates this play to 1974 (“Saudi Arabia,” pp. 212–13), but other sources, including the intriguing account provided by Alotaibi in A Historical Study, pp. 144–147, concur that it took place in 1973.

References Al-Asmar, Husayn. al-Masraḥ fī ’l -Yaman: tajriba wa ṭumūḥ (Theatre in Yemen: Experience and Ambition). Giza: al-Manār al-‘Arabī, 1991.

78  K. HENNESSEY Al-Attar, Habib Ghuloom. The Development of Theatrical Activity in the Gulf Region. Abu Dhabi: UAE Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community Development, 2009. Al-Azma, Nazir. “Saudi Arabia.” In The World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre, Vol. 4: The Arab World. New York: Routledge, 1999. Al-Diwan al-Amiri, al-Kuwayt. “The Anniversary of Independence of Kuwait and National Day.” Liberation_Day.php. Alebrahim, Abdulrahman. “Kuwaiti Intellectuals and their Cultural Relations with Iraq in the early 20th Century: Abd al-Aziz al-Reshayd as an Example.” Presentation at the Gulf Studies Conference, University of Exeter, 22–23 August 2016, and related email correspondence with the author, 8 March 2017. Al-Hayik, Abbas. “Al-Masraḥ al-Su‘ūdī: Bayn raghbāt al-jumhūr wa ghawāyat al-tajrīb” (Saudi Theatre: Caught Between Audience Expectations and the Lure of Experimental Theatre). Al-Qafila, n.d. Available via http://qafilah. com/ar/. Al-Kalbani, Khaled Salem. Al-‘Abūdīya wa al-Ḥub fī-Masraḥ Ḥamad al-Rumayḥi (Slavery and Love in the Theater of Hamad al-Rumaihi). Doha: Ministry of Culture, Arts, and Heritage, 2009. Al-Khattir, Mubarak. Al-Masraḥ al-Tarīkhī fī al-Baḥrayn (The Historical Drama in Bahrain). Manama: Bahrain Ministry of Information, 1985. Al-Khozai, Mohammad A. “Bahrain.” In The World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre, Vol. 4: The Arab World. New York: Routledge, 1999. Al-Maqalih, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz. Awwalīyāt al -masraḥ fī ’l –Yaman (The Elements of Yemeni Theater). Beirut: al-Mu’assasah al-Jāmi‘īyah li ’l-Dirāsāt wa ’l-Nashr wa ’l-Ṭawābi‘, 1999. Al-Ojairi, Saleh. “Theatre in Old Kuwait.” Kuwait Times, 23 December 2015. Alotaibi, Naif Khalaf N. A Historical Study of Saudi Theatre with Reference to the History of Theatre in the General Presidency for Youth Welfare (Ph.D. thesis, University of Exeter, 2013). Al-Shetawi, Mahmoud. “The Merchant of Venice in Arabic.” Journal of Intercultural Studies 15:1 (1994), 15–28. Al-Shetawi, Mahmoud. “The Merchant of Venice in Arabic” (early draft, no publication information available). pdf?sequence=8. Aulaqi, Sa‘id. Sabaʿūn ʿāman min al-masrḥ fi’l-Yaman (Seventy Years of Theater in Yemen). Aden: Ministry of Culture and Tourism, 1983. Basri, Carole. “The Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries: An Examination of Legal Rights—A Case Study of the Human Rights Violations of Iraqi Jews.” Fordham International Law Journal 26: 3(2002), 685–686.



Bayer, Mark. “Martyrs for Love and the Emergence of the Arab Cultural Consumer.” Critical Survey 19:3 (2007), 6–26. Bayer, Mark. “The Merchant of Venice,” the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the Perils of Shakespearean Appropriation.” Comparative Drama 41:4 (Winter 2007– 2008), 465–492. Bin Jawad, Abd-Elkarim Bin Ali. “Oman.” In The World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre, Vol. 4: The Arab World. New York: Routledge, 1999. Buckton-Tucker, Rosalind. Interview with the Author at the American University of Kuwait, 8 November 2017. Clark, Peter. Emirates Diaries: From Sheikhs to Shakespeare. Surbiton, UK: Medina Press, 2017. Commins, David. The Gulf States: A Modern History. London: I.B. Tauris, 2014. “Directory of British Diplomats.” Copyright Colin Mackie, 2013. Available at Drinkwater, John. Bird in Hand. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1927. Freitag, Ulrike. “Dying of Enforced Spinsterhood: Ḥaḍramawt through the Eyes of ʿAlī Aḥmad Bā Kathīr (1910–69).” Die Welt des Islams 37:1 (March 1997). Gavin, R.J. Aden Under British Rule 1839–1967. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1975. Ghazoul, Ferial. “The Arabization of Othello.” Comparative Literature 50:1 (Winter, 1998). “H.H. Sheikh Dr. Sultan Muhammad al-Qasimi, Theatrical Works.” Personal webpage, aspx#page=1. Hameed, Nada. “Saudi Actress Wows Audience with Solo Stage Performance in Jeddah.” Arab News, 12 February 2018. node/1244336/saudi-arabia. Hanna, Sameh. Bourdieu in Translation Studies: The Socio-Cultural Dynamics of Shakespeare Translation in Egypt. New York: Routledge, 2016. Hanna, Sameh. “Decommercialising Shakespeare: Mutran’s Translation of Othello.” Critical Survey 19:3 (2007). Hansen, Kathryn. Email Communication with the Author, 9 October 2015. Hennessey, Katherine. “Drama in Yemen: Behind the Scenes at World Theater Day.” Middle East Report 271 (July 2014). mer271/drama-yemen. Hennessey, Katherine. “Explosions and Ill Omens: On the Stage at World Theatre Day in Yemen.” Middle East Report 273 (December 2014). http:// Hennessey, Katherine. “‘Now I Shall Believe That There Are Unicorns’: The Improbable History of Shakespeare in Yemen.” Arab Stages (December 2014).

80  K. HENNESSEY Hennessey, Katherine. “Shylock in the Hadhramawt? Adaptations of Shakespeare on the Yemeni Stage,” Arablit 3:5 (2013), 5–24. Hussein, Bilal Ghulam. ‘Adan: Tarīkh Waṭan wa Ḥikāyat Insān 1839–1967 (Aden: The History of a Nation and the Story of a People, 1839–1967), 2nd ed. Aden: Graphic Press, 2014. Hussein, Bilal Ghulam. Email Communication with the Author, 4 and 5 July 2017. Ibn Batutta, Muhammad. Riḥlat Ibn Baṭūṭa (The Travels of Ibn Battuta). Beirut: Dār Bayrūt lil-Ṭabā‘a wa‘l-Nashr, 1985. Kafoud, Muhammed Abdul Rahim. “Qatar.” In The World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre, Vol. 4: The Arab World. New York: Routledge, 1999. Khouri, Rami. “The Incredible Development of the Gulf States.” Agence Global, 27 August 2008. Landau, Jacob M. Studies in the Arab Theatre and Cinema. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1958. Litvin, Margaret. “The French Source of the Earliest Surviving Arabic Hamlet.” Shakespeare Studies 39 (2011a), 133–151. Litvin, Margaret. Hamlet’s Arab Journey: Shakespeare’s Prince and Nasser’s Ghost. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011b. Makkawi, Fawziya. al-Kūmīdiyā fī al-masraḥ al-Kuwaytī (Comedy in Kuwaiti Theatre). Kuwait: Dhāt al-Salāsil, 1993. Nabbout, Mariam. “A Woman is Starring in a Saudi Theater Play for the First Time Ever.” StepFeed, 8 February 2018. https://stepfeed. com/a-woman-is-starring-in-a-saudi-theater-play-for-the-first-timeever-6063. Omotoso, Bankole Ajibabi. ‘Alī Aḥmad Bā Kathīr, A Contemporary Conservative Arab Writer: An Appraisal of His Main Plays and Novels (Dissertation, University of Edinburgh, 1972). Pandya, Sophia. Muslim Women and Islamic Resurgence: Religion, Education and Identity Politics in Bahrain. New York: I.B. Tauris, 2012. Radhi, Hassan Ali. Judiciary and Arbitration in Bahrain: A Historical and Analytical Study. Leiden: Brill, 2003. Sa‘id, ‘Abd al-Majid Muhammad. Nušū’ wa taṭawwur al-masraḥ fī ’l -Yaman 1910 ilā 2000 (The Establishment and Development of Yemeni Theatre. 1910-2000). Sana’a: Ministry of Culture, 2010. Sayf, Yahya Muhammad. ‘Alam al –adab wa ’l -fann al-masraḥī fī ’l -Yaman (The World of Playwriting and Theatre Arts in Yemen). Sana’a: al-Hay’ah al-‘ammah li ’l-Kuttāb, 2006. Seikaly, May. “Women and Social Change in Bahrain.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 26 (1994), 415–426. S0020743800060712.



Sharma, Sonu, director. Kuwait Little Theatre: Celebrating 60 Years (documentary film). Available on the KLT Facebook page. Shirawi, May al-Arrayed. Education in Bahrain—1919–1986 an analytical study of problems and progress (Ph.D. thesis, Durham University, 1987). Durham e-Theses Online: Soyinka, Wole. “Shakespeare and the Living Dramatist.” Chapter  5 of Shakespeare and Race, edited by Catherine M.S. Alexander and Stanley Wells. Cambridge University Press, 2000. Twaij, Muhammad Bakir. Shakespeare in the Arab World (Ph.D. thesis, Northwestern University, 1973). Wazzan, Adnan. al-Yahūd fī Masrahīyāt Shaksbīr wa Bā Kathīr (Jews in Shakespeare and Ba Kathir). Jeddah: al-Dar al-Su’udīya lil-Nashr wa al-Tawzi‘, 1990. Wells, Stanley and Gary Taylor, general editors, with John Jowett and William Montgomery, eds. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 2005. Winckler, Onn. “How Many Qatari Nationals Are There?” Middle East Quarterly, (Spring 2015), 1–16. World Bank. Population Data for Qatar and Bahrain, 1960–2016. http:// desc=false. World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre, Vol. 4: The Arab World. Edited by Don Rubin, with Ghassan Maleh, Farouk Ohan, Samir Sarhan, and Ahmed Zaki. New York: Routledge, 1999.

Chapter 2. Sparking Debate: Shakespeare in the University Classroom

Ignorance is God’s curse, knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heaven. (Henry VI Part II, 4.7.72–3)

“To Represent Shakespeare, You Have to Kill Him”: Knowledge, Violence and Spectacle In 2015 under the direction of Rubén Polendo, the artistic ensemble Theater Mitu, then in its fifth year in residence at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), transformed the university’s black box theatre into a series of a Hamlet-inspired “autonomous installations”1 entitled Hamlet/UR-Hamlet. Spectators—mostly NYUAD students, but also faculty, local residents and visitors—perambulated through the labyrinthine layout,2 stopping as the mood took them to examine exhibits, listen to recordings, watch snippets of video and mini-performances, all of which had been developed collaboratively by the troupe as responses to moments, lines, or images from Shakespeare’s text, or as riffs on the associative baggage that Hamlet has accrued over the centuries. (A number of these installations made no direct reference to the text itself, leaving audience members to draw their own conclusions about the connections.) The central focus of the experience was a set of performances delivered in a two-story Plexiglass cube at the midpoint of the square theatre: a concert by a punk band called The Othermen on the lower © The Author(s) 2018 K. Hennessey, Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula, Global Shakespeares,




level, and on the upper, a fragmentary but gripping recitation of text from Hamlet by Theater Mitu actors, led by actress Aysan Celik in the role of Hamlet (Fig. 1). Described by one viewer as “part art installation, part performance, part garage rock gig,”3 the experience was cacophonous, exhilarating and provocative, in certain obvious ways, given the conservative context of Abu Dhabi—like the appearance of Celik naked from the waist up, standing in a corner with her back visible to the audience, in an installation with the punning title “Backlit”—but also via more subtle infusions of contemporary history into the performance. At the entrance, white script on a black panel confronted the spectators with the question “What do we do with all the Hamlets throughout time?” and an answer right out of the gravediggers’ scene: “We dig them up to look at their bones.” The macabre rhetoric reminded spectators of the implication in the title, Hamlet/UR-Hamlet, that this production was an act of excavation, of sifting through the ur-texts, the stratifications and dramatizations of history and legend upon which Shakespeare constructed his play, and through the vast mound of response, commentary, and

Fig. 1  Theater Mitu’s Hamlet/UR-Hamlet. Aysan Celik, left. Courtesy of Theater Mitu



interpretation that has accumulated upon it since. But the lines also cautioned viewers that Hamlet/UR-Hamlet aimed, beyond literary archaeology, at an act of forensic exhumation—of digging up bodies and looking at bones, to discover a truth, perhaps, or to satisfy a morbid curiosity. A documentary about the production commences similarly, with a black screen and the text, “Imagine Shakespeare’s Hamlet has been buried in a mass grave with its predecessors. Now imagine Theater Mitu unearths this grave.”4 The corpses in question were not only metaphorical or literary ones. During my own stroll through the performance maze,5 my attention was repeatedly caught by a recording of the trial of a serial killer, who described his victims’ deaths in grisly detail, and with no perceptible remorse. The actors recited fragments from the killer’s testimony, implying that one way to read Hamlet’s character is as a serial killer—one who begins his career almost by accident when he mistakenly kills Polonius, but then deliberately plots the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, unwittingly poisons Laertes, and finally slays Claudius. In her review of the production, NYUAD theatre major Arianna Stucki, a student of Polendo’s, identified the actual trial as that of Dennis Raider, the so-called “BTK killer” (an acronym for “bind, torture, kill,” which Raider claimed was his modus operandi) in 2005. Raider murdered ten people in Kansas between 1974 and 1991, taunting the police and news outlets with letters detailing his crimes—one of which asked, “How many people do I have to kill before I get my name in the paper or some national attention?”6—all the while living an apparently exemplary life as head of a local church council and a Boy Scout leader.7 According to Stucki, In Hamlet/UR-Hamlet, the trial of the BTK serial killer, Denis [sic] Raider, was replayed by the actors via a verbatim feed of portions of the trial in their ears, which enabled them to mimic Raider’s tone as he calmly, even nonchalantly, describes the murder of entire families.8

The juxtaposition of the performance of Raider’s lines with the recital of Hamlet’s suggests a critique of our own passive roles as consumers of spectacles of violence—as we laugh, however uncomfortably, at Hamlet’s joke that the deceased Polonius is “at supper … not where he eats, but where he is eaten” (4.3.19–21), or as we breathlessly follow the media coverage that grants notoriety to real-life perpetrators of murder and mayhem.



Strikingly, scholar Farah Al-Nakib’s excellent study of urban development in Kuwait, Kuwait Transformed: A History of Oil and Urban Life opens with a probing consideration of this same problematic issue—i.e. spectators’ voyeuristic bystanding in the face of violent acts. Al-Nakib describes three cases of murder that occurred in shopping malls in Kuwait in 2012, 2013 and 2015, noting that in each case, the victims were stabbed in front of throngs of people, none of whom intervened in the violence, and many of whom photographed or filmed it to upload to social media. Al-Nakib’s volume explores Kuwait’s urban development over the course of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, and illustrates the increasing stratification of the port city’s previously cosmopolitan and diverse population into homogeneous residential enclaves, divided and insulated from one another along ethnic, sectarian and class lines. Among the many unintended consequences of this social fragmentation, Al-Nakib suggests, is the fact that it may increase people’s tendencies towards passivity and non-intervention in the affairs of strangers, even when those strangers are sharing a public space and clearly in need of assistance. Both Al-Nakib’s book and Theater Mitu’s performance thus raise, among other things, the disquieting question of whether the normality and stability of everyday social interactions are in fact much more fragile than they appear, and how thin the veneer may be which separates civility and violence. Shakespeare’s work speaks to these types of anxieties, and offers tools with which to begin to address them. As noted in the historical survey, when staging Shakespeare’s tragedies, theatre practitioners on the Peninsula frequently derail tragic characters’ tendencies towards murder or suicide by rewriting the plays’ conclusions with audience-pleasing happy endings, providing spectators with a kind of dramatic reassurance that love will prevail, justice will be done, and all will end well, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Conversely, on the occasions when tragedy is played as tragedy, directors seem to be employing it as catharsis for, or as a means of portraying an unacknowledged truth about, a concrete contemporary analogue to the violence described in the text, as with Wa‘el Abdullah’s Hamlet adaptation in the wake of the 1994 Yemeni civil war. Some directors seek to “excavate” Shakespeare; others, to use Shakespeare to excavate thoughts and emotions that have been buried, repressed by social convention or political trauma. In 1975, having taken early in her career a job teaching Shakespeare and English literature at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Egyptian



scholar Nehad Selaiha (who acted in Shakespearean performances in her student days,9 and who would go on to become one of the region’s most influential theatre critics) was brought face to face with this nexus of Shakespeare, violence, and suppressed anger: The first time I walked into the teachers’ room of the English department at the women’s college … I staggered back in horror. Facing me on the wall was a grotesque charcoal drawing of Shakespeare with a blooddripping dagger drawn across his neck. It was the only way you could get round the forbidden representation of human figures, a student later told me with a naughty glint in her eyes. In order to represent Shakespeare, you had to visibly kill him.10

Selaiha invokes this image of murdered Shakespeare while recalling how she chafed at the rigid restrictions placed on her movements and her appearance as a woman in Saudi society in the mid-1970s. She also records the heavy toll such restrictions exacted from her students: one young woman’s dream of becoming a doctor was thwarted because her male relatives believed it unseemly for her to dissect a naked body, and another, who spent her youth in the US, was so alienated from Saudi society upon her return that she eventually committed suicide.11 Within this context, both the drawing and the “naughty glint” in the unnamed student’s eye imply a barely suppressed desire for rebellion: So “draw human beings” is on the long list of things I’m not supposed to do? Fine. Instead, I’ll just draw this bloody corpse. The gory image of Shakespeare with his throat slit communicates, on the one hand, an intense anger, and suggests, on the other hand, the urgent need to excavate, to dig below the surface of this society and its gender constructs— to investigate, to critique. To look at the bones. The university is, or should be, a place where students and professors alike can engage in the necessary work of socio-cultural excavation, investigation and critical reflection. It is no coincidence that, albeit at vastly different historical moments and institutions, Theater Mitu’s “exhumation” of Hamlet and Selaiha’s startling glimpse of a murdered Shakespeare both took place in the context of a university on the Arabian Peninsula. In this region, as elsewhere in the world, universities are centers for the production of a colossal range of knowledge about the world, the self, and society. But the Peninsula’s tertiary educational system is unique in several respects.



The first is the brevity of its history. Morocco lays claim to the world’s oldest university (The University of Karaouine, in the city of Fez, established in 859), with Egypt’s Al-Azhar (established circa 970) a close second. Europe boasts the University of Bologna (established 1088), and Oxford and Cambridge date back to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The oldest US universities were founded hundreds of years ago (Harvard, 1636; William and Mary, 1693; Yale, 1701). But on the Arabian Peninsula, the oldest university dates back only to 1957. The second unique aspect of the university system on the Peninsula is its remarkably swift—and continuing—expansion. This short but eventful history is central to understanding the phenomenon of Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula, for the region’s universities drive much of the production of knowledge about Shakespeare through both scholarship and performance. Historically, as previously noted, theatrical productions of Shakespeare’s plays have been few and far between, leaving residents of the region few opportunities to experience the plays via attendance at a live performance. Instead, most students in the Peninsula, as in the rest of the world, get a first taste of Shakespeare’s work by studying it as a text in middle or secondary school. But it is generally at the university level that students come to see Shakespeare’s work as a lens through which to analyze their own societies, or as a language fraught and symbolic enough to escape a censor’s red pen, or as a script to be performed rather than merely a text to be parsed. In short, the rise of the university on the Peninsula in the second half of the twentieth century helps to explain the flourishing of Shakespeare in the early twenty-first.

Lost in Transliteration? Arabic Texts About, and Translations of, Shakespeare In the sections that follow, this chapter will trace the history and the remarkable recent expansion of the Arabian Peninsula’s educational systems, and will examine the ways in which Shakespeare enters the region’s classrooms, helping to spark debate and discussion about topics otherwise difficult to raise in public fora. The discussion will necessarily touch on issues of censorship and academic freedom. But before we follow him to the university classroom, we will make a brief foray into a local public library, to explore the various types of knowledge about Shakespeare that residents of the Arabian Peninsula can access, and a few of the challenges of Arabic translation.



At the King Abd al-Aziz Public Library (KAPL) in Riyadh, a search for “Shakespeare” (transliterated into Arabic characters) in the library catalogue yields 320 Arabic language entries. A Saudi student curious about the Bard could while away the searingly hot summer days in the air-conditioned library reading Arabic language translations of any of Shakespeare’s plays—or, for that matter, of Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare. Were he interested in historical context, he might pick up Iliya Hawi’s Shaksbīr wa al-Masraḥ al-Alīzabītī (Shakespeare and Elizabethan Theatre; Beirut, 1980), or Egyptian playwright Alfred Farag’s Shaksbīr fī-Zamānihi wa fī-Zamāninā (Shakespeare in His Time and Ours; Cairo, 2004)—perhaps occasionally glancing up from the pages to gaze at the palm trees in the exterior landscaping, visible through the sunkissed floor-to-ceiling windows of the reading room. Or, had she a particular interest in religious studies, she might leaf through Shaksbīr wa al-Yahūd (Shakespeare and the Jews) by Ramsis Awad (Beirut, 1999) or Fikr al-tanṣīr fī-masraḥīyāt Shaksbīr (The Concept of Baptism in Shakespeare’s Plays12) by Adnan Muhammad Abd al-Aziz Wazan (Riyadh, 1998)—though this being Riyadh, a female reader would likely be working in a separate section of the library from her male counterpart. Perhaps the title Nisā’ Shaksbīr (Shakespeare’s Women) would pique our imagined readers’ interest, or the Arabic translation of Jorge Luis Borges’s short story “La memoria de Shakespeare,”13 or the wide range of translations from English-language studies of Shakespeare, from A. C. Bradley’s Shakespearean Tragedy to Jan Kott’s Shakespeare Our Contemporary.14 If interested in the work of Shakespeare’s own contemporaries, they might opt to read the translation by Nehad Selaiha of Francis Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle,15 or to thumb through an Arabic-language disseration on the challenges of translating Hamlet, or a juxtaposition of Shaw’s and Shakespeare’s depictions of Antony and Cleopatra, or comparative studies of Shakespeare and Racine, or Shakespeare and modern Arab playwrights like Ahmad Shawqi and Ali Ahmad Ba Kathir.16 In sum, for a reader with an interest in Shakespeare, public libraries like this one on the Peninsula can offer an embarrassment of riches. And if well versed in both Arabic and English and looking for a moment’s amusement during a studious day in the library, our reader might run the Arabic titles of Shakespeare’s plays in the KAPL catalogue through Google Translate and discover some of Shakespeare’s lesser-known work:



Hamlet, Prince of Danmrkh Pericles: Prince of Photo Bilateral Henry IV An Eye for an Eye As Whatever Fascinates Comedy comedy errors Disappointed Quest Lovers (aka Torment Lost Love) Dream of a Summer’s Night (elsewhere translated Night’s Dream Summer) Lesson in the End Rape of Ochris Sedan from Verona Smpelan Storm Tame Fierce Totillo Tragedy Creolans (or Tragedy Koriolas) Winter: written by William Shakespeare story.17

Google Translate is notorious for garbling Arabic-to-English translation, but to be fair, a number of the mistakes in the above list stem from typographical errors in the library catalogue itself. A superfluous letter tā’ in front of the Arabic transliteration of “Othello” creates Totillo; a deleted lām turns Lucrece into Ochris; a khā’ typed in place of a kāf, and ­suddenly something is rotten in Danmrkh. Smpelan and Creolans demonstrate the difficulties of transliterating names like Cymbeline and Coriolanus into Arabic, which in its written form represents long vowels with letters and short ones with diacritical markings. For reasons of efficiency and legibility the latter are often left out of texts, leaving readers to mentally fill in short vowels where necessary as best they can. While this may be feasible enough where a newspaper article or textbook is concerned, it can pose serious problems for readers of Shakespearean texts in Arabic, particularly if a translator uses an uncommon or recherché diction to create an archaizing or exalted effect.18 Arabic also uses a diacritical mark (the shadda) to indicate the doubling of consonants and semiconsonants. The lack of this marking in the first word of the Arabic title Sayyidān min Ferūna meant that Google Translate read it as saydan, interpreting that as a transliteration of the English “sedan,” as opposed to recognizing it as a noun (“Two Gentlemen”) in the dual plural form.



One of the other complications of Arabic is the remarkable range of meanings that a single word can bear. The common Arabic word faṣl (pl. fuṣūl), related to the root consonant combination f-ṣ-l, “to separate, divide,” can mean “parting, disjunction, severance, separation, partition,” or “one part of a whole”: a chapter in a book, a movement of a symphony, a class in a school, a season of the year, an act of a play. The exact meaning is dependent upon context, which humans (can) recognize, but apps often cannot. Hence Google Translate brings Macbeth back from Arabic as “a play in five seasons,” or with a subtitle stolen from a bored high school student’s English Composition essay: “Macbeth, the Tragedy of Five Chapters.” Yet somehow the same computerized translation process manages to correctly retransliterate Titus Andronicus and Troilus and Cressida. The issue of translating back and forth between Shakespeare’s English and Arabic is thus by no means a simple one, a formulaic set of obvious one-to-one correspondences. It is, rather, a set of complexities that must be embraced and grappled with so that, to quote British-Kuwaiti playwright Sulayman Al Bassam, “ideas in one language ignite ideas in the other.”19 Yet on the Arabian Peninsula in the twenty-first century, the most pressing linguistic issue is often not how something should be said, but what must not be said. What constitutes acceptable speech and what is censored in public places, on the stage, even in the intimate setting of the classroom—all of this is contentious, particularly in the wake of the 2011 “Arab Spring” protests, the rise of ISIS, the Saudi-led aerial bombardment of Yemen, the 2017 standoff between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and other regional turmoil. Shakespeare, this chapter argues, offers students and professors one means of navigating these linguistic and socio-political complexities.

Willingly to School? Diversity and Division at Universities on the Peninsula The Arabian Peninsula has a young population: more than half its inhabitants are under the age of 25. In Yemen and Saudi Arabia alone, there are a total of 10.8 million young people in the “15–24 year” bracket, crucial in terms of university attendance. Yet, as previously noted, these demographic phenomena are quite recent. The higher education system in the Peninsula is likewise a new development:



well into the second half of the twentieth century, for lack of local educational institutions, elite members of the population often obtained secondary and tertiary degrees abroad. The first universities in each of the Peninsula’s states were founded as shown in Table 1. These universities generally began with small student bodies but soon grew exponentially, as a result of overall population increase and the continuing expansion of access to secondary education.20 In North Yemen, for example, access to secondary-level education vastly increased in the late 1970s, which heightened demand for university places in the 1980s. Sana’a University’s first entering class numbered fewer than 100, but by 1979, in less than a decade, the student body had soared to 4500. By 1987 the University had 17,000 students and in 1991, a mere four years later, the faculty and facilities were struggling to cope with 44,000.21 In this same period, from 1970 to 1991, the overall population of Yemen doubled, from 6 million people to 12 million,22 leaving state-run educational institutions (not to mention health services and infrastructure) unable to keep pace with demand. Private institutions stepped in to fill the void. At its founding in 1994, the University of Science and Technology in Sana’a was Yemen’s first private university23 but is now only one among fifty-eight such. Since Yemeni private institutions remain mostly unregulated,24 the ten public universities in Yemen retain a certain degree of national prestige and reputation. For the purposes of this book, the most interesting of

Table 1  First university in each country on the Arabian Peninsula Year



1957 1966 1970 1975

Saudi Arabia Kuwait North Yemen South Yemen

King Saud University, Riyadh Kuwait University Sana’a University University of Aden (an amalgamation of four pre-existing colleges founded between 1970 and 1975) United Arab Emirates University Qatar University (from a College of Education established 1973) University College of Arts, Science, and Education, which merged in 1986 with Gulf Technical College (established 1968) to become the University of Bahrain Sultan Qaboos University

1976 UAE 1977 Qatar 1979 Bahrain

1986 Oman



Yemeni universities is the public University of Hodeidah, which at least up until the Houthi rebellion of 2014 had a thriving drama and filmmaking programme, and an English department that offered a Shakespeare elective to third and fourth-year majors.25 Other universities in Yemen, public and private, teach Shakespeare more sporadically, with English departments tending to focus on the acquisition of English for practical rather than literary or dramatic purposes, and Arabic departments rarely requiring that the Bard be read in translation. A similar sequence of tertiary educational development (though a much better funded one than Yemen’s) has obtained in much of the Gulf: the tentative establishment of a public university with a small student body, followed by an upsurge in both the population and their demand for university education, resulting in the creation of a network of public universities in major urban areas and, from the 1990s onwards, the establishment of private universities.26 Many of the latter operate on an explicitly American liberal arts curriculum model, like the American University of Dubai (AUD, established 1995), the American University of Sharjah (AUS, 1997) and the American University of Kuwait (AUK, 2003). Others offer particular technical specializations, like the German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech, 2007, in partnership with RWTH Aachen University). Still others are branch campuses of North American and European universities, like Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar (VCUQatar, 1998), Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ, 2003), the New York Institute of Technology in Abu Dhabi (NYIT-AD, 2005), and l’Université de Paris-Sorbonne Abu Dhabi (2006). Saudi Arabia is the exception to what some scholars have described as the “transplant” or “outpost” university phenomenon27: while it currently possesses hundreds of international primary and secondary schools, its tertiary sector maintains resolutely Saudi roots. Its more prestigious campuses, like King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM, founded in 1963 as a college, and granted university status in 1975) and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST, founded in 2009) actively recruit international faculty and students.28 But Saudi Arabia does not currently host any analogue to the liberal-arts-based American Universities or the branch campuses found in the rest of the Gulf. The Kingdom does, however, host six campuses of the Arab Open University (AOU), a private institution with a collection of campuses across the Arab world; AOU is in fact the brainchild of a



Saudi prince, Talal Bin Abdulaziz, known for his vocal criticism of the Saudi monarchy and his call for liberal reforms.29 All public universities in Saudi Arabia are segregated by gender, with the exception of KAUST, which we will examine in more detail in the Conclusion. None of Yemen’s public universities is (though Yemeni women still attend university in significantly smaller numbers than their male counterparts).30 Elsewhere in the Gulf, private universities are usually co-ed, while public universities are mostly segregated in Kuwait and Qatar, mostly not in Bahrain and Oman. In the UAE, the public university picture is gender-complicated. Take for example the case of Zayed University (ZU) in Abu Dhabi, founded in 1998 and originally open only to Emirati women. As of 2008, the university began accepting male students, but maintains gender-segregated campuses on its premises in Abu Dhabi. Meanwhile its new campus in Dubai is used by both sexes, but in segregated classes, which may be taught by faculty members of either gender.31 In practice, segregation at ZU currently places more limitations on its male than its female students, at least in terms of what they can choose to study: the female student body remains larger than the male, and has a larger variety of available classes. Thus, as I learned from a group of ZU students with a penchant for theatre, currently women can study drama but men cannot, as the number of interested male students does not rise to the minimum necessary to run a men’s drama course.32 The student body of Gulf public universities tends to be heavily weighted towards nationals, for whom tuition is free; they are also eligible to apply for government financial aid to cover living expenses. At public Gulf universities like ZU, where English is the language of instruction, international students can apply and request tuition waivers (though if those are not granted, tuition can run in the tens of thousands of dollars per year).33 Other public institutions seem disinterested in soliciting applications from non-Arab potential students—for instance, Kuwait University, where the primary medium of instruction is Arabic and the university admissions webpage is only available in that language.34 Private universities, conversely, tend to have a much larger proportion of international students, and some are remarkably diverse. NYUAD, which specifically states that a student’s nationality has no influence upon the admissions process,35 currently has a student body of 880, representing 113 countries.36 The graduating class of 2014 at the Georgetown



School of Foreign Service in Qatar, though only forty-seven students in total, came from seventeen different nationalities.37 The American Universities of Kuwait and Sharjah likewise have a nationality-blind admissions process; the former has students from around fifty different countries, the latter, around ninety.38 Qatar requires universities to maintain a minimum of 51% Qatari students, and thus the student bodies of Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar39 and Texas A&M in Qatar40 are approximately evenly split between nationals and non-nationals. The plethora of options available to young people in the Gulf today when choosing a university is thus incredibly varied. The increasing diversity of the region’s campuses, the gradual erosion of socially instituted barriers not only between men and women but between members of previously isolated ethnic, class, and sectarian enclaves, who now have opportunities to learn from each other in a university classroom, is potentially transformative. Yet the excitement and the novelty of this phenomenon, and the swift pace of construction of luxurious new campuses, mask certain grave, systemic problems within the region’s educational systems. The most significant of these is surely the lack of a guarantee of academic freedom. Gulf universities, professors, and students are subject to perplexing fluctuations in the degree to which free speech and dissent are tolerated. The penalities for incurring official displeasure are steep. Citizens risk forfeiting rentier benefits like scholarships,41 while for non-citizen faculty members, contracts of employment are tied to visas, and the revocation of visas is a quick fix for “trouble-makers” of all stripes. In the first decade of the twentieth century, the expansion of the Gulf university sector seemed to herald a new era of intellectual debate, of freedom of expression and of the press, of participation in civil society. In 2011, however, the crackdown on the “Arab Spring” protests made clear that in the Gulf, such freedoms are subject to the discretion of governments, and the Gulf university campus was no exception.

“Lions Make Leopards Tame …”: Censorship on Gulf Campuses The mission/vision statements of many tertiary institutions in the Gulf attest their commitment to molding the region’s youth into upstanding citizens and future leaders. Yet, particularly in public universities, these aims often elide into attempts to inculcate a demagogic culture of



admiration for the Gulf’s rulers and royal families. Zayed University, for instance—named for Shaykh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, Emir of Abu Dhabi and first president of the UAE, whose thirty-three-year rule won him the title “Father of the Nation”—holds both past and present rulers of the Emirates up to admiration rather than scrutiny. ZU’s Honor Code urges its students to adhere to the highest of moral standards, not on the grounds that such standards are valuable in and of themselves, but rather as a means to honor Shaykh Zayed’s memory. The code commences by solemnly reminding the students that they attend a university “that carries the name of the beloved and reverend Father of the nation,” and concludes with the phrase, “I promise to honor Sheikh Zayed and to preserve his legacy by following the example set by the wise father of the United Arab Emirates and his beloved son His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Abu Dhabi.” 42 The Kuwait University website notes that a new proposed “university city” in Kuwait has been named for former Emir Sabah al-Salem Al-Sabah.43 Having ruled between 1965 and 1977 as Kuwait’s second Emir, Shaykh Sabah al-Salem led his nation through twelve years of upheaval and strife across the Middle East. Yet it must be noted that he also responded to domestic criticism with authoritarian measures, in 1976 dissolving the Kuwaiti National Assembly and suspending opposition newspapers.44 It would thus be difficult to describe him as a staunch supporter of the freedom of expression and critical thinking associated with institutions of higher learning. Pointing out such incongruities carries with it a certain degree of risk. Across the Gulf, governments are composed predominantly of members of the ruling family, and thus critique of a government decision, however constructively intended, may be interpreted as a personal attack on a ruler or his family members. In Bahrain during the “Arab Spring” of 2011, hundreds of faculty members and university students who took part in opposition demonstrations or posted criticism of the government on social media were detained and interrogated—even when the demonstrations in question took place within the campus itself—and the University’s response suggested that it viewed the participants as having betrayed the King. According to Human Rights Watch, the University of Bahrain suspended or expelled 400 students accused of holding anti-government views or supporting anti-government protests in 2011, and the university now requires all its students to sign a pledge of “complete



loyalty to the leadership of the Kingdom of Bahrain, represented by His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.”45 In 2012 in the Emirates, academic Matthew Duffy and his wife were dismissed without warning or explanation from their respective positions at Zayed University and the Abu Dhabi Education Council. Speculating on the causes that may have led to his dismissal, Duffy cites his comments on the need to revise the UAE’s media laws, his criticism of the limited local media coverage of the arrest and detention of five activists in the UAE on charges of “threatening state security by insulting the country’s leaders,” and his organization of a conference on censorship in the Arab world,46 among other possibilities.47 The decision seems to have originated within the UAE’s security forces, rather than the university, and Duffy stresses that he believes his academic activities were in line with the responsibilities of his position: I didn’t move to the UAE hoping to garner attention and get booted out as a security threat. I observed the landscape, tried to decipher the “red lines” that I shouldn’t cross, and listened to the words of the country’s leaders who constantly stress the importance of education to the development of the nation.48

On 22 February 2013, Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a research fellow at the London School of Economics (LSE), was barred entry into the UAE. Ulrichsen had proposed to give a conference presentation on recent events in Bahrain at the American University of Sharjah (AUS). In its explanation of the incident, the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs cited the fact that “Dr. Coates Ulrichsen has consistently propagated views de-legitimizing the Bahraini monarchy.” When the AUS provost “received orders from the ruler’s office that no discussion of Bahrain was permissible at the upcoming meeting,” the LSE and AUS canceled the conference in protest.49 In the face of events like these, certain aspects of urban planning in the Gulf take on the appearance of a containment strategy. A number of Gulf cities have designated large swathes of urban real estate as hubs or free zones for particular forms of enterprise, commerce, or service provision, like those areas in Dubai called “Healthcare City,” “Internet City,” “Business Bay,” and so on. University campuses in the Gulf, particularly the more recently established ones, tend to be located in these hubs, and outside of the heart of the city. Sharjah, for example, possesses



“University City,” a cluster of eight educational institutions including AUS, in an area of 2.5 mi2 near the Sharjah International Airport. The 5.5 mi2 area in the suburbs of Doha known as “Education City” houses one Qatari and eight foreign universities, together with various research institutes and a science and technology park. In Dubai, the shifting of university campuses from the center to the city limits is particularly obvious: a previous hub called “Knowledge Village,” which housed branch campuses of universities from Wollongong (Australia) to St Petersburg State, right next to city landmarks like the Palm Jumeirah and Dubai Marina, has in recent years been superseded by “Dubai International Academic City” (DIAC), which lies along the city’s current periphery. Most of Knowledge Village’s universities are expected to relocate to DIAC in the coming years. DIAC is orders of magnitude larger than its predecessor, and can offer expanding universities more space and newer facilities on favorable terms. The concentration of institutions of higher learning in a single place, and the designation of that location as a “City” within the city, connotes a certain degree of independence, of focused dedication to the acquisition of knowledge. But it also seems to imply a desire on the part of the government to detach universities from the urban fabric, deliberately isolating academic inquiry—and its potentially troublesome consequences—from daily life in the rest of the city. No longer the ivory tower, but the ivory containment chamber.

“But Not Change His Spots”: Shakespeare and the Circumvention of Censorship By and large, faculty members and students across the Gulf, both national and international, develop strategies for avoiding trouble and for navigating the “red lines” that divide acceptable from unacceptable speech, critique, and behavior—lines which are not fixed, but rather vary from country to country and across urban centers, universities, and classrooms, as well as over time, often in response to socio-political turmoil. In many cases, the strategy may simply be one of avoidance of potentially sensitive topics. Mark Thompson, an assistant professor of Middle East Studies at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, recently noted that at KFUPM, religion—particularly the Sunni–Shi‘ite divide—is a “no-go area” in terms of class discussion.50 This despite KFUPM’s status as a leading



university in the region, fostering objective scientific research in fields like energy technology and engineering, and despite the fact that the university vaunts a merit-based admissions process that brings a diverse student body to campus from across Saudi Arabia without regard to sect or class.51 A more provocative strategy adopted by university professors is that of connecting a given text, with various degrees of obliqueness, to fraught contemporary issues or debates—and it is here that Shakespeare proves particularly useful. Repeatedly, in interviews I conducted across the Gulf, professors cited their use of Shakespeare as a springboard for classroom discussion about issues that are otherwise difficult to enter into, such as gender discrimination, intergenerational conflict, social marginalization, corruption and misrule, love, physical attraction, homosexuality. In theory, any literary text or performance could serve this function, providing students with a set of characters and a plot upon which to project their own ideas, emotions, and evaluations. Yet in practice Shakespeare seems particularly efficacious, at least in part because the global cultural cachet of the Bard helps to shield both students and professors from reproach when discussing the franker, bawdier, more provocative elements of his work, and when drawing parallels between themes in Shakespeare’s plays and their own social context. Shakespeare is also often, though not always, studied in English within English departments, which may help to shield students and professors to a certain extent from interference and surveillance. The following section briefly explores four examples of Shakespearerelated classroom practice: one from the English department of a private liberal arts university in Kuwait, one from the Arab Open University of Kuwait, one from the drama department of a public university in Oman, and one from NYUAD. These are all unique in terms of context, content and methods and are intended as “representative” only insofar as they provide a glimpse into the variety of approaches to studying and teaching Shakespeare across the Gulf. The Shakespeare course in the American University of Kuwait (AUK)’s English department had not been offered for several years before James Lambert’s arrival in 2012, and students registered for it in droves: the department caps class enrollment at thirty-six, but demand for the course so far exceeded this that the department had to offer two sections. Students had previously studied samples of Shakespeare’s work within survey and British literature courses but told Lambert, “we



kept wondering when we were going to take a Shakespeare class!”—“as if Shakespeare were the key that unlocks the world of English studies,” Lambert noted wryly.52 English majors in the Gulf, he observed, like many of their counterparts throughout the world, feel that their major is incomplete without study of Shakespeare, so he put together a challenging syllabus: Hamlet, Much Ado, Julius Caesar, The Merchant of Venice, and The Winter’s Tale, choices inflected by personal preference, local context, and student expectations. Lambert encouraged his students to take advantage of “service learning” opportunities, in which knowledge gained in the classroom is applied to benefit the community at large. For example, when Alison Shan Price’s One World Actors Centre in Kuwait staged Julius Caesar in 2013, Lambert’s students participated in a “green show” before the main performance, wearing Roman garb, interacting with the audience, and explaining elements of the performance that they had studied in class. Some also participated in the production, filling out crowd scenes and the like. (Though tentative at first, AUK student participation in One World productions has increased significantly since, as noted in Chapter 7.) Lambert did not shy away from addressing more provocative elements of Shakespeare’s work in class, though he noted that his students’ anxiety seemed to center more around references to sex rather than, say, to politics or religion. Observing his students’ mixture of discomfort and delight during classroom discussions of sexually allusive puns in Much Ado About Nothing, Lambert emphasized that each of them was free to understand the lines as she or he chose, and to foray at will across the spectrum from the innocent to the “really dirty”—an approach that he believed emphasized students’ individual responsibility and personal judgment, and the range of interpretive possibilities to which a Shakespearean text is open. I had one student who said—and it was like she was trying to warn me—“You know, we don’t usually talk about these things in this culture.” And I said, “Well, you don’t have to continue talking about these things—but Shakespeare talked about them.” That was all I said. And she responded, “Yeah, that’s true”—and that was that … [Basing a classroom discussion around] Shakespeare protects you if you want to talk about things like female sexuality, or racism and discrimination, or patriarchy.53



Scholar and author Shahd Alshammari, currently an assistant professor of English at the Gulf University of Science and Technology (GUST) in Kuwait, accepted a teaching position in the Arab Open University (AOU)’s Kuwait branch in early 2015, after completing her PhD at the University of Kent in the UK. She recalls her anxieties about the segment of her English literature class that required her to teach Shakespeare to AOU’s non-traditional student body, which included significant numbers of students from underprivileged backgrounds, and of older students, who had returned to the classroom after years or sometimes decades of workplace experience. “I would look at the men in traditional dress, in their forties or their fifties, and wonder if they were going to accept someone who was both young and female as a professor, as an authoritative voice. And then I would ask myself, ‘How am I going to teach them Shakespeare?’”54 A light bulb went on, she explains, when she realized that both Desdemona and Othello are marginalized figures within their society, and that as such the characters’ experiences might resonate with some of the students’ own. She shared her own background: the fact that she had been born to a Palestinian mother and a Bedouin father and raised in Kuwait, she told her students, allowed her to identify with Othello’s position, in that she desires to be valued as a member of Kuwaiti society yet senses that she is not fully or universally accepted as Kuwaiti. As they continued to discuss the play, a number of her students shared their own anecdotes of instances in which they had felt shut out of circles of privilege and opportunity—and thus they began to make sense of Othello’s emotions, his feelings of betrayal, uncertainty, jealousy, and murderous anger. To her female students in particular, Alshammari posed the question of whether they could relate to Desdemona, as a woman “struggl[ing] to assert her identity in a society that barely gave women any social standing”: The girls in the class began to speak out. Some supported Desdemona’s decision to defy her father, choice to marry for love (rather than an arranged marriage), while other students read Desdemona’s defiance as ungratefulness to father figures and portrayed a lack of familial respect. The debates were fruitful and endless. Most of my students began to see commonalities between sixteenth-century English culture and modern day Kuwait. Marriage laws, expectations, and the difficulty of breaking free from patriarchal authority—those were but a few resemblances we discussed.55



Despite the feeling of intimidation that the task of teaching Othello in Kuwait had originally sparked, Alshammari now recalls it as rewarding both for her and for the students, in terms of the richness of the classroom observations and debates that it provoked. At Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) in Muscat, Oman, a threecredit Shakespeare course is a requirement for English majors.56 But across the campus in the Department of Theatre Arts, which offers minor and elective courses (but not a major) to students in the SQU College of Arts and Social Sciences, department head Fatma Al-Shukaili teaches Shakespeare’s work in Arabic translation, and finds that his plays lend themselves surprisingly well to discussion of contemporary social issues in Oman. Holder of a PhD from Indiana University at Bloomington, Al-Shukaili teaches a number of courses, including “Studies in Shakespeare,” which examines the Bard’s works in Arabic—a rarity57 among the professors and departments with whom I spoke while conducting this research, but a choice that opens Shakespeare to students with less fluency in English, and/or who have chosen other majors. One of the texts Al-Shukaili incorporates into her syllabi is The Taming of the Shrew as translated in 1968 by Egyptian intellectual Suhayr Al-Qalamawi, the first female translator of Shakespeare into Arabic. Al-Qalamawi’s translation is arguably a feminist adaptation of the play, one which shines a light on the “impossible odds” stacked against women in patriarchal societies.58 Al-Shukaili recounts59 that at SQU, which permits co-ed classrooms—though with a division between male and female seating areas60—Al-Qalamawi’s translation of The Taming of the Shrew generated an unprecedented vocal response from her female students, who drew unflattering parallels between the “taming” of Kate and the constrictions that conservative elements of contemporary Omani society attempt to place on women. Male students in the class responded, sparking an uncommonly fervent classroom debate. Al-Shukaili’s experience thus demonstrates that Shakespeare can play the role of provocateur in Arabic translation as well as in English. Arguably the tertiary institution in the Gulf with the greatest degree of academic freedom, together with the financial resources necessary to attract an elite crop of students, is NYUAD. The experiences of Rubén Polendo (director of Theater Mitu’s Hamlet/UR-Hamlet) in teaching



Shakespeare at NYUAD reflect that university’s unique composition: each of the fifteen students in his seminar hailed from a different country, and his pedagogical strategy was to help each find his or her particular “access points” into the text. For one student that point might be Shakespeare’s language, for another, a character, an image or a historical or geographical context. “The surprise to me,” he recalled, upon arriving in Abu Dhabi from New York, “was how much Shakespeare resonated— in a really major way.”61 An associate professor and head of the university’s theatre program, Polendo has taught Shakespeare as part of a number of courses, including “Reinventions of Love,” the syllabus for which included Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Othello. (Though it may seem an obvious text for a syllabus of this title, Polendo opted against including Romeo and Juliet since so many of his students had already studied it in secondary school—a striking commonality amidst their diverse backgrounds.) His syllabi, both for this class and for his “Making Theatre” course, follow a strict chronological timeline except for Shakespeare, which he teaches alongside twentieth-century and contemporary texts to emphasize Shakespeare’s continuing relevance and impact. In his pedagogy Polendo has encountered challenges related to the regional context: for example, female Arab students’ refusal to act out scenes that involve physical contact with a male partner, expressing a preference to take a passive role, or to sit out the activity as a spectator. “It’s an issue,” Polendo reasons, “and we are in an Arabic country where it’s part of the belief system. So it becomes an issue that we need to consider, not to ‘resolve’ it, but to truly work with it, in a classroom environment.” His solution? Encourage students to take responsibility for finding a partner of the same gender when necessary. “I always say, you need to take the lead to find another woman to be your partner, you have a say over this. That way they take a proactive stance, rather than just saying ‘I can’t!’” Other students utilize Polendo’s classroom as a safe space, where a relaxing of the normal rules applies: students have told him that they’re willing to come into physical contact with students of the opposite sex in the context of a classroom theatrical exercise, provided it is clear that outside of that space, in public, on the rest of campus, the rules are back in force.



Global Shakespeare and the Global Network University The institution where Polendo teaches is an intruiging experiment in higher education within the Gulf. NYUAD is not exactly a branch campus, nor is it a “transplant,” nor a partnership between a local institution and NYU.62 NYU prefers the term “portal campus,” and if the phrase’s sci-fi ring suggests students and faculty teleporting between Abu Dhabi and Washington Square (or Shanghai, where NYU has another such portal), that is no accident: NYUAD is a crucial step towards the attainment of a vision NYU President John Sexton describes as a “global network university,” whose students and faculty have opportunities to spend extended periods in New York and/or at the “portals”—which Sexton has described as “an opportunity to transform the university and frankly, the world.”63 NYUAD possesses material resources that would make most US universities green with envy: the establishment of the campus entailed a $50 million grant to NYU from the government of Abu Dhabi, which also paid for the construction of the Saadiyat Island campus and “entirely bankrolls” the university.64 The elite 2% of applying students who are accepted are eligible for loan-free government scholarships of over $60,000 per year, which include a stipend and two round-trip airline tickets home.65 NYUAD is also remarkable in terms of the resources it devotes to the study of Shakespeare. In addition to offering undergraduate courses like Polendo’s in which Shakespeare is one facet of the syllabus, NYUAD faculty teach a course called “Global Shakespeare” and host conferences on topics like “Shakespeare as Global Cultural Heritage,” which brought theatre practitioners and academics from around the globe, including world-renowned Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt, to campus in mid-April 2015. Since 2013 NYUAD has also sponsored three student Global Shakespeare festivals (examined in more detail in Chapter 3), bringing student groups from around the world to campus to perform and participate in theatre workshops. NYUAD has also arranged Shakespeare-themed public events on topics ranging from “Arab Shakespeare: Three Lessons,” by scholar Margaret Litvin,66 to “King Lear: Beyond Language and Nation,” by director Tim Supple and an ensemble of international performers.67 And of course, by sponsoring Theater Mitu’s residency, NYUAD supported the creation and



production of Hamlet/Ur-Hamlet. In short, of all the university campuses across the Arabian Peninsula, NYUAD has demonstrated the largest commitment to creating knowledge about Shakespeare in the classroom and across campus, and promoting research and scholarship in the field. Yet even at NYUAD there are problematic issues lurking below the surface. Some of these are inherent in the satellite campus model, which has been searchingly critiqued by Eng-Beng Lim as a neoliberal, neocolonial endeavor in “corporate-style knowledge production, [and] academic outsourcing.”68 Others issues are more specific to NYUAD. From 2008 to 2014 the university was based in downtown Abu Dhabi, but then moved to a newly constructed campus on Saadiyat Island, making it even more isolated from the city proper than DIAC and the Gulf’s other “education hubs” are from their urban fabric. As members of a theatre collective that spent the Spring 2015 semester in residence at the university described it in the NYUAD journal Electra Street, Saadiyat is 40 to 50 years away from being a viable place to live, in the sense of having any relationship to its immediate surroundings and community … We believe in the larger mission of offering this type of education, especially here in this particular spot, but … the biggest drawback or failing is the idea of putting a university like this on a luxury island— because once that decision is made, it doesn’t matter how well you do it, the cards are stacked against you. Financially, because a luxury island never will be open to the public—we all have to be frank about that.69

Worse, a series of investigations detailed the exploitation of migrant workers on Saadiyat Island’s many construction projects, which include the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and the Louvre Abu Dhabi as well as the NYUAD campus. Human Rights Watch was first to blow the whistle in 2009,70 after which NYU and the Executive Affairs Authority of Abu Dhabi promulgated a groundbreaking set of labor standards.71 But subsequent investigations by The Guardian and The Observer in 201372 and The New York Times in 201473 suggested that these standards were not being enforced, noting that workers continued to earn subsistence wages, were still living in squalid, overcrowded accommodation, and that some had been arrested, beaten, and deported after striking for better working conditions. Still others recounted that their employers had confiscated their passports, rendering them unable to leave their jobs or the



country. The contrast between the luxurious campus, the well-compensated faculty, and the generously supported students on the one hand, and the laborers in modern day indentured servitude on the other, was glaring.74 To its credit, the university has pledged to compensate workers who did not receive the wages specified by its labor standards,75 but the series of scandals suggests that NYU failed to fully understand the socio-economic nexus that it was entering into in Abu Dhabi. Perhaps part of the problem is the relentless focus on global rather than local contexts and concerns. I remember being surprised at the indifference evinced by some of the attendees of the “Shakespeare as Global Cultural Heritage” conference at the news that a local community theatre troupe in Abu Dhabi was rehearsing Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, and would be performing in the days after the conference. Though numerous factors, including assumptions about the production values of community theatre performances, may have contributed to this, it nevertheless suggests an intellectual blind spot, a disinterest in the prosaic local, in favor of the alluring and assumedly exotic global. Yet even a “Global Network University” that offers “Global Shakespeare” courses needs to be anchored to some extent within its own locale. The university’s relationship to the prevailing political and intellectual contexts of the Emirates is likewise exceptionalist rather than integrated. NYUAD currently operates under a guarantee of academic freedom personally extended by Shaykh Muhammad bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. Thus within the bounds of the campus, no intellectual endeavor, no controversial topic is off limits (at least for as long as the Shaykh’s personal guarantee continues in force).76 In a country and a region in which freedom of expression is not a given, this heady atmosphere of unfettered intellectual curiosity and debate is potentially transformative. But the question is how and to what degree it will begin to spread beyond the bounds of the campus. The location of the university on an island outside the city proper suggests that, at least in some quarters, the hope is that any destablizing intellectual energies will remain contained there. NYUAD thus encapsulates the paradoxes, the possibilities and the precariousness of higher education initiatives in the Gulf. The phrase quoted in this chapter’s epigraph—“Ignorance is God’s curse, knowledge the wing wherewith which we fly to heaven”—comes from Henry VI Part II, and it is a sentiment that would resonate with the ethical



teachings of many of the Gulf’s communities. But Shakespeare gives this line not to a philosopher in the throes of contemplation but rather to the Lord Saye, a minor nobleman pleading for his life with the bloodthirsty peasant revolutionary Jack Cade (4.7.72–3)—a reminder of the intimate links between Shakespeare’s work, repression, and violence, with which this chapter began. To Cade’s revolutionaries (to whom we owe the phrase “First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers!” 4.2.78), literacy is a sign of complicity in the political and economic systems against which they are rebelling. They have already killed a clerk for the crime of knowing how to write his own name (“hang him with his pen and ink-horn about his neck!” 4.2.108– 9). And despite—or rather because of—Saye’s command of noble and moving rhetoric about the divine value of knowledge, he meets a similar fate at Cade’s hands. Knowledge poses a threat to autocracy, to the arbitrary execution of power. But the reverse is also true—as scholars and students across the Gulf are increasingly aware. The study of Shakespeare can offer one means of circumventing restrictions on freedom of expression, and of creating micro-communities within the university where diverse perspectives can be aired and discussed. The performance of Shakespeare on university campuses, as we shall see in the next chapter, offers another.


1. See Celik’s “Becoming ‘Hamlet,’” pp. 156–63, esp. pp. 157–8, for an explanation of the process the troupe used to create these intensely workshopped “moments of performance.” 2.  For a graphic representation of the production’s layout, see Nelmes, “Theater Mitu’s version of Hamlet.” 3. Dight, “The Play’s the Thing.” 4. Pivirotto and Gatto, Hamlet-UR Hamlet. 5. On 18 April 2015, as a participant in the NYUAD “Shakespeare as Global Cultural Heritage” conference. 6. Harris, “The Monster of Suburbia.” 7. See for example Sylvester, “Investigators tell of grisly crimes,” or Murphy, “BTK Serial Killer.” 8. Stucki, “Hamlet/UR-Hamlet,” p. 153. 9.  She mentions playing Shylock and Rosalind in secondary school, and later, at Cairo University, Desdemona and Hermia. See Selaiha, “Reconstructing the Local,” p. 45.



10. Ibid., pp. 47–8. 11. Ibid., pp. 49–50. 12.  Tanṣīr might also be translated as “Christianization” or “conversion to Christianity,” but considering that this text was published in Riyadh, and in the context of Saudi Arabia where conversion from Islam to another faith is prohibited by law as apostasy, a capital crime, the less provocative “baptism” seems the correct choice. 13.  The former by Raja Al-Naqqash; the latter translated by Maha Raf‘at ‘Utfa. 14. Bradley, translated by Hanna Elias; Kott, by Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, the celebrated Palestinian-Iraqi translator of Shakespeare. 15. In Selaiha’s Kūmīdiyātān ‘aṣr Shaksbīr. 16. Respectively, Igyal, Ṣa‘ūbāt; Aoun, Mawqif; Atman, al-Klāsīkīya; Hassan, Antūnīū wa Klīūbātrā; Al-Safini, al-Ta’thīr al-Shaksbīri. 17.  Bilateral Henry IV = Henry IV, Parts I and II As Whatever Fascinates = As You Like It An Eye for an Eye = Measure for Measure Lesson in the End = All’s Well that Ends Well Tame Fierce = The Taming of the Shrew Disappointed Quest Lovers (aka ‘Torment Lost’) = Love ’s Labour’s Lost Storm = The Tempest Winter: written by William Shakespeare story = The Winter’s Tale. 18. A case in point: at a June 2015 workshop run by celebrated UK director Tim Supple at the University of Warwick, in which actors from around the globe were reciting King Lear in a sonorous mélange of languages, I offered to loan an Algerian actress my copy of Jabra Ibrahim Jabra’s 1968 Arabic translation of the play. Though the actress in question speaks Arabic (and French) fluently, when she looked at the text she sighed, “I can’t read this properly,” as it was written without diacriticals. Only by taking it back to her hotel room that evening, and laboriously consulting an Arabic dictionary to fill in the short vowels, was she able the following day to recite the lines as they were written. 19. Al-Bassam, The Arab Shakespeare Trilogy. 20. Though this chapter focuses on Shakespeare as studied at universities on the Peninsula, it should be noted that for many of the region’s students, academic study of Shakespeare’s work begins in secondary or even elementary school. A British Council/RSC report commissioned in 2011 found that 50% of the world’s schoolchildren study Shakespeare, including in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.



21. Selvaratnam and Regel, “Higher education.” 22. World Bank population data for Yemen. 23. Sana’a also had a private Salafist religious school called al-Iman University, established in 1993 by Shaykh Abd al-Majid al-Zindani, who has been accused by the US government of raising funds for terrorist organizations. This institution was closed by the Houthis in 2014, and it is unclear whether it will reopen. 24. See Darem, “Yemen’s Fast-Growing Private Universities,” and Al-Khayat, “Unregulated Boom.” 25. “Department Courses (third year),” Hodeidah University webpage. 26. A number of these are unaccredited, for-profit institutions, which have provoked concerns about their educational standards; this chapter focuses only on internationally accredited private universities in the Gulf. 27. See Kleypas and McDougall, The American-style University, which defines “transplant” universities as foreign institutions that apply to US agencies for their accreditation, thus shaping their curricula and administration to US models, like AUK and AUS. These stand in contrast to branch (or “satellite,” or “outpost”) campuses of Western universities. 28. KAUST has also established partnerships with Stanford University, the University of Texas, Austin, and the University of California, Berkeley, with benefits to the American partners in the tens of millions of dollars. See Lim, “Performing the Global University,” p. 29. 29. See for example Al-Rasheed, “An Assessment,” pp. 16–17. 30. Women represent only about a quarter of university students in Yemen, whereas in universities in Qatar, the UAE and Kuwait, female students slightly outnumber males. Cf. ICEF Monitor, “Education,” and Darem, “Yemeni Women.” 31. “Frequently asked questions,” Zayed University webpage. 32. Zayed University students, interview. 33. ZU, for example, charges international students tuition of over $20,000 per year. “Admission requirements for international students,” Zayed University webpage. 34. In practice, the webpage may not be available in any language, as my repeated attempts to access the Arabic language page met with server error messages (“Admissions and Registration,” Kuwait University webpage). 35. “Admissions FAQs,” NYUAD website. 36. “Meet Our Students,” NYUAD website. 37. “The Class of 2014,” Georgetown University SFS-Q. 38. “About Admissions,” AUK website, and internal report on student body diversity; “Admissions: Undergraduate Programs: Apply” and “AUS Cultural Diversity,” AUS website.



39. Rajakumar, “Challenges.” 40. Telafici, “Never the Twain.” 41. See for example the experience of three Bahraini students who posted pro-democracy messages on social media accounts: Human Rights Watch, “Bahrain: Reinstate.” 42. “ZU Honor Code.” 43. “Sabah al Salem University City.” 44. Commins, pp. 214–15. 45. Human Rights Watch, “Bahrain: Reinstate.” 46. The activists have since been pardoned. See Duffy’s interview with Safdar, “The UAE Five are free.” 47. Duffy, “Top 18 things.” 48. Ibid. 49. Sluglett, “Letter.” 50.  Thompson, “Saudi Youth.” Thompson, who teaches political science courses at KFUPM, does succeed in moderating classroom discussion of certain politically sensitive topics: the contrast between absolute and democratic forms of government, the image Saudi Arabia projects on the world stage, and so forth. 51. At the time of writing, KFUPM was beginning to discuss the admission of female students. 52. Lambert, conversation. 53. Lambert, conversation. 54. Alshammari, conversation. 55. Alshammari, “Teaching Othello in Kuwait.” 56. “English Language and Literature,” Sultan Qaboos University. 57.  In 2009, students at Zayed University and United Arab Emirates University studied Sulayman Al-Bassam’s Richard III: An Arab Tragedy in Arabic, though Al-Bassam’s work is a creative adaptation rather than a word-for-word translation of Shakespeare’s play. See the discussion of Al-Bassam’s work in Chapter 7 and Seaman, “Shakespeare studied in Arabic.” 58. David Moberly of the University of Minnesota first brought Al-Qalamawi’s translation to my attention. The “impossible odds” reference is taken from the obituary published in The Independent upon Al-Qalamawi’s death in 1997 (Darwish, “Obituary”). 59. Al-Shukaili, interview. 60. “Campus Profile,” Sultan Qaboos University webpage. 61. Polendo, interview. 62. My thanks to Suzanne Wofford for bringing this distinction to my attention at the “Theatre Without Borders” conference, Paris, June 2015, and for clarifying aspects of it in an email, 13 December 2015.



63. Allen, “NYU’s Perilous Adventure.” 64.  The quoted phrase is slightly modified from Allen’s description of NYUAD as “being entirely bankrolled by the government of oil-rich Abu Dhabi.” 65. Allen, “NYU’s Perilous Adventure.” 66.  11 April 2016. Video of Litvin’s lecture is available on YouTube at 67.  25 November 2015, with performers Helen Hye-Yeon Hong (South Korea), Finbar Lynch (Ireland), Fabio Mangolini (Italy), all of whom were participants in the King Lear workshops at the University of Warwick, mentioned in n. 18. 68. Lim, op. cit., p. 42. 69. Gluck, “An Interview,” pp. 58–9. 70. Human Rights Watch, “The Island of Happiness.” 71. “Statement of Labor Values,” NYUAD. 72. Carrick and Batty, “In Abu Dhabi.” 73. Kaminer and O’Driscoll, “Workers at NYU’s Abu Dhabi.” 74. Sorkin, “N.Y.U. Crisis.” 75. Sexton, “Email to NYU Community.” 76. This guarantee did not extend to NYU professor Andrew Ross, whose work on labor issues in the UAE caused him to be barred from boarding a flight to Abu Dhabi in March 2015 (see Redden, “Criticism Unwelcome”).

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Allen, Charlotte. “NYU’s Perilous Adventure in Abu Dhabi.” Minding the Campus, 6 July 2010. nyus_perilous_adventure_in_abu/. Al-Naqqash, Raja. Nisā’ Shaksbīr (Shakespeare’s Women). Cairo, 2005. Al-Rasheed, Madawi. “An Assessment of Saudi Political, Religious, and Media Expansion.” Kingdom Without Borders: Saudi Arabia’s Political, Media, and Religious Frontiers. London: Hurst, 2008. Al-Safini, Nura Abdullah Maqboul. al-Ta’thīr al-Shaksbīri fī-masraḥīyat Bā Kathīr: dirāsa muqārana (Shakespeare’s Influence on the Plays of Ba Kathir: A Comparative Study). Thesis, Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University, Riyadh, 1994. AlShammari, Shahd. Conversation with the author, Salmiya, Kuwait, 6 March 2017. AlShammari, Shahd. “Teaching Othello in Kuwait.” The Atrium: A Journal of Academic Voices, Fall 2014. Al-Shukaili, Fatma. Interview with the author at Sultan Qaboos University, 9 March 2015. ‘Atman, Ahmad. al-Klāsīkīya fī-‘aṣr al-nahḍa wa ’l-turāth al-mutajaddid fī-masraḥīyāt Shaksbīr wa Rāsīn (Classicism During the Nahda, and Heritage Renewed in the Plays of Shakespeare and Racine). Cairo: University of Cairo Press, 1999. Aoun, Hassan. Mawqif Jurj Barnard Shaw min Shaksbīr: ma‘a ishāra khāṣṣa ilā tanawwul al-kitābayn li-shakhṣīyatay Qayṣar wa Klīūbātrā (George Bernard Shaw’s Opinions on Shakespeare, with Special Attention to Each Author’s Presentation of the Characters of Caesar and Cleopatra). Kuwait, 1978. “AUS Cultural Diversity Highlighted at the Global Day.” American University of Sharjah Website, 19 March 2015. aus_cultural_diversity_highlighted_at_the_global_day. ‘Awad, Ramsis. Shaksbīr wa ’l-Yahūd (Shakespeare and the Jews). Beirut, 1999. Borges, Jorge Luis. “La memoria de Shakespeare.” Arabic Translation by Maha Raf‘at ‘Utfa. Damascus, 2001. Bradley, A.C. Shakespearean Tragedy. Arabic Translation by Hanna Elias. Cairo, 1960. British Council. “World Shakespeare Festival—Education.” British Council Website, 2012.​ ration/world-shakespeare-festival-education. “Campus Profile.” Sultan Qaboos University Webpage, 2016. http://www.squ. Carrick, Glenn, and David Batty. “In Abu Dhabi, They Call It Happiness Island. But for the Migrant Workers, It Is a Place of Misery.” The Guardian, 22 December 2013.



Celik, Aysan. “Becoming ‘Hamlet.’” Electra Street: A Journal of the Arts and Humanities, New York University Abu Dhabi, Issue 2 (February 2015), 156–163. “The Class of 2014.” Year in Review: Annual Report 2013–2014. Georgetown University School of Foreign Service-Qatar, 2014. Commins, David. The Gulf States: A Modern History. London: I.B. Tauris, 2014. Darem, Faisal. “Yemeni Women’s Uphill Struggle for Education.” Al-Fanar, 12 June 2014. Darem, Faisal. “Yemen’s Fast-Growing Private Universities Stir Debate.” Al-Fanar, 27 January 2014. yemens-fast-growing-private-universities-stir-debate/. Darwish, Adel. “Obituary: Soheir el-Qalamawy.” The Independent, 16 June 1997. “Department Courses (Third Year)” (in Arabic). Hodeidah University Webpage, 2017. Available via College of Literature/College Departments/Faculty of Arts/English Studies, from Dight, Clare. “The Play’s the Thing, or Is It?” The National Abu Dhabi, 11 April 2015. 0411/281479274936710. Duffy, Matt J. “Top 18 Things That May Have Gotten Me Booted from the UAE.” Blog Posting, 28 August 2012. top-18-things-that-may-have-gotten-me-booted-from-the-uae/. “English Language and Literature Degree and Study Plan.” Sultan Qaboos University, 2010. Farag, Alfred. Shaksbīr fī-Zamānihi wa fī-Zamāninā (Shakespeare in His Time and Ours). Cairo, 2004. “Frequently Asked Questions About Admission to Zayed University.” Zayed University Webpage, 2017. office/faqs.aspx#male_fem. Gluck, Diana. “An Interview with Slavs and Tatars.” Electra Street: A Journal of the Arts and Humanities, New York University Abu Dhabi, Issue 2 (Fall 2015), 58–59. Harris, Paul. “The Monster of Suburbia.” The Guardian, 6 March 2005. Hassan, Abd al-Hakim. Antūnīū wa Klīūbātrā: dirāsa muqārana bayn Shaksbīr wa Shawqī (Antony and Cleopatra: A Comparative Study of Shakespeare and Shawqi). Jeddah, 1987. Hawi, Iliya. Shaksbīr wa al-Masraḥ al-Alīzabītī (Shakespeare and Elizabethan Theatre). Beirut, 1980.



Human Rights Watch. “Bahrain: Reinstate Ousted Students, Faculty.” News Report, 24 September 2011. bahrain-reinstate-ousted-students-faculty. Human Rights Watch. “The Island of Happiness: Exploitation of Migrant Workers on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi.” Report, 19 May 2009. h t t p s : / / w w w. h r w. o r g / r e p o r t / 2 0 0 9 / 0 5 / 1 9 / i s l a n d - h a p p i n e s s / exploitation-migrant-workers-saadiyat-island-abu-dhabi. ICEF Monitor. “Education Enrolment Trends of Women in the Middle East,” 8 July 2014. Igyal, Zakiya. Sa‘ubat tarjamat al-nuss al-masrahī: dirasa tahlīlīya wa muqarana min khilal tarjamat Hamlit li-Wilyam Shaksbīr (The Difficulties of Translating Theatrical Texts: A Comparative Analysis Using the Translation of Hamlet as a Case Study). PhD thesis, supervised by Mukhtar al-Mahmasaji, University of Algeria, 2003. Kaminer, Ariel, and Sean O’Driscoll. “Workers at NYU’s Abu Dhabi Site Faced Harsh Conditions.” The New York Times, 18 May 2014. http://www. Kleypas, Kathryn L., and James I. McDougall, eds. The American-Style University at Large: Transplants, Outposts, and the Globalization of Higher Education. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2012. Kott, Jan. Shakespeare Our Contemporary. Arabic Translation by Jabra Ibrahim Jabra. Baghdad, 1979. Lambert, James. Conversation with the Author via Skype, 4 October 2015. Lim, Eng-Bem. “Performing the Global University.” Social Text, 27:4.101 (Winter 2009), 25–44. Litvin, Margaret. “Arab Shakespeare: Three Lessons.” Public Lecture at New York University Abu Dhabi, 11 April 2016. Video Available at https://www. “Meet Our Students.” New York University Abu Dhabi Webpage, 2017. http:// Murphy, Hannah. “BTK Serial Killer: What We Learned from Confessional New Book.” Rolling Stone Magazine, 12 September 2016. http:// www.r e/news/btk-serial-killer-inside-con​ fessional-new-book-w439143. Nelmes, Stephen. “Theater Mitu’s Version of Hamlet at NYUAD – Graphic.” The National, 12 April 2015. theater-mitu-s-version-of-hamlet-at-nyuad-graphic-1.56718. Pivirotto, Adam, and Chani Gatto. Hamlet-UR Hamlet (documentary film), 2015.



Polendo, Rubén. Interview with the author via Skype, 9 November 2015. Rajakumar, Mohanalakshmi. “Challenges in Exporting American Pedagogy: ‘We Didn’t Think About the Liberal Arts Classes.’” Presentation at the Gulf Studies Symposium, American University of Kuwait, 15 March 2015. Redden, Elizabeth. “Criticism Unwelcome.” Inside Higher Ed, 30 March 2015. Republished via at higher_ed/2015/03/nyu_has_an_abu_dhabi_campus_but_the_government_ still_blocked_professor_andrew.html. “Sabah al Salem University City.” Kuwait University Website, 2017. http://ssuc. Safdar, Aenella. “The UAE Five Are Free, But Is the Media?” Doha Center for Media Freedom, 29 November 2011. uae-five-are-free-media. Seaman, Anna. “Shakespeare Studied in Arabic.” The National, 5 March 2009. Selaiha, Nehad. 1988. Kūmīdiyātān ‘aṣr Shaksbīr (Two Comedies from the Age of Shakespeare). Cairo: General Egyptian Book Authority, 1988. Selaiha, Nehad. “Reconstructing the Local: A Personal Narrative.” In The Local Meets the Global in Performance, edited by Pirkko Koski and Melissa Sihra. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010, 41–64. Selvaratnam, Viswanathan and Omporn L. Regel. “Higher Education in the Republic of Yemen: the University of Sana’a.” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper Series No. 676, 1991. Sexton, John. “Email to NYU Community on Thoughts on the Report from Nardello & Co. on Construction Labor on Saadiyat Island.” New York University Website, 16 April 2015. email-to-nyu-community-on-thoughts-on-the-report-from-nardello-and-coon-construction-labor-on-saadiyat-island.html. Sluglett, Peter. “Letter Concerning the Blacklisting of Dr. Kristian Coates Ulrichsen,” 28 February 2013, posted on http://www.jadaliyya. com/pages/index/10488/letter-concerning-the-uae-blacklisting-of-dr.-kris. Sorkin, Andrew Ross. “N.Y.U. Crisis in Abu Dhabi Stretches to Wall Street.” The New York Times, 26 May 2014. http://dealbook.nytimes. com/2014/05/26/n-y-u-crisis-in-abu-dhabi-stretches-to-wall-street/?_r=0. “Statement of Labor Values.” New York University Abu Dhabi, 2010. http:// Stucki, Arianna. “Hamlet/UR-Hamlet: Beyond Hamletmachine.” Electra Street: A Journal of the Arts and Humanities, New York University Abu Dhabi, Issue 2 (Fall 2015), 146–155.



Sylvester, Ron. “Investigators Tell of Grisly Crimes, Rader’s Delight.” The Wichita Eagle, 18 August 2005. Telafici, Michael. “Never the Twain Shall Meet: Liberal Arts Courses and Local Culture at an IBC in Qatar.” Presentation at the Gulf Studies Symposium, American University of Kuwait, 15 March 2015. Thompson, Mark C. “Saudi Youth and Societal Transformation: Aspirations and Challenges,” Ghazi Al-Gosaibi Memorial Lecture at the British-Saudi Society, London, 5 November 2015. Wazzan, Adnan Muhammad Abd al-Aziz. Fikr al-tanṣīr fī-masraḥīyāt Shaksbīr (The Concept of Baptism in Shakespeare’s Plays). Riyadh, 1998. Wells, Stanley, and Gary Taylor, general editors, with John Jowett and William Montgomery, eds. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 2005. Zayed University Students. Interview with the Author in Abu Dhabi, 28 February 2015. “ZU Honor Code.” Zayed University Student Handbook 2014–15. http://www.

Chapter 3. Challenging Segregation: Shakespeare in Performance at Gulf Universities

Hark, our drums Are bringing forth our youth. We’ll break our walls, rather than they should pound us up. Our gates, Which yet seem shut, we have but pinned with rushes. They’ll open of themselves. (Coriolanus, 1.4.15–19)

Julius Caesar and Much Ado American University of Kuwait

at the

On 27 May 2009, audience members entering the newly constructed black box theatre at the American University of Kuwait (AUK) to watch the evening’s performance of Julius Caesar found themselves confronted not by the elegant columns of a Roman forum but rather by a highly contemporary image of authoritarian power and popular resistance: a towering concrete barrier, scrawled with colorful graffiti in a mélange of languages. Though clearly modeled after the “Apartheid Wall” constructed by the Israeli government around and through the Palestinian territories, this backdrop also served as a pointed reminder to spectators of an act of enforced segregation much closer to home—an official directive of March 2008 requiring Kuwaiti universities, private as well as public, to ensure that female and male students would remain in separate buildings, or separate wings of the same building, at all times.1 © The Author(s) 2018 K. Hennessey, Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula, Global Shakespeares,




AUK had swiftly filed a formal objection to the directive on the grounds that gender segregation “simultanously increases our costs and distorts our academic mission,” and the students had formed a committee to protest its implementation,2 but to no avail. At the start of the academic year 2008–2009, the segregation directive went into force. And the campus production of Julius Caesar at the end of that academic year—a performance in which no female students could take part—was a fierce, testosterone-fueled invective against the sudden restrictions on the students’ freedom of association. The casting of AUK faculty members in the roles of Julius Caesar and patrician members of the Senate, while students played Brutus, the conspirators, and the Roman plebians (Fig. 1), mirrored the fault lines that the segregation controversy had created within the university: the assassination of Caesar, played by accounting professor Jeremy Cripps, was a violent performative analogue to some students’ anger against the university administration for its perceived weakness in the face of external coercion. The costumes—silk sashes for the patricians, bomber jackets and camoflage for the conspirators and the plebians—emphasized the militant undercurrent to the conspirators’ anger, as did the abrasive accompaniment of a heavy metal musical score specially composed for the performance by one of the university’s students. Director Christopher Gottschalk, who since 2006 had served as head of the drama department at AUK, succinctly summed up the message implicit in his choice of play, cast and set: “This is what happens when you wall up communities. You create war … We’ve put a wall up between the genders and it’s done nothing but cause crisis and controversy within our own community at AUK.”3 Gender segregation in Kuwait is a contentious issue. Kuwait University (KU), the state’s first institution of higher learning, opened in 1966 and was mostly co-ed for the next three and a half decades, though it also housed a women’s college where woman could opt to study separately from their male peers.4 In the 1970s, female students at KU “wore miniskirts, mixed easily with the male students and joined them for picnics in the desert.”5 In 1996, however, Islamist members of the Kuwaiti National Assembly garnered sufficient support to pass a law enforcing gender segregation at KU—which was, at that time, the only university in Kuwait. KU faculty and students protested, collecting more than 9000 signatures on a petition opposing segregation, and proceeded largely to ignore the law until 2002, when conservative Kuwaiti lawmakers took the Minister of Education to task for failing to enforce



Fig. 1  AUK’s Julius Caesar. History professor Christopher Ohan as Cinna the poet, center; AUK students as the rioting plebians. AUK website, courtesy of AUK’s PR and Marketing Office

it.6 As a result, at the start of the 2003–2004 academic year, segregation went into force. It applied to 75% of KU’s classes (the 25% exception a tacit acknowledgement of the cost and the logistical difficulties that segregation entailed) as well as the university’s cafeterias, library, and other public spaces. Meanwhile, newly opened private universities in Kuwait, like the Gulf University of Science and Technology (GUST) and AUK, whose first cohorts began their studies in 2002–2003 and 2004–2005 respectively, continued offering mixed-gender classes and public spaces until 2008.7 Shafeeq Ghabra, who served as president of AUK from its establishment until January 2006, described the precarious balance the university had to strike to appease conservative lawmakers: Students did not want to segregate themselves, and their parents did not want such an arrangement either, but Islamist members of Parliament and the University Council continued to press the issue. In the end, we applied segregation in some classes but kept 50% of them co-ed while not enforcing segregation in the University public space, coffee shops, and library. This approach worked, at least during my tenure.8



This delayed and piecemeal implemention of segregation meant, among other things, that in 2007, two years before Julius Caesar, when AUK staged its first-ever student performance, it had a mixed-gender student cast. The play was Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, which Gottschalk adapted and directed.9 His script retained Shakespeare’s language, with an occasional insertion of Kuwaiti Arabic phrases and titles to reflect its new setting: Kuwait in 1898. The transformation of Don Pedro and the villanous Don John into “Shaykh Pedro” and “Shaykh John” carried a deeper significance, however, than a mere addition of local color, for Gottschalk intended this production as a meditation on a particular historic moment of cultural transformation. In 1896, Shaykh Mubarak Bin Sabah Al-Sabah (“Mubarak the Great,” 1837–1915) seized control of Kuwait from his half-brother Muhammad, assassinating him and another brother in the process. Until that point, the Al-Sabah shaykhs had maintained a distant fealty to the Ottoman empire, but in the decades prior to Mubarak’s accession, the Ottomans began to encroach upon the Kuwaiti shaykhs’ treasured independence.10 Fearing Ottoman reprisal for his fratricide, Mubarak reached out to the region’s other powerful foreign political authority, the British Resident; in 1899 they secretly signed the “Anglo-Kuwaiti agreement,” in which the British guaranteed Kuwait’s independence and Mubarak’s continued reign, in exchange for Mubarak’s promise not to enter without British consent into treaties or territorial negiotations with foreign entities. Thus the year 1898—after Mubarak’s controversial accession, but just before he allies the shaykhdom with Britain—is a liminal moment for Kuwait, a historic watershed in which the future political identity of the nation is yet to be determined. Arguably, 1898 is an analogue—potent, but distant enough in the past to seem innocuous—to the position of Kuwait in 2007, torn between an increasingly vociferous Islamist political contingent and a more “liberal” recognition that contemporary Kuwait is a multiethnic, diverse society whose minorities and whose more tolerant citizens were being increasingly marginalized and isolated by hardline politicians. Traditional Kuwaiti culture was very much on display in this production—a strategic tactic by Gottschalk, who did not want the university’s first-ever theatrical production to alienate local audiences, but rather to win them over by demonstrating an understanding of Kuwaiti history and a respect for its traditions. The conflict between Don Pedro and his brother “the bastard” Don John, and its echo of Mubarak the Great’s fatal conflict with his half-brother, was one contribution to this effort,



as was the transformation of Claudio’s and Hero’s (aborted) wedding in Act 4, Scene 1 into a traditional Kuwaiti betrothal ceremony. The set was another: the action took place around a well in a courtyard, surrounded by the facades of mud-brick houses, with intricately carved wooden doors and windows, pottery jugs and floor cushions lining the walls— a colorful, idyllic portrait of Kuwaiti life before the discovery of oil, a time some Kuwaitis envision with idealizing nostalgia as a prelapsarian era, when Kuwaiti identity and traditions were “authentic” and uncorrupted by modernity and foreign influence, before the dizzying changes of the later twentieth century. Costumes, too, were carefully evocative of late nineteenth-century Kuwait. Shaykh Pedro and his soldiers appeared in traditional dress—in the first scene, chests criss-crossed with ammunition bandoliers, carrying swords and rifles, their clothing stained with grime to indicate their return from a desert raid; later in immaculate dishdāshas, with red and white shamāghs worn shawl-like over the shoulders. The women wore the darā‘a—a long, loose-fitting traditional dress—each in a different, vibrant shade of blue or red, with bright gold embroidery, and (by choice, but also in accordance with the custom of the historical period) none of the women covered their heads (Fig. 2). Yet while the props evoke an “authentic” Kuwaiti identity, the student actors’ own identities complicated the picture, for while all were of Arab background, not all were Kuwaiti citizens. Subtle differences in the transliteration of their surnames (the rendering of al- or Al as el- or El, for example) suggest that some were of Egyptian or North African rather than Gulf parentage, and one cast member had a Western name, Edmound, which would be much more common in Christian Arab families than Muslim ones. Yet there they all were on stage, collectively performing an idealized Kuwaiti identity, and presenting a Kuwaiti history lesson in the guise of a Shakespeare play. In terms of an analogy for the effect that this casting would have on a Kuwaiti audience, we might think of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster musical Hamilton, in which the (white) founding fathers of the United States are played spectacularly by a cast of Hispanic, black and other minority actors, as a means, among other things, of asserting claims to citizenship and belonging, and of celebrating an identity that has been marginalized by prevailing historical narratives. The relocation of the play to Kuwait may have had an additional consequence for the spectators, beyond the evocation of nostalgia for



Fig. 2  AUK’s Much Ado About Nothing. Left to right, Omer Aly (Leonato), Jamila El Dajani (Antonia), Rama Sabano (Beatrice), Mona Hussain (Hero), Edmound Eid (Claudio). AUK website, courtesy of AUK’s PR and Marketing Office

simpler times and/or the proposal that national identity is a performative rather than an intrinsic and exclusive categorization. It arguably also provides an oblique reflection upon a long-standing political debate about Article 2 of the Kuwaiti constitution, which references shari‘a, Islamic law, as “a main source” of Kuwaiti legislation. Since 1984, Islamist politicians have repeatedly proposed constitutional amendments to this language to give shari‘a pride of place as “the main source,” or even “the only source,” though these proposals have not yet been adopted.11 It is both a hot topic and an extremely complex one, as shari‘a is not the coherent monolith that Islamists often seem to suggest it is; different schools of Islamic jurisprudence provide varying interpretations and frameworks for the numerous elements of shari‘a which are not specifically mentioned in Islamic Holy Writ, i.e. the Qur’an and the Hadith.



But what connection could this constitutional debate possibly have to Shakespeare? A very simple one: the plot of Much Ado turns on the false accusation that Hero has had extramarital sex with Borachio, “Who hath indeed, most like a liberal villain,/Confessed the vile encounters they have had/A thousand times in secret” (4.1.92–24). In Islamic jurisprudence this is a question of zinā’—unlawful fornication by an unmarried couple, for which the Qur’an prescribes a punishment of a hundred lashes (Surat al-Nūr (24), verse 2). But the burden of proof on the accusers is quite heavy: the Qu’ran requires four eyewitnesses to the deed (Surat al-Nūr (24), verse 4). Shakespeare’s play actually does provide the requisite number of “eyewitnesses” to condemn the innocent Hero: Don Pedro, Claudio, Don John and Borachio, whose testimony Don Pedro relates. Were shari‘a “the only source” of law in the world of the play, and were it rigidly interpreted, then the four men’s testimony, however false or misguided, could have sufficed to justify the brutal physical punishment of an innocent woman. Gottschalk did not mention this subtext at all in our extended discussion of his work at AUK, and may not have had it in mind, though I suspect the implications would not have been lost on some members of the audience. As already noted, the director intended the production to be sensitive to local cultural mores, rather than transgressive. Yet the performers also took a certain wry pleasure in pushing the envelope. Gottschalk was warned beforehand that the students’ on-stage behavior had to conform to certain rules: “no kissing, no touching between the boys and the girls whatsoever, and whatever you do, no dancing … women dancing and men watching them is the quickest way to get everybody thrown out of the Cultural Center” (the al-Maidan Cultural Center at the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyya, the off-campus site that had agreed to host the performance). But then what to do with the masked ball in Act 2, Scene 1 of Much Ado? The director’s solution was to have the men perform a traditional Kuwaiti sword dance–the perfect expedient, as it turned out, since the uncle of one of the cast members was a member of a celebrated Kuwaiti troupe that performs the dance at international cultural events, and he was willing to visit to teach the men the steps. “They said no dance,” recalls Gottschalk, “but what they meant was no women dancing.”12 Instead of using masks, the men hid their faces with their shamaghs, and stepped downstage out of the dance line when the play called for them to speak to the women.



In another subtle but telling change, Gottschalk turned Leonato’s brother Antonio into his unmarried sister, Antonia (played by Jamila El Dajani), and gave her the Friar’s lines. The Friar would otherwise have posed an awkward dilemma: portray a Christian religious figure on the stage? Convert him to an Imam? “Antonia” circumvented that conundrum, but also added a new dimension to the play’s reflections on gender. The Friar’s refusal to believe the slanderous accusation against Hero, his wisdom in perceiving “some strange misprision in the princes” (4.1.187), and his proposal that Hero feign death until her innocence can be established, were now all vested in a female character with an authoritative voice and a poignant backstory: “an older woman who had experienced a slight to her own honor once upon a time and now had a chance to stop the same thing happening to her niece … it resonated very powerfully with the young women in the cast.”13 The play even gently mocked the behavioral strictures placed on the actors. In the final scene of Much Ado, after an exchange of barbs, Benedick tells Beatrice, “Peace, I will stop your mouth” (5.4.97) and does so with a kiss. In the AUK production, upon delivery of this line, Yazan Al-Zoubi and Rama Sabano, playing Benedick and Beatrice, slowly leaned in towards each other as though about to break the all-important rule. At the last moment, with the audience on the edge of their seats, the other cast members all yelled “Nooooooooo!” and pulled the two of them apart. “It brought the house down every night,” according to Gottschalk.14 The play was a remarkable success in terms of ticket sales: upwards of 800 were sold. The proceeds covered the expenses of the production and left a profit of 600 Kuwaiti dinar (around $2,000) as seed money for the university’s next production.15 But even more importantly, it succeeded in creating a spirit of shared community among the cast, crew, and director. A documentary film made by AUK students explored the difficulties the director and the cast initially encountered in adjusting to each other’s expectations. The rocky beginning included a first rehearsal where a majority of the cast and crew members breezed in over half an hour late or failed to show, and a set-building appointment which the production crew ignored, forcing a frustrated Gottschalk to press the documentary filmmakers into assisting him with the carpentry. A week before the performance, the students were still struggling to memorize their lines. Yet by this point respect for the director was palpable: in individual



interviews filmed outside the Cultural Center, one member of the cast praised Gottschalk and his work ethic, another his enthusiasm and commitment. In a brief speech to them on opening night, the director reciprocated, telling the cast that he was passing the show into their “very capable hands”—a recognition of shared responsibility that raised the students’ expectations of themselves. The documentary finds one backstage poring over his script after a scene in which he flubbed a line: “Oh, I screwed up,” he laments, then says determinedly, “Bas inshallah [But God willing], the next one will go well,” proceeding to rehearse his lines for the next scene in a whisper. At the evening’s conclusion, one student voices relief and pride, tinged with incredulity, at their accomplishment: “Man, we did perfect!”16 To anyone who has ever participated in a theatre prodution, these emotions—the warmth of belonging to a tight-knit community united by a common goal, the anxiety that we as individuals might “screw up” and let the others down, the pride in that community’s collective accomplishment bursting out backstage after the curtain call—will all be familiar. But it is worth noting that, in general, young people in the Gulf have fewer such opportunities available to them, and more constrictions on the nature of the communities that they can create outside of their family circle, than their counterparts in the US or the UK. Campus theatre productions are a given at most universities across the US, regardless of size or funding. Not so across the Gulf: Much Ado was performed at a site off campus because in 2007 AUK had no performance space of its own. And AUK, like the majority of universities across the region, is not designed for students to live on campus—there are no dormitories, and students generally either drive themselves back and forth to campus or are dropped off and picked up after classes conclude. Obviously, this makes evening rehearsals or other extra-curricular activities difficult to schedule and more burdensome to attend but also, since the majority of students continue to live at home, it means their social circles remain dominated by immediate and extended family, rather than reflecting the independence, the autonomy, the rites of passage associated with “going off to college” elsewhere.17 A production like AUK’s Much Ado can have a powerfully formative effect on the young people who participate in it, as it offers them the opportunity to create and experience a sense of community and shared experience outside of their family circle. It can bring young people into dialogue with students of differing socio-political or religious or cultural views and backgrounds,



thereby cultivating critical thinking, tolerance, and an appreciation for diversity. And it can encourage a respect for others’ skills, determination, and work ethic, and a desire to nurture the same within oneself. These claims may sound rather grandiose for a student Shakespeare production, yet consider the context. Kuwaiti public schools are segregated through secondary school, not merely according to gender but also and more subtly, as Kuwaiti scholar Rania Al-Nakib has pointed out, by nationality, sect, and social class.18 Kuwaiti citizenship is a prerequisite for attendance at public schools, so in all but exceptional cases, expatriate children must attend private schools. Moreover, school district lines in Kuwait, and thus the schools themselves, “mirror and reinforce societal divisions between Kuwaitis and expatriates, men and women, bedouins and hadar [townspeople], Sunnis and Shias, and upper and middle/ lower classes.”19 For Kuwaiti students, therefore, attending university—particularly if the institution is question is co-ed and has attracted a diverse student body—may well represent the first time in their lives that they have spent extended periods of time interacting on an equal footing with these other groups within the population, from which, up until that point, their educational system has deliberately kept them separate. Yet it is one thing to interact with a fellow student in class, under the watchful eyes or the benign encouragement of a professor and your peers; it is something else entirely to work over the course of weeks or months with a group of your fellow students towards the shared aim of a public performance which will be scrutinized by classmates, professors, family members, and hundreds of strangers: the latter offers much greater possible risks and rewards, and a much deeper sense of understanding and shared experience, with the potential to unite individuals across gender, cultural, and social or sectarian barriers. It also places the students, some for perhaps the first time, in the powerful position of creating their own diverse social group, and one completely independent of their family circle. At one point, the cast of Much Ado at AUK staged a dress rehearsal to which only their close family members were invited, as a means of including their families in the theatrical process—the new “family” of the cast issuing the invitations and demonstrating their collective and cooperative achievement to proud parents and siblings. In its formation of a diverse but tight-knit new group, and in that group’s performance of Kuwaiti identity, despite the fact that a number of its members were not Kuwaiti citizens, AUK’s Much Ado acts as



a compelling example of the phenomenon of “new local” theatre: theatre created by an inclusive, egalitarian community whose performances act as a critique of extant social barriers, between individuals of different genders, for example, or differing economic backgrounds or national identities. All this changed with the implementation of gender segregation at AUK. The women could no longer appear on stage with male actors, and vice versa; the community created through Much Ado could not be replicated. In the fall semester of 2007, officials from the Private Universities Council began to make unannounced visits to campus to inspect classrooms, and in the spring of 2008 came the official segregation directive. Gottschalk, undeterred, spent the 2007–08 year gutting and rebuilding the on-campus space that would become AUK’s black box theatre, and working on other projects (including playing Hamlet off Broadway over the summer, in a production favorably reviewed by The New York Times20). In January 2009, the curtain went up on the new theatre’s first production—an all-female performance of Euripides’ The Trojan Women, with an all-female production crew, to which only female audience members were admitted.21 Cast members’ fathers were outraged that they would be unable to see their daughters perform, but rules were rules; Gottschalk’s own presence was questioned but he simply pointed out that until AUK hired a female faculty member in drama, there was no other available choice.22 Euripides’ extended meditation on the horrors and the suffering inflicted on the title characters by destructive forces beyond their ability to control played well to its all-female audience members, which included both the president of the university, Marina Tomalcheva, and its founder, Shaykha Dana Al-Sabah. But Julius Caesar, the “men’s play” at the end of the semester, made more of an overt, localized political statement. It did so through the backdrop of the massive concrete wall (Fig. 3), crowned by the sardonic label “Pax Romana” in blue and white at the top center, and covered with graffiti ranging from the nihilistic (“bang head here”) to the militaristic (“live by the sword,” “Legion 6 rules”). It also did so through the identity of its performers: firstly, the aforementioned casting of faculty members as Caesar and the patricians, and students as Brutus and the conspirators; and secondly, the integration of female staff members into the cast to play Portia and Calpurnia, and the casting of Rawda Awwad, a female English professor,23 in two



Fig. 3  “Apartheid wall” set, for AUK’s Julius Caesar. Courtesy of Chris Gottschalk

minor male roles (that of the tribune Murellus, rechristened Murella, and senator Popillius Laena).24 The incorporation of female faculty and staff members highlighted the arbitrary and inconsistent nature of the segregation rules, the language of which only applied to students, and not to university employees—and the production allowed students to perform their anger and frustration at the imposition of these limitations. AUK students were not the only ones feeling this anger. In 2011, over 2000 Kuwait University applicants were denied admission because the university lacked the capacity to accommodate them.25 This, in a country where education is a constitutional right and university education a rentier benefit, was scandalous: liberals blamed the segregation law, conservatives the glacial pace of construction of the new Shadādīya campus. Shadādīya was designed with what Thorsten Botz-Bornstein terms “radical gender segregation” as a goal: separated sections for male and female students, with separate entrances, and a bridge connecting the two that “is guarded and can only be used by teachers.”26 At AUK, however, the seemingly immoveable segregation wall came crashing down in the 2012–13 academic year, when the university



decided to reintegrate its classrooms. This was a decision which had no apparent repercussions, in part because it anticipated a 2013 draft law in the National Assembly rescinding university-level separation of the genders. That bill languished in draft form, but provided some cover for institutions that acted in anticipation of its enactment, and in 2015, Kuwait University students brought their complaints against the segregation law to the nation’s constitutional court. It was the first time in the history of Kuwait that individual citizens, rather than the government or the National Assembly, had been permitted to bring a case to the court, and the result confounded expectations: the court compared the text of Law 34: 2000, on the Establishment of Private Universities,27 to that of Law 24: 1996, known as the Higher Education Law,28 and found that the earlier law stipulated only that “student attire, behavior and activities shall adhere to Islamic values,” making no mention of segregation.29 The court therefore concluded that the application of the segregation provision in the 2000 law had been “an error,” leaving Kuwaiti universities free once again to determine their own policies regarding gender integration. In the meantime, performing Shakespeare had helped AUK students to reflect upon and to channel their frustrations at the imposition of segregation on their community. One cannot help but wonder to what degree the memory of the student anger expressed in the all-male Julius Caesar, and the violence that they performed against their professors (in character, of course), factored into the AUK administration’s debate about whether to reintegrate their classrooms in 2012, in defiance of Kuwaiti law. In his introduction to the anthology Shakespeare on the University Stage, Andrew James Hartley notes that while both professional and amateur modes of performance have attracted significant critical attention, university performances arise out of a unique set of cultural and material conditions: they are “more directly tied to the vagaries of academic life in intellectual, aesthetic, and fiscal terms,” “their identities hinge on the unique properties of the college or university community which constructs their audience,” and they occur in their own “discursive space … [possessing] interest value as representations of a specifically material Shakespeare, a Shakespeare rooted in the particularities of university culture, and uniquely positioned to play a formative role in the lives of those who build and experience it.”30 AUK’s Much Ado and Julius Caesar could serve as textbook illustrations for Hartley’s assertions—formative for participants, challenging for audiences, and shaped



in crucial textual and aesthetic respects by the university context, its audience, and local debates about the form and purpose of a university education.

Macbeth Arabia at the American University of Sharjah In December 2011, Anthony Tassa, professor of theatre and performing arts coordinator at the American University of Sharjah (AUS), directed a university production of Macbeth set in ninth-century Arabia. AUS is a private, co-ed university, and of the seven emirates in the UAE, Sharjah has historically been the most supportive of local efforts at theatre-making: it has had its own National Theater since 1978, stages its own theatre festival, Sharjah Theatre Days, which began in 1984,31 and has carved out a specialized theatre niche in the academic publishing industry, printing studies in Arabic and occasionally in English about drama in the region. It also, as of March 2014, possesses a $38 million Roman-style amphitheatre that can accommodate 4500 people, built on an artificial island on the city’s Khaled Lagoon. Much of the impetus for these projects has come from the ruler of Sharjah, Shaykh Sultan Bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi, who has written numerous plays himself, and who takes a personal interest in encouraging and supporting the genre in his own emirate, as well as in the wider UAE and the Gulf. As the UAE does not legislate gender segregation, Tassa was free to cast male and female students as he saw fit for his Macbeth. He also integrated into his cast two professional actors, Jordanian-American actor Bashar Atiyat (who acted with George Clooney and Matt Damon in the 2005 film Syriana), and American Shakespearean actor Hugh Kennedy, who played Macbeth and Macduff respectively. Atiyat, who is of Bedouin heritage, played the role of cultural advisor for the production as well, explaining Bedouin traditions, movement and manners to the cast. The production maintained Shakespeare’s language, except for titles and place names, which were changed to reference locations across the Arab world. So, for instance, Lady Macbeth’s lines “Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be/what thou art promised,” became “Oman thou art, and Yemen …” (1.5.14–15); Malcolm raised his army in “Maṣr” (Arabic for Egypt) rather than England; Birnam Wood became a mound of desert sand. The production also incorporated traditional music and drumming,32 and engaged the audience’s sense of smell: far from the



nauseating stench of boiling “eye of newt and toe of frog,” the cauldron stirred by this production’s witches was scented with frankincense.33 But the primary means of communicating the Arabian transposition was visual. The cast wore traditional dress—Lady Macbeth (AUS student Hala Albassar) in a rust-colored embroidered gown, the men in kandūras with curved daggers or scimitars at the belt, ghutras wrapped Bedouinstyle on their heads (Fig. 4). Tiles and mosaics decorated the walls of Macbeth’s castle. The witches performed a traditional dance sequence, and Scene 3.1.75–143, where Macbeth charges the murderers to kill Banquo and Fleance, became a Bedouin coffee ceremony, a ritual of hospitality binding host and guests together. What did this scenting of Shakespeare with Arabian incense achieve? For a cast “primarily made up of Arab students,”34 but of different backgrounds and nationalities within the Arab world, Macbeth Arabia offered an opportunity to explore and perform aspects of Gulf Arab heritage and Bedouin culture. Tassa has stressed the extensive research that went into costume and set design, and the expertise that Atiyat contributed,35 and

Fig. 4  Macbeth in Arabia: Banquet scene at Macbeth’s castle, with the three witches under the table. Photo by Zuzana Tassa, courtesy of Anthony Tassa



clearly intended that these elements be considered “authentic.” I did not have the opportunity to see this production in person, though I was able to see Tassa’s production of The Arabian Nights at AUS in 2015 and came away full of admiration for what he and his students had achieved. But reconstructing the experience from Tassa’s descriptions and from performance photos, it seems to me that the aesthetic communicated by this performance was as much “Arab chic” as it was “Bedouin shaykh.” The elegant costumes, the richly decorated set, the rousing throb of drums in the background communicated not the arid, laborious existence of ninth-century nomads in the desert but a very contemporary, stylish interpretation of what it means to be Gulf Arab, a university theatre version of what scholar miriam cooke has since termed the Gulf’s “tribal modern” branding, whereby the concepts of “the tribe” and “tribal” simultaneously connect the Gulf’s elite youth to an austere and dignified ancestral heritage and allow them to project a culturally distinct, and distinctively modern, local identity.36 Claims of Bedouin heritage in the Gulf are, like citizenship, a means of distinguishing between “real” Gulf Arabs and foreign residents from elsewhere; the very term “tribal modern” suggests both an openness to international cosmopolitanism and an exclusionary division of human beings into those who belong to the tribe and those who do not. Yet effectively, just as we saw in the AUK production of Much Ado, Macbeth Arabia allowed its student participants, regardless of their citizenship status, to perform local identity constructs—in this case, to act out Bedouin customs, which Atiyat’s presence and careful explanations validated as “authentic.” They thereby provide us with another significant example of “new local” performance. The year 2011 was a difficult one for the wider Arab World; by the time the curtain rose on Macbeth Arabia, the excitement and promise of the Arab Spring had been blighted by violence, repression and the onset of civil war in Syria. Recognizing the diversity of both the Arab world and his cast, Tassa had taken pains to extend the play’s allusions beyond the Arabian Peninsula, including references to the Levant and Egypt as well as to Yemen and Oman. But surely the invocation of Egypt, for example, would have reminded some audience members of the violent clashes in Cairo in the weeks preceding the performance, as Egyptian protesters and security forces grappled for control of Tahrir Square— suggesting parallels between Macbeth’s usurpation of the kingship after Duncan’s murder, and the tenacious hold of the Supreme Council of



the Armed Forces, in the person of Field Marshal Muhammad Hussein Tantawi, on Egypt’s post-Mubarak interim government. Moreover, though the UAE had experienced little publicized upheaval over the course of the year, tensions simmering below the surface were an open secret. Recalling his stint as a reporter at the Abu Dhabi paper The National—heralded at its founding in 2008 as a beacon of journalistic freedom in the region—Joe Pompeo describes the knock-on effect of the Arab Spring in the Emirates: The toppling of regimes and fomenting of popular unrest throughout the region had a chilling effect on the U.A.E. The country began to crack down on dissent, racking up a growing collection of political prisoners (not that you’d read much about them in The National) and expelling prominent N.G.Os.37

For audience members following the international news coverage of the trial of the “UAE Five”—a group of pro-democracy activists which included Nasser bin Ghaith, an Emirati faculty member at ParisSorbonne Abu Dhabi—the struggle for power depicted in Macbeth may have conjured parallels to Emirati politics, particularly given that this Macbeth had donned traditional Arab garb. Arrested and accused of insulting Emirati President Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nayhan and the crown prince, Khalifa’s brother Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nayhan, and of endangering national security, the UAE Five had gone on hunger strike during their trial in the weeks before the AUS performance. They were sentenced at the end of November, but received a presidential pardon.38 Might some audience members have seen in Macbeth’s misplaced confidence that “none of woman born” should harm him, or in his fears that he should lose his throne to Banquo’s descendants, an analogue to the position of the UAE government—at the helm of a seemingly stable state, suddenly shaken by a perceived threat? Might Macbeth’s meditation before engaging the murderers—“To be thus is nothing/but to be safely thus” (3.1.49–50)—have seemed an echo of the ruling family’s preoccupations? These speculations on audience members’ possible responses are, of course, simply speculations. When I asked him in March 2015 why he had selected Macbeth, Tassa responded, “Macbeth has everything—kings, witches, magic, murder, battle scenes, an incredible richness of language and metaphor … I love it. And I thought that elements within it would



translate naturally to this context.”39 His enthusiasm for Macbeth struck me as sincere and sufficient, and he may not have intended to stage the play as a subtly provocative commentary on the violence of regional conflict or on contemporary Emirati politics. Yet the directorial choices he made may have induced certain members of his audience to interpret the play in relation to current events—for instance, the exposure of Egyptian security forces’ abuse of Arab Spring protesters, a particularly fraught issue in the weeks preceding the production. As Mona Eldahshoury, who played one of the production’s larger-thanusual coven of witches, recalls, Tassa’s Macbeth Arabia incorporated a shadowy torture scene: One of the most challenging scenes … was one scene with Hecate, where she came out of the blue, and was extremely disappointed in us as witches … We had to fear her, and huddle up into one group as she tortured our sisters … To build that feeling into you as a character, that your own sister is being tortured because of some evil head witch, was really, really difficult. We had to run that scene over and over and over again.40

The scene in question featured bloodcurdling screams and cast members limping in pain around a set eerily lit in dark blue. Likewise, Ahmad Dawud, who played Malcolm, describes his exchange with Hugh Kennedy’s Macduff in Act 4 Scene 3 (lines 45–140) as an “interrogation scene”41—and, at a moment when the sexual abuse and brutalization of female protesters like journalist Mona Eltahawy by Egyptian security forces42 had sparked outrage, Dawud’s and Kennedy’s scene includes the following lines, But there’s no bottom, none, In my voluptuousness. Your wives, your daughters, Your matrons, and your maids could not fill up The cistern of my lust … (61–4)

Analogies to current events aside, one of the major accomplishments of this play, as with Gottschalk’s Much Ado, seems to have been the establishment of an affectionate and supportive micro-community of participants. Eldahshoury, of course, uses the word “sisters” to describe her fellow “witches,” and actor Hugh Kennedy described the production’s participants as a “dream-team cast of artists,”43 his choice of the word “team” emphasizing a collective sense of collaboration and cooperation.



Ahmad Dawud put it more bluntly: “Our director, Anthony Tassa, said that we were going to be a family. And that’s exactly what happened.”44 When I visited the campus in 2015, AUS drama program alumni enthusiastically reminisced about their excitement at having the opportunity to learn from professional actors like Atiyat and Kennedy, and about discovering a second family among the cast and crew.45

The Global Shakespeare Student Festival at New York University Abu Dhabi More experimental and less open to political analogy was the twentyminute condensation of this play that Tassa’s students performed at the Global Shakespeare Student Festival at NYUAD in March 2013, under the title Macbeth Arabia Deconstructed.46 As noted in Chapter 2, NYUAD sponsors student festivals around the theme of “Global Shakespeare,” bringing student groups from around the world to campus to perform and participate in theatre workshops. The gathering in March 2013 inaugurated what has since become a regular on-campus event.47 This first Global Shakespeare Student Festival featured student troupes from Cairo University, United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) in Al-Ain, NYU New York, and from Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swathmore, as well as Tassa’s group from AUS. Each student group performed a brief adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s plays, or a segment thereof. Like Tassa’s students, the Cairo University group performed a series of pivotal scenes from Macbeth; the NYUAD students performed segments from Othello and King Lear, juxtaposing the two plays’ presentations of familial and spousal love and violence. The UAEU students distilled a longer, previously staged production down to twenty minutes:48 their The Enchanted Isle of Love and Tempest mixed new writing with scenes from The Tempest and from John Dryden’s and William D’Avenant’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s play (entitled The Tempest; or, The Enchanted Isle, and first staged in 1667), set to a quirky musical soundtrack.49 The UAEU performance may have inspired NYUAD students to stage their own version of The Tempest at the 2014 Global Shakespeare Student Festival. Entitled The Isle is Full of Noises, this production allowed NYUAD students to meditate on the significance of place and displacement in their own lives on the Saadiyat Island campus. The festival program described the piece as a “collage exploring questions around



what it means to live as guests on foreign soil; how to live up to and inside of an island with an identity and values that are still forming; and how to navigate the tension between personal ambition and the expectations of a community.”50 NYUAD student Arianna Stucki, who participated in the production as a freshman, notes that the “unknown quality” of Prospero’s island resonated with her and her fellow expatriate cast members as they attempted to manage homesickness and put down roots at NYUAD— “to make a home out of the undefined.” As they created the production, she recounts, “the isle became not only a physical location, but also a liminal state of being, related to the loss of home.”51 The NYUAD Tempest provides an example of a production in the incipient stages of “new local” theatre: rather than modeling for their audiences the benefits of an inclusive community, this performance meditated instead on the tensions created by the students’ experience of exclusion and disconnection from their local context.

The University of Bahrain English Drama Festival Though, as its name implies, the remit of the English Drama Festival at the University of Bahrain is not limited to Shakespeare, adaptations of his works have been a frequent festival highlight since its establishment in 2013 (the same year NYUAD held its first Global Shakespeare Student Festival). Performances have run the gamut from doublet-and-hose declamations of Shakespeare’s dialogue to rewritings in contemporary English that set his plays in Bahrain. Unlike the NYUAD festival, this one does not invite visiting troupes to perform; its primary aim seems to be to challenge the English department’s students, and to give them a forum in which to demonstrate their linguistic skills. For the most part, these performances are carefully crafted and edited to avoid straying into the realm of contemporary socio-political commentary. Yet like the other university performances we have examined, this festival also seems to cross existing divides and boundaries, and to create “new local” models of egalitarian community. In 2014 Saswati Borah, a lecturer in English at the university, directed the festival’s production of Richard III, which maintained Shakespeare’s language, though it pared the text down to an eighty-five-minute production.52 Mindful, no doubt, of the punitive measures to which university faculty members and students had been subjected for voicing



support for Bahrain’s Arab Spring protests,53 Borah carefully depoliticized the production in her introductory speech, reminding the audience of the sensational discovery the previous year of Richard III’s bodily remains, buried beneath a Leicester parking lot, and declaring that the university production was timely for that reason.54 The use of Shakespeare’s language, Elizabethan-style costume, and a backdrop of Tudor facades also carefully distanced the performance from any potential accusation that the character of Richard was intended as an analogue to or a reflection of Bahrain’s own King Hamad. The production did make a different type of socio-political statement, however, in its incorporation of both faculty and students into the cast. University faculty played many of the important roles, perhaps an indication of the challenges the language of the play posed to non-native speakers: associate professor Martin Parker played the King, while university lecturer Guy Parker delivered a prologue at the beginning of each act, to assist the audience in following the action; faculty members David Deller and Linda Bilton took on the roles of Buckingham and the Duchess of York, respectively. MA student Faisal Ashoor portrayed the victorious Richmond, while undergraduate students from a variety of ethnic backgrounds (and two elementary school students, in the roles of the young princes) recited the remainder of the roles. The performance thus enacted a leveling of the university hierarchy, with professors interacting with students on a collaborative and relatively egalitarian basis. Subsequent editions of the English Drama Festival have adapted Shakespeare more liberally, and with an eye to local context. The 2015 Festival saw a series of comedic skits entitled “Where There Is a Will, There’s Shakespeare,” which satirized Bardolatry among teachers and Shakespeare-induced boredom among students, and which brought Martin Parker back to the stage in the persona of Richard III, though this time to complain about the ugly caricature by which Shakespeare portrays him. Together with a sketch called “No one likes Hamlet!” in which a tactful Elizabethan literary agent helps a hipster-esque “Shakey” to pare down a five-hour-long version of the play, the agent’s red pen shaping a set of endlessly verbose speeches into the now-famous lines,55 the performance implied a desire to deconstruct Shakespeare as a figure of literary authority, and to render him more comprehensible and more recognizable for the university’s students and for the audience at large. A similar desire seems to have animated the productions of Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice at the 2016 and 2017 Festivals,



respectively.56 Both of these productions rewrote Shakespeare in contemporary English; Duke Orsino’s proclamation that “If music be the food of love, play on—let me eat until I am so stuffed that my appetite will sicken and die”, and Portia’s assertion that “the quality of mercy is greater than any power on earth” are representative examples of the language of these rewritten texts. But unlike Richard III, these productions set the action within a Bahraini context, through costuming and local allusions; the dialogue occasionally integrated Arabic words and phrases, sums of money were converted to Bahraini dinar, and so forth. The 2017 production even retitled Shakespeare’s play as The Merchant of Muharraq, referencing the urban area northeast of the capital Manama. As with Richard III, certain points of potential socio-political controversy were edited out of these productions. For instance, Antonio stresses that his interest in Bassanio is purely fatherly, having taken Bassanio under his wing after tragically losing his own wife and child—a backstory insertion that seems calculated to forestall speculation that unreciprocated homosexual attraction prompts Antonio’s initial melancholy. And the production makes no overt references to Shylock’s Jewishness; instead, the University of Bahrain’s Shylock tells us that Antonio treats him with contempt because Shylock has moved to Bahrain from Dubai; he fumes, in fact, that Antonio “thinks he’s better than me because he’s from Muharraq.” Shakespeare’s portrayal of sectarian conflict between Christians and Jews would undoubtedly have suggested to some audience members the claims that Bahrain’s Sunni elites discriminate against its restive Shi‘a majority, accusations which the Arab Spring had cast into stark relief.57 But Diana Prieur, lecturer at the university’s English Center and the script adapter for this production, carefully removed Shakespeare’s sectarian references, clearly opting for discretion as the better part of valor. Yet in changing the motive of these two characters’ antipathy, the play actually opened up an unusual vein of socio-political critique: Antonio became a figure for the insular, even xenophobic tendencies of contemporary Bahraini and Gulf citizens, resentful of the presence of large numbers of foreign residents, while Shylock voices those residents’ own feelings of exclusion and second-class status. The court’s judgment that Shylock must forfeit his fortune further spoke to residents’ perceptions that the local legal system favors citizens over non-citizens. This production, however, refused to leave its Shylock broken and seething. Rather, it staged a tearful reconciliation between him and Antonio, with apologies from both for their wrongdoing, and a forgiving embrace at the



conclusion: a symbol of the hope that all the members of Bahrain’s diverse population can learn to live together on a footing of mutual respect. The production of Twelfth Night ends with a similar emphasis on unity and community, with the Duke promising that he, Viola, Olivia and Sebastian will henceforth “be one family,” to audience applause.58

Antony and Cleopatra at the American University of Sharjah Gulf university students’ use of Shakespeare to express their desire to create a new sense of rootedness, within a diverse community of their own choosing, is a theme that unites all of the performances examined in this chapter. Our final example is no exception—and taking a leaf from Shakespeare’s own book, as well as that of several of the theatre practitioners considered in this book’s historical survey, it transforms a tragedy into a comedy at the very last minute. On 11 November 2014, a seven-night run of Antony and Cleopatra, directed (like the aforementioned Macbeth Arabia) by Anthony Tassa, opened at AUS. The audience of around eighty—mostly fellow students, AUS faculty and staff, and the performers’ proud parents and siblings— witnessed a student production that underscored Shakespeare’s language with Arab music and dance, in a nod both to Cleopatra’s status as Queen of the Nile and to the university’s own geographical context within the Arabian Peninsula. The set design emphasized the contrasting attractions of Cleopatra’s Egypt and Antony’s Rome: stage left, a step pyramid of white stone, around ten feet high in total, and stage right, a raised plinth bordered by towering Roman columns. The audience might have been forgiven for taking Caesar’s final pronouncement that the dead Egyptian queen should be “buried by her Antony” (“No grave upon the earth shall clip in it a pair so famous,” 5.2.353–4)—as an indication that the tale of a passionate love that transcended rival cultural geographies had come to a close. But the evening had yet more drama in store. As the cast and director assembled for the curtain call and the audience applauded, Tassa smiled at one of the spectators, AUS alumnus Hysum Ismail, and invited him to join the performers on stage. Ismail strode to the center of the playing space and addressed the crowd. “Shakespeare wrote some great love stories, like Antony and Cleopatra,” he began, “but not all love stories are tragedies. Some of them are fairy



tales.” He then turned to face Mona Eldahshoury, administrative assistant at AUS’s performing arts programme and member of the cast.59 Expressing his delight that their families—his Indian, hers Egyptian—had at last given the couple their blessing, Ismail went down on one knee and pulled an engagement ring out of his pocket. “You’ve changed my life,” he told Eldahshoury, with obvious emotion. “You are beautiful, and brave, and smart and silly—you are perfect. You are—al-hamdulillah, ma sha’ Allah,60 thank you, God!—perfect.” While it was not an exact quotation of Shakespeare’s “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale/Her infinite variety,” the audience was nevertheless hanging on Ismail’s every word, to judge from the applause, the laughter, the whistles and the admiring outbursts caught on a mobile phone recording of this event.61 The litany of adjectives Ismail chose to describe his own Egyptian beloved—“beautiful and brave,” “smart and silly,” “perfect”—would not be entirely out of place as a description of Shakespeare’s complex, capricious, alluring heroine. Even Antony’s conflict—the need to choose between his desire for Cleopatra and his allegiance to Rome—found a distant echo in this young couple’s struggle to convince their parents that their cultural differences should not be an obstacle to their marriage.62 And whether Ismail spent the performance listening rapt to Enobarbus’ soaring praise of the Egyptian queen on her golden barge, or distracted by thoughts of his own impending monologue, it seems that the depths of passion expressed by Shakespeare’s characters led to his conviction that this was the appropriate public forum in which to make the engagement official. That is, his post-show eloquence was inspired, on a highly personal level, by this staging of Antony and Cleopatra. The significance of Shakespeare’s work to the various and varied individuals, networks, and cultures on the contemporary Arabian Peninsula lies in moments like this one—moments in which performing or learning about Shakespeare seems to inspire students on the Peninsula, in all their cultural, lingustic, and social diversity, to think differently, to express themselves creatively, to bridge barriers, to create novel and more inclusive forms of community and new realms of shared experience. One might assume that, since the vision and the knowledge of expat professor-directors often provide the impetus and the initial intellectual framework, university Shakespeare productions in the Gulf are effectively an import, a top-down imposition—or worse, a neo-colonial enterprise whereby professorial authority places Shakespeare on a high-culture pedestal for Gulf students to gaze at, rapt and adoring. But the productions



examined in this chapter give the lie to those assumptions, through their incorporation of local signifiers and regional references, through the sense of ownership and belonging that they engender, and through the myriad ways in which they inspire students to respond, and to create in turn. From this perspective, Gulf university theatre directors like Gottschalk and Tassa look more like the Senators on the walls in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, warning that the city’s young warriors will soon burst through the gates, destroying the walls themselves rather than allowing outside forces like the besieging Romans to “pound [them] up,” or pen them in. Perhaps the Senators’ final warning— Our gates, Which yet seem shut, we have but pinned with rushes. They’ll open of themselves … (1.4.15–19)—

will prove germane to the Gulf, as well, as the region’s young adults, armed with their university degrees and experience, begin to shape their own and their societies’ future. In the next chapter, we move from wedding proposals to the theatrical equivalent of one-night stands, as we explore the impact of the visits of foreign troupes to perform Shakespeare across the region.


1. “President’s Progress Report,” The Voice of AUK, p. 12. 2. Ibid. 3. Gottschalk, interview. 4. Tétreault, “Soft Power Goes Abroad,” p. 59. 5. Elias, “Coeducation Nears End.” 6. Ibid. 7. Botz-Bornstein and Abdullah-Khan, The Veil in Kuwait, p. 7; Tétreault, as cited in n.4. 8. Ghabra, “Student-centered Education.” 9. See “AUK Presents Shakespeare in Kuwait.” 10. See Commins, pp. 107–10. 11. For more on this debate, see Lombardi, “Constitutional Provisions,” particularly pp. 746–50. 12. Gottschalk, interview. 13. Gottschalk, email. 14. Gottschalk, interview.



15. Ibid. 16. All references in this paragraph are to the student film Shakespeare in Kuwait (not to be confused with Sulayman Al Bassam’s eponymous earliest version of The Al-Hamlet Summit, described in Chapter 7), by Akbar, Khuraibet, Al-Nafisi and Boland, made as part of a class project for the Film Production II course at AUK, Spring 2007. 17. An observation made by Tétreault in “Leaving Home?” 18. Al-Nakib, “Education and Democratic Development in Kuwait.” 19. Ibid., p. 7. 20. Webster, “Hamlet Outdoors.” 21. Cf. Al-Shatti, “Trojan Women.” 22. Gottschalk, interview. 23. Awwad was later appointed Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and promoted in 2017 to University Provost. 24. See “Julius Caesar Visits AUK,” describing the performance on 27–30 May 2009 in the Black Box Studio. 25. Calderwood, “Kuwait University short of space.” 26. Botz-Bornstein, The Veil, Nudity, and Tattoos, p. 100, n. 3. BotzBornstein is a professor at GUST in Kuwait. 27. Kuwait Law 34: 2000. 28. Kuwait Law 24: 1996. 29. For one reaction to this from Kuwait’s legal community, see the blog posting by Ahmed, “Kuwait Law.” 30. Hartley, “Tragedians of the city.” The quotations here come from locations 256–8. 31. Emirates News Agency, “Sultan Al Qasimi.” 32. By musicians from a UAE-based group called Dubai Drums, whose slogan is “unity through rhythm”—for more on which, see www.dubaidrums. com. 33. Tassa, “Shakespeare in Arabia,” p. 315. 34. Ibid., p. 306. 35. Ibid., p. 307. 36. cooke, Tribal Modern, Kindle location 199. 37. Pompeo, “We Are Not Here.” 38. “UAE pardons jailed activists.” For an extended discussion of this and other late 2011 political crises, see Forstenlechner, Rutledge, and Alnuaimi, “The UAE, the ‘Arab Spring.’” 39. Tassa, interview. 40.  Macbeth Arabia (student documentary). 41. Ibid.



42. Eltahawy’s full account of her run-in with the Egyptian riot police appears in The Guardian: Eltahawy, “Bruised but defiant.” See the article’s conclusion for the tweets she sent from prison on 23 November, and the following day after she was released, which swiftly made the rounds of Egyptian social media. 43. AUS blog, “Macbeth Arabia.” 44. Macbeth Arabia (student documentary). 45. Drama students at AUS, interview. 46. A YouTube video of Macbeth Arabia Deconstructed is available at https:// 47.  For more on which, see Patell, “The Global Shakespeare Student Festival.” At the time of writing, the festival had completed a fifth iteration, in April 2017. 48. Staged 21 January 2013. 49. Including the Beach Boys and Meatloaf. 50. Quoted in Olscamp, “NYUAD hosts.” 51. Stucki, “Soul of the Global Age” abstract. 52.  Richard III, English Drama Festival. 53. For more on which, see Human Rights Watch, “Bahrain: Reinstate,” and the description of 2011 events at the University of Bahrain in Chapter 2. 54. See Langley et al., Finding Richard III. 55. “Sketch One,” English Drama Festival. 56. See Twelfth Night and Merchant of Muharraq, both by the English Drama Festival. The 2017 festival also included a production of Othello that used Shakespeare’s language and Elizabethan costuming, in a similar manner to the 2014 Richard III. 57. For an exploration of how this conflict continued to fester into 2017, which was published a few months before this production was staged, see “An unhappy isle,” The Economist. 58. The production video even goes a step further than the performance in emphasizing these new communal bonds, by cutting Malvolio’s line “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you”; the student actor delivered it during the performance, but this moment is edited out of the video at 1:00:53. 59. Ismail and Eldahshoury met while students at AUS, graduating in 2012. As noted, Eldahshoury also participated in the production of Macbeth Arabia Deconstructed (2013) as one of the witches. 60. These phrases, extremely common in everyday Arabic discourse, mean “Praise be to God” and “What God wills,” respectively; the latter is used idiomatically to express admiration. 61. Ismail and Eldahshoury, “The Wedding Proposal.”



62.  In their blog, the couple specifically reference this issue as a stumbling block to attaining their parents’ consent (Ismail and Eldahshoury, Smalltalk).

References Ahmed, Fajer. “Kuwait Law: No More Segregation and Now Animals Have Rights.”, 17 December 2015. fajer/law/kuwait-law-no-more-segregation-and-animals-have-rights/. Akbar, Esra’a, Alyaa Khuraibet, Rawan Al-Nafisi, and Mohammed Boland. Shakespeare in Kuwait (Student Documentary Film). American University of Kuwait, Spring 2007. Al-Nakib, Rania. Education and Democratic Development in Kuwait: Citizens in Waiting. Chatham House Research Paper, March 2015. Al-Shatti, Mariam. “Trojan Women Opens at AUK.” AUK Events Webpage, January 2009. jsp?id=10245&ndate=1211918449685&newsType=N. “AUK Presents Shakespeare in Kuwait.” AUK Events Webpage, 2007. http://;jsessionid=c430bd6f79621d5217e3?id=10128&ndate=1177234249415&newsType=. AUS blog. “Macbeth Arabia Brings a Regional Touch to Shakespeare.” American University of Sharjah Website, 13 December 2011. news/article/163/macbeth_arabia_brings_a_regional_touch_to_shakespeare. Botz-Bornstein, Thorsten. The Veil, Nudity, and Tattoos: The New Feminine Aesthetics. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2015. Botz-Bornstein, Thorsten, and Noreen Abdullah-Khan. The Veil in Kuwait: Gender, Fashion, Identity. London: Palgrave, 2014. Calderwood, James. “Kuwait University Short of Space, Segregating Sexes Blamed.” The National, 19 August 2011. world/kuwait-university-short-of-space-segregating-sexes-blamed. Commins, David. The Gulf States: A Modern History. London: I.B. Tauris, 2014. cooke, miriam. Tribal Modern: Branding New Nations in the Arabian Gulf. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014. Drama Students at the American University of Sharjah. Conversation with the Author, 2 March 2015. Elias, Diana. “Coeducation Nears End at Kuwait University.” Los Angeles Times, 11 August 2002. adfg-coeds11. Eltahawy, Mona. “Bruised but Defiant: Mona Eltahawy on Her Assault by Egyptian Security Forces.” The Guardian, 23 December 2011.



Emirates News Agency. “Sultan Al Qasimi Opens 25th Sharjah Theatre Days Festival.” UAEInteract, 18 March 2015. docs/Sultan_Al_Qasimi_opens_25th_Sharjah_Theatre_Days_Festival/67292. htm. Forstenlechner, Ingo, Emilie Rutledge, and Rashed Salem Alnuaimi. “The UAE, the ‘Arab Spring,’ and Different Types of Dissent.” Middle East Policy Council, 19:4 (Winter 2012). middle-east-policy-archives/uae-arab-spring-and-different-types-dissent. Ghabra, Shafeeq. “Student-Centered Education and American-Style Universities in the Arab World.” Middle East Institute, 23 February 2012 (Posted July 2010). Gottschalk, Christopher. Email to the Author, 7 December 2015. Gottschalk, Christopher. Telephone Interview with the Author via Skype, 19 November 2015. Hartley, Andrew James. “Tragedians of the City, Little Eyases, or Rude Mechanicals? Shakespeare on the University Stage.” In Shakespeare on the University Stage, edited by Andrew James Hartley. Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition, Locations 329–380. Human Rights Watch. “Bahrain: Reinstate Ousted Students, Faculty,” 24 September 2011. Ismail, Hysum, and Mona Eldahshoury. Smalltalk (Co-authored Blog). https:// Ismail, Hysum, and Mona Eldahshoury. “The Wedding Proposal at the American University of Sharjah.” YouTube, 12 November 2014. com/watch?v=suMALGfMcyA. “Julius Caesar Visits AUK.” AUK Events Webpage, 2009. kw/news/showNewsDetails.jsp?id=10358&ndate=1244362856212&news​ Type=N. Kuwait Law 24: 1996 (The Higher Education Law). Government of Kuwait. Available via the GCC’s Legal Information Network Website. http://www. 5vi5WVqsEanxVqwx52-No3nGjiV0oQAxPKsdIjUw==. Kuwait Law 34: 2000 (On the Establishment of Private Universities). Government of Kuwait. Available via the Website of the General Secretariat of the Private Universities Council. Langley, P.J., A. Carson (ed.), J. Ashdown-Hill, D. Johnson, and W. Johnson. Finding Richard III: The Official Account of Research by the Retrieval and Reburial Project. Imprimis Imprimatur Press, 2014. Lombardi, Clark B. “Constitutional Provisions Making Sharia ‘a’ or ‘the’ Chief Source of Legislation: Where Did They Come From? What Do They Mean?



Do They Matter?” American University International Law Review 28:3 (2013), 733–774. Macbeth Arabia (Student Documentary Video). Introduced by Sherouk Zakaria, with Videography by Imad Hamidaddin and Jerusha Sequeira, 2012. Macbeth Arabia Deconstructed (Performance Video). Directed by Anthony Tassa at the NYUAD Student Shakespeare Festival, 2013. com/watch?v=ou-BTimsllM. The Merchant of Muharraq. English Drama Festival, University of Bahrain. YouTube, Posted 16 October 2017. YFZCnOpov54. Olscamp, Lucas. “NYUAD Hosts Third Annual Global Shakespeare Festival.” The Gazelle, 29 November 2014. news/global-shakespeare/. Patell, Cyrus. “The Global Shakespeare Student Festival.” Electra Street: A Journal of the Arts and Humanities. New York University Abu Dhabi, Issue 1, March 2013. Pompeo, Joe. “We Are Not Here to Fight for Press Freedom.” The New Republic, 28 February 2013. national-abu-dhabis-brief-experiment-press-freedom. “President’s Progress Report.” The Voice of AUK, Summer 2008, p. 12. http:// Is7_Summer08.pdf. Richard III by William Shakespeare. English Drama Festival, University of Bahrain. YouTube, Dated 14 May 2014, Posted 7 December 2015. https:// “Sketch One: No One Likes Hamlet!” The English Drama Festival, University of Bahrain. YouTube, Posted 25 June 2015. watch?v=t9R9owzw7HA. Stucki, Arianna. “Soul of the Global Age—Understanding Shakespeare Through Abu Dhabi’s Global Expansion.” Article Abstract, Sent to the Author 23 October 2015. Tassa, Anthony. Interview with the Author at the American University of Sharjah, 2 March 2015. Tassa, Anthony. “Shakespeare in Arabia: Directing Macbeth Arabia and Antony and Cleopatra in the United Arab Emirates.” Journal of Language and Cultural Education 3:3 (September 2015). Tétreault, Mary Ann. “Leaving Home? University Education in the Gulf and Beyond.” Presentation at the Gulf Studies Seminar, American University of Kuwait, March 2013. Tétreault, Mary Ann. “Soft Power Goes Abroad: The Transplant University as a Western Outpost in the Arab Gulf States.” In The American-style University



at Large: Transplants, Outposts, and the Globalization of Higher Education, edited by Kathryn L. Kleypas and James I. McDougall. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2012. Twelfth Night. English Drama Festival, University of Bahrain. YouTube, Posted 9 June 2016. “UAE Pardons Jailed Activists.” Al Jazeera English, 28 November 2011. http:// html. “An Unhappy Isle: Bahrain is Still Hounding Its Shia Majority.” The Economist, 19 January 2017. Webster, Andy. “Hamlet Outdoors: The Setting’s the Thing.” The New York Times, 26 August 2008. reviews/26hamlet.html?_r=0. Wells, Stanley, and Gary Taylor, General Editors, with John Jowett, and William Montgomery, eds. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 2005.

Chapter 4. Negotiating Censorship: Shakespeare on Tour in the Gulf

The weight of this sad time we must obey, Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say. (King Lear, 5.3.299–3001)

Performance in the Gulf is alternately freer and more constrained than many commentators realize. Censorship in the region is anything but monolithic—it varies over time and across media, and from country to country, city to city, venue to venue, even event to event, creating a welter of contradictions and inconsistencies. Consider the following apparent paradoxes: In a region famed as the birthplace of Islam, Madonna opens a concert reciting an Act of Contrition (and clutching a machine gun), while dancers in hooded monks’ robes genuflect, ring church bells and swing a censer against the backdrop of a giant illuminated Gothic cross.2 Lady Gaga, arriving in Dubai to perform a specially censored version of her ArtRAVE tour, is greeted by fervent teenage fans in traditional Emirati dress who know the lyrics to “Paparazzi” by heart.3 A formidable censorship apparatus blocks websites, cuts kissing and sex scenes from films and certain satellite TV channels, and blurs the names of dishes that contain non-halal foods, like pork and bacon, on episodes of Masterchef. Meanwhile, in über-conservative Riyadh, satellite TV gives viewers access to the uncut Fifty Shades of Grey.

© The Author(s) 2018 K. Hennessey, Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula, Global Shakespeares,




Where theatre is concerned, censorship supposedly throttles attempts at creative self-expression on Gulf stages, except within the most circumscribed of limits. Yet I have personally witnessed public performances in the region that openly discuss taboo topics, from regime change to women’s sexuality. Until early 2018, Saudi Arabia banned women from performing with men on the public stage, yet the nation’s first feature film was made by a female director and starred two Saudi actresses, one of whom has made an admirable career for herself on Saudi television.4 And Yemen— routinely stereotyped in Western media as retrograde and tribal, a haven for terrorism and Islamic extremism—possesses a theatre scene that is the most vibrant and least subject to censorship of the entire region, with actors and actresses routinely taking to the stage on an equal footing, to voice scathing criticism of corruption and incompetence in their government and of the suffocating effect of patriarchal strictures within their society.5 One way to begin to make sense of all this is to examine touring productions of Shakespeare. As noted in the Introduction, when a director in the Gulf envisions a theatrical production designed for Gulf audience consumption, he or she knows that the production will be subject to regimes of censorship at various levels, both official and unofficial. Directors may feel confident that they know where the red lines lie, and may therefore try to adapt their own work so that it skirts those imagined lines, or merely tip-toes over them. An Emirati director recently observed that so long as the plays he puts on don’t mention sex, politics, or religion, he knows he won’t run afoul of the censor (to which I responded, perplexed, “But then what’s left to stage a play about?”)6 Yet, except by actually barrelling over the line—an admittedly risky proposition—how can a Gulf director test the accuracy of his or her own assumptions about what can or can’t be said? Touring Shakespeare productions, in contrast, are created with audiences other than Gulf ones in mind. Often they are invited to the region after successful performances elsewhere, and/or because the troupe or theatre has an outstanding international reputation; Shakespeare’s Globe, for example, has repeatedly brought their productions on Gulf tours. In such cases, one of two things generally happens: either the troupe performs the show as they are accustomed to (to approving applause or, in some cases, to disapproving blowback), or local producers articulate a set of constraints and limitations, which may involve cuts to the script, requests for more modest costumes or that certain props not be used, or requirements that the actors not engage in specific behaviors on



stage. Touring productions thus act as a kind of control group for an experiment testing the workings of censorship: since they have already been performed outside the Gulf, they should theoretically allow us to see exactly what the region’s censoring authorities require in terms of changes to text and staging. This chapter examines the demands on and the responses to touring productions of Shakespeare, with two caveats. First, this analysis is specific to the Gulf, as Yemen lacks resources to devote either to elaborate censoring practice or to hosting international touring troupes. Second, as this chapter will demonstrate, the region’s censorship regulations are complicated, uneven, and constantly evolving; the examples provided here offer insight into those complications but are not a blueprint for overcoming them.

Can’t Touch This: The UAE and Censorship Regulations London-based actress Eleanor Russo of the Bedouin Shakespeare Company (BSC) recalls the moment that a seemingly innocuous gesture on an Abu Dhabi stage in 2012 provoked a shocked intake of collective breath from the all-male audience for whom she was performing the role of Ophelia in Hamlet. The transgression? She had perched momentarily on the lap of the actor playing the role of Polonius.7 Despite the fact that what was being depicted on-stage was a moment of tender affection between a father and a daughter, the 900-strong audience, composed mainly of Emirati students from Zayed University, registered the actors’ identities not as the characters they were playing but as unmarried and unrelated members of the opposite sex, for whom intimate physical contact, even if non-sexual in nature, would contravene a common social stricture amongst the more conservative elements of Emirati society in Abu Dhabi. This is not to say that the audience’s reaction was uniformly or even predominantly negative: some may have gasped in disapproval, but others may well have been titillated by the public spectacle of a minor taboo being broken. Yet when we consider the content of Shakespeare’s Hamlet—the Prince of Denmark’s love letters to Ophelia, his obsession with his mother’s sexuality, his uncle’s fratricide, the murder of Polonius, Ophelia’s madness and death—it may seem strange that a gesture of paternal affection, of all things, would prove the greatest source of surprise or



objection. Edward Andrews, one of the founding members of the BSC, notes that when the company gave a command performance at the Royal Palace in Abu Dhabi with members of the ruling Al-Nahyan family in attendance, he was concerned about how that audience would respond to the final scene of Shakespeare’s play, depicting the murder of multiple members of a royal family within the walls of their castle. To Andrews’ relief, the audience’s responses to the performance were positive, the Al-Nahyans seemingly content to enjoy the bloody spectacle of Elsinore without drawing parallels that might strike closer to home.8 The United Arab Emirates, which hosts the lion’s share of the touring Shakespeare performances in the Gulf, is a prime example of intranational variation in terms of audience expectations: the emirate of Dubai often takes more liberal stances towards the performing arts than do the more conservative emirates of Sharjah and particularly Abu Dhabi, and their respective audiences do likewise: I do not believe many Dubai audience members would have reacted with shock to the sight of an actress sitting on an actor’s knee. At the regional level, such variations are amplified: each of the GCC nations has its own set of censoring regulations and protocols, often subdivided based on genre, venue and target audience (with more stringent requirements applied to productions for student audiences, for example, than for the general public). The independence of these censorship authorities from each other is occasionally raised as a point of pride,9 but for touring troupes who want to perform in, say, both Dubai and Doha, it can mean a nightmarishly complicated navigation of not one but two byzantine bureaucracies, each requiring a different set of paperwork and information to obtain a performance license. If we use the UAE as a test case for censorship—a useful one, since the majority of touring Shakespeare productions visit Dubai and/or Abu Dhabi—we find the following sets of censorship rules and regulations in force: 1. Internet content is censored by the UAE’s Telecom Regulatory Authority, which blocks pornography, gambling and dating websites, and sites discussing illegal drug use, as well as content deemed “offensive to religions.”10 2.  Film, television and print media are censored by the National Media Council, for nudity, sexual content, profanity, content offensive to



Islam, and criticism of the ruling family. Satellite television is, at least in theory, subject to particularly rigorous screening, as per an Arab League charter of 2008 prohibiting satellite broadcasts that “offend leaders of the Arab world,” harm “social peace and national unity and public order,” or that question monotheism.11 3. Performances, whether by local or international troupes, are subjected to a series of bizarre and convoluted licensing rules. For example, scripted drama must be censored, but musical theatre is exempt.12 No performance can take place without a license, nor can tickets go on sale before the license is in hand. The performance venue determines which one out of a number of possible authorities actually reviews the script. Some commercial theatres operate under the jurisdiction of the UAE Ministry of Economy, so scripts would be sent to that ministry for review. Other venues fall under the purview of the Ministry of Culture (MoC). The premises of the National Theater in Abu Dhabi, for example, belong to the MoC and therefore that ministry must review the script and issue the performance license. A performance at a school would need to be licensed by yet another authority, the Education Council of Abu Dhabi (or of Dubai, Sharjah, etc., depending on the location of the school). As we have seen in previous chapters, the cultural cachet accorded to Shakespeare serves, at times, as a buffer against censorship. At others, it provides little to no additional cover. And even when a production is strictly edited for textual and spoken content, the non-verbal elements of performance—set, costume, gesture, physical contact between actors— may still remain provocative, at least in the eyes of more conservative spectators. Touring troupes are thus faced with a conundrum: should they be willing to change the language or the visual elements of their productions in order to demonstrate their awareness of, or respect for, the new cultural context in which it is to occur? Or should they hold firm to standards of artistic vision and integrity, refusing to compromise? To do the latter would run various risks: a production might not ultimately be licensed, depriving the troupe and the theatre of revenue, and audiences of the chance to see it. Conversely, to put on a licensed production that provoked controversy could compromise the reputation of the local theatres, theatre managers, and promoters hosting the production.



To provide a more detailed snapshot of the challenges the Gulf poses to touring troupes, and the various ways in which these can be navigated, we will now examine a series of Shakespearean productions “imported” to the UAE: Richard II, by the Ashtar Theater Company of Ramallah, Palestine (2013); Piya Behrupiya, an Indian adaptation of Twelfth Night (2015); and the Q Brothers’ Othello: The Remix (2015). All three of these performances were commissioned by Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London for the 2012 Globe-to-Globe Festival; each was performed there before coming to the UAE, and was invited in part because participation in that high-profile festival had made these productions easily marketable in Dubai. Taken together, the experiences of each highlight the complex and often arbitrary nature of performance censorship in the region.

Shakespeare Speaks Palestinian Arabic: Ashtar’s Richard II In 2012, in collaboration with noted Irish playwright and theatre-maker Conall Morrison, the Ashtar Theatre Company from Ramallah presented Richard II. The play premiered at Hisham’s Palace in Jericho, an atmospheric early Islamic archeological site on the West Bank of Palestine, before the troupe left for London. In Jericho it played to a predominantly Palestinian audience; at Shakespeare’s Globe, to an international one. In both cases, the performance was in Arabic: Palestinian poet Ghassan Zaqtan, Ashtar artistic director Iman Aoun, and Ashtar actress Bayan Shbib translated Shakespeare’s language into an erudite Modern Standard Arabic, complete with case endings when lines required particular formality, lyricism, or gravitas. In each locale, the performance won positive reviews, and sparked speculation as to what this production signified in the context of the Arab Spring, and which contemporary Arab autocrats the characters of Richard and Bolingbroke most resembled.13 The fact that the show had played at the Globe piqued the interest of a Dubai-based organization called “Art for All,” founded by Rania Kuzbari Ashur in 2002 to bring “live theatre and educational stage shows for children” to the Gulf. Over the course of its first decade, Art for All had established working relationships with Shakespeare’s Globe and the UK-based organization Shakespeare4Kidz, and had helped arrange for a number of Shakespearean productions to be staged in



Dubai.14 Ashtar was invited to give performances on 17 and 18 January 2013 at the Madinat Jumeirah theatre, based inside the Souk Madinat Jumeirah, a massive shopping complex in Dubai constructed to resemble a traditional Arab market (but one replete with boutique and luxury stores); the performance took place as an event on the Dubai Shopping Festival calendar. It was an odd context for a serious, thoughtful production of a Shakespearean history play, one which did not shy away from— indeed, one which took pains to emphasize—the violent means by which the play’s two monarchs dispose of their perceived enemies. It was also the first time that Art for All and the Madinat Jumeirah theatre had produced Shakespeare in Arabic. According to Aoun, the theatre’s management requested that the troupe submit a copy of their translation beforehand, so that they could examine its suitability, but no cuts or changes were requested. However, reasoning that the language of the production might attract a largerthan-usual number of Emirati nationals, the troupe opted to tone down the passionate kiss shared between Sami Metwasi and Bayan Shbib at the end of Act 5, Scene 1, in the heart-wrenching moment of separation before Richard is imprisoned in the Tower and the Queen exiled to France. In the Dubai production, Metwasi instead gave Shbib a tender kiss on the forehead before they parted.15 In our discussion of the production, Aoun did not describe any additional issues with censorship. But Conall Morrison, the Irish playwright who directed the show, recalled a few additional changes and a tense exchange with the promoter about the content. Firstly, the bottle of Jameson whiskey from which Richard’s companions swigged while performing Act 1 Scene 4 at the Globe did not make it onto the stage at Madinat Jumeirah; instead the group used a hookah pipe and a cigar as props. Secondly, the Art for All representative, who had engaged the show without having seen it in performance, perhaps assuming it would provide “a harmless portrayal of politicking in merrie England,” was unpleasantly surprised to discover that the actors’ costumes were modern dress, including modern military uniforms, rather than “high-culture, safe Shakespeare” in doublet and hose (Fig. 1).16 That Richard and Bolingbroke dressed as generals in a contemporary army, and that cast members sported Palestinian keffiyehs, suddenly made analogies to the Emirates’ and the Gulf’s own rulers and to the unrest of the Arab Spring rather too obvious. The promoter expressed to Morrison her fears that undercover security forces might infiltrate the



Fig. 1  Ashtar’s Richard II: Actor Nicola Zreineh as Bolingbroke, in modern military attire. Courtesy of Conall Morrison

audience and stop the show if it depicted sedition or regicide. “If memory serves,” said Morrison, “I explained that that would mean that we would have to cancel the whole show, as the whole story had a lot of assassinations in it and ended, most definitely, in regicide.”17 Fortunately, in the end the promoter screwed her courage to the sticking place, and the show went on. It is somewhat ironic, however, that the costumes would spark more anxiety than the content. As I have argued elsewhere,18 the Ashtar/ Morrison Richard II is a radical staging of Shakespeare’s play. It takes a series of off-stage assassinations that are only narrated or alluded to in Richard II—starting with the death of John of Gaunt’s brother Thomas, Duke of Gloucester—and depicts them on stage, clearly attributing the responsibility for those murders to the reigning monarch.



It is a production that refuses to allow Shakespeare’s subtle critique of the brutal egotism of the privileged and powerful to remain a mere undercurrent within the performance. Rather, this production clearly and deliberately exposes rulers’ strategies of deception, manipulation and covert violence, and holds them up to the audience’s scrutiny. In short, an anxiety that the play would have contemporary relevance was justified—but that anxiety stemmed from its form, when it should have come from its content.

Shakespeare Speaks Hindi: Piya Behrupiya The next of the Globe-to-Globe festival performances to travel to the UAE was an Indian adaptation of Twelfth Night by Amitosh Nagpal, directed by Atul Kumar and performed by The Company Theatre, based in Mumbai. Piya Behrupiya shifts the setting of Shakespeare’s play to colonial India, and highlights the lighthearted and comedic rather than the darker, more painful elements of the text: one reviewer described it as a “masala-tinged poem” filled with playfulness and tomfoolery, another as a crowd-pleasing “carefree romp.”19 Having garnered enthusiastic reviews in London, India, and Singapore, the production played the Dubai Community Theater and Arts Center (DUCTAC) on 6 and 7 February 2015. Like Richard II, Piya Behrupiya traveled to Dubai with the support of a local partner, in this case Tall Tales Productions.20 In advance coverage of the performance in the Abu Dhabi newspaper The National, Asad Raza Khan, a co-founder of Tall Tales, stressed the universal appeal of the play: “Piya Behrupiya is that perfect mix of music and theatrical elements, and caters to all ages and ethnicities. It is a play that is a true reflection of Dubai’s multicultural set-up.”21 Translated in a mixture of Hindi and Punjabi with a sprinkling of English, the play had potential to appeal in particular to the Indian residents who constitute around 25% of the UAE’s population. Director Atul Kumar recalls that the Dubai​audience’s reaction to the play was “amazingly warm … people laughed and sang along,” an observation which suggests that the performance had attracted large numbers of locally resident Hindi and Punjabi speakers (Fig. 2).22 To judge by the online reviews of Piya Behrupiya as performed elsewhere in the world, the performance presented a potential series of



Fig. 2  Piya Behrupiya: LTR, Trupti Khamkar (Maria), Geetanjali Kulkarni (Viola) in male disguise as Cesario, and Neha Saraf (Feste). Courtesy of Atul Kumar and The Company Theatre

issues for UAE censors. As one blogger, who saw the play at the Hotel Rangsharda auditorium in Mumbai, enthused: The most shocking scene in the play is where Malvolio (Saurabh Nayyar, perfect timing and a head full of heart-breakingly sexy curls) appears on stage in near transparent yellow tights, family jewels struggling to break out of barely concealed blue kachchas!23 Toby trying to pull back his lungi even as Sebastian and Olivia share a ‘private’ moment or whenever he puts his hands into an unsuspecting Andrew’s pockets, had the audience doubling over with laughter!24

Peter J. Smith, reviewing the performance at the Globe, concurred with this description of Toby’s roving hands and Malvolio’s tights, which he described as “dangerously diaphanous.”25 Yet when I asked Kumar if the play had been changed in any way, verbally or visually, for production in Dubai, his answer was an emphatic “no”:



The UAE government is often accused of exaggerated censorship and conservatism. But time and again they have shown amazing camaraderie and liberal outlook when it comes to art. We had absolutely no issues with the government or public or the critics. Nor did we make any changes.26

Kumar’s evaluation tallies with my own experiences at this particular theatre, where I have seen a number of performances make startlingly frank (given the Gulf context) allusions to sex and sexuality. However, as the next production—Othello: The Remix, performed a month after Piya Behrupiya at the same venue—demonstrates, it is exceedingly difficult to generalize about or to predict the degree to which particular productions will be subjected to censorship.

Shakespeare Raps: The UAE Re-Remix of the Q Brothers’ Othello Othello: The Remix sets the action of Shakespeare’s play in the world of contemporary hip-hop music. The dialogue retains some key lines from Shakespeare’s Othello, but is predominantly rewritten in a contemporary urban American idiom, replete with allusions to sex, drugs and alcohol. Characters in The Remix take their inspiration from real-life rap stars: MC Othello as Jay-Z or 50 Cent, with Iago evoking Eminem, and Cassio (disparaged by Iago as a “candy rapper”) channelling Vanilla Ice and Will Smith.27 A collaborative effort by siblings Gregory and Jeffrey Ameen Qaiyum, also known as GQ and JAQ, or “The Q Brothers,” the script crackles with witty allusions to racial and gender politics, and almost the entirety of the dialogue is either rapped or sung to the beats laid down by a DJ performing on a raised platform above the stage. GQ describes the production’s colorful fusion of Shakespeare and hip-hop as a natural conjunction, since “Shakespeare … used poetry and musical language to tell his stories. Rappers do the same. What other medium combines poetry and storytelling so masterfully? If Shakespeare were alive today, we think he’d be rapping.”28 The relocation of Shakespeare’s plot to the world of contemporary American rap and hip-hop also adds an intriguing twist to the play’s depiction of the workings of racial prejudice: in this world, the fact that Othello is black functions in a net positive manner, as a marker of authenticity and belonging. Conversely, as a white rapper Iago finds himself in



the minority, on the fringes, and his attempts to break into the genre are subjected to suspicion and derision. His resentment of Cassio stems primarily from the fact that the latter’s white identity and inane dance moves actually work to Cassio’s advantage, giving his music “crossover appeal,” particularly to white teenage girls, while producers largely ignore Iago’s edgier talents.29 In short, much like Shakespeare’s play, Othello: The Remix raises complex questions about the causes and the effects of racial stereotypes. In addition to the DJ (Clayton Stamper), a cast of four took on all of the play’s roles: Postell Pringle played Othello; GQ, Iago and Brabantio; Jackson Doran, Cassio and Emilia. JAQ played three parts, to comic effect: Roderigo as a nerdy gamer obsessed with World of Warcraft and fantasy novels, who sells his collectible He-Man action figures in order to buy Desdemona gifts; Loco Vito (the Duke/Lodovico), an executive producer of hip-hop albums for whom tennis and its stars are a constant frame of reference; and Bianca, a pink-haired Latina with a clingy crush on Cassio. Desdemona, a singer/songwriter who composes duets with Othello on their honeymoon, is heard but not seen, her remarkable vocal talent conveyed to the audience via the sound system—a disembodied, ethereal presence. The Remix’s concoction of Othello, urban edge, and contemporary caricature proved popular at the 2012 Globe-to-Globe Festival, where the production played for three nights, every night to a full house. The festival organizers had invited the Q Brothers to participate based on the strength of their previous Shakespearean performance, a hilarious hiphop adaptation of The Comedy of Errors, rechristened The Bomb-itty of Errors (2001).30 The success of their Globe-to-Globe production in turn resulted in two invitations to perform in the Emirates in early 2015, at the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre (DUCTAC) and at the Abu Dhabi Festival (ADF), arranged by Arts for All, the organization that brought Ashtar’s Richard II to Madinat Jumeirah in 2013. Given the relatively short history of theatre and performance in the UAE, both the ADF and DUCTAC qualify as well-established institutions. DUCTAC was inaugurated in 2005 at the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai, while the ADF commenced in 2004, the brainchild of Gulf philanthropist H. E. Hoda Al-Khamis Kanoo. Born in Beirut to a Saudi father and a Syrian mother, Hoda Al-Khamis studied in Paris, relocated to Abu



Dhabi and there married a businessman and artist of Bahraini extraction, Mohammad Abd al-Latif Kanoo. In 1996 she established the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation, of which the ADF is an offshoot.31 The ADF website touts the festival as “a committed advocate of cross cultural understanding” which “celebrates Abu Dhabi as a place of tolerance, respect and enlightenment.”32 But as “the UAE’s premier classical arts event,” ADF is better known for hosting elegant piano and violin recitals and opera at the gorgeous Emirates Palace Auditorium33 than for embracing grittier genres of performance. Thus a staggering 200 lines of the Q Brothers’ script came back to them marked in red, accompanied by a request that all profanity and all references to sex, alcohol, and drugs be removed34 (which does make one wonder whether the local partners were at all familiar with the genres of rap and hip-hop before they booked the show). Obviously, this colossal set of required revisions dulled the production’s edge; the performance I saw at DUCTAC was the PG-13-rated version of a normally NC-17 show, and some members of the cast were still seething at the restrictions when I spoke to them later that evening. To their credit, however, the Q Brothers were able in many cases to find creative substitutions that responded to the letter of the censorship requirements, but still retained the spirit of their original vision. For example, the song “It’s a Man’s World,” with lyrics rapped by Emilia against the melody by James Brown, is The Remix’s analogue to her speech in Act 4, Scene 3, lines 85–102. The Remix normally contains the following couplet about the contrasting judgments passed on men and women for having multiple sexual partners: ‘Everyone celebrates [men] for their smut, If we do the same, we’re considered a slut!

The version of The Remix performed in the Emirates in 2015 removed the objectionable term “slut,” changing the final phrase to “there’s a scuttlebutt.” While this change undoubtedly lessened the pungency of the contrast, it nevertheless succeeded in retaining the essential meaning of the lines. Despite the edit, the underlying critique of the greater limitations that societal expectations can place on women—a particularly fraught issue in the context of the Gulf—remained.



In Sum: The Complexities of Gulf Performance Censorship As these three productions demonstrate, performance censorship in the UAE is contingent on numerous factors besides the officially stated ones of genre and venue. Language is one of them: productions in Arabic or in English provoke more scrutiny than productions in other languages. The fact that Piya Behrupiya was in Hindi and Punjabi no doubt contributed to the fact that the troupe was not asked to tweak their performance. UAE censorship is also primarily linguistic rather than visual, though there seems to be a general consensus that alcohol, for instance, whether actual or simply an indicative prop, should not appear on stage. Moreover, an intermediary, “gatekeeping” level of censorship, directed by promoters and theatre managers, often interposes itself between a touring troupe and an official licensing authority. Cognizant of the sorts of objections that censors have had in the past, these intermediaries may opt to help the troupe edit their script before sending it off for approval (or afterwards, should it be rejected), or they may express suggestions and concerns about how an audience will respond to particular content. Finally, as with Othello: The Remix, performers can occasionally find creative work-arounds that will obey the letter of the censorship requests but retain their production’s artistic spirit.

Some Unexpected Quirks of UAE Censorship The experiences of the Bedouin Shakespeare Company—the troupe whose 2012 Hamlet took its young male audience at Zayed University aback—further illuminate several of the official and unofficial censorship hurdles that face troupes touring the UAE. The BSC is a unique endeavor, founded by a group of young British actors, two of whom spent their formative years in Abu Dhabi. Edward Andrews and Mark Brewer met at the British School Al-Khubairat (BSK), which was founded as a primary school in Abu Dhabi in 1968 and began expanding into secondary education in the late 1990s.35 Shaykh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, current ruler of the UAE, sponsors the school, and his grandson Shaykh Zayed Bin Sultan Bin Khalifa Al-Nahyan attended it, at the same time as the BSC members. After pursuing tertiary degrees in drama in the UK—Andrews at the Drama Studio London, Brewer at the University of Lincoln—the two



decided to act on an observation they had made years previously, i.e. that Abu Dhabi offered residents little in the way of entertainment options, and had no theatre that attained the minimum standards a London audience would expect. They founded their own troupe, with the patronage of their fellow British School alumnus Shaykh Zayed and his sister Shaykha Hissa, with the aim of producing Shakespearean plays for performance in both the UK and the Emirates.36 They christened the company “Bedouin Shakespeare” as an homage to the Emirates, but also because it is “nomadic” in nature: with its actors based primarily in the UK and its patrons in Abu Dhabi, and its productions touring both, the company has no single base. (This seemingly oxymoronic contrast between “Bedouin” and “Shakespeare” has proved memorable to audiences and garnered media attention.37) The Al-Nahyan siblings sponsor the troupe’s tours in the Emirates, in return for which the BSC performs pro bono at Emirati educational institutions—secondary schools as well as tertiary institutions like Zayed University and United Arab Emirates University. We have already noted the complexities of the UAE’s performance licensing requirements, but the BSC’s experience demonstrates how these requirements change over time and in relation to evolving current events. In 2012, when the BSC brought Hamlet to the UAE, Dubai authorities requested both a script and a performance video in order to approve the performance, but Abu Dhabi’s requirements were less stringent. In 2015, when the BSC returned to the region with a production of The Comedy of Errors, Dubai again required that a video be submitted in advance—but when the BSC responded that they had not yet filmed themselves in rehearsal, the office in question told them that they could send a video of any performance of the play, by any troupe. The real bureaucratic challenge came when the Abu Dhabi Education Council required at the last minute that all ten of the traveling troupe members fill out a set of forms detailing their CVs and asking questions ranging from “grandfather’s profession and education” to the names and contact information of three friends who could vouch for their upstanding character (Russo recalled the troupe scanning the forms with a portable scanner at the airport as they were waiting to board their flight). This heightened scrutiny may have been related to national security concerns regarding the rise of ISIS and the UAE’s participation in the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, in which dozens of Emirati soldiers had perished. In early September 2015, a single rocket attack



had killed 45 soldiers from the UAE serving in Yemen,38 and BSC actor Jonathan Kemp recalled that media coverage of more soldiers’ deaths had made headlines as the BSC toured their production of The Comedy of Errors in the UAE in early October.39 But in contrast to their earlier production of Hamlet, this performance seems not to have crossed any invisible red lines; the production’s Courtesan, for example, who appeared in a leather and lace bustier and emanated an aggressive Teutonic sexuality, apparently raised no eyebrows. Another anecdote related by the BSC, moreover, illustrates an odd form of self-censorship—in this case, that of a technician refraining from using his skills, on the assumption that they would not be appreciated by local audiences. Kemp described a fascinating pre-show exchange with a Southeast Asian lighting technician at one of their host theatres, noting that he had barely begun to explain their production requirements when the technician interjected, “Usually they just ask me to turn the lights on”—that is, to focus a white spotlight or two on the stage. As the conversation continued, however, the technician came to realize that this group’s specifications were more elaborate than the theatre’s usual, and he rose to the occasion. BSC actor Jonathon Reid assessed the technician as “super qualified,” having all the necessary training to put the complicated lighting requirements of a professional production into effect, though apparently his more refined skills were seldom called upon. The BSC also had some difficulties with coordination and advance planning, as well as a run-in with informal censorship, when performing The Comedy at Emirati schools. One teacher told the troupe he had been given ten minutes’ notice that he would be taking his class to the performance. In another school, classes ran for one hour each, but the performance took two, and teachers were not able to coordinate attendance in advance; some took their classes, others did not, which meant that halfway through the performance certain groups of students had to leave, unable to see how the production ended, while others came in midway, not having seen the first half. Adding to the challenges that The Comedy of Errors cast faced on this tour was the choice made by director Chris Pickles to have Shakespeare’s two sets of twins played by only two actors: actor Thomas Gilbey played both Antipholuses, actor Michael Lapham both Dromios. This worked brilliantly at the performance I attended at the Arcola Theatre in London on 1 November 2015; the audience was clearly enthralled by



the performance and most seemed not to struggle to distinguish when Gilbey, for example, was reciting his lines as Antipholus of Ephesus and when as Antipholus of Syracuse, despite the fact that Gilbey maintained the same basic costume regardless of which twin he happened to be playing. Familiarity with the play helped some of the Arcola audience members to follow the convoluted Shakespearean plot, but fortunately even those watching The Comedy of Errors for the first time could have sorted out which twin was which by staying attentive to the subtle differences of accent, delivery, and bearing that each actor brought to his two characters. One of the most engaging things about the London production, in fact, at least to judge from conversations I had with other audience members during the intermission, was the opportunity it provided to speculate on how the director would stage the final scene, in which the two sets of twins are all reunited—which Pickles did through the expedient of two plywood dummies dressed in the respective twins’ costumes, much to the amusement of the audience. But one wonders how intelligible this choice would have been to the hundreds of Emirati students who were brought in to watch the production. How were they to understand that a single actor was actually playing two separate but physically identical characters? Cognizant of this problem, the BSC had prepared a synopsis of the play and had it translated into Arabic so that in each venue a student could read it to the audience before the performance commenced. But the troupe recounted with some bemusement that in one school the teacher refused to have the designated student read the entire synopsis: instead, she instructed him to simply read aloud the lines that recognized Shaykh Zayed and Shaykha Hissa as the troupe’s patrons, dispensing with the rest of the synopsis on the grounds that “the students won’t understand it.” In addition to this moment of informal, impromptu textual censorship, the actors remembered some minor disruptions—students answering cell phones, carrying on their own conversations, smoking, making noise. Yet the majority of the students seemed to enjoy the experience, watching attentively and participating in informal question and answer sessions with the troupe afterwards. “They were never disrespectful to us,” said Reid—and in fact, even if the intricacies of the plot escaped them, students were likely impressed by the quality of the BSC’s colorful, energetic, well-paced production and impressively talented cast.



Shakespeare Sings (and Dances): The Royal Opera House Muscat For reasons of space, this chapter will not attempt to compare the UAE’s censorship system with those of all the other GCC states. However, we will make a brief foray across the border between the UAE and Oman, to see Shakespeare performed as opera and ballet, in order to better understand the ways in which musical performances of Shakespearean works can be subjected to, and can negotiate, regimes of censorship. Our destination is the Royal Opera House Muscat (ROHM), a jewel box of a structure in marble, travertine, and inlaid wood, with state of the art acoustic technology and back-of-seat screens that provide each spectator access to performance subtitles in half a dozen languages. And even were the setting less exquisite, the opportunity to hear highly sensitive subjects raised via musical adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays—subjects like the mystery of who might succeed the nation’s current ruler, or the question of the degree to which women are able to participate in high-profile roles in Omani society—would make it worth the trip. Inaugurated in late 2011, ROHM staged several impressive early seasons—but until March 2014, not a single production with a Shakespearean connection graced the stage. Then over the course of nine and a half months, from mid-March 2014 to the end of January 2015, ROHM staged five musical adaptations of Shakespeare. Three of the productions were operas: Verdi’s Macbeth and Falstaff, and Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi (The Capulets and the Montagues). The other two were the ballets Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew, with music by Prokofiev and Scarlatti respectively. These were not Omani performances, but rather productions by European troupes brought to Muscat en masse (and at significant expense) to perform at ROHM. Yet like the tours by the BSC, under close examination the performances reveal interesting facets of the performing arts scene in Oman—in particular, the power that a single decision-maker can wield in shaping that scene, and the ways in which local history can condition an audience’s interpretation of and response to a given performance. Verdi’s Macbeth was the gala opening performance of ROHM’s 2014–2015 season. The elements of Macbeth which deal with dynastic ambition and royal succession have a certain historic resonance in Oman, where in 1970 Sultan Qaboos Bin Said deposed his father in a



bloodless palace coup. But Qaboos is no Macbeth. Rather than an ambitious tyrant, Qaboos is a beloved leader, almost universally praised as an enlightened sovereign whose near half-century’s reign has brought extraordinary stability and prosperity to the Sultanate. The Sultan is also the personal driving force behind the construction of the Opera House. A dedicated classical music aficionado, he established by Royal Decree in 1985 the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra, an institution absolutely unique in the region, as it admits only Omani performers, and provides them training and lifetime employment (in contrast to, say, the Qatar Philharmonic, which contains only a handful of Qatari performers, while the overwhelming majority are specially recruited internationals).40 But Sultan Qaboos is now in his mid-seventies, has no siblings and no publicly acknowledged children, and is not in the pink of health. In fact, when Verdi’s Macbeth opened, the Sultan had left Oman to seek treatment in Germany for an unspecified medical condition. Whom Qaboos has named as his successor is a closely guarded palace secret. So for audience members at Macbeth in Muscat, the Sultan would be an obvious analogue to Shakespeare’s Duncan, and the chaos and additional bloodshed that follow Duncan’s assassination might well conjure up unsettling visions of a disputed succession within the Sultanate. Verdi’s opera is, however, reasonably good at eliciting and then calming and containing such fears. His Macbeth ends on a much more triumphant note than Shakespeare’s play, with a resounding “hymn to victory,” hailing Malcolm as the true king destined to restore order and glory to downtrodden Scotland and her people. In composing his hymn Verdi had in mind Vittorio Emanuele II, first king of unified Italy, and in Oman, this same operatic rhetoric about the accession of the rightful ruler and the prosperity to be achieved under his reign bears remarkable parallels to the national narrative about Sultan Qaboos. Thus it is possible to interpretively map both Duncan and Malcolm onto Qaboos at different stages of his life, providing a comforting temporal loop whereby the beloved leader’s death is followed not by a disputed succession but by a reincarnation, a return to youth and vitality. Not every Omani audience member (nor every audience member living in Oman) would necessarily interpret the production in this manner. Yet if an audience member were meditating on connections between Verdi’s Macbeth and contemporary Omani society, the triumphant Qaboos-Malcolm analogy would be obvious, particularly as the



Opera House is so closely linked in its own branding to the person of the Sultan. His sumptuous Royal Box is a prominent feature of ROHM, and in 2011 on Omani National Day (celebrated on 18 November, the Sultan’s birthday), when Omani corporations placed congratulatory advertisements in the local papers, several featured an image of the Sultan superimposed over a photo of the Opera House. Moreover, as Dr Nasser Al-Taee, Advisor to ROHM’s Board of Directors for Education and Outreach, explained to me,41 there is demonstrated precedent for ROHM audiences interpreting performances on the Opera House stage in relation to the Sultan and, in particular, to the question of his continued reign in Oman. Al-Taee recounts that when the inaugural season’s opulent production of Turandot, directed by Francesco Zefferelli and conducted by Placido Domingo, reached its stirring final aria, “Diecimila anni al nostro imperatore” (May our Emperor live ten thousand years), Omani audience members stood up, turned towards the Royal Box, and extended their right hands towards the Sultan, as though to extend the aria’s prayer to the Sultan as well. Censorship is much less in evidence at ROHM than in the productions previously examined in this chapter, in part because the majority of the Opera House’s productions tend to be time-hallowed and lavish displays of high culture, and in part because the Sultan’s own rhetoric emphasizes a harmonious balance between respect for Omani culture and tradition and an enlightened openness to other cultures, ideas, and art forms.42 Ballet dancers caress and embrace each other on stage; male dancers lift their female counterparts, and all perform in contour-hugging tights. There do seem to be some limits, however, or rather some choices made to avoid potential controversy, as the example of Vincenzo Bellini’s opera I Capuleti e I Montecchi (The Capulets and the Montagues), which played at ROHM in March 2014, suggests. Technically speaking, Bellini’s opera is not an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, as Bellini’s librettist based his plot on Italian sources rather than Shakespeare’s play (in particular, an 1818 play called Giulietta e Romeo by Luigi Scevola, though that play traces its sources back to the same Italian novelle that inspired Shakespeare’s).43 At least one review of the ROHM production breezily states that Bellini’s opera is based on Shakespeare,44 but the Opera House’s own publicity for the production was careful not to attribute it incorrectly. It did, however, stress that the opera would portray “the story of Romeo and Juliet



… the star-crossed lovers … unfairly kept apart by their rivaling families,” clearly attempting to tap into the global cultural cachet of the tale as Shakespeare told it. When Bellini’s opera premiered at Teatro La Fenice in Venice in 1830, Romeo’s role was performed by a female singer (mezzo-soprano Giuditta Grisi), and this is the way it was performed for over a century, until the 1960s, when the score was rewritten for a tenor. But most modern opera companies in the US and Europe still perform it the way Bellini wrote it, with women in the lead roles. In fact, this is the way that the Fondazione Arena di Verona—the company that brought this production to Muscat—performed Bellini’s opera on their home turf in Italy in 2013, with mezzo-soprano Daniela Pini in the role of Romeo. When they came to Muscat in 2014, however, tenor Anicio Giustiniani sang the role. The Opera House has seen its share of controversy: the Grand Mufti of Oman opined in 2011 that it was not appropriate for devout Muslims to visit the Opera House, even simply to admire the architecture,45 and there was a minor protest in 2013 over the on-stage recitation of an Islamic prayer by a member of an American jazz ensemble.46 Internet rumors have also circulated of a quiet boycott of the space by some Omani citizens, not for religious reasons but out of the conviction that the officially undisclosed sums lavished on the project could have been better spent elsewhere.47 ROHM may well have felt that it would be courting additional and unnecessary controversy to stage a love story sung by two women. Yet ROHM is no stranger to transgressive behavior by female characters, particularly when those characters are associated in some way with the Bard. If we consider the five Shakespearean productions staged in Oman, we find Juliet (twice), who defies her parents’ wishes that she marry Paris because she has fallen passionately in love with and secretly married Romeo; Lady Macbeth, who urges her husband to commit murder against the prickings of his own conscience—and also in violation of traditions of hospitality and the protection of kin and guests, which have obvious analogues in traditional Gulf culture48; the Merry Wives, who band together to outwit and humiliate Falstaff; and Katharine, who violently rejects masculine authority. The ballet version of The Taming of the Shrew, in the choreography of celebrated South African John Cranko, shows us Katharine breaking her lute over Hortensio’s head (which, in Shakespeare’s play, occurs offstage



rather than on) and a moment where she flips a male character over her shoulder and flings him to the ground, martial-arts-style. Unfortunately, ROHM neither records performances nor keeps an archive, but we can be reasonably certain that these moments were not censored in the ROHM performance, because Cranko’s work carries with it such prestige that ballet troupes must first be vetted by his trust, and if selected must commit to present the choreography following Cranko’s meticulous movement directions.49 Cranko’s choreography presents Katharine as a strong, forceful woman determined to prevail against the attempted imposition of male authority. It is a description that could also be aptly applied to the woman responsible for bringing these five Shakespearean productions to the ROHM stage: Christina Scheppelmann, former CEO of ROHM, who envisioned ROHM’s programming for 2013/2014 and 2014/2015. The fact that Scheppelmann, a foreign woman, had been hired to run Oman’s Opera House was the subject of some debate in the press,50 and I suspect that the decision to bring these particular adaptations of Shakespeare, with these heroines, to the ROHM stage was both personal and strategic for Scheppelmann. The presentation of Shakespeare’s rebellious heroines reflected Scheppelmann’s position of strength and authority within Omani society in general, and within ROHM as an institution in particular—and may have been intended as a subtle means of provoking local debate about the position and the status of women in a nation that for the last four and a half decades has been run by a single man. Scheppelmann’s tenure at ROHM was short-lived, though it is unclear whether this was due to personal preference or to resistance to her leadership and her programming. She departed in 2014 to take up the post of Artistic Director at Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu,51 and Umberto Fanni, former artistic director of the Fondazione Arena di Verona, stepped into her shoes. Yet even during her relatively short tenure, she engineered the staging of multiple Shakespearean performances on one of the region’s grandest stages. And I would argue that Scheppelmann’s Shakespearean productions, like those of other international troupes and companies that visit the Gulf, provide local audiences with important examples of actors and artists who “speak what they feel, not what they ought to say,” as Edgar puts it in King Lear—that is, who push the boundaries of what Gulf theatrical conventions allow, and of what Gulf audience members expect.



Examining Shakespearean productions that tour the Gulf after being designed for audiences elsewhere helps us to understand the vagaries and the complexities of the region’s various forms of official and unofficial censorship, and the strategies that touring companies (and others) can utilize to negotiate, adhere to, or resist those limitations. In this book’s remaining chapters, we will turn our attention away from the prestigious Gulf stages that showcase imported productions of Shakespeare, to less flashy venues in which locally based theatre practitioners stage their own versions of the Bard’s works—stages smaller in size, but arguably greater in socio-cultural impact.


1. Here I am quoting from the Folio version, which gives the lines to Edgar, rather than the Quarto, which assigns them to Albany, and following the Oxford Complete Works line numbers for the former. 2.  Video of this concert, given in Abu Dhabi, is available on YouTube, posted by “Madonna—MDNA Tour.” In the UAE, Islam is constitutionally enshrined as the official religion; through 2007, churches in the UAE were not legally permitted to display crosses on their external perimeters (US Department of State, “United Arab Emirates”). That rule seems to have been relaxed in recent years, however. 3.  See “Dubai ‘monsters.’” Various reviews of the concert are available online, such as Paul, “Lady Gaga Dubai concert.” 4. Haifaa al-Mansour’s Wadjda stars Waad Mohammed as the young protagonist. Reem Abdullah, who has played in a number of Saudi television series—including the popular Tash Ma Tash, known for its criticism of the rigidity and intolerance that characterize certain aspects of Saudi society—plays Wadjda’s mother. See Chapter 1, n. 96, for more on the first Saudi women to take to the stage after the ban was lifted. 5.  See for example my work on theatre in Yemen, including “Staging a Protest” and “Staging the Revolution.” 6. Salah, “Shakespeare in Dubai.” 7. Russo provides a brief description of this moment in Bedouin Shakespeare Company. Hamlet: Behind the Scenes, 2:05–2:16. 8. BSC members, interview. 9. For instance, in the wake of criticism that the censoring of The Wolf of Wall Street—which hacked away forty-five minutes in total—had left the film incoherent, Juma Obaid al-Leem, Head of Media Content for the National Media Council, blamed the cuts on the UAE film distributor’s Qatar-based parent company. “We will not accept editing done abroad …



There are some scenes we accept that other Gulf countries may cut.” Quoted in Associated Press, “What was that all about?” 10. “Internet Guidelines,” UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority website. 11. FreeMuse, “The Middle East.” 12. The rule recalls the British Licensing Act of 1737, which required spoken drama to be licensed for performance by the Lord Chamberlain, and which theatre managers sometimes circumvented through the incorporation of music into performances. 13. See for example, Browning, “Shakespeare in Jericho”; Güner, “Globe to Globe”; Sullivan, “Richard II”; and West, “A strange brooch.” 14. The “past events” section of the Art for All website boasts a Macbeth and a Twelfth Night; a Hamlet (n.d.), MSND The Musical (2007) and Romeo and Juliet the Musical (2009), all three by Shakespeare4Kidz; and Shakespeare’s Globe touring productions of Midsummer Night’s Dream (2012) and Romeo and Juliet (2013). 15. Aoun, interview. 16. Morrison, interview. The phrases in quotes are Morrison’s. 17. Morrison, email. 18. Hennessey, “Shakespeare.” 19.  Gupta, “A Masala-tinged poem”; Smith, “Review of Twelfth Night”, p. 221. 20. In October 2015, Tall Tales assisted Shakespeare’s Globe in bringing their round-the-world Hamlet tour to DUCTAC. 21. Quoted in Khan, “Desi adaptation.” 22. Kumar, email. 23.  Kachchas, more commonly kacchas or kaccheras, are short undergarments; a lungi is a sarong. 24. “Review: Piya Behrupiya,” Plunging Necklines. 25. Smith, op. cit., p. 223. 26. Kumar, email. 27.  GQ explains these parallels in an interview with Caitlyn Davis of the Emirati newspaper 7Days; he states that Cassio is “largely based on” Smith, whereas the reference to Vanilla Ice is based on my own perceptions as an audience member. See Davis, “Duo stage hip hop remix,” p. 18. 28. Totton, “Music to the Capital’s Ears,” p. 12. 29. For an exploration of the complex and evolving position(s) of white rappers within and in parallel to the contemporary American hip-hop scene, see Caramanica, “White Rappers,” and Wallace, “A Condensed History.” 30. I enjoyed this performance immensely when I saw it in Chicago in 2004 as a graduate student.



31. “Hoda Al Khamis Kanoo.” 32. “About us: Overview—Abu Dhabi Festival,” ADF website. 33. “Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi: Auditorium.” 34. Cast members related this to me after the performance at DUCTAC, 1 March 2015. 35. “Our History.” BSK official website. 36.  Bedouin Shakespeare Company members, interview; also Gornall, “Method in Madness.” 37. Bedouin Shakespeare Company members, interview. 38. “45 UAE Servicemen,” The National. 39. Kemp is likely referring to coverage of an explosion in the Yemeni city of Aden on 6 October 2015, which killed four Emirati soldiers and eleven others—a blast for which ISIS claimed responsibility. “Coalition Troops,” Al Jazeera. 40.  OmanMusic, “Royal Oman.” Cf. the Qatar Philharmonic’s membership at “Meet the Orchestra.” 41. Al-Taee, Conversation, 9 March 2015. 42. See for example Qaboos bin Said, Speech. 43. Those by Luigi Da Porto and Matteo Bandello. 44. Macdonald, “Romeo.” 45. Dhofari Gucci, “Oman’s Grand Mufti.” 46. See Rejimon, “Protests.” 47.  The National, “Oman’s New Opera House.” 48. As noted in the discussion of Macbeth Arabia in Chapter 3. 49. See, for example, the description of the painstaking accuracy of the Tulsa Ballet’s choreography for their 2011 performance, detailed in Watts, “Tulsa Ballet presents.” 50. “Oman Surprises,” Bloomberg Business. 51. Loomis, “Recapturing.”

References “45 UAE Servicemen Die in Yemen.” The National, 4 September 2015. “About us: Overview—Abu Dhabi Festival.” Abu Dhabi Festival Website. Al-Taee, Nasser. Conversation with the Author at Royal Opera House Muscat, 9 March 2015. Aoun, Iman. Skype Interview with the Author, 17 October 2015. Associated Press. “What Was That All About? Dubai Censors Cut The Wolf of Wall Street by a QUARTER.” Daily Mail Online. 15 January 2014.


K. HENNESSEY Bedouin Shakespeare Company. Hamlet: Behind the Scenes video, 2m05s–2m16s.!hamlet/c10ok. Bedouin Shakespeare Company Members Edward Andrews, Eleanor Russo, Jonathan Kemp, and Jonathon Reid. Interview with the Author at the Royal Overseas League in London, 3 November 2015. Browning, Noah. “Shakespeare in Jericho Echoes Year of Arab Strife.” Reuters, 23 April 2012. Caramanica, Jon. “White Rappers, Clear of a Black Planet.” The New York Times, 18 August 2016. white-rappers-geazy-mike-stud.html. “Coalition Troops Killed After Attack in Yemen’s Aden.” Al Jazeera, 6 October 2015. Davis, Caitlyn. “Duo Stage Hip Hop Remix of Shakespeare’s Othello in UAE.” 7Days, 1 March 2015, 18. E-version available at duo-stage-hip-hop-remix-shakespeares-othello-uae. “Dhofari Gucci” [Pseudonym]. “Oman’s Grand Mufti Condemns Opera House.” The Voices of the Middle East, 7 December 2011. “Dubai ‘Monsters’ go Gaga over Lady Gaga.” Gulf News, 9 September 2014. “Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi: Auditorium.” Kempinski Hotels Official Website. venues/auditorium/. FreeMuse. “The Middle East: New Restrictions on Satellite TV,” 20 February 2008. Gornall, Jonathan. “Method in Madness as Shakespeare Comes to Abu Dhabi.” The National, 7 October 2012. method-in-madness-as-shakespeare-comes-to-abu-dhabi. Gupta, Nidhi. “A Masala-tinged Poem, Sung to Perfection.” The Sunday Guardian, 2 September 2012. young-restless/a-masala-tinged-poem-sung-to-perfection. Güner, Fisun. “Globe to Globe: Richard II, Shakespeare’s Globe.” The Arts Desk, 6 May 2012. globe-globe-richard-ii-shakespeares-globe.



Hennessey, Katherine. “Shakespeare in the Arab World.” In A Companion to Global Shakespeares, edited by Alexa Alice Joubin. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, forthcoming. Hennessey, Katherine. “Staging a Protest: Socio-Political Criticism in Contemporary Yemeni Theater.” In Doomed by Hope: Essays on Arab Theater, edited by Eyad Houssami. London: Pluto, 2012. Hennessey, Katherine. “Staging the Revolution: The Drama of the Arab Spring in Yemen.” Arabian Humanities 4, April 2015. “Hoda Al Khamis Kanoo.” Biography Available in 2014 on the Abu Dhabi Festival Website. get/20141228_adf2014guest-info-211214.pdf. Page since removed. “Internet Guidelines.” UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority Website. details.aspx#pages-67183. Khan, Ujala Ali. “Desi Adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night Comes to Dubai.” The National, 3 February 2015. Available at http://www. Kumar, Atul. Email to the Author, 18 November 2015. Loomis, George. “Recapturing an Opera House’s Former Luster.” The New York Times, 29 October 2014. international/barcelonas-liceu-theater-faces-challenges.html?_r=0. Macdonald, Sarah. “Romeo and Juliet to Tell Their Tragic Tale on Royal Opera House Muscat Stage.” Times of Oman, 17 March 2014. “Madonna—MDNA Tour Live Abu Dhabi.” Posted by MadonnaQueenOficial2, 3 June 2012. “Meet the Orchestra.” Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, Page available in 2015 but since replaced with “The Musicians.” the_musicians. Morrison, Conall. Email to the Author, 12 December 2015. Morrison, Conall. Skype Interview with the Author, 24 August 2015. OmanMusic. “Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra: Music in Oman.” OmanMusic. “Oman’s New Opera House Sparks Debate.” The National, 13 October 2011. “Oman Surprises as Woman Arrives to Helm New Theater.” Bloomberg Business, 14 November 2012. articles/2012-11-14/oman-surprises-as-blonde-arrives-to-helm-new-theater.



Othello: The Remix Cast Members. Conversation with the Author after the performance at DUCTAC (Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre), 1 March 2015. “Our History.” British School Al-Khubairat Official Website. “Past Events.” Art for All Official Website. past-events/. Paul, Ajanta. “Lady Gaga Dubai Concert: No Nudity … Shows Off Arabic.” Emirates 24/7, 11 September 2014. enter tainment/lady-gaga-dubai-concer t-no-nudity-shows-of f-arabic-2014-09-11-1.562545. Qaboos bin Said, Sultan of Oman. “Speech at the Opening of the 5th Term of the Council of Oman, 31 October 2011.” Ministry of Information, Oman, 17 November 2011. Rejimon, K. “Protests over Recital of Holy Quran Verses During Musical Show.” Times of Oman, 9 March 2013. Article-10433.aspx. “Review: Piya Behrupiya.” Plunging Necklines Blogspot, Posted by “The First Quadrant.” 26 June 2012. http://plungingnecklines.blogspot. Salah, Faisal. “Shakespeare in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.” Q&A Event at Queen Mary University of London, 31 March 2015. Smith, Peter J. “Review of Twelfth Night directed by Atul Kumar at Shakespeare’s Globe.” In A Year of Shakespeare: Re-living the World Shakespeare Festival, edited by Paul Edmondson, Paul Prescott, and Erin Sullivan. London: Bloomsbury, 2013, 221. Sullivan, Erin. “Richard II.” In A Year of Shakespeare: Re-living the World Shakespeare Festival, edited by Paul Edmondson, Paul Prescott, and Erin Sullivan. London: Bloomsbury, 2013, 170–172. Totton, Liz. “Music to the Capital’s Ear.” Time Out Abu Dhabi, 25 February–3 March 2015, p. 12. US Department of State. “United Arab Emirates” (Report on Religious Freedom), 2007. Wadjda (Film). Directed by Haifaa al-Mansour starring Waad Mohammed and Reem Abdullah, 2012. Wallace, Carvell. “A Condensed History of White Rappers.” MTV News, 14 July 2016. Watts, James D., Jr. “Tulsa Ballet Presents ‘The Taming of the Shrew.’” Tulsa World, 19 October 2015.



artsandentertainment/tulsa-ballet-presents-the-taming-of-the-shrew/article_1e35e16c-a90b-59f5-becf-52900b88f749.html. Wells, Stanley, and Gary Taylor, general editors, with John Jowett, and William Montgomery, eds. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 2005. West, Samuel. “‘A Strange Brooch in This All-hating World’: Ashtar Theater’s Richard II.” In Shakespeare Beyond English: A Global Experiment, edited by Susan Bennett and Christie Carson. Cambridge University Press, 2013, 121–24.

Chapter 5. Creating Communities: Shakespeare and “New Local” Theatre in the UAE and Qatar

True hope is swift, and flies with swallows’ wings; Kings it makes gods, and meaner creatures kings. (Richard III, 5.2.23–4)

The interactions with Shakespeare that we have examined thus far have taken place in very specific contexts across the Arabian Peninsula: the university classroom, the university stage, and the public stage. But our investigation of the public stage in Chapter 4 was confined to productions of Shakespeare by troupes touring the Gulf, each troupe arriving in the Gulf with a widely different set of linguistic, cultural, ethnic and familial connections to the region—some, like the Bedouin Shakepeare Company, well rooted in the geography, others much more contingent and tenuous. The productions treated in this and the following two chapters are unique in that they are public performances conceived and driven primarily by groups of women and men who are based on the Arabian Peninsula. “Groups based on the Arabian Peninsula” is a deliberately capacious and inclusive category, one that runs counter to a number of common assumptions and misapprehensions about the region. The most insidious of those conflates citizenship, identity and authenticity: put simply, it is the misapprehension that—for example—“Shakespeare in Qatar” means “Shakespeare performed by citizens of Qatar,” or the © The Author(s) 2018 K. Hennessey, Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula, Global Shakespeares,




related assumption that the latter category would be “authentic” in a way that Shakespeare performed by expatriates in Qatar would not. This is an assumption that might arguably hold true in a country like the United States, where if we were to imagine theatre produced by a group of foreign residents who did not expect to ever acquire US citizenship, we might also imagine that such theatre would not automatically fit the category “American drama,” but might require its own hyphenated, hybrid designation. But in a country like Qatar, where a mere 12% of the overall population actually hold Qatari passports,1 and where foreign resident families can live for generations without having a path to citizenship, it would be absurdly restrictive to claim that only theatre performed by Qatari citizens “counts” as Qatari theatre, or to denigrate theatre performed by the 88%—or by a troupe that draws its membership from both the citizen and the foreign resident population— as “imported” or “inauthentic.” This book not only rejects that assumption, but also makes the more radical claim that theatre performed by a mixed troupe of citizens and foreign residents may be significantly more authentic in this particular context than theatre performed exclusively by nationals. Authenticity, after all, connotes truth, accuracy and faithfulness to reality, and the demographic realities of the twenty-first-century Gulf are much better reflected in a multi-national, multi-ethnic, polyglot theatre troupe than in one composed entirely of a minority defined by their possession of a particular passport. This holds particularly true given that most of the theatre troupes that are composed exclusively of the citizens of a particular Gulf state are government-funded, and usually attached to official bodies like a Ministry of Culture, whose expectations and whose authority can directly impact the troupe’s ability to address fraught socio-political issues. While—as we have seen in previous chapters—censorship remains a potential obstacle for all theatre-makers in the Gulf regardless of nationality, the problem is particularly acute when practitioners directly depend for their livelihood upon the largesse of a governmental institution. Etymologically, the word “authentic” can be traced back to the ancient Greek authentes, meaning “one who acts on one’s own authority”—but when members of government-sponsored theatre troupes act, they do so not relying on their own collective authority but rather at the behest of the ruling power. Troupes that draw on a broader demographic must still rely on Gulf governmental authorities, of course—for permission to use particular



buildings, for the residency permits that allow non-citizens to remain in the country, and so forth, and some do occasionally receive government financial support—but they nevertheless retain a much higher degree of autonomy and independence, and more freedom to choose their content. They are thus arguably more “authentic” in that sense of the word as well. The second assumption that this book dispenses with is that professional theatre is worthy of academic analysis but that community and amateur performances are not. This chapter and the next examine performances of Shakespeare that run the gamut from the beautifully envisioned and executed productions of Sulayman Al-Bassam’s SABAB Theatre Company, to works by community theatre clubs run on a shoestring budget that leaves them little to no provision for set design, music, or costumes, and whose troupe members possess a variegated range of talent, training, and experience in the theatre. This is not to suggest, of course, that production aesthetics are unimportant, or to occlude the obvious distinctions that exist between professional and non-professional theatre. The overall argument of these chapters, however, is that the most compelling achievement of contemporary theatre in the Arabian Peninsula is a communal rather than an aesthetic one: that the practice of theatre in the region creates and stages micro-communities defined by inclusivity, openness, and egalitarian treatment of their members, regardless of gender, ethnicity, creed or nationality, and that as such these micro-communities stand in stark contrast to the insular sub-communities established in and by other strata of Gulf society. In its focus on the inclusive bonds fostered by this type of theatrical activity, this chapter takes an approach similar to the one Michael Dobson describes in his groundbreaking study Shakespeare and Amateur Performance, in which the primary concern is not “the societies which Shakespeare’s plays depict” but rather “a study of the ones which they have helped to convene.”2 It is likewise inspired by Baz Kershaw’s seminal investigation of the efficacy of theatre, and community theatre in particular, not just to affect individual audience members’ opinions, but also to catalyze changes within communities and social structures.3 The unifying element within all of the locally based theatre troupes that convene across the Arabian Peninsula to perform Shakespeare, whatever their level of technical proficiency, is the fact that their work challenges extant hierarchies of inclusion and patterns of segregation and marginalization, by uniting practitioners of vastly disparate identities in the collective aim and collaborative process of performance. It is



this phenomenon—the staging of a radically redefined, inclusive concept of community, a redefinition driven at grassroots levels by individuals “acting on their own authority”—that I term the region’s “new local” theatre. The phrase’s echo of such pop culture claims as “orange is the new black” is not accidental: I intend it to suggest that, in the context of Gulf theatre troupes, “diverse and egalitarian is the new local,” both within the troupes themselves and, by imaginative extension, within the societies in which they act. And though instances of “new local” theatre are not confined to productions of Shakespeare, I argue that Shakespeare as produced in the region provides some of the clearest and most useful examples of this sea-change in the definition and shape of the region’s communities.

The Complete Works (Abridged) by the Manama Theatre Club Our first example of local Shakespeare in the Gulf does not in fact fit the category of “new local” theatre, but rather serves as an illustration of the conditions to which “new local” theatre responds. The British Club in Manama, Bahrain, was established around 1935 by Sir Charles Belgrave, Personal Adviser to the Emir, Shaykh Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa4 (whose brother Abdullah, as noted in Chapter 1, established Bahrain’s first modern school). Initially a place for British expatriates to golf and socialize, the Club’s activities evolved over time to include drama, and eventually included the formation of a sub-group called the Manama Theatre Club (MTC). The MTC puts on two to three shows a year, on average, including a holiday pantomime, and their webpage cheerfully rejects any pretensions to professional status: “Our members are generally total amateurs with the odd drama-trained member and savvy technical expert if we are lucky.”5 Membership is open to British citizens, GCC nationals and citizens of any other countries that do not have their own social clubs in Manama (though it should be noted that a single membership currently costs around $465 per year, a sizeable barrier to membership for residents on the lower ends of the economic spectrum). In 2014, to celebrate the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, the MTC staged The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s hilarious compression of thirty-seven of the Bard’s plays into ninety minutes.6 It was a production that MTC actor Rory Adamson had been attempting to organize since 2005: four times



previously, Adamson had cast the show and begun rehearsals, only to have one of his three cast members permanently depart Bahrain on short notice. The play began to seem “like a poisoned chalice,” as Adamson lamented: “If you take the part, you’ll end up leaving the country for one reason or another.”7 Finally, over a four-night run in June 2014, Adamson realized his ambition, taking to the British Club stage with co-stars Martyn Wharrie and Jacob Rusling, directed by Marina Tadayon and Jenny Falcus. The play was positively reviewed, with one journalist noting “I am delighted to have this quality of theatre in Bahrain,”8 and another commenting on the actors’ “dynamic,” even “majestic,” performances.9 Though the reviews stress the enjoyable aspects of the play (one begins “Who would have thought Shakespeare could be so much fun?”10), the significance of this production actually stems from the difficulties Adamson encountered. The MTC’s experience with The Complete Works encapsulates the transient nature of expatriate society in the Gulf, where many residents’ stays are temporary, subject to one- or two-year contracts and visas, and departures can occur at short notice. Further, as the name “The British Club” itself suggests, since the early years of the oil boom in the Gulf, both Gulf citizens and resident expatriates have tended to socialize with their co-nationals—some by desire, others by default. It is a common lament among members of the latter group that it is difficult to establish friendships with members of the former after moving to the Gulf, and in fact the cast and directors of the MTC’s The Complete Works were all expats. The production thus reminds us of the obstacle that the transience of many expatriates’ presence in the Gulf poses to artistic and collaborative creation; of the need to create bonds of solidarity and common endeavor among Gulf expatriates as well as between them and the larger community; and of the joys and rewards of perseverance in making theatre despite the formidable odds that the region stacks against it.

Resuscitation Theater On the opposite side of the spectrum of multinational integration in the Gulf stands a theatre troupe in Abu Dhabi currently headed by a young Emirati, with an Iraqi-Canadian house playwright and a cast of actors from a remarkable range of backgrounds, including Jordanian, Macedonian, Indian, British, French, Irish, Hispanic American, Filipino,



Colombian and Venezuelan. Resuscitation Theater (RT) bills itself as “a defibrillator for classic theatre texts”—adapting ancient, early modern and more recent drama with the aim of rendering it lively, relevant and accessible to contemporary audiences in the Emirates—and three of the group’s productions have been reworkings of plays by Shakespeare.11 RT was founded by Maggie Hannan, a New Yorker with an impressive set of performance credentials. Hannan had a successful teaching career in drama and dance in the UK before relocating to Abu Dhabi, where she taught at the British School al-Khubairat (the alma mater of the founding members of the Bedouin Shakespeare Company12) and at the Abu Dhabi branch of the New York Film Academy. Hannan established RT in 2002 in the UK, and her vision for it traveled with her when she moved to the Gulf. RT’s first performance in Abu Dhabi was an allfemale production of Hamlet in 2009, an adaptation that Hannan had first produced with a British cast in West London several years before, as part of the V-Day campaign to end violence against women. Hannan’s adaptation posits Queen Gertrude as a victim of domestic abuse, first by her husband and then by his brother. The play opens with a scene in which Gertrude attempts to escape from Claudius, while a sequence of stylized movements implies that he rapes her before placing a wedding ring on her finger. When asked whether this prelude caused controversy in the 2009 Abu Dhabi production, Hannan said no. The facts that Claudius was played by a female actor rather than a male, that the depiction of sexual violence was more symbolic than graphic, and that the play itself had the cultural cachet of Shakespeare attached to it, all likely helped to quell the discomfiture of any audience members unaccustomed to seeing sexual acts depicted or suggested on stage.13 Moreover, at official levels—perhaps surprisingly, given Abu Dhabi’s strait-laced reputation—Hannan relates that she has very rarely run into censorship problems or received demands that content be changed, even at the National Theater, which is run by the Ministry of Culture.14 Current RT director Faisal Salah concurs: We’ve had to send them [the Ministry] the scripts to read. They have never told us to take anything out but we’ve tried to be careful. They look out for obvious things like sexual language or religious imagery or political messages. Otherwise there’s usually no problem with the process.15



The troupe has encountered other problems, however, that are peculiar to the Gulf context. For example, most GCC governments place rigid restrictions on residents’ ability to work for pay outside the specific scope of their usual employment, whether those residents are foreigners or nationals—so in government-run venues, amateur troupes may not be permitted to sell tickets, but must rather ask audience members for “voluntary contributions.” Actors may also be asked to furnish a letter certifying that their employer has no objection to their participation in a performance. Emirati actors often lament that their families disapprove of their dedicating large amounts of their time and energy to a nonlucrative activity like drama, particularly those from conservative families who see acting and public performance as a departure from Emirati or Islamic tradition. Directors encounter difficulties in scheduling rehearsals, as many of their expatriate cast members are holding down full-time jobs outside of the theatre; they also occasionally encounter would-be performers with unbounded egos but severely limited esprit de corps, big fish splashing loudly in Gulf theatre’s underdeveloped pond. And the planning and dedication of troupe members can be rendered moot at a stroke by official decree: RT’s 2015 production of A Comedy of Errors, for instance, was scheduled to premiere in the Emirates Writers’ Union Hall of the National Theater on 22 April, but the troupe was informed only two days prior that the Theater had scheduled a high-level security event for the same evening, and the entire theatre would therefore be off limits to all but invited guests. Yet the rewards of perseverance are remarkable. When I attended a final rehearsal of RT’s Comedy, I found the troupe—all told, seventeen people of fifteen different nationalities and a range of ages—gathered in the living room of a lovely high-rise apartment in the center of the city. They diligently recited their scenes, then shared a meal together (pizza ordered from a local restaurant) commiserating about their opening-night jitters and their annoyance that their premiere had been pushed back. One member of the group began to read through the newly printed theatre programs; hilarity ensued as they poked fun at each other’s quirky bios. And my impression, as an outside observer, was that in its members’ good-natured ribbing, their affection and respect for one another, their sharing of conversation and laughter over a meal, the cast resembled an extended family. They had formed a tiny community in which everyone felt at home, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, class,



religious affiliation, or linguistic background (most of the group spoke English fluently, but as a second language). A number of the cast members confirmed this perception. One young woman told me that working with RT had made her feel that she was rooted in the Emirates for the first time, after years of living in Dubai feeling like an outsider. Others related their delight that participation in the troupe had allowed them to establish friendships with a group of people more diverse in terms of identity and experience than they would have found in their countries of origin. Another described life before auditioning for A Comedy of Errors as a slavish grind, “constantly working or commuting to work,” and described the happy anticipation of seeing friends at evening rehearsals.16 The group’s camaraderie was also on display when the play premiered, one day late (but on Shakespeare’s birthday) on 23 April 2015.17 The cast gave a spirited rendition of a script adapted by playwright and assistant director Faisal Jadir, which cut Shakespeare’s play down to seventy minutes and rewrote it in highly contemporary English (hence A Comedy of Errors, rather than The Comedy of Errors). Though an early draft had made Shakespeare’s two sets of twins members of rival mafia families in Dubai—a provocative choice—by opening night the twins had returned to more or less their original geographies, to Istanbul, a better known Turkish city than ancient Ephesus, and Sicily, site of ancient Syracuse, the better to correspond to cast members’ accents (and also to avoid accusations that this Abu Dhabi-based group was maligning a sister emirate and its residents as mafiosi). Jadir’s script maintained the comically confusing plotline of the identical twins, but made several fascinating changes to the ancillary characters. Adriana, for example, lost her poignant monologue from Act 2 Scene 2 (“Ay, ay, Antipholus, the time was once …”), and Dromio of Syracuse/ Sicily his unparalleled description of spherical kitchen wench Nell in Act 3 Scene 2 (“I could find out countries in her!”). Rather than a chubby, greasy comic foil panting after Dromio, this adaptation’s Nell was played with poise and dignity by Darcell Castillo, who comforted Dromio after Antipholus’ beatings, and protested firmly to Adriana against the master’s violent abuse of his servant. Since Jadir’s script had edited out many of Adriana’s more sympathetic moments, leaving her identifiable primarily as wealthy and domineering, the domestic dynamic displayed on stage began to take on echoes of headlines regarding cases of abuse of domestic workers in the



Gulf, like the 2014 International Trade Union Confederation report which warned that “an estimated 2.4 million migrant domestic workers are enslaved” across the GCC, and vulnerable to physical, sexual, and psychological abuse by their employers.18 Thus Jadir and Castillo unexpectedly transformed Nell from a minor figure of fun into the play’s moral compass. Meanwhile “The Law Enforcer”—a fusion of the roles of Duke Solinus and the Jailer, played with comically pompous gravitas by Rashid Yacine, in a British bobby uniform and impeccable handlebar moustache—provided a discomforting reminder of the arbitrary nature of official power and authority in the Gulf. Even barring these more topical interventions, however, this particular choice of play spoke to the context of the Gulf and to the experiences of many of its residents. Egeus’ travels throughout the world in search of his sons—“Five summers have I spent in farthest Greece / Roaming clean through the bounds of Asia, … hopeless to find, yet loath to leave unsought” any city in which they might be found—speaks to the longing of many Gulf expats for far-away family members, and the heartache of living separated from their parents, siblings, sometimes even spouses and children. We find the same longing for family in the first soliloquy by Antipholus of Syracuse: He that commends me to mine own content Commends me to the thing I cannot get. I to the world am like a drop of water That in the ocean seeks another drop, Who, falling there to find his fellow forth, Unseen, inquisitive, confounds himself. So I, to find a mother and a brother, In quest of them, unhappy, lose myself. (1.2.33–40)

For Antipholus, that longing is amplified by the sense of his own insignificance in the face of a vast, disinterested world—a sentiment undoubtedly familiar to new arrivals who find themselves alone amidst the sprawling cosmopolitan bustle of Abu Dhabi or the Gulf’s other urban centers. The Comedy of Errors also illustrates the precipitous way in which one’s perceptions of a relatively unknown city can plunge from adventurous elation to anxiety and intimidation. Antipholus of Syracuse commences his visit to Ephesus like an eager tourist poring over a map of



local landmarks: “Within this hour it will be dinner-time. / Till that I’ll view the manners of the town / Peruse the traders, gaze upon the buildings …” (1.2.11–13). But rattled by the confusion that ensues when he mistakes Dromio of Ephesus for his own servant, he quickly changes his mind, fearing for the safety of his soul, his body and his possessions in what now seems a dark and threatening place: They say this town is full of cozenage, As nimble jugglers that deceive the eye, Dark-working sorcerers that change the mind, Soul-killing witches that deform the body, Disguisèd cheaters, prating mountebanks, And many suchlike libertines of sin. If it prove so, I will be gone the sooner. I’ll to the Centaur to go seek this slave. I greatly fear my money is not safe. (1.2.97–105)

Above all, however, Shakespeare’s play focuses on an issue that is particularly fraught in Gulf society: the nature of individual identity. Shakespeare’s two sets of twins are said to look identical, and even have the same names, distinguished from each other only by provenance (“of Ephesus” or “of Syracuse”) and, to create the illusion of twinhood better between two actors who are generally easily told apart, most productions give them identical costumes. Yet in fundamental respects the twins make different choices, most notably that Antipholus of Syracuse falls in love not with Adriana, as his brother had, but rather with her sister Luciana: She that doth call me husband, even my soul Doth for a wife abhor. But her fair sister, Possessed with such a gentle sovereign grace, Of such enchanting presence and discourse, Hath almost made me traitor to myself. (3.2.164–8)

Nor does Dromio of Syracuse share his twin’s taste in women; he is palpably relieved to find that Nell’s affections are fixed on his brother instead (“There is a fat friend at your master’s house / That kitchened me for you today at dinner. / She now shall be my sister, not my wife”; 5.1.417– 19). The fact that these men could be so different despite their identical appearance has clear implications in a region where social divisions and judgments so often rest upon visual markers of difference, whether of



complexion or clothing. Likewise the Dromios’ debate over who should have pride of place in their procession to dinner, which culminates in their satisfying rejection of arbitrary hierarchies in the play’s concluding lines: Dromio of Ephesus Will you walk in to see their gossiping? Dromio of Syracuse Not I, sir, you are my elder. Dromio of Ephesus That’s a question. How shall we try it? Dromio of Syracuse We’ll draw cuts for the senior. Till then, lead thou first. Dromio of Ephesus Nay, then thus: We came into the world like brother and brother, And now let’s go hand in hand, not one before another. (5.1.423–9)

In addition to Hamlet and A Comedy of Errors, RT has also staged an adaptation—or, in their own words, “a pastiche”—of Cymbeline (Fig. 1).19 Performed in the Emirates Writers’ Union Hall in March 2013 under the Arabic title Al Malik (The King), this production attempted to “Emiratize” Shakespeare’s play.20 It set Cymbeline’s court in the mythical village of Wadi al-Hail, in the Jibal al-Hajar (The Stone Mountains), which form the border between northeast Oman and the eastern UAE, while Belarius’s cave in the Welsh mountains shifted to the Empty Quarter, the Arabian Peninsula’s vast sandy desert. The production added numerous Arab and Emirati elements to the play: the characters were renamed, so Cymbeline’s daughter Imogen became Hind, and later when she adopts a male disguise, Amīn (meaning “trustworthy,” a reasonable Arabic equivalent for Shakespeare’s “Fidele”). Her husband Posthumus was rechristened Ḥumayd; her doltish step-brother and unwanted suitor Cloten became “Anas” (“an ass”); and so on. The script inserted common Arabic phrases like al-ḥamdulillah, insha’Allah and shukrān21 into the dialogue, and the costumes ran the gamut from Elizabethan gowns to contemporary Arabian Gulf attire, the women in traditional embroidered dresses, the men with the region’s ornate silver daggers in their belts. Highly edited in terms of length, the play retained much verbatim from Shakespeare, especially in the early scenes, but as it approached its conclusion, much of the dialogue began to sound more like a translation into contemporary English. Al Malik is thus an interesting hybrid, following much of Shakespeare’s plot and language, but also making significant departures from it. For instance, in Cymbeline, Imogen’s long-lost brothers are



Fig. 1  Publicity poster for Al Malik, Resuscitation Theatre’s 2013 adaptation of Cymbeline, set in the UAE’s Stone Mountains. Courtesy of Maggie Hannan and Resuscitation Theatre

noble in speech and action despite having been brought up in untamed lands far from the court; in Al Malik the brothers, Sa‘id and Eid, are comic figures, good-hearted but unrefined in thought or manners. Most strikingly, in Al Malik the role of the King is distributed among three figures (two female) who remain on stage for the duration of the play, surveying the action and conveying their responses primarily through interpretive dance rather than dialogue. Hannan explained this choice as follows:



From the beginning we felt that Cymbeline, the king, seemed quite an ineffectual, undeveloped character, so we decided that he would dance to his words, which would be spoken by the Muses, played by two actresses. We decided that he wouldn’t speak until the end when his daughter is found.22

This was also a choice conditioned by the talent pool upon which Hannan was drawing: Sanoop Dinesh, an Indian engineering student with a passion for dance, was cast as the King, and the new vision for his role aimed to nourish and display that facet of his artistic talents. Dinesh has since attended theatrical workshops in Italy and at the Barbican Theatre in London, training in the practice of physical theatre, and Hannan notes with pride that RT has helped troupe members like Dinesh to express themselves artistically when family and financial pressures might have discouraged them from creative pursuits: “They would never have had that experience if it weren’t for Resuscitation.”23 Though RT rightly prides itself on “breathing new life into classic texts,” the true significance of this troupe lies in its creation of a community which values and nurtures members’ artistic talent, and which gives them a sense of belonging to and participating in an otherwise fragmented and alienating urban geography.

The Doha Players The above observation could be applied with similar justification to the Doha Players in Qatar. As noted in the Introduction, members of this troupe recounted when we met in Doha24 that their participation in the theatre group provided them with a sorely needed social network, a means of meeting and creatively collaborating with friends from a staggeringly wide range of identities, all united by their common interest in creating theatre. Founded in 1954, the Doha Players have the longest history of any extant Gulf theatre troupe,25 and as mentioned in Chapter 1, their example and their early activities provided a spur to the development of early Arabic-language theatre in Qatar. For much of their history, the Players members were ethnically homogeneous—predominantly British expatriates—but in the early 1990s, after the outbreak of the First Gulf War impelled many foreign residents to leave the region, the handful who remained were confronted with two options: cease the Players’ activities, or broaden their membership criteria.26 Overwhelmingly, the



group voted for the latter, and today the group boasts more than 300 members representing dozens of different nationalities.27 Records of the Players’ twentieth-century performances are sadly scarce; the transient nature of expatriate residency in the Gulf eviscerates institutional memory. One might assume that a British-dominated amateur acting troupe would have several of Shakespeare’s plays in its repertoire, but an undated Midsummer Night’s Dream is the only one to appear in the fragmentary lists of past productions.28 Musicals, like Grease, Oliver! and The Wizard of Oz, and works of twentieth-century drama were far more prominent in the Players’ repertoire than Shakespeare. That is, until 19 March 2005, a date blackened by the horrific tragedy of a suicide bombing that targeted the theatre where the Players were performing Twelfth Night. The bomber, Omar Ahmed Abdullah Ali, an Egyptian computer programmer who worked for Qatar Petroleum, packed his car full of explosives and drove it to al-Wabra Street in the neighborhood of Fareej Kulaib in the north-west Doha suburbs, where since 1979 the Players had called a small, purpose-built theatre home.29 The detonation killed the bomber and Jonathan Adams, the director of the production, who had heard a disturbance in the parking lot and gone to investigate. Twelve other people were injured (six Qataris and six of other nationalities); fortunately, none of those injuries was fatal. The bombing seems to have been intended as a symbolic retribution for the American invasion of Iraq, which had begun two years before, almost to the day. Yet questions remain about how the bomber, who had a stable white-collar job and three young children (one of them a mere month old), had been radicalized, and why he targeted the Doha Players’ performance. In a powerfully evocative account of the tragedy, entitled “‘Rudely Interrupted’: Shakespeare and Terrorism,” Graham Holderness and Bryan Loughrey speculate that, for the bomber, Shakespeare and the Doha Players’ performance may have represented what Jurgen Habermas calls a “symbolically suffused” objective, one that brought together a loaded matrix of meanings: the English language; Western culture; Christian civilisation. These familiar terms, for the fundamentalist, translate as the foreigner; the infidel; the crusader. And in this instance all these figures were represented by the name of Shakespeare.30



In the aftermath of the tragedy, the shaken Players responded with courage and resolve: The theatre board convened an emergency meeting. “The decision to rebuild and continue was made very quickly and very unanimously,” said Chris Evans, a former board member who attended the meeting. “We were quite determined to establish the fact that we were not dead.”31

The Players quickly began to raise funds for a new theatre to be erected in Adams’s memory, and to search for a base from which to produce new plays in the interim. Yet for almost a decade, the group avoided performing Shakespeare. Perhaps some intuited that the bomber’s motivation for targeting their group was connected, as Holderness and Loughrey had argued, to Shakespeare’s status as an icon of Anglophone/Christian/ Western culture. For others, the tragedy associated with Twelfth Night was simply too raw, too heartbreaking to permit them to perform another of his works. Shakespeare seemed ill-starred, and though the Players continued to perform, for the next eight years they studiously sought out other authors, other scripts. In 2013, the group cautiously began to explore the possibility of staging texts associated with Shakespeare, though not by him: in February, the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s Complete Works (Abridged), and in May, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. By November 2014, director Mione van der Merwe—who had grown up in Doha and performed with the Players, leaving to study drama in the UK before returning to Qatar in 201332—suspected that the time might be ripe to coax the group back into the Bard’s orbit. Inspired by the spacious grounds of Qatar Academy, the prestigious private school where she served as a theatre technician—a space she describes as “shady benches, stage-like alcoves and beautiful pathways … screaming out for a garden performance,”33—van der Merwe organized an interactive outdoor theatre event called Shake It Up: A Journey Through Shakespeare. The “journey” was literal as well as metaphorical: small groups of audience members, directed by guides, strolled through the Academy gardens, stopping at various points to watch scenes from Shakespeare’s plays performed by members of the Doha Players. All of the scenes received a modern setting. The boisterous conclusion to As You Like It, with the revelation that Ganymede is Rosalind, the triumphant appearance



of Hymen, its four weddings and Rosalind’s saucy epilogue, was set in the 1920s in—appropriately enough—a circus. Petruchio wooed a Katharine in 1970s punk costume (Taming of the Shrew 2.1); Hamlet and Ophelia played Act 3, Scene 1 as a traumatic twenty-first-century teenage breakup. And rather than trying to sweep the anxieties about the Doha Players’ past experience of terrorism under the rug, this event placed those fears center stage. One of the selected scenes was King John 3.4, in which Constance bewails the fate of her son Arthur, who has fallen prisoner to King John; the event programme distributed to the peripatetic spectators explains that Arthur “is being held captive by terrorists” and that King Philip “has refused to pay the requested ransom.”34 The programme also specifically linked Mark Antony’s famous oration in Julius Caesar 3.2 to the US-led invasion of Iraq, noting that this performance set its scene at the UN Building in February 2003: “Mark Antony parallels a real-life general turned politician, Colin Powell, as both stood in front of the people to present ostensible evidence, and to garner support for violent action.”35 Given that the invasion of Iraq is assumed to be the primary motivation for the Twelfth Night suicide bombing, Shake It Up had clearly opted to face the Doha Players’ demons head on. Having exorcised the worst of those specters, verified local audiences’ interest in Shakespearean performance, and sounded the depths of the talent pool, Van der Merwe and the Players brought Shakespeare back to the stage five months later. Macbeth premiered on 12 March 2015 at the Black Box Theatre at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in the suburb of Doha known as “Education City,” and the production ran through 19 March, the ten-year anniversary of the suicide bombing. The troupe performed in the round. As the three witches delivered their opening lines (“When shall we three meet again?” 1.1.1) from a central raised dais covered with a tarpaulin, other cast members slithered forth from beneath the canvas, crawling on their bellies through the aisles past startled audience members.36 The witches wore long brown dresses, ragged strips dangling from waists and shoulders; they bore coronets and collars of green leaves and carried huge staffs wound with ivy. Van der Merwe’s directorial intent was clearly to foreground the play’s Scottish elements, with actors in tartan sashes, long-swords sheathed at their sides, but while the key figures spoke with burrs, a handful of other cast members declaimed in their own diverse accents. Of the three witches, for example, one (Gemma Robinson) spoke in a rich, rhotic Scottish cadence, while the other two (Maysoon Lange and



Femke Marischler) brought slight Arab and Dutch lilts to their eerie lines. Scottish pronunciation is a tricky thing to master, of course, but in this case the diversity in declamation seemed a salutary reminder of the multi-cultural, polyglot composition of this troupe. The principal actors had poise and presence, the costumes were colorful, the special effects (thunder and lightning, for example, to indicate the storm on the heath) well-executed, and most importantly, the audience members in the production video seem entranced by the action; most of the performances were sold out.37 All in all, Macbeth represented a triumphant, even defiant, return of the Bard to the boards after the Players’ decade-long Shakespeare hiatus. The Players performed their next Shakespeare play—The Tempest, directed by James Mirrione and Kim C. Sturgess in November 2015— at the Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC), a larger and more prestigious venue than the university Black Box Theatre that had hosted Macbeth. The QNCC had already played host to “big-time Shakespeare”38; Richard III, directed by Sam Mendes, with Kevin Spacey in the title role, had played there for two nights in December 2011. Though Doha was just a brief stop (and the only Middle Eastern one) on the production’s whirlwind international tour, Spacey saw the production as resonating with the year’s Arab Spring protests, as he noted in an interview in Singapore: We are, or we could well be, in a place where someone does the things that a Gaddafi does … the response to [dictators] in this sort of Arab Spring has been remarkable, and we’re working on a play that we think really resonates with that kind of personality—the manipulation, the media, and trying to get one side of the country to think this and another side of the country to think that, alliances, petty jealousies.39

The analogies between Richard, Moammar, Hosni, and Ali Abdullah— not to mention the play’s overall critique of authoritarian rule and the hypocritical machinations of power-hungry leaders—may help to explain why Mendes’s production received a slew of advance publicity, but few local reviews in either English or Arabic. (This before-vs-after imbalance is not uncommon for Gulf theatre, but it becomes particularly acute in the wake of politically or otherwise provocative performances.) The Players’ Tempest was, of course, much smaller in scale and budget; it took place in a 400-seat auditorium in the QNCC, as opposed



to the 2300-seat theatre that hosted Spacey and Co. But what their production lacked in Hollywood opulence, it compensated for through its grounding in the local context. Sturgess is a literature professor at Qatar University in Doha; Mirrione has taught both there and at United Arab Emirates University in Al-Ain, where he directed the student production entitled The Enchanted Isle of Love and Tempest, staged at the 2013 NYUAD Student Shakespeare Festival, as described in Chapter 3. The co-directors infused their Tempest with Middle Eastern color. The costumes were vibrant stylized versions of early modern maghribī (Moroccan/northwest African) dress, from turbans to Prospero’s pointed slippers, and the set included a Bedouin tent and sidra trees (Ziziphus spina-christi), which grow in deserts across the Middle East and North Africa, and which have become particularly prominent in Qatari iconography as symbols of the nation.40 In Shakespeare’s play, King Alonso of Naples and his retinue are sailing back to Italy from North Africa, having just celebrated the wedding of Alonso’s daughter Claribel to the King of Tunis, when Prospero magically summons the tempest that shipwrecks them.41 The North African allusions were thus a reminder of the play’s own geography. But it also meant the cast members, most of whom were non-Arab expatriates, were wearing markers of an ethnic identity different from their own, and one with linguistic and cultural links to Qatar. The casting of Prospero likewise countered facile assumptions about individual identity—in this case, about gender: Van der Merwe played the role as a male, donning a resplendent black beard and wiry eyebrows for the performance. The role of Ariel was given not to one but to two female performers, Dawn Fawcett and Olivia Babski, who appeared on stage simultaneously, each interpreting the role according to her own dramatic skills, among them Babski’s extensive training in ballet and Fawcett’s vocal range, the contrast highlighting the multifaceted nature of Shakespeare’s “shrewd and knavish sprite.” And Hussein Aitelqadi, of Moroccan and Bosnian-Herzegovinan extraction, took on the demanding role of Caliban, in a surreal costume that designer Noreen Janson described as “look[ing] like a character that comes out of the mud,” emphasizing his organic rootedness on the island he claims as his own (“This island’s mine,” 1.2.333). But where is Caliban’s island? Shakespeare gives it no precise geography, and critics have argued for different geographical contexts, ranging from the New World colony of Virginia, to the borderline dividing the



Mediterranean into eastern and western halves, over which the Ottoman and Habsburg Empires vied for commercial and military dominance.42 In brief, the island is contested territory, subject to rival claims of sovereignty and possession. Caliban’s defiant line and his anger at Prospero’s usurpation of his homeland have been famously interpreted in the discourse of post-colonial studies as an illustration of the resentment of colonized peoples for the colonizer; his proclamation “you have taught me language, and my profit on’it / is I know how to curse” (1.2.365–6) is often read as a rejection of the imposition of foreign language, technology and culture on a subjected people. In his written introduction to the video of this performance, posted on the MIT Global Shakespeares website, Sturgess rejects “New World” and post-colonial readings of The Tempest as “restrictive,” claiming that he and Mirrione were determined to stage a “pure,” “non-politicized” production of the play. Sturgess insists that the geography of Shakespeare’s island is clear from the text: “approximately ten leagues— about 30 nautical miles—from the north African city of Tunis, on the sea route from that city to Naples”—in other words, in the Central Mediterranean, just north of the North African coast. Like the early modern (rather than contemporary) Berber cut of the cast’s costumes, Sturgess’s rhetorical framing of the play’s geography emphasizes this production’s distance, its separation, from the local and the contemporary, and thereby from any contemporary political resonance. Yet I suspect that at least some audience members may have interpreted the play differently. If the Players’ production in Doha in 2015 provoked spectators to mediate on the location of Prospero’s island, the most immediately obvious means of mapping that location would be onto their own geography. The presence in the set of the sidra trees, celebrated in Qatar as a national symbol—deployed, for example, in the ubiquitous logo of the not-for-profit Qatar Foundation, and featuring prominently in the architectural design of the QNCC, where the Players were performing—hinted at the connection. With its lagoons, its winding seaside path known as the Corniche, its wooden dhows bobbing tranquilly in the harbor, the city of Doha resembles an island (Fig. 2). And Qatar itself is a peninsula with 350 miles of coastline, its only land border the comparatively short southern one with Saudi Arabia, a mere 37 miles across (Fig. 3). Further, for Arabic speakers, the distinction between “an island” and “a peninsula” is much less precise than it is in English. The word jazīra



Fig. 2  Doha, Qatar: The Corniche, West Bay Skyline. Credit: mauritius images GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

(“island”) is routinely used for both types of land mass, as for example in al-jazīra al-‘arabīya (or jazīrat al-‘arab), meaning “the Arabian Peninsula.” It is also, of course, the name of Qatar’s celebrated and controversial news network, Al Jazeera. The technical but lesser-used Arabic term for “peninsula” is shibh jazīra, which literally means “something resembling an island.” Axiomatically, then, Qatar is “something resembling an island.” And like the island of The Tempest, Qatar is subject to competing narratives of belonging and possession—narratives that various elements of this production subverted. In a nation where clothing (Qatari or “national” dress vs Western attire) is one of the most obvious markers of identity and difference, the performance put Australian and Canadian cast members on the stage in North African garb, while Aitelqadi, the only cast member of Arab extraction, wore the “mud man” costume: non-Arabs in Arab dress, and vice versa. The casting of van der Merwe as Prospero provided repeated reminders of the performative nature of gender and, by extension, other identity classifications like race, ethnicity, and nationality. The decision by Sturgess and Mirrione to have two female actors



Fig. 3  Map of Qatar, showing land border with Saudi Arabia. Designed by David Wallace



play Ariel further suggested a deconstruction of unifying, static definitions of identity. In Shakespeare’s text, Caliban justifies his claim to the island in terms of genealogy and ancestry: “This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother, Which thou tak’st from me” (1.2.333–34). The “right of blood” is also the sine qua non for claiming Qatari citizenship and the benefits associated with it. One possible analogue to Caliban’s anger in this context is the anxiety and/or resentment felt by those Qatari nationals who feel “minoritized,” representing as they do a mere fraction of their country’s total population, outnumbered by foreigners in public spaces and private sector employment. But the fact that Caliban’s claims to sovereignty rest with his mother reminds us that Sycorax, too, was of foreign provenance: a witch from Algeria banished, while pregnant with Caliban, to the island years before Prospero’s arrival. Thus in Shakespeare’s play, the rights of the island’s only native-born inhabitant depend upon those of a previous generation that arrived from elsewhere. For students of Qatari history, Sycorax’s arrival upon the island in The Tempest might evoke the fact that the peninsula was “lightly populated” as late as 1766, when a wave of tribal migration from the northwest brought the clan that became known as the Al Khalifa (currently the ruling family of Bahrain) to Qatar.43 It might also suggest the even more recent arrival of the Al Thani in Doha in 1850. Though at that time merely “a clan from one of Qatar’s old fishing hamlets,”44 the Al Thani would rise in a few short decades to become Qatar’s ruling family. Thus, tracing these genealogies back through a relatively brief historical span, one quickly arrives at a point when the ancestors of most Qatari nationals—even those of the most iconic and powerful Qatari family—were themselves foreigners, new arrivals. Contrast this to the situation of more recent arrivals to Qatar. Noncitizen residents are unable to access the rentier benefits that the state provides to its citizens, of course, and the bureaucratic burden of regularly renewing their residency permits serves as a repeated reminder that even their basic right to remain in the country is tenuous and temporary. The year before the Players’ Tempest premiered, research by Georgetown University Qatar professor Zahra Babar brought to light the official requirements for the naturalization of foreign residents as Qatari: an applicant must be able to document twenty-five-years’ continuous legal residency in the country, and he or she must possess a “good moral reputation,” “sufficient income,” and “fair command of Arabic.”45 How “good,” “sufficient,” and “fair” are to be defined is left



to the imagination, or perhaps to the discretion of individual naturalization officials, but it is clear that these guidelines are designed more to prevent naturalization than to enable it. A 2016 article in The Economist neatly summed up Gulf governments’ attitude towards foreign residents as follows: “You can work, but you will never be one of us.”46 To which those residents might well respond, “Look beyond the narrow discourse of ‘citizens’ vs. ‘migrants,’ and then tell us who truly belongs to and has a stake in modern Qatar—Qatari citizens only, or all those who reside it in and contribute to its economic and cultural achievements?” As Mirrione explained in a Qatar University student documentary about the production, he and Sturgess believed The Tempest would be “a great play for Doha, because it deals with forgiveness, arranged marriages, reconciliation, terror, magic.”47 The references to “forgiveness, reconciliation, and terror” suggest that the remembrance of the tenth anniversary of the theatre bombing continues to reverberate in the Players’ collective memory, particularly when they perform Shakespeare—and the fact that the group was the target of that violent attack underlines the urgency of the message that they should not be defined as outsiders but rather as residents with roots and rights, as “locals” who make significant contributions to the nation’s cultural life. Through its casting and costume choices, and also through the lines of Shakespeare’s text itself, The Tempest in Doha took aim at hierarchies of privilege that distinguish between Qatar’s residents on the basis of citizenship, gender, ethnicity, and other such markers of identity. As Sturgess said in a newspaper interview, referencing the enduring popularity of Shakespeare, “It doesn’t matter what colour you are, what religion you follow, you are human and that is what he captured, and that’s why we are still watching the plays.”48 Within their local context, Shakespeare provided the Doha Players with a supposedly “non-political” text—but one that was in fact intensely political, in its bending of distinctions of ethnicity and gender, and in the Players’ public presence as a group contributing to and creating culture in Qatar.

True Hope? “New Local” as Change in Process When a group of theatre practitioners from a range of backgrounds— men and women, of various ages, ethnicities, and religious backgrounds, and of differing socio-economic status—take to the stage to perform in the Gulf, they are modeling for their audiences the possibility of living



and working within this type of community, rather than within enclaval communities segregated along gender, ethnic, class and sectarian lines. This holds true of the performances that take place on the campus of a university or as a stop on a tour by a visiting troupe as well, of course, yet in those cases the performers are often tied together through obvious similarities that their audience does not share, like institutional affiliation, age group, or employment. The model that community theatre performances propose sets itself apart, since its practitioners are, generally speaking, more representative of the diversity that exists within their places of residence, and since they welcome members from across a broad spectrum. An adult audience member, or a young adult who attends a different university, likely would not attempt to join the micro-community that Much Ado created among the American University of Kuwait’s theatre students, however inspiring he or she may have found the performance; the Much Ado micro-community may well offer a visual model of and a call for barrier-breaking and inclusivity, but it remains a cast-members/AUK students-only club. Community theatre troupes, conversely, coalesce out of members’ shared love of theatre and performance—the sole real prerequisite, apart from leisure time and energy, for participation. Such troupes illustrate the rewards of existing as a diverse micro-community on stage, and then offer audience members the opportunity to join them, to be part of the “extended family” network that so many describe as their intellectual and emotional sustenance in the Gulf. Marching off to Bosworth Field to do battle with Richard III, the Earl of Richmond meditates that “true hope” both anticipates triumph— it “is swift, and flies with swallows wings”—and enacts it: “Kings it makes gods, and meaner creatures kings” (5.2.23–24). Community theatre productions in the Gulf likewise anticipate the breaking of barriers within the larger society, and simultaneously break them down amongst themselves, sharing a space in which all can be kings. And though Shakespeare is not the only playwright to whom such troupes turn for a template, Gulf productions of Shakespeare provide many of the clearest and most striking examples of “new local” theatre, theatre that both creates and redefines local communities. At the time of writing, these types of initiatives are gathering momentum—and in Qatar at least, change has already arrived. In 2016, just a few months after the Players’ premiered The Tempest, the Doha Film



Institute began collecting video footage for a film entitled Dari Qatar, or Qatar is my Home. Released in 2017 and subtitled A Film By All of Us (in Arabic, fīlm shāriknā fīhā jam‘īyan, “a film that we all participated in”), this documentary features stories by a diverse range of Qatar’s local residents, male and female, citizens and non-, from a wide range of social classes and backgrounds, some speaking Arabic, others English (in each case, translated in subtitles to allow Arabophone viewers to understand the English and vice versa).49 The Twitter feed @WeAreQatar likewise offers all interested residents of Qatar, whether citizens or not, the opportunity to curate the feed for a week and “share your story.” Its title, like that of the film, suggests a remarkable broadening of a previously exclusive definition of what it means to be Qatari, and to call Qatar home. Moreover, in the wake of the June 2017 rift between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and its allies, Qatar announced a plan to change its residency regulations, creating a special “permanent residents” category for which non-citizens who have “given service to Qatar,” or who have “skills that can benefit the country,”50 will be eligible to apply. If accepted (and the vetting process will likely be stringent), members of this new category would receive access to citizen-level benefits like free education and health care. I do not claim, of course, that either Shakespeare or Shakespearean performance in the Gulf has been a catalyst for these changes. Cynics may well argue that, having been accused by the Saudi-led bloc of supporting terrorist organizations, on top of the bad publicity generated by numerous exposés of widespread exploitation of manual laborers working on massive construction projects like Doha’s World Cup 2022 stadium, the Qatari government may be announcing changes to its residency regulations as a strategic attempt to rebrand itself as inclusive, tolerant, and welcoming. Be that as it may, it nevertheless seems clear that the ideas and the desires that drive “new local” performances of Shakespeare are the same ones that animate the creation of films like Dari Qatar and social media initiatives like @WeAreQatar: the desire to redefine national identity and belonging in ways that recognize the presence and the contributions of all residents, rather than an elite few. As the next chapter will illustrate, the aim of modeling inclusive communities dominates recent Arabiclanguage performances of Shakespeare’s plays as well.




1. As noted in the Introduction, demographic statistics in the Gulf are notoriously difficult to cite with precision; it is possible that 90% or even more of the population of Qatar is composed of non-citizens. 2. Dobson, Shakespeare and Amateur Performance, p. 2. 3. Kershaw, The Politics of Performance. 4. “About Us: History,” British Club of Bahrain. 5. “Sports and Activities,” British Club of Bahrain. 6. 10–13 June 2014 at the British Club. 7. Alghata, “Bard’s ‘Comedy of Errors.’” 8. Alghata, “Shakespeare Plays.” 9. Szecowka, “The Complete Works.” 10. Szecowka, op. cit. 11. Four, if we count Jadir’s recent Knights and Wolves, “an original work inspired by” Shakespeare’s and John Fletcher’s The Two Noble Kinsmen and Kinsmen’s source text, Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale (“Resuscitation Theatre Presents …” ). 12. For more on the BSC, see Chapter 4. 13. In 2014, when RT’s production of The Trojan Women began with a similarly themed prologue—more graphic, in fact, than the one to Hamlet, in that the female performers wore white shifts streaked with blood, and male actors played the roles of the violators—Hannan recounts that that performance received standing ovations rather than criticism. A video of the prologue to The Trojan Women is available at, and I am grateful to Hannan for emailing me a copy as well. 14. Hannan, Interview. 15. Salah, email. 16. Comedy of Errors cast, Interview. 17. RT staged the play for a single night at the National Theatre before moving to the Art Hub in Mussafah, a southwestern suburb of Abu Dhabi. 18. “Facilitating Exploitation.” 19. My thanks to Faisal Salah for providing me with a copy of this video, and for graciously agreeing to discuss his work with students and staff at Queen Mary University of London on 31 March 2015. 20. See Taher, “The Abu Dhabi Festival.” 21. Meaning “Praise God,” “God Willing,” and “Thank You,” respectively. 22. Hannan, email. 23. Hannan, Interview. 24. Marischler et al., Interview.



25. The Kuwait Little Theatre was founded earlier, in 1948, but their activities were suspended at the end of 2014, in anticipation of a move to larger premises in 2016. However, as of early 2017 the KLT had not reopened and its website had shut down. 26. Goode, “The Doha Players.” 27.  Flores, “Truly Theatrical,” and “The Doha Players” by ExpatWoman. com. 28.  Flores, as cited in n. 27. Thanks to one enterprising scribe from the 1960s, we do have a complete list of the nine plays produced from the Players’ founding in 1954 through 1960, which included popular fare of the time like Arsenic and Old Lace (1958), Dial “M” for Murder (1959) and The White Sheep of the Family (1960). Listing posted on the Doha Players’ Facebook page, 5 March 2015. 29. Holderness and Loughrey, “Rudely Interrupted.” 30. Holderness and Loughrey, “Rudely Interrupted,” p. 112; the quote from Habermas comes from Borradori, Philosophy, p. 25. 31. Lepeska, “Show Goes on.” 32. Enliven the Tempest, and Holla, “All the Garden’s a Stage.” 33. Holla, “All the Garden’s a Stage.” 34. Shake It Up. My thanks to Rebecca Wyatt for providing me a copy of this program. 35. Ibid. 36. My thanks to Mione van der Merwe for providing me a (partial) copy of the video of this production. 37. According to Doha Player Dawn Fawcett (who played one of this production’s two Ariels), quoted in Holla, “Along Came a Storm.” 38. The phrase is Michael Bristol’s, in Big-Time Shakespeare. 39. “Kevin Spacey.”  40. See, for example, the logo of Qatar Foundation, Qatar’s main quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization, which features a sidra tree. 41. Sturgess, quoted in Holla, “Along Came a Storm.” 42.  For an example of the first reading, see Chapter 4 of Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations; for the second, Brotton, “This Tunis.” 43. Commins, p. 66. 44. Commins, p. 105. 45. Babar, “The Cost of Belonging.” 46. “Migration in the Gulf.” 47.  Enliven the Tempest. 48. Quoted in Holla, “Along Came a Storm.” 49.  Dari Qatar. 50. AFP, “Qatar creates new residency status.”



References “About Us: History.” British Club of Bahrain Webpage. AFP (Agence France-Presse). “Qatar Creates New Residency Status for Foreigners.” Arab News, 4 August 2017. middle-east. Alghata, Laala Kashef. “Bard’s ‘Comedy of Errors’ Set to Wow Bahrain Fans.” Gulf Digital News, 31 May 2014. NewsDetails.aspx?date=04/07/2015&storyid=378175. Alghata, Laala Kashef. “Shakespeare Plays Leave Comedy Lovers Enthralled: Last Night’s View.” Gulf Digital News, 11 June 2014. http://archives.gdnonline. com/NewsDetails.aspx?date=04/07/2015&storyid=378916. Babar, Zahra. “The Cost of Belonging: Citizenship Construction in the State of Qatar.” Middle East Journal 68:3 (2014), 403–420. Borradori, Giovanni. Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2003. Bristol, Michael. Big-time Shakespeare. London: Routledge, 2005. Brotton, Jerry. “‘This Tunis, Sir, Was Carthage’: Contesting Colonialism in The Tempest.” In Post-Colonial Shakespeares, edited by Ania Loomba and Martin Orkin, 23–42. New York: Routledge, 2013. A Comedy of Errors Cast (Resuscitation Theatre Production). Collective Interview at the Home of Philip, Marianne, and Gabriel Kennedy in Abu Dhabi, 22 April 2015. Commins, David, The Gulf States: A Modern History. London: I.B. Tauris, 2014. Dari Qatar: A Film by All of Us (Crowd-Sourced Documentary Film). Doha Film Institute, Qatar Tourism Authority, and the People of Qatar. Directed by Jake McKone, edited by Tony Kearns. Available via YouTube. https://www. Dobson, Michael. Shakespeare and Amateur Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. “The Doha Players.” monthly_news_doha_players_7994.aspx. The Doha Players Facebook Page. Enliven the Tempest (Documentary Film). Directed by Nermin Eltahawy, Salome Qassim, and Merna Fayez, Fall 2015. watch?v=jxXII3CbdEk. “Facilitating Exploitation: A Review of Labour Laws for Migrant Domestic Workers in the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries.” International Trade



Union Confederation Legal and Policy Brief, November 2014. http://www. text_clean_282_29.pdf. Flores, Llewellen. “Truly Theatrical: The Doha Players.” Qatar Tribune, 12 October 2013. Goode, Jeff. “The Doha Players.” Undated Webpage (after 2005 but before the end of 2009). Greenblatt, Stephen. Shakespearean Negotiations. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988. Hannan, Maggie. Email to the Author, 8 August 2015. Hannan, Maggie. Interview with the Author Via Skype, 22 July 2015. Holla, Anand. “All the Garden’s a Stage.” Gulf Times, 30 November 2014. Holla, Anand. “Along Came a Storm.” Gulf Times, 15 January 2016. http://m. Kershaw, Baz. The Politics of Performance: Radical Theatre as Cultural Intervention. New York: Routledge, 2002. “Kevin Spacey on How Richard III Speaks to Audiences Today.” Singapore Repertory Theatre Video, YouTube, 9 April 2012. com/watch?v=y1eoBTTFqbo. Lepeska, David. “Show Goes on for Qatar Theatre Group Five Years After Suicide Attack.” The National, 19 March 2010. http://www.thenational. ae/news/world/middle-east/show-goes-on-for-qatar-theatre-group-fiveyears-after-suicide-attack#full. Marischler, Femke, Patricia Slade, and Rebecca Wyatt of the Doha Players. Interview with the Author at Wyatt’s home in Doha, 17 April 2015. “Migration in the Gulf: Open Doors But Different Laws.” The Economist, 10 September 2016. “Resuscitation Theatre Presents…” Resuscitation Theatre, list-serve email advertising the troupe’s production of Knights and Wolves, 11 February 2016. Salah, Faisal. Email to the Author, 13 December 2015. “Shake It Up: A Journey Through Shakespeare. Performance programme, November 2014. “Sports and Activities.” British Club of Bahrain Webpage. Szecowka, Stan. “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)— Manama Theatre Club.” Gulf Weekly, 11–17 June 2014.



Taher, Sara. “The Abu Dhabi Festival.” TimeOut Abu Dhabi, 26 February 2013. Wells, Stanley and Gary Taylor, general editors, with John Jowett and William Montgomery, eds. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 2005.

Chapter 6. Respecting Difference: Shakespeare in Oman, Yemen and Saudi Arabia

Give me leave To speak my mind, and I will through and through Cleanse the foul body of th’infected world, If they will patiently receive my medicine. (As You Like It, 2.7.58–61)

Thus far foreign residents have dominated the university and community theatre productions we have examined, while the Peninsula’s nationals have formed a small though significant minority contingent. Though these productions may attempt to integrate local and regional references through costume and, occasionally, Arabic words and phrases, the performances themselves are generally in English. To examine how the Gulf engages with Shakespeare in Arabic, we turn now to a recent adaptation of Othello by Omani playwright Ahmad Al-Izki, entitled al-Layla al-Ḥālika, or The Dark Night (2010).1

Othello in Oman: The Dark Night All present gave a shout [in praise of her beauty], while the malicious and ill-natured cried aloud, “What a pity that one so beautiful and fair should be wedded to one so black!”2

© The Author(s) 2018 K. Hennessey, Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula, Global Shakespeares,




Shakespeare opts not to stage the wedding of Othello and Desdemona: at the opening of Othello the pair have already been married in secret, in a small, understated ceremony. If he had written a nuptial scene, however, Shakespeare might well have planned for the bride’s first appearance in her pomp and finery, walking down the aisle on her father Brabantio’s reluctant arm, to elicit conflicting reactions from the Venetian characters on the stage, as well as from the Jacobean audience in attendance—the admiration of many for Desdemona’s beauty and Othello’s imposing nobility and strength, the envy and racist repugnance of others that the “old black ram” would soon be “tupping [the] white ewe” (1.1.91–2), with Desdemona’s rejected suitor Roderigo piteously lamenting from a corner of the playing area at Whitehall3 “that one so beautiful and so fair should be wedded to one so black.” Yet that quotation comes not from a long-lost scene by Shakespeare, but rather from a translation of The Romance of Antar, an elaborate chivalric epic celebrated throughout the Arab world as Sīrat ‘Antara ibn Shaddād (The Epic of Antar ibn Shaddad),4 which celebrates the exploits of the warrior-poet ‘Antar (525–608 CE)5 and his beautiful cousin ‘Abla.6 Though passionately in love, this couple face a formidable obstacle: within his tribe Antar is a racialized outsider, son of an Arab father and a mother who was an Abyssinian slave. His African heritage causes his purebred Arab fellow tribesmen to hold him in disdain, and he spends his youth in slavery, his own father unwilling to claim him as his son. To win first his freedom and his father’s respect, and then his haughty uncle’s consent to the marriage, Antar must prove himself through a series of daring military exploits. From its origins in the oral poetry of sixth-century Arabia, this epic has acquired centuries’ worth of accretions and emendations,7 but it has retained the central story of a love, like that of Othello and Desdemona, that transcends engrained racial prejudice. Al-Izki’s play The Dark Night brings Shakespeare’s characters into dialogue, quite literally, with their counterparts from pre-Islamic literature, imagining a series of encounters and conversations between Antar, Abla, Othello, Desdemona and Iago—encounters which ultimately allow the characters to escape the tragic ending of Shakespeare’s play.8 As I have argued elsewhere, the effect of juxtaposing these icons of the Western and Middle Eastern literary canons in a single work is not merely to surprise and entertain by pointing out some unexpected thematic similarities. Rather, the juxtaposition performs a clever and well-placed



intervention in ongoing socio-political debates on the Arabian Peninsula regarding issues of identity, citizenship, and political participation. The play argues for inclusivity and cooperation in the face of deep-seated racism and rising sectarianism. The Dark Night opens with a series of scenes showing each male protagonist in his expected ambience: Antar in a Bedouin encampment with his father Shaddād, his uncle Mālik and his brother Shaybūb; Othello9 on a battlefield with Iago. Each set of characters fights a bloody battle against their respective enemies; Antar’s prowess wins his freedom and his father’s recognition, and we learn from a brief aside that Iago secretly covets Desdemona. In the 2010 production, the actors playing the roles of Othello and Antar appeared on stage in stylized military uniforms, each with the top half of his face, from forehead to nose, painted white on one side, and black on the other. The contrasting colors serve as both a visual representation of hybrid identity and—since Antar’s make-up is white on the left and black on the right while Othello’s is the opposite—as a suggestion that these characters are mirror images, despite their temporal, geographic, and cultural differences. In the next two scenes, which mirror each other, like the first two scenes and the protagonists themselves, these two worlds mysteriously intertwine. Antar mistakes a veiled Desdemona for Abla, and Abla similarly misidentifies Othello as Antar. Perplexed by the appearance of this unknown woman and concerned by Desdemona’s absence, an agitated Othello asks Iago to explain what has happened: “Something strange is happening to my brain: I feel as though our time and our lives have changed into something different. We are no longer ourselves, and Desdemona there isn’t Desdemona. Tell me what has happened!”10 (The lines suggest an allusion to Othello’s “trance”/epileptic fit in Othello 1.4.) Iago suggests that Desdemona may have fled with Cassio, provoking Othello still further. Abla swiftly perceives Iago’s untrustworthiness and cautions Othello against him. When Othello defends his friend, she warns him once again to beware, and departs on her own to search for Antar. And Antar, the great romantic hero who has courageously endured trial after trial to win Abla, unexpectedly finds himself attracted to Desdemona, and begins to recite his poetry to her. (Though the play shows Antar chastising himself for his faithlessness the instant that he utters this poetic praise, the image



of a virile Omani actor expressing an intense physical attraction towards the young actress standing next to him is rather extraordinary in the context of Arabian Gulf theatre, and likely escaped censorship only because of the combined literary cachet of its source materials.) In terms of The Dark Night’s plot, this unexpected attraction is for Antar what Iago’s lies are to Othello: a test of his heroic mettle, his judgment, and his capacity to remain loyal to the woman he loves, even under confounding circumstances. In Al-Izki’s final scene, the two couples are reunited, but only after Iago has tried—with some success—to convince Antar that Abla has fallen in love with Othello. In the face of Antar’s anger, Abla and Desdemona make common cause, calling Iago a despicable liar. Antar then turns his fury on Iago, whom he and Othello seize. As they draw their swords and Iago pleads for forgiveness, the stage goes dark—but when the lights come up, to the consternation of both couples, Iago has vanished, his villainous, disembodied cackle reverberating over the sound system. The lovers are reunited, but the threat posed by envy, jealousy and deceit remains. The Shakespearean elements of The Dark Night remind local and regional audiences on the Arabian Peninsula of the merits of cosmopolitanism and acceptance of difference. The foundational concept of the play—that characters from Shakespeare and from pre-Islamic literature can be brought together in fruitful dialogue—serves as a subtle riposte to a monolithic, ideologically stifling set of identity constructs, rooted in and/or strengthened by a resurgent Salafism, which institute discriminatory hierarchies of race, sect, and gender and evaluate human character in terms of adherence to a rigidly defined system of religious beliefs and practices.11 Such constructs effectively equate being Arab with being Muslim (and following a particular madhhab, or school of jurisprudence, within Sunni Islam at that), relegating groups like Shi‘a Arabs or African Muslims to secondary status, or writing them out of official accounts of national tradition and identity, as Lawrence Potter argues the Gulf monarchies have done to their Shi‘a minorities.12 These constructs undergird the region’s segregation of its residents along gender, ethnic, linguistic and sectarian lines: women from men, Shi‘a from Sunni, foreign residents from Gulf citizens, and so on. They inspire divisive rhetoric like that of certain hardline Islamists in Saudi Arabia who have referred to minorities as “a poison in the body of the umma” (the community of Muslim believers).13 In their most extreme and violent form, such identity constructs can support the ethnic and cultural “purification” and homogenization attempted by groups like the self-styled Islamic State. Recuperating and celebrating pre-Islamic literature is one way that contemporary Gulf artists can challenge these



axiomatic, fundamentalist sectarian politics. Since such literature predates the establishment of Islam, its characters can be neither Sunni nor Shi‘ite, and thus appropriating pre-Islamic texts is one way to sidestep— and perhaps think beyond—the Sunni–Shi‘ite rift. It is not surprising that a playwright from Oman would hit upon an expedient of this type, given that the majority of Omani citizens, including the Sultan, are adherents of Ibadhism, a form of Islam that itself predates the Sunni–Shi‘ite split.14 Moreover, Antar’s half-African, half-Arab parentage recalls Oman’s own longstanding historical, political, and commercial links to East Africa.15 And the selection of Antar is doubly brilliant in that the tale implies religious tensions as well as racial ones; the fact that Antar’s mother is an Abyssinian implies that she was also Christian (the tale tells us she was seized during an Arab raid on Aksum, and the Aksumite Kingdom adopted Christianity in the fourth century), rendering his origins even further from the norms of his tribe. In short, Antar is a complex figure whose hybrid identity marks him for marginalization, yet also mirrors in unexpected ways the history of Oman itself. Al-Izki’s decision to integrate Shakespeare’s characters into this text further underlines the complexities of both Antar’s and Othello’s positions vis-à-vis the communities they wish to belong to. The play utilizes both protagonists to challenge notions of an East–West clash of civilizations, races, and religions, by positing Antar and Othello as analogues, mirror images, who share a common humanity that transcends their spatial and temporal divides. And the mutual understanding that these characters reach, despite their apparent differences, ultimately saves them from enacting Shakespeare’s tragic ending. The six member states of the GCC—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia—host annual, biennial, and occasional Arab-language theatre festivals, individually and collectively. These include the Gulf Theatre Festival, the Omani Theatre Festival, Sharjah’s “Theatre Days,” and the Dammam Theatre Festival in Saudi Arabia. The Dark Night was created for one such event—the 2010 Gulf Youth Theatre Festival, hosted that year by Qatar at the National Theatre in Doha, and filmed as part of a cooperative project involving several partners, including the British Council and Digital Theatre. It thus spoke directly to a wider regional audience of Gulf citizens, critiquing nativist racism, discrimination and anti-Western xenophobia throughout the GCC. These intertwined messages about the need for greater inclusivity seem prescient in the light of recent Omani history. Though not as dramatically as in Bahrain or Yemen, protest and criticism bubbled to



the surface in Oman the year after this play was produced, during the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011. Protesters were, by and large, young Omani citizens, frustrated by un- and under-employment, by the perceived corruption of the political elite (though most protesters were quick to point out that they were not aiming their critiques at the Sultan himself), by the growth of income inequality, and by their limited access to political participation.16 If it is accurate to describe many welleducated Omanis as believing themselves to be “near or within the circles of power but without any possibility of attaining genuine elite membership,”17 then three out of the four grievances on this list stem from actual or perceived exclusion—that is, from citizens’ thwarted desire to participate in their nation’s economy or its politics. The government undertook constructive responses, including “an urgent and visible prioritization of jobs,”18 but the protests continued, and were met with increasing harassment and intimidation by security forces, and with divisive rhetoric clearly intended to arouse public suspicion of the protesters and to marginalize them as not sufficiently or truly Omani. In 2012, “government officials and national media accused protesters of breaching public order and answering to a foreign agenda”19; twenty bloggers were sentenced to prison on charges ranging from cyber crime to defaming the Sultan.20 They were pardoned by the Sultan in 2013, but in the meantime the Omani press went to unprecedented lengths to portray protesters as disreputable, antagonistic elements of society. As Jennifer S. Hunt notes, “the government-owned Oman News Agency carried the story of [the writers’] convictions, identifying them by name, … residence, and even more astonishingly, by printing pictures of the accused in prison uniforms.”21 As one report notes, the repeated smearing of protesters as “delinquents” and “vandals” by senior officials, the army’s attempts to violently control demands, the manipulation of local identities and tribal issues as a “divide-and-rule” technique and the resulting deepening polarization based on religion and mutual prejudices related to ethno-linguistic identities have reduced the population’s trust in the polity.22

The response of the Omani government, in short, promoted the same types of societal fractures that Al-Izki’s play had cautioned against, and for which it had proposed an alternative model.



Yemen’s Merchant of Venice As noted in the Introduction, Yemen also provides us with a striking recent example of contemporary Arabic-language Shakespearean adaptation. In November 2012 and March 2013, a troupe of young actors under the direction of Amin Hazaber performed a Yemeni adaptation of The Merchant of Venice,23 based on a tale recounted by a storyteller named Zaynab, from the city of Seyoun. (Seyoun is located in the Hadramawt, a large swath of territory in eastern Yemen, with longstanding cultural and economic connections throughout the Arabian Gulf, into East Africa, and across the Indian Ocean, particularly to India, Singapore, and Indonesia.24) The language of the dialogue was Yemeni Arabic, rather than formal literary fuṣḥa, and rather than a word-for-word translation of Shakespeare’s play, the performance entailed a highly truncated and selective encapsulation of key moments and lines. The dialogue had gone through a convoluted series of appropriations and edits before arriving on the stage. Zaynab’s recitation of the story, as documented by Fatima Al-Baydhani’s heritage preservation organization, Mīl al-Dhahab,25 describes a young and generous Arab from a notable tribe who sets out on his camel to seek a wife from among the neighboring tribes. After much searching, the young man meets three young women at a well. One of them, Fitna, catches his attention when she responds to his request for her name with a riddle. He asks to marry her, but having depleted his funds at hand through generous gifts to those who had shown him hospitality on his search, he finds himself 200 gold coins short of the 300 that her father specifies as her dowry. He covers the shortfall with a loan from a local Jewish moneylender, who specifies a pound of flesh (using the word raṭl, an Arabic unit of measurement almost exactly equivalent to a pound) as the penalty for defaulting on the debt.26 When the young man misses the repayment deadline, the moneylender takes him to court, where the judge finds in favor of the plaintiff. Before the sentence is carried out, however, a masked knight appears and points out that the agreement is only for the Arab’s flesh, not for his blood. Confounded, the Jew is forced to release the Arab, who gratefully invites the knight to visit him. When the knight arrives, the Arab offers to give him anything he asks for—but angrily rescinds the offer when the knight asks to sleep with his wife. All ends happily, however, when the knight removes the mask and reveals herself as Fitna.



Clearly, this is an extremely streamlined retelling of Shakespeare’s Merchant, with the Venetian Christian characters recast as Arabs. Bassanio and Antonio, the merchant of Shakespeare’s title, are here fused into a single character (“the Arab”). Like Portia, Fitna disguises herself as a man in order to weigh in on the court proceedings, though Zaynab imagines her as a knight rather than a legal scholar. The elaborate casket challenge is transmuted into Fitna’s riddle, together with her father’s straightforward request for a dowry. And though the complexities and the poetic beauties of Shakespeare’s language are largely lost, the key moments in the court scene are retained very much as is. Moreover, in both Zaynab’s tale and Shakespeare’s play, the final scene shows us a female character testing her new husband’s loyalty to her: the Yemeni storyteller incisively boils down Portia’s and Nerissa’s confrontation with their husbands over the rings that the latter have given away, laden as it is with sexual puns and mock threats of adultery (see 5.1.223–307), to the knight’s brazen request that he be permitted to sleep with Fitna.27 Where would Zaynab have encountered the plot of Shakespeare’s play? The level of detail in certain elements of the retelling, like the retention of the underlying dynamics of the play’s final scene, suggests that she or someone she knew had access to a text or had attended a performance. As noted in Chapter 1, in the 1960s a Hadrami theatre troupe under the direction of Muhammad Awudh Ba Saleh staged a production of The Merchant of Venice, though the troupe was based in the coastal city of Shihr, 150 miles from Seyoun. Yemeni troupes did occasionally take their productions on tour, however, so it is within the realm of possibility that Zaynab might have had a chance to see the play, or at least hear about it in detail, in her childhood. Whatever her ur-text may have been, Zaynab’s version of the tale28 was itself subjected to two different sets of editorial interventions before it reached the stage. First came that of Yemeni playwrights Wajdi Al-Ahdal, Samir Abd al-Fattah and Abdullah Abbas Al-Iryani, to whom Al-Baydhani gave transcripts of Zaynab’s and three other Yemeni folktales, asking the writers to adapt them as a playscript.29 The performance, she explained, would serve both to celebrate Yemeni’s oral literary heritage and to publicize the organization’s preservation efforts and the unique nature of the materials collected in its extensive archive. Like Zaynab’s tale, the playscript re-ambiented the action from Venice to the Arabian Peninsula, though here the adapters went



beyond her non-specific allusions to tribal culture, and opted instead to set the story clearly in the Hadramawt. For instance, they dubbed Zaynab’s unnamed hero ‘Aydarūs (Aydarous), and specified his tribe as the Kinda. By doing so, they located Aydarous as the scion of an ancient lineage within the Hadramawt, a tribe which could claim to have skirmished against the Roman Empire for control of the incense route, to have ruled Northern Hadramawt in the fourth century CE, and to have established a kingdom in Najd (central Saudi Arabia) in the fifth and sixth centuries.30 The Kinda tribe’s most celebrated son was a towering pre-Islamic poet, Imru Al-Qays Bin Hujr Al-Kindi (sixth century). By giving the protagonist an identity that connected him to such illustrious progenitors, the adapters simultaneously paid homage to Zaynab’s Hadrami identity and frames of reference, and plugged her story into a much larger system of cultural and historical coordinates, furthering Mīl al-Dhahab’s aim of valorizing and contextualizing Yemen’s literary heritage. The adaptation also provided the play with a narrator/storyteller, in a nod to Zaynab herself, and added numerous lines of dialogue. The nature of these additions makes it clear that the writers were not attempting to write Shakespeare’s lines back into their script (though Al-Iryani in particular has great admiration for Shakespeare’s texts31). Rather than inserting anything reminiscent of Portia’s “quality of mercy” speech, for example, the trio of writers instead chose to heighten the dramatic tension in the courtroom by having Fitna, as the masked knight, threaten to murder Ya‘īsh, the moneylender: “If one drop of Aydarous’s blood spills,” she warns him, “I’ll kill you!”32 The second layer of editorial intervention was that of the director and the performers. A number of the participating actors are celebrated in Yemen for their skills at improvisational comedy, and they opted to emphasize the script’s comedic elements and to interject some of their own. It is easy to forget that The Merchant of Venice is in fact a Shakespearean comedy, as we often dwell, and rightly so, on the gravity of the issues it raises, the question of anti-Semitism in particular. But in this production, the actors—particularly Abd al-Nasser Al-Arasi, the production’s Shylock—played vibrantly for laughs, pushing the comedy towards farce. That would be a difficult thing to accomplish with an Englishlanguage performance of Merchant. But one of the reasons the Yemeni performance succeeded in doing so was because its Shylock character



was not Jewish. This was a departure from Zaynab’s recitation, which very definitely characterized Shylock as such—in fact, it never referred to him by name, but only as al-yahūdī, “the Jew.” It also represented a departure, perhaps an even starker one, from the playscript, which had provided the character with the traditional Yemeni Jewish name of Ya‘ish, and had given Aydarous a line in the courtroom scene in which he desperately appeals for Muslim solidarity against “this unjust Jew” (hadha al-yahūdī al-ẓālim). The troupe, however, was sensitive to the fact that Yemen still possesses a small and beleaguered Jewish minority.33 Unwilling to reinforce any kind of factional prejudice in an atmosphere already rife, in 2012, with sectarian tension between Houthis and Salafis,34 the troupe edited out the Jewish references and made their Shylock Muslim, just like the rest of the cast of characters. Thus the performance lost that crucial tension that exists in Shakespeare’s play between the Jewish moneylender and his Christian clients. It lacked Shylock’s celebrated and moving “hath not a Jew eyes?” speech; ‘Ayḍah (the Yemeni Shylock figure, now with a Muslim rather than a Jewish name) had none of the complexities and depth of Shakespeare’s Shylock, and the motives for his resentment of Aydarous were a mystery. The scriptwriters did gave Aydah one blackly humorous speech, in which he specifies the parts of Aydarous’s body from which he plans to cut his pound of flesh: “a bit from his right arm,” he says, “so that he’ll never be able to work and will have to beg on the street, and a bit from his left leg. That way he’ll limp for the rest of his life and his wife will no longer love him.”35 The lines imply that this character envies Aydarous’s youth, strength, and attractiveness to women—an implication reinforced in performance by the casting of actor Abd al-Nasser Al-Arasi in the role, since Al-Arasi, a hugely popular comedic actor, walks with an irregular gait himself. But beyond this suggestion, the production left the motives of Aydah’s malice towards Aydarous unexplained and unexplored. Yet this performance illuminates an intriguing point: when Shakespeare’s Merchant is drained of sectarian conflict, another issue rushes in to fill the vacuum. It becomes a play about gendered power dynamics—about the fact that, though Portia is clearly sensitive, articulate, and cleverer than the men around her, she must still disguise h ­ erself as a man to enter a courtroom, to make her voice heard and to save the defendant’s life (Fig. 1). It becomes a play about a young woman who outwits a judge, an antagonist, an assembled throng, and her own



Fig. 1  Yemeni Merchant of Venice. Fitna in disguise as masked swordsman. Photo by Wagdi al-Maqtari, courtesy of Akram Mubarak/ YALI

husband, and who dominates a sphere traditionally reserved for men through the sheer force of her logic and her eloquence. I have analysed this production at some length elsewhere,36 so here I would merely like to point out the two most important ways in which this production furthers the central argument of this book—that is, that theatre and performance in general, and Shakespeare in particular, offer a means of creating “new local” communities and bridging the cultural and other divides that separate certain residents of the Arabian Peninsula from others. This particular troupe’s micro-community crossed gender and political bounds, and repeatedly chose to emphasize commonality rather than difference, and not to exacerbate factional tensions—not just those between Jews and Muslims, but also those between Northern and Southern Yemenis.



Firstly, in a city where women are most commonly “seen” in public wearing an abaya (long robe), ḥijāb (headscarf) and niqāb (veil covering the face), all of black cloth, the Yemeni Merchant of Venice provides us with a witty, outspoken, colourfully cross-dressed female protagonist. The history of Yemeni theatre provides us numerous examples of male actors playing female roles—and this still occasionally occurs, at times for added comedic value, at others to avoid censure for socially inappropriate contact between male and female actors. For a Yemeni actress to step into a masculine role is much rarer, yet very much in keeping with the play’s implied message that gender roles are largely a question of expectation and performance. In the Yemeni Merchant, Aydarous is attracted not just to Fitna’s beauty, but also to her intelligence.37 Their marital partnership is based on equality and respect, transcending gender stereotypes and challenging the restrictions that a conservative substratum of Yemeni society has attempted, with some success, to impose upon women’s behavior, particularly in public spaces. Secondly, the play attempts to bridge the political gulf separating Sana’a (the city where the play was performed, historically the capital of North Yemen) from the Hadramawt (the eastern region of Yemen, where the play is set, historically part of South Yemen). As noted in Chapter 1, North and South Yemen were separate, independent nations until 1990, when the country reunited—a hasty and poorly executed reunification that soon saw Southerners accusing the Northern government of corruption, of fraud, of refusing to implement power-sharing agreements, and of exploiting Southern land and oil resources. Since the South has less than one-sixth of the total population of united Yemen (about 4 million out of 26.5), the North has greater representation in the Majlis al-Nuwwāb [the Yemeni parliament], and both the Majlis and former president Saleh were long perceived as furthering Northern interests at the South’s expense. These problems led not only to a civil war in 1994—a war in which the southern capital city of Aden was occupied and looted—but also, since 2007, to a southern secessionist movement, al-Ḥirāk, which has called for the reestablishment of an independent southern state.38 On stage in 2012 Merchant served as contemporary political allegory: the equal partnership between Fitna and Aydarous acted as a metaphor for an idealized Yemeni union of North and South, at a moment of high tension between the central government in Sana’a and the southern secessionist movement. One of the ways in which the play communicated this message was through its careful portrayal of Hadrami



culture, a point upon which director Amin Hazaber insisted. He and his crew researched traditional Hadrami dress and jewelry as inspiration for the costumes, and replicated images of Hadrami landscapes for backdrops. Hadrami actor Abd al-Ghani Al-Mutawwa served as the cast’s vocal coach; assisted by Abdullah Awadh Yasin, a young Hadrami actor from the play’s cast, Al-Mutawwa trained the actors to recite in flawless Hadrami accents. This celebration of the uniqueness of Hadrami culture had significant political resonance, since one of the charges laid most vociferously at the door of the government in Sana’a by advocates of the southern movement is that the government has imposed northern culture—language, architecture, educational systems, politics—on the South, to the detriment of its own regional heritages. This emphasis on the need to respect cultural diversity at all levels, including that of politics and governance, further accentuated the decision by the authors of the script to identify Zaynab’s “Arab” with the Kinda tribe. For the Kinda were not just an identifiably Hadrami tribe that had produced a celebrated poet: they are also known within Yemeni history as the first dynasty to succeed at uniting the fractious tribes of Central Arabia under a single leader, a feat they accomplished in the late fifth and early sixth century CE. Significantly, the loose coalition the Kinda assembled was held together not by brute force or threats of it, but rather by the respect that prevailed among members of neighboring tribes for the Kinda and their sage leadership—a political model from the region’s ancient history with obvious lessons for its contemporary leaders.39 The underlying socio-political message of the performance also gives an additional resonance to Fitna’s riddle. In Zaynab’s story, when the Arab asks the beautiful young woman who she is, she replies, “My name is worse than death.”40 Though his traveling companions are perplexed by this unexpected response, the Arab guesses that her name must be Fitna—a thought-provoking witticism on Zaynab’s part, since the word fitna has multiple meanings in Arabic.41 It can be glossed as “temptation,” “charm,” or “infatuation”—any one of which would be appropriate for the arch young beauty of the tale, but none of which is worse than death in any obvious sense. Fitna can also mean a “trial,” in the sense of faith or character being put to the test—perhaps worse than death for those who fail the test, depending on the consequences. But fitna also means (and is most often used in the Qur’an to allude to) “sedition,” “discord” or “civil strife”—a threat to the unity of a community or a



society.42 Zaynab seems to have intended the answer to suggest the first two denotations—to emphasize Fitna’s allure, and to foreshadow the Arab’s literal and figurative trials. But in performance, the riddle suggested the third definition as well—a warning that the isolation of and marginalization of certain groups within Yemeni society from others, whether on grounds of gender or sect or politics, posed a grave threat to the unity of the nation. In the final scene, a triumphant Fitna explains that she disguised herself as the masked knight not just to save Aydarous but to prove to him that she is the most intelligent person that he knows, male or female, and Aydarous describes his wife not just as radiantly beautiful but also as “the sum of all good qualities, and cleverer than a thousand men.”43 This couple’s relationship is a marriage of true minds, of equal partners, and the performance strongly suggested that this ideal should be sought in political agreements as well as marital ones. In parallel to its revision of gender roles, this Yemeni performance of Merchant stages a more egalitarian relationship between Yemen’s North and South, one in which different regions, dialects and traditions can coexist without undermining, dominating or taking a pound of flesh from each other.

Yemen’s East-West Macbeth Though the Arabian Peninsula to date has produced few examples of Shakespearean cinema, German filmmaker Michael Roes and his mostly Yemeni cast provide us with a striking exception. Roes filmed Someone Is Sleeping in My Pain, subtitled An East-West Macbeth,44 in the stone and mud brick villages of the highlands of Yemen in late 2000 and early 2001, with most of Shakespeare’s roles performed by local tribesmen of all ages, from school-age boys to the venerable village elder. Filmed under extraordinary conditions and in the face of massive logistical obstacles, Someone is Sleeping in My Pain brought the plot of Macbeth to remote highland communities like the mountain village of al-Dhafir, northwest of Sana’a; to iconic Yemeni sites like Kawkaban, a historic stone village set atop a sandstone plateau that towers nearly a thousand feet above the surrounding plains; and into the faded grandeur of a dilapidated palace originally built by a Yemeni Imam in Khawlan,45 which takes its name from a tribe whose roots go back to the first millennium BCE.46



Roes’s East-West Macbeth takes the form of a film-within-a-film, opening with a scene in which a young director from New York City, played by African-American actor and dancer Andrea Smith, embarks upon the unlikely project of filming an adaptation of Macbeth in the Yemeni highland village from whence his friend, who now runs the neighborhood convenience store, had emigrated to the US. Upon his arrival in al-Dhafir, Smith’s character47 attempts to teach a group of local boys the opening lines from Shakespeare’s play (Fig. 2). But “When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?” proves too difficult to pronounce and to remember for children who have had scant schooling in Arabic, let alone in English (14:50-19:12). Though Smith begins by presenting Shakespeare’s language as a reified object, a set of magnificent phrases that his pupils should repeat even if they have no idea of their meaning, he soon discards this attitude: “Well, this is too much in English,” he acknowledges (18:35-18:46). The eventual, practical compromise is for the Yemenis to perform their roles in Arabic. And the boys begin to share their own imagined tales of supernatural beings with Roes and his crew: the night after their rehearsal, they gather around a campfire and recount a local ghost story—or more precisely, the tale of a monstrous, bloodthirsty jinnī, arguably the closest supernatural analogue in Yemeni culture to Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters (20:50-22:03).48 This practical flexibility also extended to the film’s casting. In Yemen, the strictures of rural village culture prevented local women from taking part in the production, so Smith took on the role of Lady Macbeth himself; he declaims his lines in Shakespeare’s English, while the Yemeni actors speak in a variety of expressive ranges, from more formal Arabic to colloquial Yemeni dialect. Further, the role of Macbeth was recast four times, as performers dropped out and/or as the crew changed locations. Rather than reshooting the footage from the beginning of the play, Roes made a virtue out of necessity, reasoning that the character evolves over the course of Shakespeare’s play, and that having a series of different actors play the role would underscore the multifaceted nature of Macbeth’s personality.49 Even under these trying circumstances, the performances are remarkable. While a number of the tribesmen to whom Smith distributes roles were clearly nervous about performing in front of the camera, others had an innate understanding of the craft of acting, and Smith is graceful and compelling as Lady Macbeth. In our Skype interview, Roes recounted



that he cast Smith after watching him perform a one-man autobiographical show in New York in which Smith played himself and his mother, impressing Roes with his uncommon ability to inhabit, rather than travesty or stereotype, a female character. Roes recalled that the basic plot elements were quite easy to communicate to the local participants, who found the tale of ambition, deception, and murder, as recounted by Smith and the team’s Yemeni translator Ahmad, comprehensible and resonant. By and large, local leaders and residents were supportive of the project and welcomed the group with warmth and hospitality; in al-Dhafir, the local shaykh himself took on the role of Duncan. But in both al-Dhafir and Khawlan, a minority made anxious by the unheimlich presence of foreigners and videocameras in their midst instigated threats of violence, each time forcing the crew to relocate. In Khawlan, where the actor playing Macbeth had been filmed playing with a puppy while sitting on a prayer rug (56:04-56:31), one resident fabricated the rumor that the actor had been praying to the dog. An accusation of idolatry, particularly one involving an animal traditionally considered “unclean,” was guaranteed to raise the ire of the conservative and the suspicious. The team was forced out of the locale, in a violation of cherished traditions of Yemeni hospitality and the protection of guests that bore an unexpected parallel to those violated by Macbeth himself in murdering Duncan. Smith’s straight-to-the-camera responses to these events are incorporated into the film, and provide some of its most gripping moments. But the suspense, the violence, the danger are only a small part of this story. Roes’s project traces the evolving relationships between the director and his cast, divided culturally and linguistically and in terms of education and opportunity, but united by their performance project. Moreover, for one of the actors who played Macbeth, the project provided a sorely needed outlet for self-expression and social integration (Fig. 2). Villagers had warned Roes that Yahya was “crazy”—emotionally volatile—and in fact Roes wonders whether Western psychiatry would have diagnosed him as bipolar.50 Marginalized within his insular rural community, the young man proved a gifted and intense actor in Roes’s film, committing reams of lines to memory and extemporizing one of the film’s final scenes, to which he added a series of somber ritualistic gestures to prepare himself for death and Lady Macbeth’s corpse for burial (1:20:30-1:21:50). In Shakespeare and World Cinema, Mark Thornton Burnett provides a nuanced explication of both the cinematographic details of Roes’s film



Fig. 2  Michael Roes’s An East-West Macbeth. Andrea Smith, left, distributes the witches’ roles, while Yahya watches intently. Courtesy of Michael Roes

and of the appeal that the content of Macbeth holds for a certain type of filmmaker—“auteurs of an independent, distinctive mold”51: Because it is a play that revolves around tyranny and absolutism …, Macbeth speaks volubly to filmmakers and artists invested in challenging forms of cultural and linguistic hegemony. From very different parts of the world, Macbeth is reworked to pose questions about the integrity of the individual nation-state, the place of particular constituencies and the role of Shakespeare in promoting the promulgation of endangered traditions [emphasis added].52

Roes’s film certainly contradicts any notion of the Shakespearean text and its language as sacred or sacrosanct, and at no point does it portray the performance of Macbeth as a simple one-way “civilizing” or “enlightening” process for its target community. Rather, the film utilizes Macbeth as a framework for exploration and experimentation that brings seemingly oppositional groups and/or cultures into the same orbit: Americans, Europeans, and Yemenis; the über-educated and the functionally illiterate; the esteemed shaykh and the “crazy,” misunderstood young man. Speaking about the experience, Roes was searingly honest in his self-reflection:



Macbeth is a play about power—and me, as a Western director going to Yemen, it’s a kind of cultural colonial act. I have always to reflect this: that I am coming from a privileged situation, and that I am in a certain way exploiting the country, its beauty, its people, its culture, for my artistic project. Is it legitimate? How do I deal with it? How can I find ways out of this colonial hierarchy? Is it possible to meet people on the same level, as free, independent participants?53

His film is a courageous attempt to create that egalitarian meeting place. Moreover, in ways that no one in the cast or crew could have predicted, Someone is Sleeping in My Pain has now become a testament to a world that has disappeared. In 2006, the village of al-Dhafir was heavily damaged by an avalanche that killed sixty-five residents, including some members of the film’s cast and crew.54 Roes’s film, and a documentary that he had filmed earlier in al-Dhafir, are some of the only records to preserve images of the local community before the tragedy struck.

A Saudi Extra Steals the Show: Hamlet, Get Out of My Head An agitated actor in a ruffed collar storms through the foyer of an auditorium, telling the crowds gathered in anticipation of the evening’s performance that what’s going on in the theatre is zift (“garbage,” literally “asphalt”). “That guy’s ignorant, he’s backwards. What he’s doing has no connection to theatre,” he laments, in reference to the play’s director. Two men try to reason with him, telling him that the audience has arrived, that he has to return to the theatre; he loses his temper and raises his voice. The crowd of spectators is befuddled. The video recording catches a few whispers of “That’s him … That’s Hamlet,” as well as a couple of chortles, though it’s not clear whether these are prompted by the actor’s angry speech or by his somewhat incongruous appearance: ruff and navy blue vest over a voluminous white poet’s shirt and jeans, the strap of a battered shoulder bag slung across his chest. The actor walks a few paces down a ramp, then turns and apologizes to the crowd for his outburst. “You have to believe me,” he tells them, “I just can’t go on like this.” He explains that his director treats him with sarcasm, and accuses him of thinking he’s a big star, when in fact the actor is painfully aware that he is only “an extra” (in Arabic, kūmbārs55). Worse, the director assigns him menial tasks like cleaning the



theatre, organizing the props, opening the doors. “He wants me to do everything,” the actor laments. Everything, that is, except play the role he dreams of playing—the role of Hamlet. As if to prove his abilities, the actor then stirringly declaims (in contemporary Arabic translation) Hamlet’s speech from the Q2 version of Act 4 Scene 4: …What is a man [in Arabic, Man insān, literally “Who is human?”] If his chief good and market of his time Be but to sleep and feed?—a beast, no more. Sure, he that made us with such large discourse, Looking before and after, gave us not That capability and god-like reason To fust in us unused. Now whether it be Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple Of thinking too precisely on th’event— …56—I do not know Why yet I live to say “This thing’s to do,” Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and means, To do’t. (4.4.25–36)

The image of the unthinking human being, seeking only fulfillment of his material wants, is implicitly contrasted with the actor’s own artistic aspirations. When Hamlet says “this thing’s to do,” he of course is referring to avenging Old Hamlet’s foul and unnatural murder, but in this play, the actor’s “cause, and will, and strength, and means” are clearly trained on his dream of enacting Hamlet on the stage. The futility of his hopes is clear to him, however, and prompts the frustrated cry, “Hamlet, get out of my head!” The actor then turns to the audience. “I get it. No actor who’s built like me57 gets to play Hamlet. But,” he concludes philosophically, “maybe I should say I don’t really play Hamlet—instead, Hamlet plays me.” The assembled crowd applauds, and he invites them to accompany him back into the theatre (2016, 1:05–6:14).58 This is the opening scene of Saudi playwright Fahd Al-Hoshani’s play Hāmlit, Ukhruj min Ra’sī (Hamlet, Get Out of My Head), which has toured numerous Saudi cities since its premiere in Riyadh in 2014.59 Saudi actor Khalid Alharbi plays the lone role of the unhappy extra, and while announcements and reviews tend to stress the “one-man-show” aspect of the play60 (prompted no doubt by the fact that Al-Hoshani



subtitles his play “a monodrama”), the play merits attention not just for Alharbi’s earnest performance but also for its metatheatrical reflections on the state of Saudi theatre and society. The analysis that follows references two video recordings of Hamlet, Get Out of My Head. The first is the complete performance (forty minutes long) of the play at the Riyadh International Book Fair in 2014, uploaded to YouTube by director Sobhy Youssef61; the second contains the first fifteen minutes or so of a 2016 performance at the Coral Beach Resort Theatre in Jeddah.62 While the Jeddah video is quite similar to the first fifteen minutes of the Riyadh performance, it does contain some small but arguably telling changes, and evinces much more active participation from its audience members. The group in Riyadh displays its approbation decorously, by rounds of applause, but they do not respond verbally to the actor’s questions, while many of the Jeddah spectators reply audibly to the actor’s attempts to interact with them.63 This actor may be a mere extra in his director’s production of Hamlet, but as he notes, even a downtrodden kūmbārs has a sense of his own dignity. Early on in the piece he recites Hamlet’s instructions to Polonius, which include a warning about actors’ capacity to shape public opinion by commenting on current events and on individual reputation: Good my lord, will you see the players well bestow’d? Do you hear? Let them be well us’d; for they are the abstract and brief chronicles of the time. After your death you were better have a bad epitaph than their ill report while you live. (2.2.525–9)

But esteem for the power of the actor’s craft, not to mention for the actor himself, is in short supply. Though the actor takes it as a point of pride to treat people with respect, his anecdotes poignantly suggest that these efforts go unreciprocated. His wife is disinterested in him, and his director runs the theatre with an iron fist, looking down on the performers both literally and figuratively. Look at him. He’s up there [indicates the sound and light booth, raised, at the back of the theatre]. He likes to think he’s above us, up there in the control room.64 He thinks he can pull all the strings from that room … [Turns towards the stage and imitates the director] “Don’t go off script! Don’t depart from the character as we know it! No improvising, do you hear me?” (2014, 5:50–6:24)



These restrictions are voiced even more forcefully in the 2016 video, in which the actor ventriloquizes the director thus: “Going off script is forbidden [Arabic: mamnu‘]! Doing anything out of character is forbidden! Any addition is forbidden!” (2016, 9:05–12), the repeated mamnu‘ reverberating at the end of each line, suggesting an analogy to religious dogma. But the actor rebels against the director’s authority: I have decided … [dramatic drum beats] I have decided to go off script.65 I’ll recite a new script. [To the control room] Do you hear me? [pause] Of course you hear me—there are microphones everywhere. They’re so sensitive they’ll pick up your breath. There may even be one in my clothes, I’m not sure. [In a stage whisper to the audience] I’m sure he’ll keel over from the shock. He’ll never believe that a nobody like me would go off script. (2014, 7:05–55)

He then seizes his opportunity to declaim Hamlet’s lines, in contemporary Arabic translation, from the stage. He chooses Hamlet’s address to the Ghost in Act 1 Scene 5: Remember thee? Yea, from the table of my memory I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records, All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past, That youth and observation copied there, And thy commandment all alone shall live Within the book and volume of my brain Unmixed with baser matter. Yes, yes, by heaven. …66 O villain, villain, smiling, damnèd villain! My tables, my tables67—meet it is I set it down That one may smile and smile and be a villain. At least I’m sure it may be so in Denmark. (1.5. 97–110)

“Denmark,” he then repeats with a long laugh, as though sharing an inside joke with the audience, “Ahhh, Hamlet … Denmark” (2014, 8:45–55). Though no overt critique of Saudi society, politics or government appears in the play, lines like the above obviously invite a politicized reading. The actor chafes under the numerous restrictions imposed upon him by an external authority figure—restrictions that govern what he can say and how he is supposed to act, and which curtail the possibility of



individual expression. Hard on the heels of his announcement of his oneman protest comes the thought of surveillance, of hidden microphones recording his transgression. In the actor’s stream of consciousness, Denmark is Saudi Arabia; the Ghost’s all-consuming “commandment” and the reference to “smiling, damnèd villains” are linked to the authoritarian orders of the director. The world of the theatre, subject to the director’s control, is Saudi society in microcosm. The director “can do anything,” the actor warns, including cutting the sound or the lights to interrupt the performance. “He wants to silence me. He wants to say that without him I can’t see, I can’t move,” the actor tells the audience during one such power cut, his face illuminated by a hand-held flashlight (2014, 32:43–53). But the actor’s reaction to these restrictions is social and loquacious rather than introverted and introspective. He works to make common cause with his audience, to win them over—or, in terms of this book’s overarching argument, to establish a new community, one to which he can contribute, and in which he plays a central rather than a marginal role. He accomplishes this not only by directing his observations towards the audience, but by inviting them to respond. His apology to the disconcerted crowd in the opening scene, and his attempts to explain his frustrations to them, set the tone for the play’s numerous other moments of direct interaction. For example, as he announces his intention not to take part in the director’s play, the actor sits down on a set of steps leading to the stage and addresses the audience: “I won’t participate, I’ll just sit here with all of you. Is that all right with you? You don’t mind if I sit with you? [Pause for audience response68] Thank you, thank you” (2014, 9:25–39). At a later point, fearing the director’s wrath, the actor crouches behind a chair and begs the audience to help him, to promise they’ll protect him against anyone who attacks him. And the audience responds: on the video of the 2016 performance in Jeddah, numerous spectators can be heard responding audibly in the affirmative (2016, 14:40–15:04). The actor also explains that, from the perspective of the actor on stage, some of the audience members are like extras—particularly those in the first row, who can look the actor in the eyes, as though they are additional members of the cast. But this attempt to find points of commonality comes with a caveat: the actor notes that the first row (normally the VIP section, reserved for officials and dignitaries) gets special treatment. They’re served juice and coffee, for example, and they receive



complimentary tickets—unlike the shabāb, the young people at the back, who get no perks. The young people are the ones who are really like him, according to the actor; they are the extras, while those in the first row are like the big stars who monopolize all the good roles, preventing extras like him from playing Hamlet. The actor is suddenly outraged. Shouldn’t the first row have to buy tickets? After all, that is how a production makes money. And the actors—even the extras, he stresses—put their heart and soul into their performance. Shouldn’t they be paid for their work? The directness of this harangue is startling, as is its underlying point: that Saudi society is starkly divided into the haves and the have-nots, with the “VIPs in the first row” functioning as a dividing line separating the hard-working actors from the similarly conscientious rest of the audience. When it dawns on the actor, about twenty-five minutes into the performance, that he has not yet put on the play that the audience was expecting to see, he urges them to speak up, to demand what they are owed: “And that’s your right, as paying ticket holders—those of you who paid for your tickets, anyway—you should claim it. Don’t be silent where your rights are concerned. You must see the show. Understood?” (24:35–56). Those members of the audience, and by extension of Saudi society, who feel disenfranchised or ignored should not be afraid to speak up. In a different context, this exhortation could be relatively innocuous. It is not, after all, a call to violent revolution, or even to civil disobedience, and “claiming the right to see the show” could be read as a simple suggestion that the audience ask themselves whether they are receiving the benefits promised to them by their social contract. In Saudi Arabia, however, to even suggest such questions is to run the risk of punitive action, and the vast disparity between the country’s super-wealthy and its poorest citizens seems to be a particularly thorny issue. Consider the case of popular Saudi vlogger Feras Bugnah, who brought the plight of some of the Kingdom’s poor to light in a short YouTube video entitled “Al-Faqr” (Poverty).69 Bugnah’s video provides a sensitive portrayal of the struggles of a handful of the 2 to 4 million Saudi citizens who, it is estimated, live below the poverty line; he and his team investigate the squalid living conditions of families in al-Jarādīya, a run-down neighborhood in south central Riyadh. The video is clearly intended as a means of raising awareness among the Kingdom’s better-off citizens of their neighbors’ difficulties, and it provides constructive suggestions



for addressing the problem (among which, creating a website that would illustrate the needs of various neighborhoods, towns and villages and allow better-off citizens to make charitable contributions to them). The video is not anti-regime, but rather positions Bugnah as a gadfly drawing attention to those who have fallen through the cracks of an otherwise generous social system, so that they can obtain assistance.70 At one point, Bugnah even says, “in all honesty, we are confident that our government will help these people” (7:02–07). What the government did instead, after the video was posted in October 2011 and swiftly went viral, was to arrest Bugnah and two of his colleagues, detaining them for over two weeks, apparently on suspicion of “turning public opinion against the public order of the country.”71 The video has attracted over 3 million views to date. Bugnah’s arrest took place in the regional context of the 2011 Arab Spring protests, which the Al Saud monarchy prevented from taking hold across Saudi Arabia through a potent carrot-and-stick combination: on the one hand, enhanced economic benefits, to keep citizens quiescent, and on the other “unflinching repression,” including the harassment, arrest and imprisonment of political activists as well as writers, journalists and bloggers, and the intimidation of ordinary citizens by an increased presence of police, both in uniform and plainclothes.72 These conditions continued to prevail in 2014 and through 2016, when Hamlet, Get Out of My Head was performed—and arguably they took even more acute form, given that from 31 January 2014, a new antiterrorism law effectively gave Saudi authorities additional powers to crack down on forms of expression deemed threatening, or even just potentially embarrassing, to the Saudi government.73 Moreover, as Madawi Al-Rasheed’s scholarship illustrates, the Al Saud monarchy has systematically and over the course of decades followed a strategy of segmenting and segregating the various elements of its population, exploiting and exacerbating “the Sunni–Shia divide, men–women divide, tribal and regional differences, in addition to class hierarchies” as a means to prevent the formation of any unified nationwide opposition to their rule.74 “Those who cross these divides,” Al-Rasheed warns, “are immediately repressed, accused of undermining security and pursuing foreign agendas.”75 Within this context, the actions and the dialogue of the kūmbārs in Hamlet, Get Out of My Head are quite courageous, not merely for encouraging the audience to speak up when their rights are trampled on, but for modeling the crossing of a divide symbolic of those



that Al-Rasheed mentions. The overlooked, mistreated “extra” moves himself from the margins to the spotlight, and reaches out to the audience from that vantage point, in an attempt to reach common ground, fellowship, mutual understanding. After urging the spectators to demand their rights, the kūmbārs turns his attention to putting on the show that is his audience members’ due— the dramatic apex of which is his recitation, sword in hand, of a version76 of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy (3.3.58–90) while the “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana thunders in the background. He delivers the lines “To die, to sleep. / To sleep, perchance to dream” holding a prop skull in his hand, and picks the skull up again at “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,” gripping it with both hands, and delivering the line as an accusatory question. He concludes the soliloquy with repeated cries of “To be or not to be!”, bathed in blood-red light, arms extended, facing the blank rear wall of the stage, prompting an outbreak of applause. This mini-performance is bracketed by two key scenes. The first is the one previously mentioned, where the director cuts the power, leaving the actor in the dark. The line “He wants to silence me. He wants to say that without him I can’t see, I can’t move” is followed by a declaration of principled refusal: “But it’s not true. No! No matter what, no matter what, I don’t want his lights. A light that we own is better than light that he bestows upon us, which he turns on or off as he pleases” (another line which prompted the audience to applaud; 2014, 32:53–33:10). For some audience members, the actor’s protest against the iron-fisted director must surely have recalled to mind the words of Khaled Al-Johani, the lone man who showed up to protest in Riyadh on the so-called “Day of Rage” (11 March 2011), whose willingness to voice his pro-democracy stance to BBC Arabic reporters77 in the midst of a stony-faced battalion of policemen earned him the title “the only brave man in Saudi Arabia” and over a year in a prison run by the mabāhith, the Saudi secret police. “The government doesn’t own us,” al-Johani told the reporters.78 “We’re free people, who want to live freely … I am a citizen of this country. I should be able to obtain what I need without having to beg for it.” Glancing at the nearby policemen, he says, “They didn’t think that someone would stop and speak to reporters. They didn’t think any Saudi would dare speak to reporters, because they’ll put him in prison” (a line with striking parallels to the kūmbārs’s statement, “He’ll never believe that a nobody like me would go off script,” quoted above).



After the soliloquy concludes, the actor returns to the stage, sitting once again on the steps, speaking directly to the audience. This time, he requests that the lights be cut, and once again he illuminates himself with his flashlight. “Darkness gathers us together. In the dark, one person can sense everything about another. I think that by now all of you understand how much I’ve suffered. Don’t you?” (35:50–36:14). Darkness here is equated both with a sense of community and mutual understanding, and with the refusal to accept “light bestowed upon us by someone who can turn it on or off as he pleases”—in other words, with the desire to maintain a sense of dignity “without having to beg for it.” Though reverberations through the sound system of the director’s threatening laugh momentarily frighten him, the actor takes courage: He doesn’t like it when someone answers back. Especially if the someone is an extra like me. He’ll go crazy when he sees you’re still here, despite the fact that he shut the lights off. And it’ll make him even crazier that I went off script. And that you’re still here, listening to me. And I’m still speaking. I’m still speaking. I’m—. (38:08–38)

In the midst of this moment of defiance, as he savors the triumph of having created a rapport, a bond with the assembled crowd (“he’ll go crazy when he sees you’re still here”), the actor’s microphone is suddenly muted; he continues to speak but the audience cannot hear him. This final humilitation by the director is too much for the actor to bear. He falls to the ground, clutching his heart and gasps an incomplete warning to the audience: “Iḥdharū min… iḥdharū min…” (Beware of … beware of …). With his dying breath the actor reaches out to the community he has attempted to foster over the course of the play. Having requested their protection earlier in the play, his last grand gesture is an attempt to return the favor—to help them by alerting them to impending danger. The rest of the play makes clear, of course, that this is a warning against the authoritarian forces that suppress the freedom of expression symbolized by the actor’s decision to “go off script.” On a very basic level, the choice not to finish the sentence is a necessary one, as a more pointed denunciation would in all likelihood have prevented the play from receiving performance permission. Yet as an instance of self-editing, this final line is also quite clever, since its very nature as an unfinished, blanked-out phrase calls attention to the results of official censorship.



(In this sense the play’s final phrase functions much in the same way as the blurring of images in the 2016 Saudi film Barakah Yoqabil Barakah, which opens with the tongue-in-cheek disclaimer, “Note: The pixelization you will experience during this film is totally normal. It is not a commentary on censorship. We repeat, it is not a commentary on censorship.”79) Furthermore, by allowing audience members to fill in the blanks in the actor’s last pronouncement, the playwright acknowledges the fact that in Saudi Arabia, as in every country in the world, suppression and oppression occur at multiple levels of the socio-political hierarchy. Official censorship of texts, plays and films takes place at one level; the religious police’s enforcement of dress codes, mosque attendance and the closure of businesses during daily prayer times, at another; the rigid social conventions that govern individuals’ behavior and interactions with each other function at still another. In keeping with its underlying message, Hamlet, Get Out of My Head simultaneously invites its audience to participate in the final scene by finishing the actor’s sentence, and leaves them free to decide where in their own lives his warning most applies. In Hamlet, Get Out of my Head, just as in The Dark Night, the performance of the Yemeni Merchant of Venice, and Roes’s Yemeni Macbeth, Shakespeare assists in the creation of an incisive and multi-layered socio-political allegory that communicates a complex and, in some quarters, unwelcome truth about the fissures, ruptures, and injustices of contemporary society. In each of these cases, the performance gestures towards social and political macrosystems that discriminate against and disadvantage certain groups, whether on the basis of race, gender, regional identity or socio-economic status (or, as in Yahya’s case, merely for exhibiting unexpected behavior), and it simultaneously challenges audiences to consider how they can resist those constructs on the individual level. The stage is not just the world in microcosm but also a means through which a micro-community can illuminate and challenge the world that surrounds it. As Rosalind’s father Duke Senior puts it in As You Like It, right before Jaques’s famous “All the world’s a stage” soliloquy, “Thou seest we are not all alone unhappy. / This wide and universal theatre / Presents more woeful pageants than the scene / Wherein we play in” (2.7.135–8). Banished from court by his usurping brother, the Duke has created a community of “co-mates and brothers in exile” (2.1.1) in the Forest of



Arden—a community and a life which, to his mind, are more honest and more rewarding than the pomp and flattery of officialdom. His companion Jaques does not share this idyllic perspective, but wishes rather to be a fool, a gadfly, one who exposes the ills and follies of society. “Give me leave / To speak my mind,” he urges the Duke, “and I will through and through / Cleanse the foul body of th’infected world” (2.7.58–60). When the Duke wryly points out that Jaques has his own shortcomings to attend to, the melancholy lord parries with a brilliantly calculated defense of the critic’s position: Why, who cries out on pride That can therein tax any private party? Doth it not flow as hugely as the sea, Till that the weary very means do ebb? What woman in the city do I name When that I say the city-woman bears The cost of princes on unworthy shoulders? Who can come in and say that I mean her When such a one as she, such is her neighbour? Or what is he of basest function, That says his bravery is not on my cost, Thinking that I mean him, but therein suits His folly to the mettle of my speech? There then, how then, what then, let me see wherein My tongue hath wronged him. If it do him right, Then he hath wronged himself. If he be free, Why then my taxing like a wild goose flies, Unclaimed of any man. (87)

Those who critique vices and evils in Jaques’s fashion do so (or so he claims) without pointing the finger at any particular perpetrator. Rather, they condemn a general practice, and allow their hearers to decide if and to what degree this critique applies to them, and to what degree it applies to the society around them. For Jaques, ruminating in the forests of Arden beyond the bounds of court and the threat of reprisal, this is a provocative but not tremendously dangerous position to take. For playwrights on the contemporary Arabian Peninsula, and particularly in the Gulf, critique is a riskier endeavor, and Jaques’s excuse (“I wasn’t talking about you”) offers only a flimsy defensive shield. But to be able if necessary to claim, “I was just



adapting Shakespeare!” does seem to provide playwrights like Al-Hoshani and Al-Izki with additional critical latitude to express, however obliquely, their own socio-political positions, and to see whether “the foul body of th’infected world” is willing to swallow a dose of cleansing medicine. In this and the previous chapter we have considered English- and Arabic-language productions of Shakespeare separately. In the next chapter, we examine a context in which both flourish side by side: the diverse and distinctive Gulf emirate of Kuwait.


1. For a detailed analysis of Al-Izki’s play, see Hennessey, “Othello in Oman.” 2. Quoted in Terrick Hamilton’s translation, Antar, a Bedoueen Romance, p. 394. 3.  The first recorded performance of Shakespeare’s Othello occurred on 1 November 1604, in the Banqueting House of King James’ Palace at Whitehall, according to The Accounts of the Master of the Revels. 4. Terrick Hamilton translated the opening books of Sīrat ʻAntar, as noted above; the complementary segments of the latter part of Antar’s adventures and the account of his death are available in H. T. Norris’s translation, The Adventures of Antar. W. A. Clouston translated an abridged version of Sīrat ʻAntar in 1881, in his anthology Arabian Poetry. For an enlightening structural and thematic analysis of the tale, and an intriguing theory on the mirroring of Antar’s adventures by the epic’s minor and sometimes villainous characters, see Heath, The Thirsty Sword. 5. Antar was an actual historical figure, author of one of the seven ancient poetic odes known as the Mu‘allaqāt, or “Hanging Poems.” 6. In Arabic, Antar is referred to interchangeably as “Antar” and “Antara” (sometimes transliterated “Antarah”), and the names of Antar and Abla both begin with an initial ‘ayn, usually transliterated with’. For easier legibility I have dropped the initial ‘ayn from the protagonists’ names after this first instance. 7. According to literary tradition, the poet Al-Aṣma‘ī in the court of Harūn al-Rashīd (Baghdad, pp. 786–809) was the first to transcribe the various tales associated with Antar and to present them in unified form as the Sīrat ‘Antara ibn Shaddād (The Epic of Antar). Throughout the subsequent centuries more legends and stories were added to this text, which was published in both Beirut (1871) and Cairo (1889). 8. A full recording of this performance, in Arabic without subtitles, is (or was, until early 2017) available on Digital Theatre’s “Gulf Stage” website.



9. The script calls Othello ‘Ūtayl, and Desdemona, Daydamūna, following the rendering of Shakespeare’s characters’ names in the French text from which Khalil Mutran produced his 1912 “Arabizing” translation, but for clarity of reference I have maintained the Shakespearean spellings in this article. The translations of Shakespeare’s text used in The Dark Night are by IraqiPalestinian scholar Jabra Ibrahim Jabra (1978), with minor edits by al-Izki. 10. Al-Izki, al-Layla al-Ḥālika, p. 9. 11. For a study of the increasingly fraught sectarian and ethnic tensions in the region, see for example, Sectarian Politics in the Gulf: Working Report; Zweiri and Zahid, Religion, Ethnicity, and Identity Politics; Wehrey, Sectarian Politics: Iraq War to Arab Uprisings; and Shehabi, “The Role of Religious Ideology.” 12. Potter, Introduction to Sectarian Politics in the Gulf: Working Report, p. 1. 13.  Quoted in Al-Rashid, “The Gulf Muslim Brotherhood’s Position on Minorities.” 14. For more on Ibadhi Islam, see Hoffman, op. cit. 15. The Al Bu Sa‘id dynasty, to which Sultan Qaboos belongs, ruled over Zanzibar and other East African territories from 1749 to 1964. 16. For a detailed exploration of Oman’s “Arab Spring” protests and their repercussions, see Hunt, “That Late Unpleasantness.” 17. Alhaj, “The Political Elite.” This observation is now somewhat dated. 18. Hunt, op. cit., p. 152. 19. “Oman.” Front Line Defenders. 20. “Prison for Netizens.” 21.  Hunt, op. cit., p. 157. No copy of the article Hunt cites (“Muscat Primary Court Issues Judgments at Negative and Inciting Writing Cases,” Oman News Agency, 16 July 2012) is available online. It may only have appeared in print. 22. “BTI 2016: Oman Country Report.” 23. A video clip of this performance and the cast and production team’s biographies are available on the MIT “Global Shakespeares” website, http:// 24.  The history of Hadrami migration to Southeast Asia and throughout regions bordering the Indian Ocean from the mid-eighteenth century onwards has been well documented by historians like Ulrike Freitag, Syed Farid Alatas, Linda Boxberger and Engseng Ho. Comparatively little information, however, is available for the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, despite the fact that a Hadrami presence in various parts of the region is noted as early as the eleventh century. Cf. Hadhrami Traders, ed. Freitag and Clarence-Smith; Freitag, Indian Ocean Migrants; The Hadhrami Diaspora, ed. Abushouk and Ibrahim; Boxberger, On the Edge of Empire; and Ho, The Graves of Tarim.



25. The recording of this recitation, and a transcription of it (in Arabic), are available in the organization’s archives. An English translation of Zaynab’s story can be found in Instants of Enchantment, ed. al-Baydhani and al-Faqih (“Fitna” appears on pp. 69–73). 26. On the Arabian Peninsula and in North Africa, a raṭl is a measurement of weight that varies from country to country between 449 and 500 grams; a pound is equal to 454 grams. In contemporary usage, raṭl has mostly been replaced by nuṣuf kīlū (“a half kilo”), but it would have been much more commonly used in the 1960s and 1970s, in Zaynab’s youth (she was around 50 years old in the early twenty-first century when the story was recorded). 27. Bassanio’s lines in 5.1.284–285—“Sweet doctor, you shall be my bedfellow. /When I am absent, then lie with my wife”—may have suggested to the storyteller the means by which she simplifies the final scene’s elaborate set of double entendres. 28. By this I intend the particular iteration of the tale that Zaynab performed when Mīl al-Dhahab recorded her; like a work of theatre, a storyteller’s recitation is a performative act, every performance of which is unique. 29. This script eventually became the text of the play ʿAysmir maʿish al-sirāj, of which the story of Fitna is only one of four acts, held together by a framing story, in the style of The Thousand and One Nights or The Decameron. 30. See for example, Bukharin, “Towards the Earliest History of Kinda.” 31. Al-Iryani, quoted in Al-Ahdal, email to the author. 32. ʿAysmir maʿish al-sirāj, Al-Ahdal et al.; courtesy of Fatima Al-Baydhani and Mīl al-Dhahab (now the Idanoot Foundation for Folklore). 33. Yemen has been home to Jewish communities for centuries upon centuries, but almost 80% of the Yemeni Jewish population migrated to Israel between June 1949 and September 1950 in a series of secret flights from Aden popularly termed “Operation Magic Carpet.” In 2009, as the rise of the Houthi movement purportedly began to pose a threat to Jewish residents of the Sa‘da governorate, then-president Ali Abdullah Saleh had Yemen’s scattered remaining Jewish families and communities relocated to Sana’a at government expense, the better, Saleh claimed, to protect them. 34. The Houthis, also known as Anṣār Allāh (Supporters of God), were originally based in the northern Yemeni governorate of Sa‘da, where they practised a distinct branch of Shi‘a Islam known as Zaydism. They came into conflict with the government of Ali Abdullah Saleh starting in the mid-1990s, after Saleh granted the Salafis—hardline conservative Sunni forces aligned with Saudi Arabia, who supported Saleh in the Yemeni Civil War of 1994—a green light to construct schools and mosques in



Sa‘da. Led by Zaydi cleric and erstwhile politician Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, Sa‘da’s Zaydis protested that the Salafis considered them kuffār, or apostates, and that their proselytizing in the governorate represented a systematic attempt to stamp out Zaydi culture, history and religious practice. From 2004 to 2009, this simmering conflict erupted into a series of six military engagements between the Saleh government and al-Houthi and his followers. Known in Yemen as “the Sa‘da wars,” at the time of the Merchant performance these engagements had effectively stalled, due in part to the unexpected pressure that the 2011 protests had put on Saleh to step down as president. By the end of September 2014, however—a mere year and a half or so after the performance described here—the Houthis had captured Sana’a and driven Saleh’s successor Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi into political exile, sparking the current and ongoing civil/proxy war. For more on the Houthis, see for example the scholarship of Laurent Bonnefoy (e.g. “La guerre de Sa‘da”) and Marike Brandt (especially Tribes and Politics in Yemen). 35.  ʿAysmir maʿish al-sirāj, op. cit. 36. Hennessey, “Shylock in the Hadramawt.” 37. ʿAysmir maʿish al-sirāj, op. cit. 38.  For more on the Southern secessionist movement, see for example Dahlgren, “Rebels Without Shoes,” “A Poor People’s Revolution,” and “The Southern Movement in Yemen.” 39. See, for example, Beeston et al. who argue that the Kinda ruled “more by personal prestige than by coercive settled authority.” It should be noted that while the Kinda originated in the Hadramawt, the branch of the tribe which exercised this benign hegemony did so after migrating to what is now south-central Saudi Arabia, though I do not think this distinction has a bearing on the play’s reception. 40. Zaynab, “Fitna.” The Arabic line is Ismī aswa’ min al-mawt. 41. Fitna is also the title of an Islamophobic film made by right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders in 2008. 42. According to Emile Nakhleh, fitna was also the word that radical Yemeni cleric Abd al-Majid al-Zindani, former head of the Sunni Islamist political party Islah and founder of al-Iman University, used pejoratively to describe the Houthi rebellion (Nakhleh, “Testimony”). Though this play makes Fitna a heroine, I do not believe that this play or those who produced it sympathize with the Houthis’ military rebellion, nor would many of them want to see the South re-secede. Rather, the performance reflects on the need to respect cultural and other forms of difference in order to ensure peaceful co-existence—a point which could also be applied to the grievances that originally animated the Houthi movement. For more on this, see n.34.



43. ʿAysmir maʿish al-sirāj, op. cit. 44.  The film is available on the MIT “Global Shakespeares website.” In German, as Roes explained to me, the subtitle is actually A West-East Macbeth, echoing the title of Goethe’s West–östlicher Diwan (1819, 1827), a collection of poetry inspired by that of the celebrated fourteenth-century Persian poet Hafez. 45. Roes, Interview. 46. “Khawlan.” Encyclopaedia of Islam. 47. The character of the director, played by Smith, is not given a name in the film. For simplicity’s sake, “Smith” in the following description refers both to Smith himself and to the character he plays in the film’s framing story. 48.  Jinn are not always evil beings in Arab folklore; some can be mischevious but relatively harmless to human beings, while others can even be helpful (like, for instance, the one who grants Aladdin’s wishes in The Thousand and One Nights). They are, however, generally powerful practitioners of magic and sorcery, invisible to humans unless they choose to reveal themselves, and eerie creatures. 49. Roes, Interview. 50. Ibid. 51. Burnett, Shakespeare and World Cinema, p. 163. 52. Burnett, Shakespeare and World Cinema, p. 164. 53. Roes, Interview. 54. “Yemen: Final Landslide.” 55. Derived from the Italian comparsa, or “appearance,” thus signifying one who appears on stage but has no lines. 56. The phrase “A thought which, quartered, hath but one part wisdom / And ever three parts coward” is eliminated from the Arabic recitation. 57. In the 2014 video, the actor says dubb mithilī ([built like] a bear, like me). In the 2016 video the first word in the phrase is different but not clearly audible; the gestures suggest the idea is the same. 58. This is the scene as presented in the 2016 Jeddah video, which the actor performs at the entrance and in the outdoor space in front of the theatre. 59. Scholar Eiman Tunsi lists the following performances: Riyadh Cultural and Literary Club, 2014; Riyadh International Book Fair, 2014; Beram el Tonsy Theatre, Alexandria, Egypt, 2014; Prince Faisal Bin Fahad Cultural Centre in the Saudi city of Hail, Saudi Arabia, 2015; Coral Beach Resort Theatre, Jeddah, 2016. She also notes that there are plans to tour it to other Saudi cities (Tunsi, “Hamlet”). 60. See for example, “Thaqāfat Ha’il” (the announcement of the Hail performance in al-Saraha newspaper), or Ayed’s review, “Hāmlit.” 61. Hāmlit, Ukhruj min Ra’sī, 2014.



62.  Hāmlit, Ukhruj min Ra’sī, 2016. 63. Though these different reactions fit the prevailing stereotypes of Riyadh as conservative and strait-laced and Jeddah as more liberal, it is important to note that the difference may also be due in part to the fact that this play had been touring for two years by the time it arrived at Coral Beach, and word may have spread by that time that audience participation was welcome. 64.  The Arabic is ghurfat al-taḥakkum, for which an alternate translation would be “the room of judgment.” 65. The Arabic that I have translated here as “I’ll go off script” is Sa-akhruj ‘an al-nuṣṣ, literally “I will exit [or I’ll get out of, with the suggestion of an escape] the text.” 66. The phrase “O most pernicious woman!” does not appear in the Arabic. 67. The playscript translates “My tables” as daftarī, “my notebook,” in what may be an allusion to Egyptian author Najib Sorur’s 1976 poem Afkār junūnīya fī daftar Hāmlit (Mad Thoughts from Hamlet’s Notebook), an imaginative stream of consciousness narrative that both quotes Hamlet and other characters from the play and attributes new lines, new reflections to them, “going off script” in a similar manner to Al-Hoshani’s play (Sorur, Afkār). 68. As noted above, the audience in Jeddah is quite responsive; a number of spectators can be heard on the video courteously telling the actor “you’re welcome” and “please, go ahead” (2016 video, 12:18–20). 69. The video was the fourth instalment of Bugnah’s Mal‘ūb ‘Alaynā (We’re Being Cheated!) series. Also see Sullivan, “Saudi Arabia’s riches.” 70. Bugnah and his colleagues likewise described the goal of their YouTube channel as follows, in an inaugural post: “We are going to talk about the subjects/systems that are badly implemented in our country. We want our voice to reach to the decision makers so they can make changes that will make the people who love this country more satisfied.” Quoted in Mackey, “Saudi Video Blogger Reportedly Detained.” 71. A PressTV article, picked up on other sites but no longer available on its own website, notes that authorities made this accusation against the young men, but it is not clear whether they were ever officially charged with this or anything else (PressTV, “Saudi Arabia arrests YouTube activists”). 72. Human Rights Watch, World Report 2012; see in particular the sections entitled “Criminal Justice and Torture” and “Freedom of Expression, Belief, and Assembly.” Al-Mabāhith al-‘Āmma, the Saudi secret police, reportedly keep pro-democracy activists under surveillance. For individual examples of the detection and the sentences meted out to activists and outspoken individuals of all stripes in Saudi Arabia, see the cases of Raif Badawi, Hamza Kashgari, Khaled Al-Johani and Walid Abu Al-Khair,



documented on sites like that of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information ( 73. These new powers have been used extensively, according to a 2017 UN human rights report. See Wintour, “UN accuses Saudi Arabia.” 74. Al-Rasheed, “Saudi Internal Dilemmas,” pp. 357–358. 75. Ibid., p. 377. 76. The accompanying music is quite loud, which makes it difficult to hear the actor clearly, but I believe he provides a relatively literal translation of the first ten lines, and a condensation of the remainder, pulling certain lines out of order, and repeating several of them for emphasis. 77. BBC Arabic, Interview with Khaled Al-Johani. 78.  In Arabic the verb al-Johani uses is malaka—al-ḥukūma lā tumliknā (“the government doesn’t own us”)—the same verb used by the actor in the phrase fa-nūr numlik afdal min nūr yatafaḍḍal ‘alaynā (“a light that we own is better than light that he bestows upon us”). These verbs are etymologically linked to the nouns malakīya (“monarchy”) and mamlaka (“Kingdom”), as in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 79. See the Conclusion for further discussion of this film.

References ʿAysmir maʿish al-sirāj. Unpublished playscript by Wajdi Al-Ahdal, Samir Abd al-Fattah, and Abdullah Abbas Al-Iryani, 2012. Al-Ahdal, Wajdi. Email to the Author, 11 July 2017. Alhaj, Abdullah Juma. “The Political Elite and the Introduction of Political Participation in Oman.” Middle East Policy 7:3 (2000), 97–110. Al-Izki, Ahmad. al-Layla al-Ḥālika (The Dark Night). Unpublished playscript. Al-Rasheed, Madawi. “Saudi Internal Dilemmas and Regional Responses to the Arab Uprisings.” In The New Middle East: Protest and Revolution in the Arab World, edited by Fawaz A. Gerges, 353–379. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Al-Rashid, Abdullah. “The Gulf Muslim Brotherhood’s Position on Minorities: The Case of Saudi Arabia.” Sectarian and Ethnic Diversity in the Gulf, Al-Mesbar, 1 September 2014. Ayed, Ali. “Hāmlit, Ukhruj min Ra’sī tu‘arriḍ fī al-Riyāḍ (‘Hamlet, Get Out of My Head’ performed in Riyadh). Al-Iylaf, 8 January 2014. http://elaph. com/Web/Culture/2014/1/865654.html?entry=literature. BBC Arabic. Interview with Khaled Al-Johani. Posted to YouTube by jeunes9mars, 10 May 2011. Beeston, Alfred Felix L., Mahmud Ali Ghul, William L. Ochsenwald, and Robert Bertram Serjeant. “History of Arabia.” Encyclopaedia Britannica online.



Bonnefoy, Laurent. “La guerre de Sa‘da : des singularités yéménites à l’agenda international.” Critique internationale 48:3 (2010), 137–159. Boxberger, Linda. On the Edge of Empire: Hadhramawt, Emigration, and the Indian Ocean 1880s–1930s. New York: State University of New York Press, 2002. Brandt, Marieke. Tribes and Politics in Yemen: A History of the Houthi Conflict. Oxford University Press, 2017. “BTI 2016: Oman Country Report.” Transformation Index BTI 2016, BertelsmannStiftung. Downloads/Reports/2016/pdf/BTI_2016_Oman.pdf. Bugnah, Feras. Mal‘ūb ‘Alaynā (We’re Being Cheated!) video series. YouTube. Bukharin, M.D. “Towards the Earliest History of Kinda.” Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 20 (2009), 64–80. Burnett, Mark Thornton. Shakespeare and World Cinema. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (e-book), 2012. Clouston, W.A. Arabian Poetry: For English Readers. Originally printed by M’Laren and Son, 1881. Reprinted, Whitefish, MT: Kessinger, 2010. Dahlgren, Susanne. “A Poor People’s Revolution: The Southern Movement Heads Toward Independence from Yemen.” Middle East Report 273 (December 2014). Dahlgren, Susanne. “Rebels Without Shoes: A Visit to South Yemen’s Revolution Squares.” Muftah, 22 April 2014. Dahlgren, Susanne. “The Southern Movement in Yemen.” International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World Review 22 (August 2008). https:// Southern_Movement_in_Yemen.pdf?sequence=1. Freitag, Ulrike. Indian Ocean Migrants and State Formation in the Hadhramaut: Reforming the Homeland. Social, Economic and Political Studies of the Middle East and Asia (SEPSMEA) 87. Leiden: Brill, 2003. “Gulf Stage” (performance video collection). Digital Theatre, previously available at but since removed. The Hadhrami Diaspora in Southeast Asia. Identity Maintenance or Assimilation? Edited by Ahmed Ibrahim Abushouk and Hassan Ahmed Ibrahim. Leiden: Brill, 2009. Hadhrami Traders, Scholars, and Statesmen in the Indian Ocean, 1750s–1960s. Edited by Ulrike Freitag and William Clarence-Smith. Social, Economic and Political Studies of the Middle East and Asia (SEPSMEA) 57. Leiden: Brill, 1997. Hamilton, Terrick. Antar, a Bedoueen Romance (a translation of Sirat ‘Antar). London: John Murray, 1820.



Hāmlit, Ukhruj min Ra’sī (Hamlet, Get Out of My Head), video of 2014 performance in Riyadh [though the posting is misdated as 2004 rather than 2014]. Written by Fahd Al-Hoshani, directed by Sobhy Youssef, and starring Khalid Alharbi. YouTube. Hāmlit, Ukhruj min Ra’sī (Hamlet, Get Out of My Head), video clip from 2016 performance in Jeddah. Written by Fahd Al-Hoshani, directed by Sobhy Youssef, and starring Khalid Alharbi. PerformanceShakespeare 2016. http:// Heath, Peter. The Thirsty Sword: Sīrat ʻAntar and the Arabic Popular Epic. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1996. Hennessey, Katherine. “Othello in Oman: Aḥmad al-Izkī’s Fusion of Shakespeare and Classical Arab Epic.” Critical Survey 28:3 (December 2016), 47–66. Hennessey, Katherine. “Shylock in the Hadramawt? Adaptations of Shakespeare on the Yemeni Stage.” ArabLit 3:5 (June 2013), 5–24. http://www.arablit. it/rivista_arablit/numero5_2013.html. Ho, Engseng. The Graves of Tarim: Genealogy and Mobility across the Indian Ocean. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006. Hoffman, Valerie J. The Essentials of Ibadi Islam. Syracuse University Press, 2012. Human Rights Watch. World Report 2012: Saudi Arabia Events of 2011. https:// Hunt, Jennifer S. “That Late Unpleasantness: The Arab Spring in Oman.” In The Silent Revolution: The Arab Spring and the Gulf States, edited by May Seikaly and Khawla Mattar, 145–172. Berlin and London: Gerlach Press, 2014. Instants of Enchantment: Short Stories from the Literary Heritage of Yemen. Edited by Fatima al-Baydhani and Zayd al-Faqih; translated by Katherine Hennessey and Howeida al-Shayba; illustrations by Ahmed Issa; introduction by Hennessey. Sana’a: Idanoot Foundation for Folklore, 2015. https://www. B011LW1GGC. “Khawlan.” E. J. Brill’s First Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913–1936, Volume 4, edited by Martijn Theodoor Houtsma et al. Leiden: Brill, 1993 [1927]. Mackey, Robert. “Saudi Video Blogger Reportedly Detained for Showing Poverty in Riyadh.” The Lede: The New York Times Blog, 19 October 2011. blogs&_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=1. MIT Global Shakespeares Video and Performance Archive. Peter S. Donaldson, Director & Editor-in-Chief. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Nakhleh, Emile. Testimony to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 20 January 2010. html/CHRG-111shrg62357.htm.



Norris, H.T. The Adventures of Antar. Approaches to Arabic Literature Series, Book 3. Warminster, UK: Aris & Phillips, 1980. “Oman.” Front Line Defenders. 23 March 2015. http://front_line_defenders_ upr23_oman_march2015_full.pdf. Potter, Lawrence J. “Introduction.” Sectarian Politics in the Gulf. Doha: Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University in Qatar, 2012. “Prison for Netizens.” Reporters Without Borders. 9 August 2012, updated 20 January 2016. Roes, Michael. Interview with the Author via Skype, 28 July 2015. “Saudi Arabia Arrests YouTube Activists.” PressTV, republished by KeydMedia, 20 October 2011. arabia_arrests_youtube_activists. Sectarian Politics in the Gulf: Working Group Summary Report. Doha: Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University in Qatar, 2012. 2072122015107074103013032009049037108065082108066096 0240980770760200050330130220480340240910271170100651 230470410280550481170820990861071140060080460 86071096084116013021077027093008030116065017104109001114 007031071074079081099003126&EXT=pdf. Shehabi, Saeed. “The Role of Religious Ideology in the Expansionist Policies of Saudi Arabia.” In Kingdom Without Borders: Saudi Arabia’s Political, Religious, and Media Frontiers, edited by Madawi Al-Rasheed. London: Hurst, 2008. Sorur, Najib. Afkār junūnīya fī daftar Hāmlit (Mad Thoughts from Hamlet’s Notebook.) Originally published 1976, republished online at http://www. Sullivan, Kevin. “Saudi Arabia’s Riches Conceal a Growing Problem of Poverty.” Washington Post, 1 January 2013. Available via The Guardian website at “Thaqāfat Ha’il: Hāmlit, Ukhruj min Ra’sī ta‘arraḍ al-ithnayn al-muqbil (Culture in Ha’il: ‘Hamlet, Get Out of My Head’ to be performed next Monday). al-Ṣarāḥa, 17 May 2014. Tunsi, Eiman M.S. “Hamlet, Get Out of My Head.” Database entry, PerformanceShakespeare2016. blog/hamlet-get-out-of-my-head. Wehrey, Frederick M. Sectarian Politics in the Gulf: From the Iraq War to the Arab Uprisings. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014.



Wells, Stanley, and Gary Taylor, general editors, with John Jowett and William Montgomery, eds. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 2005. Wintour, Patrick. “UN accuses Saudi Arabia of using terror laws to suppress free speech.” The Guardian, 4 May 2017. world/2017/may/04/un-accuses-saudi-arabia-of-using-terror-laws-tosuppress-free-speech. “Yemen: Final Landslide Death Toll Announced.” ReliefWeb, 3 January 2006. Zaynab. “Fitna” (short story narration). Sana’a: Mīl al-Dhahab/Idanoot oral heritage database. Zweiri, Mahjoob, and Mohammed Zahid. Religion, Ethnicity, and Identity Politics in the Persian Gulf. Athens: Research Institute for European and American Studies (RIEAS), 2007.

Chapter 7. Modeling Inclusion: Shakespeare in Kuwait

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend The brightest heaven of invention, A kingdom for a stage, princes to act And monarchs to behold the swelling scene! (Henry V, Prologue.1–4)

“I Really Want to See the Show”: Shakespear’s Grave in Kuwait In Kuwait, you can visit William Shakespear’s final resting place. You won’t find it in a quaint church like Holy Trinity in Stratford-uponAvon; instead, to make a pilgrimage to the site, you will need to head to Khalid Ibn Waleed Street in Block 7 of downtown Kuwait City. Not far from the Courtyard by Marriott, and just down the street from a GMC showroom and a DHL service point, abutting the Murad Behbehani Mosque, you will find the old walled Jewish and Christian Cemetery, and there, along a wall, a slender headstone with this inscription: To the memory of Captain W. H. I. Shakespear The Political Agent, Kuwait, From April 1909 to January 1915 Killed in Action at Jarrab, Central Arabia in January 1915 © The Author(s) 2018 K. Hennessey, Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula, Global Shakespeares,



The inhabitant of this grave is not our playwright, of course, nor is there any documented genealogical link between the two men. And where William Shakespeare has become a global icon, William Henry Irvine Shakespear (note the missing final e in the spelling of his last name) has been largely forgotten. Yet Kuwait’s Shakespear was, in his day, a prominent figure, whose career had a notable impact on the history of the modern Saudi state.1 A brilliant linguist who spoke Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, and Pashto, a pioneering photographer, and one of the last great explorers of the British imperial era, this William Shakespear served in the colonial administration of Bombay and Persia before taking up the post of political agent in Kuwait in 1909. In Kuwait, he cultivated a relationship with Shaykh Mubarak “the Great” Al-Sabah (the ruler in the second year of whose reign the 2007 AUK production of Much Ado About Nothing was set2). Shakespear was keenly interested in Gulf and Bedouin culture; he learned local Arabic dialects, took up falconry, and trekked extensively into the desert on horse and camel-back. All of this impressed Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud, the future founder of the modern Saudi state, whom Shakespear met in Mubarak’s company. Ibn Saud invited the dynamic young adventurer to visit him in Riyadh, prompting Shakespear’s epic 1914 expedition across the Arabian Peninsula from Kuwait to Riyadh to Suez.3 Shakespear’s and Abd al-Aziz’s interactions were characterized, on a personal level, by mutual respect, and the Englishman swiftly recognized the impact that the charismatic, determined leader could have on the future of the Arabian Peninsula. From 1913 onwards, Shakespear urged the British government to ally themselves formally with Abd al-Aziz and to recognize him officially as ruler of the territory of Najd, the central region of modern Saudi Arabia. Another set of claimants, however, disputed Abd al-Aziz’s territorial claims: the Al-Rashīd emirs, whom Abd al-Aziz’s forces battled at Jarrāb in January 1915. Over Abd al-Aziz’s objections, Shakespear accompanied his friend to the battle; in a letter to his brother, Shakespear wrote, “Abd al-Aziz wants me to clear out but I really want to see the show.”4 He set up his camera equipment on a mound near some of Abd al-Aziz’s artillery gunners, in hopes of documenting the clash from a relatively safe vantage point. But the Rashidi army put Abd al-Aziz’s forces to flight, and Shakespear was shot and killed in the ensuing rout, at the age of only 36.5 “Had he lived



to continue his work,” as BBC journalist Matthew Teller notes, “it’s tempting to speculate that another, more famous, British maverick—T.E. Lawrence—might never have been dispatched to Arabia. We might today be talking about not Lawrence of Arabia, but Shakespear of Arabia.”6 In a number of unexpected ways, the early twentieth-century Shakespear of Arabia presages Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula a century later. He is a recognizably foreign entity, yet one comfortable speaking local languages and engaging with the region’s inhabitants and cultures; his work serves strategic purposes, simultaneously reflecting and critiquing local politics and international diplomacy; he possesses keen insights into the nature and the trajectory of the region and its leaders; and he aims to shape the communities that surround him, to redistribute local balances of power. As such it seems particularly appropriate that Captain Shakespear’s final monument can be found in Kuwait. For out of all the states on the Peninsula, Kuwait has had, to date, the most linguistically and dramatically diverse set of engagements with Shakespeare’s texts, from the university performances already explored in Chapter 3 to the evolving productions of a version of Iraqi playwright Jawad Al-Assadi’s Insū Hāmlit (Forget Hamlet), and from the One World Actors Centre’s annual English-language Shakespeare festivals to the Arab Shakespeare Trilogy (AST) and other Shakespeareinspired adaptations by celebrated British-Kuwaiti playwright Sulayman Al-Bassam.

Kuwait: Participatory Politics and Theatre To understand why Shakespeare flourishes in this environment, we must examine some of the economic, historic and social factors that render Kuwait distinct from its Gulf neighbors. Prominent among these is the fact that Kuwait is a “participatory emirate,”7 with a centuries-long tradition of cooperative, consensual power-sharing between an emir and the merchant families who appointed him, beginning with the first ruler of the port settlement of Kuwait, Sabah bin Jaber, founder of the Al Sabah dynasty, in the mid-eighteenth century.8 As Paul Salem argues, the Al Sabah governed for the subsequent century and a half not as autocrats but as primi inter pares, serving the interests of the expanding and cosmopolitan port city along the lines of “a chairman [appointed]


to help look after the interests of a growing concern.”9 After he seized power in 1896, Mubarak the Great’s more authoritarian approach to governance sparked protests, and over the coming decades, demands for a Constitution and the establishment of a representative advisory council met with repeated, though temporary, successes. The Constitution promulgated in 1962, a year after Kuwait achieved independence, provides an important set of checks on the Emir’s power. Kuwait is the sole GCC nation to possess a powerful parliament— the Majlis al-Umma (National Assembly), composed of fifty members, directly elected to four-year terms. Other Gulf monarchies have “Consultative” Assemblies or Councils, whose members can suggest legislation, give advice to ministers and monarchs, review the national budget, and question ministers,10 but these bodies rarely if ever voice open opposition to the policies enacted by the monarch (understandably, as most members are appointed by the monarch himself).11 Kuwait’s parliament, on the other hand, has the power to draft, pass, and amend legislation, and to question and to remove ministers (or, if necessary, an entire Cabinet). The Emir can veto the Assembly’s bills, but the Kuwaiti Constitution allows the Assembly to override his veto with a two-thirds majority. And the Assembly even has the right to prevent the investiture of an Emir they believe unfit to rule (a right they exercised in 2006, when the ill health of Shaykh Saad Al-Sabah, who was to succeed deceased Emir Jaber Al-Sabah, sparked grave concerns among Assembly members). The Kuwaiti National Assembly, in short, provides a democratic check on the powers of the ruler, in a way that no other Gulf state currently does. The Kuwaiti Constitution also protects freedom of expression: “Freedom of opinion and scientific research is guaranteed. Subject to the conditions and stipulations specified by Law, every person shall have the right to express his opinion by speaking or writing or otherwise” (Article 36). This guarantee helped to ensure that in the 1960s and 1970s, the Kuwaiti press was reputed one of the freest in the region, educational opportunities grew swiftly in both quantity and quality, and the visual and performing arts scenes flourished. During the “Golden Era” between 1946 and 1982—and in particular during the reign of emir Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah (r. 1950–1965), “the Father of Modern Kuwait,” who embarked upon an ambitious program of urban and educational development funded by exponentially increasing oil revenues—theatre and the performing arts thrived. From the mid-1960s onwards, Kuwaiti plays and television dramas were televised around the Gulf, where their



frank treatment of socio-political issues provided inspiration for aspiring theatre practitioners in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.12 Yet the freedom of expression protected by the Kuwaiti Constitution is not absolute, qualified as it is by the phrase “subject to the conditions and stipulations specified by Law.”13 Since the Iraqi invasion of 1990— framed by some prominent Islamists in Kuwait as God’s divine retribution for citizens’ liberal and materialist pre-war lifestyles14—the views of a more conservative substratum of Kuwaiti society have gained traction, along with an unsettling degree of hostility towards outsiders and foreign influence.15 Thus, while theatre-makers arguably still have greater latitude in Kuwait than elsewhere in the Gulf, they do not have carte blanche to present whatever they like on stage. As Sulayman Al-Bassam has commented, apropos of his provocative Richard III: An Arab Tragedy, which casts Richard as the malignant head of an unspecified Gulf monarchy, Kuwait has a very specific level of freedom of expression that allows a piece like this to be made … When we played the show here in Kuwait, we made a lot of strategic preparation for it, to play under the patronage of His Highness the Emir. And without that, the play would’ve been open to all kinds of criticisms, all kinds of mudslinging.16

As we have seen elsewhere in the Gulf, as freedom of expression declines, interest in Shakespeare often blossoms, as a means of circumventing censorship and protecting theatremakers from accusations of indecency or of embarrassing the state or insulting the royal family. This correlation helps to explain both the relative dearth of Shakespearean productions in Kuwait during the more permissive and tolerant Golden Age, and the proliferation of them on Kuwaiti stages in the comparatively more socially conservative opening decades of the twenty-first century.

Sulayman Al-Bassam and SABAB Deserving much of the credit for this proliferation is British-Kuwaiti playwright, director and actor Sulayman Al-Bassam, whose piercing interrogations of Shakespearean texts have earned him both critical and popular international acclaim. Al-Bassam’s triad of Shakespearean adaptations—The Al-Hamlet Summit (2002), Richard III: An Arab Tragedy


(2006) and The Speaker’s Progress (an adaptation of Twelfth Night, 2011), collectively entitled The Arab Shakespeare Trilogy (AST)—have toured throughout the world, in English and in Arabic, and their contents have been cogently analyzed by a number of scholars, most notably Margaret Litvin and Graham Holderness. To date, however, the thrust of critical analysis has focused on the political significance of Al-Bassam’s work—the analogies it draws between Shakespeare’s characters and ruling or recent Arab heads of state, between the Bard’s plots and contemporary conflicts. Such readings are reinforced by Al-Bassam’s own commentary on his plays. Yet the AST can also be productively interpreted as an exploration of the concept of a community that crosses national, gender, and sectarian lines. What I propose here is, firstly, that the composition of Al-Bassam’s theatre troupe SABAB—the individual identities of the core members of the troupe, which includes British and Kuwaiti actors and technicians, as well as members recruited from Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia—demonstrates that the formation of such a heterogeneous collective on the Arabian Peninsula is possible, and moreover that its diversity can unlock and give direction to immense creative and artistic potential. Like the community-based theatre troupes examined in Chapter 5, the members of SABAB not only form an egalitarian micro-community that transcends differences of language, ethnicity, and creed, they also perform that micro-community for their audiences when they take to the stage. In other words, they produce “new local” theatre. Further, given that the troupe performs primarily in Arabic, the model that SABAB exemplifies on stage is uniquely challenging to Gulf citizen audience members. When expatriate troupes use Shakespeare to highlight their own desires for greater equality and integration within their countries of residence, these might be facilely dismissed as the laments of foreigners who fail to understand the history or the nature of Gulf culture, and/or their designated place within it. SABAB’s productions of Shakespeare, on the other hand, speak directly to Gulf citizens and show them actors from the GCC on the stage, interacting on an equal footing with actors from across the Arab world and beyond. My second, related argument about Al-Bassam is that his Shakespearean adaptations are shaped, at their most basic level, by the vision of a thriving and diverse community whose members are united in



their aim of free and artistic self-expression, and that the conflicts within his plays can nearly all be read as arising from the destruction of, or the inability to realize, such a community. From Claudius throwing a flower on Old Hamlet’s grave in cynical mimicry of rituals that keep faith with the dead at the commencement of The Al-Hamlet Summit, to the final scene of The Speaker’s Progress, where two actresses embolden each other to “step out of this tower, beyond the line of the sun … and wear our freedom like a new spring dress,”17 the urgent need that races like an undercurrent through the Trilogy is the desire to find a form of community that will enhance and expand its members’ lives, rather than curtailing or cutting off their potential.

Before the Trilogy: Al-Bassam, Shakespeare and Zaoum Theatre Though he is most famous for the AST, citations, rewritings, and parodies of Shakespeare echo through Al-Bassam’s entire corpus of work, from early plays like The 60-Watt Macbeth (1999) to his most recent theatrical project, The Petrol Station, which premiered at the Kennedy Center in March 2017.18 Al-Bassam’s thirst for a diverse group with whom to work is likewise long-standing: in 1996, after two years of working as an assistant director at the Gate Theatre and the Young Vic in London, he co-founded Zaoum Theatre, which he described as “an international group of theatre practitioners, musicians, and visual artists, dedicated to producing new and exciting theatrical forms.”19 Zaoum’s early work drew praise from critics for its willingness to take chances and to redefine boundaries. Their Dreaming in Car Parks (1996), inspired by the medieval morality play Everyman, was a piece of theatre presented as an interactive video game performed at different levels of a multi-story car garage. A critic who saw it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival called it “the most-risk taking show on the fringe” and praised Al-Bassam for his willingness to challenge theatrical convention.20 Zaoum’s next piece, The Game Show (1997), was similarly site-specific and inventive, performed in a warehouse in France by “a troupe of 7 actors and 2 cars.”21 In 1999 the group moved into Shakespearean territory with The 60-Watt Macbeth, performed at the Shunt Arches, a club with a reputation for hosting fringe-style performances, nestled in the vaults beneath London Bridge. The SABAB website describes the plot as follows:

256  K. HENNESSEY The characters of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, having forgotten most of the play, continue to exist in its highly distorted and endlessly repeating ruins. The central character, Macbeth, claims to be lost inside a city and attempts to map the ruined remains in order to escape them. Amongst the sleepwalkers, men carrying heads, marching soldiers and wailing women, there lies a small yet potent love story.22

The play thus previews a number of the prevailing themes of the subsequent Trilogy: the threat of catastrophic violence, the sense of disorientation and uncertainty, the kernel of a real but fragile human relationship existing precariously amidst swirling surrealities—the “small yet potent love story” that provides the light of the play’s title. Al-Bassam received a commission to produce a play in 2001 for the celebrations of the tenth anniversary of Kuwait’s liberation from the Iraqi occupation, which coincided with Kuwait being fȇted as that year’s Arab Capital of Culture, and he turned to Hamlet. He pared back the play and retitled it Hamlet in Kuwait, and co-produced an eponymous documentary which details the troupe’s preparations in the UK and their journey to Kuwait to perform. In the documentary, Al-Bassam mentions his excitement at working with theatre practitioners “from all different kinds of backgrounds” and describes the elements of the play he believes will resonate most strongly with its target audience: “We have generational gaps and conflicts in every society. The ones that are happening in Kuwait are particularly strong because of the influence of technology, because of the influence of Western culture, because of the influence of English.”23 The vision for this production thus linked Hamlet to a generation of young tech-savvy Kuwaitis who look to the West for inspiration, impatient with the perceived calcification of power and tradition in the hands of their elders, yet unsure themselves how to stave off external threats: In the figure of the young Prince Hamlet, a man of leisure struggling to define his role in a hostile environment, the piece aimed to offer a metaphor for Kuwaiti youth—in turns disillusioned, resourceful, misunderstood, and yet faced with the historical imperative to find their own voice and act decisively to determine the future of this small nation. The figure of the ghost echoed the Gulf War itself, whose deep psychological scars still inform the politics and society of Kuwait.24



The production, which premiered on 22 April 2001 at al-Shamiya Theatre in Kuwait City, emphasized this generational power imbalance through costuming—sumptuous Elizabethan dress complete with ruffs and pearls for Claudius, Polonius and Gertrude, unadorned contemporary dress for Hamlet and Laertes—as well as through striking choices in character development. For instance, in a majority of productions the following lines are delivered with firmness on Hamlet’s part and palpable fear on Gertrude’s: Hamlet: Come, come, and sit you down. You shall not budge. You go not till I set you up a glass Where you may see the inmost part of you. Queen Gertrude: What wilt thou do? Thou wilt not murder me? Help, help, ho! (3.4.18–22)

In Hamlet in Kuwait, however, the Queen rendered her lines with sarcastic swagger, despite the fact that Hamlet had unsheathed his sword and pointed it at her throat. She simply brushed the sword away and sauntered to the other side of the stage, secure in her position, certain that she could not be touched or threatened. The production also cleverly incorporated image and video projection, showing Polonius, for example, hiding on the screen rather than behind a screen, his pre-recorded death spasms timed to coincide with Hamlet’s mad rush towards his hiding place. But the tensions created on the stage were nothing compared to the stress of bringing the performance to Kuwait. The documentary blurb describes the story of this production as: a nightmare; dogged by under-funding, the loss of rehearsal time, shambolic organisation, paranoia, faulty equipment, cultural clashes, the perceived “malicious” intent of the local theatrical establishment, the shadow of the state censors and relying on the favours of an old boys network. As things begin to unravel the story resembles surreal, high farce; a chaotic performance, before the social elite of Kuwait, finds the cast performing to a background of cell phone signature tunes.25

The cast and crew, having run the gauntlet of difficulties with which Kuwait presented them, stoically endured the final ignominy of playing Hamlet to an audience that had not bothered to turn off their phones.


Undeterred by this experience, and as a creative response to the destruction of the 11 September attacks later that year, Al-Bassam set about revising the piece. Reflecting both on the demise in 1997 of pioneering Syrian playwright Saadallah Wannous, and on the early evolution of his own career, the playwright recalls how the attacks on the Twin Towers forced him to wonder where he belonged: In 1997, what did I care about the challenges facing the Arab dramatist? I was a London-based theatre maker, engaging with post-modern Europe, blissfully insouciant of my alienness. It wasn’t until the magnesium flash of 9/11 that I saw that alienness. In the fallout of the terrorist attacks on Manhattan, lines were drawn into cities and ethnicities across the Western world. Overnight, my looks, my language, my name became sources of interrogation and suspicion. I was poised between two cultures with a sense of identity defined as much by non-assimilation and non-belonging as by any unified narrative of tribe, culture, language, or history.26

Al-Bassam’s experiences in the UK after 9/11 thus parallel in certain ways the alienation and the exclusion which many foreign residents in the Gulf encounter—the pervasive sense that they do not belong, their names, language, and outward appearance triggering a set of assumptions and anxieties about their pernicious influences upon a society under threat.27 As with other Shakespeare performances that we have examined, Al-Bassam’s desire to push back against those new barriers and boundaries drove much of his revamp of this adaptation. His new version shifted focus away from intergenerational and domestic conflict, instead emphasizing analogies between the action of Hamlet and the broader sphere of Arab politics and international diplomacy. Whereas Hamlet in Kuwait trained its allegorical lens on that country, a change of title to The Arab League Hamlet28 now suggested that the six conference desks in the opening scene could belong to any Arab head of state, or to more than one. This version of the play premiered at the “Theatre Days” Festival in Carthage (Tunis) later that year. Though differently inflected, both Hamlet in Kuwait and The Arab League Hamlet retained Shakespeare’s language in their dialogue. Not so with Al-Bassam’s third rewriting of the play in 2002, this time as The Al-Hamlet Summit, performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Here



Al-Bassam wrote the dialogue in contemporary English, lyrical and satirical by turns. As critic Joyce McMillan noted, “Al-Bassam’s astonishing text … rarely echoes Shakespeare’s words, but takes the story of Hamlet and reworks it in a rich new poetic version, full of what sounds like Koranic and classical Arab imagery. Some of the results are electrifying.”29 Critics did not hesitate to point out flaws in tone (“too rarely seems more than a gimmick”30; “spills over into pretentiousness”31) and in clarity. One reviewer complained that the lack of specificity is a serious problem: we don’t know what land we are in, where to place our sympathies. Neither the production nor the acting is sophisticated enough to communicate the critique of Middle Eastern politics—within Arab nations, between them and between east and west—that is intended.32

Another faulted the play for trying to do too much: It works extremely well until Hamlet’s return from exile in England. At this point, the analogies break down, and too many plot strands—generational conflict, westernised secularism and venality versus Islamic fundamentalism, commercial and political manipulation by external forces, the Israeli dimension—crowd in to be tied up satisfactorily.33

Yet overall both critics and audiences found Al-Bassam’s text exciting and provocative. The production received a Fringe First Award, a prestigious honor bestowed by a panel of judges from The Scotsman to “celebrate the best new writing on the Fringe.”34 Novelty is a crucial criterion in the Fringe award selection process, and normally, an adaptation of a pre-existing work of literature, like Hamlet, would be ineligible. Exceptions are made in cases that demonstrate “clear evidence of a creative transformation of the original material,” which the judges clearly believed The Al-Hamlet Summit had achieved. And in 2004 the Tokyo International Arts Festival invited Al-Bassam to translate the English language text of his play for an Arabic-language performance.

“I Clap for the Nation”: Community and Disintegration in The Al-Hamlet Summit Central to Al-Bassam’s text, as to Shakespeare’s, are the parallel images of family and community, both previously unified and functional, but now increasingly fragmented by deception, violence, and external threats. The


Al-Hamlet Summit opens at the start of a Cabinet meeting in an unspecified Arab state, whose “popular and legitimate” leader, Hamlet’s father, has just died. Flushed with the success of his seizure of power, Claudius— now “His Dread and most Honourable Majesty, All Mighty Leader of the Armed Forces, Commander of Air, Land and Sea; President Elect of this noble assembly”35—grandly announces that the time for mourning is over, and a new order is established: “the dawn has risen upon the people of our nation: the New Democracy begins today!” As the assembly of secretaries and ministers, with the exception of Hamlet, applauds, Claudius intones, “The nation claps. I clap for the nation”36—a clear tip-off to the audience that his commitment to democratic ideals is no more than a performance in front of an obedient populace, whose docile acceptance the new president-king applauds in turn. His secret orders for the collective punishment of areas in which his shadowy political opponents have distributed subversive leaflets (“burn the townships, all of them—I want them burnt by dawn”37), an order given to Polonius when the two are alone on stage, demonstrates his true attitude towards those he now governs. Claudius’ hunger for power and his fear of external and internal enemies are all-consuming, and he is prepared to exploit the most fundamental of human emotions and interpersonal bonds to further his own ends. He and Polonius plot to instrumentalize Hamlet’s and Ophelia’s love, portrayed in The Al-Hamlet Summit as passionate, tender and tormented, as a propaganda stunt to cement Claudius’ hold on power. Their marriage “would be one of [the New Democracy’s] symbols,” a means to “entertain,” or rather distract, the press from Claudius’ clandestine maneuverings.38 There is no true community here, just elaborate façades, hollowed-out shells, or devastating travesties of convivial interaction: Hamlet compares his heart to empty villages, their populations decimated by genocidal executions,39 and the aftermath of a suicide bombing to “a party … ecstatic masses foaming with nationalistic ecstasy!”40 When exiled to England, he takes refuge in his father’s grave, invoking a communion of grave-dwellers: “I will pass these 40 nights amongst you, / your bones will be my books, your skulls will be my lights, / I will hold my tongue amongst you, / And eat from the dreams of the dead.”41 The speech (which, as Al-Bassam points out, also has Qu’ranic overtones42) is a chilling inversion of Ruth’s promise to Naomi upon choosing to join the people of Israel: “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from



following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried.”43 Hamlet has no people, no community to turn to; all have been destroyed or irrevocably corrupted by Claudius’ misrule and by the systematic forms of oppression deified in Claudius’ “petro-dollars soliloquy”44: propaganda, surveillance, torture, bribery, neo-capitalist greed. Al-Bassam’s Hamlet rhetorically constructs himself as a hero, as a fighter, as an “infantryman” “firing bullets into flesh,”45 and as a martyr, but even these attempts at imagining a community of like-minded companions to which he can belong ultimately fail him. He dies alone, surrounded by the corpses of Claudius, Gertrude and Laertes. Compare Hamlet’s final words in Shakespeare’s text to Al-Bassam’s: If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, Absent thee from felicity a while, And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain To tell my story. O, I die, Horatio! The potent potion quite o’ercrows my spirit. I cannot live to hear the news from England, But I do prophesy th’election lights On Fortinbras. He has my dying voice … The rest is silence. (Hamlet, 5.2.289–310)

Perhaps the hardest thing is to find the courage to wake in the morning and face this landscape of ruins that are our lands. This perception of truth too late, is hell. (AST, p. 55)

Shakespeare’s protagonist dies in his friend’s arms, throwing his support to the victorious Fortinbras. Al-Bassam’s Hamlet delivers his final lines to the audience, or into nothingness, surveying with a final, crystal clear gaze the utter devastation around him, with no friend to comfort or mourn him. And Fortinbras’ arrival—though he himself touts it as “the dawn and birth of the Greater Is[rael]”46 heralds no return to life and community, but simply more empty promises from another would-be dictator: “the pipeline will be completed in a year, and hunger will be eradicated, and the homeless will find refuge … and this


desert land will be seen to bloom. What we see here can never happen to us.”47 Yet despite the abject disintegration of social and communal bonds depicted on stage, the process of creating The Al-Hamlet Summit actually created/reinforced the bonds between two distinct but overlapping communities: the troupes that created the English and the Arabic performances of the play. Some of the actors in the English version of The Al-Hamlet Summit had been with Al-Bassam since the start of the Hamlet in Kuwait odyssey, like Marlene Kamisky, who directed the documentary film about the latter play and performed the role of the Arms Dealer in the former. Certain members of the crew, like assistant director Nigel Barrett and lighting designer Richard Williamson and composers Lewis Gibson and Alfredo Genovesi, worked on both the English and the Arabic versions of the play; Barrett also played Claudius in the former and the Arms Dealer in the latter. Barrett, Williamson, and Gibson would continue to work with Al-Bassam through his entire Shakespearean trilogy, and core members of the Arabic language cast, like Nicolas Daniel and Monadhil Daood, would appear in Al-Bassam’s next high-profile48 Shakespearean adaptation, Richard III: An Arab Tragedy—all as collaborative partners in the newly formed SABAB Theatre Company (established 2002).49

“Let Me Ride Al-Ummah”: Richard III, An Arab Tragedy In the essay that accompanies the published text of his Richard III, Al-Bassam explores the conceptual complexities of his engagement with Shakespeare’s play. Commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2006 to write a “free adaptation” under the provisional title The Baghdad Richard, and having decided to base his protagonist in some measure on Saddam Hussein, Al-Bassam notes that recent Iraqi history had wrenched the originally envisioned parallels from his script: When I agreed to make this project, Saddam was still in hiding; his Tikriti hovel was not on the radar … now that Saddam’s going to be hung and Iraq is creeping towards civil war under the stewardship of its belligerently irresponsible Occupiers, it seems doubly inappropriate to revisit Saddam’s rise and fall. To do so would cast a glow of mythology on the man and end up excusing the American Occupation.50



Yet the RSC’s enthusiasm and the media hype surrounding his choice of title left him feeling trapped—“like I’m nailed to a board, having to write a kind of 50s Schlock Horror B-movie that would inevitably only reconfirm all the hysterical prejudices against us that I want rid of!”51 Instead, while reflecting upon the questions of kingly succession, usurpation, and legitimacy raised by Shakespeare’s play, Al-Bassam hit on a different analogy: Richard III as a reflection of a succession crisis in an unspecified Arabian Gulf monarchy, wherein the absence of a clear heir to the throne generates a power vacuum in which determined rival claimants fan tribal, sectarian and ethnic resentments into mass violence—“the nightmare scenario,” as Al-Bassam calls it, for the Arab Gulf states. No longer The Baghdad Richard, but rather Richard III: An Arab Tragedy (or rather, according to the Arabic-language subtitle, “A Tragedy Made Arab”), written in and performed in Arabic, and published in Al-Bassam’s English translation. (As Al-Bassam notes, the play could also have been subtitled A Gulf Tragedy.52) Al-Bassam’s play opens not with its analogue to Richard’s famous opening lines “Now is the winter of our discontent,” but rather with an ominous preface. Margaret, formerly Queen to the murdered Henry VI but now, after his death, disgraced and dispossessed, addresses the audience. “I’m Margaret,” she explains. “You needn’t be concerned about me; we lost. It is your right to ignore me.”53 Distinguishing between rival camps—hers, the losing side, vs. the winners, with whom she assumes the audience sympathizes—she notes her quest for revenge. “It’s not because I’m Arab. I read history and see.” Thus the play from the beginning suggests that the elite echelons of Arabian Gulf society contain hostile, marginalized elements, and we soon see that Richard engineers further social disintegration. No bond is sacred: not his fraternal ties to his brothers Clarence and Edward, nor the duty to protect his young nephews, nor his marriage vows to Lady Anne. In contrast, King Edward “wants to re-knit the bonds of love between the Emir Richard and [Queen Elizabeth’s] brothers … He’s called a family meeting.”54 The squabble that breaks out at that family meeting demonstrates the fatal inability of Elizabeth’s extended family to cease fighting amongst themselves and to act as a united community. The fact that the major male characters wear traditional Gulf dress, with the slight variations that nevertheless make them each identifiable to Gulf and Arab audiences as Saudi, or Omani, or Emirati, and so


forth, suggest that Shakespeare’s murderous monarchs and nobles are analogues to the Gulf’s ruling families and/or to the GCC itself (a relatively stable body at the time the play was produced, but riven by a bitter feud between Qatar on one hand, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the other, at the time of writing). As a female student from UAE University commented after watching the play, “It was clear, every character in the play represented an Arab state … The director was bold enough to show us who we are, instead of hiding behind a curtain or a mask.”55 For Richard, family and community are given concrete form as al-Ummah. The word is the Arabic term for the “nation of believers,” the faith community of which all Muslims are part. But in Al-Bassam’s play, Al-Ummah is also the name of the horse he rides into the Battle of Bosworth, “mounting” and “riding” the nation, as Richard puts it, unsheathing his sword in case anyone in the audience missed the sexual imagery.56 The most inclusive and extensive form of community envisioned by Islam is thus demoted to a mere conduit, to be used or discarded at Richard’s pleasure. After Richard’s defeat and death, however, a final commemorative ritual within the play recognizes a form of community akin to that of the Ummah—a community of Muslim martyrs. In Shakespeare’s play, to Richmond (now King Henry VII)’s query, “What men of name are slain on either side?” (5.8.12), Stanley responds with a list of four. In Al-Bassam’s play, Stanley initially responds with a list of five: “Hamza Bin Abd al Mutalib, Abu Thar Al Ghufarri, Summayah bint Khayyatt, Al Husein Bin Ali, and Al Hassan Al Basri,” all of whom took principled stands against tyranny and coercion during Islam’s early decades, at great personal cost.57 As Richmond delivers his final speech—which begins with a verbatim quote from Shakespeare, but then diverges into the more contemporary language of interim governments, free elections, insurgency and terror—Stanley reads fifteen more names from the list of the dead. The fifteen are an eclectic sampling of the internationally known and the relatively obscure—from Mahdi Ben Barakah, a left-wing Moroccan politician assassinated in Paris in 1965, to Wafaa Al-Amer, a female casualty of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and from Faraj Foudah, a prominent Egyptian critic of Islamic fundamentalism shot by Islamic extremists in 1992, to Abdullah Ibn Al-Muqaffah, translator of the Kalila wa Dimna58 from Persian to Arabic, who was executed c759. All of these, Al-Bassam’s text suggests, are to be commemorated as individuals who died while trying to protect their communities from



fanaticism, from invasion, from oppression. They are anti-Richards, laid low by the wars and the violence that the Richards of our world create.

But Who Cleans the Red Carpet? Richard III, An Arab VIP As previously noted, the English translation of the play’s title is not an entirely accurate rendering of the Arabic. The full title of Al-Bassam’s adaptation is Rītshārd al-Thālith: Ma’sāa Mu‘arraba—the subtitle signifying “An Arabized Tragedy” or “a tragedy translated into Arabic,” rather than Ma’sāa ‘Arabīya, the literal equivalent of the phrase “An Arab Tragedy.” The translation thus communicates something slightly different to English-speaking audiences than the Arabic title does to Arabophone ones: calling the play “An Arab Tragedy” suggests that Shakespeare’s play fits naturally into the context of the modern Arab world, whereas “An Arabized Tragedy” connotes a deliberate process of linguistic and cultural transformation whereby the playwright takes Shakespeare’s play and “makes it Arab.” And this is only one minor instance of the myriad ways in which Al-Bassam’s Richard communicates differently to Arab vs non-Arab audiences, and to audiences within the Gulf vs. those outside. In 2008, the Arabized Richard took the stage in Kuwait, at Al-Maidan Theatre in the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyya cultural center, and in Damascus, Paris and Amsterdam. A revival tour in 2009 took the play to the United States (Washington DC and New York City) and across the UAE (Al-Ain, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi). Filmmakers Shakir Abal and Tim Langford followed the troupe to Washington DC and Al-Ain, and the resultant documentary, Richard III: An Arab VIP (2011), provides a fascinating glimpse into the challenges Al-Bassam and his collaborators face in attempting to make theatrical works intelligible and meaningful across vast gaps in cultural practice, knowledge and expectation.59 In the US, their performance ran the risk of a tokenistic response, in which some audience members saw confirmed their stereotypes of an atavistically violent Middle East governed by an ineluctable succession of dictators.60 In the Gulf, as the film’s vignettes brilliantly capture, the troupe encountered a completely different set of obstacles to the twin projects of making theatre and overcoming social barriers. One of these obstacles arises when musician Sultan Al-Meftah requests permission to travel to Washington DC with the troupe. He has


just accepted a teaching position at a boys’ secondary school in Kuwait and the principal refuses to grant him permission to leave the job without an official request from higher-ups in the Kuwaiti government. The film shows a consul from the Kuwaiti Embassy urgently attempting to convince the principal that granting Al-Meftah a long weekend in order to participate in the production—one of the main events of the 2009 “Arabesque” festival of Arab culture, to which the Embassy had made a substantial financial contribution—would represent a service to their nation. But the principal remains adamant (due presumably to concern that his own superiors might fault him for allowing his employee to jet off to DC without adequate justification). A series of calls to various Kuwaiti authorities finally results in the principal receiving a letter with a sufficiently impressive signature, and Al-Meftah is able to join the troupe. Further reminders of the stratification of Gulf societies, both among citizens and between citizens and expatriates, comes when the troupe arrives in the Emirati city of Al-Ain to give an open-air performance at Al-Jahili Fort. This late nineteenth-century fortification was constructed and used for much of the twentieth century as a summer palace by members of the Al-Nahyan family, the ruling dynasty of Abu Dhabi.61 The fort houses a permanent exhibition of British explorer Wilfred Thesiger’s black-and-white photographs, thus recalling, like Shakespear’s grave in Kuwait, the friendship between a prominent British personality and a local ruler—in this case, Shaykh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, “Father of the UAE,” who hosted Thesiger several times in Al-Ain between 1948 and 1950, as the explorer’s journeys criss-crossed the UAE, Oman and the Empty Quarter.62 It may have been the fort’s association with the illustrious Shaykh Zayed which prompted the request that the troupe give a private command performance to female members of the royal family. The troupe agreed to allow the shaykhas to attend the dress rehearsal, and a flurry of preparations ensued—red carpets were installed, with candles in tall glass hurricanes to light the path from the entrance of the fort to the entrance of the small inner courtyard in which the performance was to be staged. The white leather couches installed for the shaykhas to sit upon were checked by bomb-sniffing dogs and minesweeping equipment, and female members of a military security detail warned the cast that no men would be permitted in the outer courtyard—all had to stay in the internal courtyard, so as not to disturb the royal guests.



The presence on the set of a large portrait representing Henry VI, in traditional Gulf dress and in the style of the omnipresent images of Gulf rulers that adorn public places throughout the GCC,63 sparked an anxious pre-show exchange. The local organizers of the performance were concerned that the portrait would suggest an analogy to regional rulers—perhaps to the Al Nahyan themselves, as their wives and daughters sat in the audience. (The troupe’s production manager had posed for the portrait, and Al-Bassam notes that some Emirati audience members interpreted the play, based on a glancing resemblance between the production manager and King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, as a comment on the 1975 assassination of the King by his nephew, and its aftermath.64) Thus a last-minute debate ensued about whether the portrait, which provides one of the key symbolic images of the first scene when it falls from the wall during Margaret’s opening monologue, could remain on the set. In the midst of this bustle of activity, Natasha Freedman, the production’s administrative producer, attempts to find a vacuum with which to clean the dusty red carpet. She meets one of the “organizers” of the evening’s performance, an unnamed young woman who speaks glowingly of the “representatives of royal families, shaykhas, all the VIP ladies, ambassadors’ wives, and many many lovely ladies” who will be in attendance. But Freedman’s explanation of the cleaning issue falls on deaf ears; in fact, the young woman interrupts Freedman’s request mid-sentence by taking a phone call and walking away. Class-based elitism has prompted this rudeness: the young woman, who is dressed to the nines and clearly relishes her position as the shaykhas’ representative, has judged Freedman based on her much simpler sartorial choices, and regards questions about the manual labor of cleaning the space as beneath her notice. Undaunted, Freedman eventually solves the problem on her own, but fumes to the camera that the young woman “clearly doesn’t know how to organize a piss-up in a brewery.” (To be fair, the Arabian Peninsula has not offered its residents the opportunity to hone that skill since the demise of the National Brewing Company in Aden in 1994.65) A similar flare-up occurs when another “organizer” brusquely questions the presence of a group of men, who are still setting up for the event, in the outer courtyard, causing Bashar Abdullah, one of the male cast members, to take umbrage: “I’ve been touring the world since 2002 and no one has ever treated me like this. I’m a guest here,” he says, pointedly alluding to the strictures of Arab hospitality. As actress Carole Abboud


commented after the performance, “I felt like actors used to be in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when they used to play in the court of the prince.” “A woman came to me and said, ‘Can you put off the music,’” recalled actress Nadine Joumaa, in some exasperation, “‘because the princesses cannot chat.’”66 The elitism and the indifference to cultural expression that such exchanges display stands in stark contrast to the production’s own boundary-crossing practices, including the incorporation of two dancers local to each country in which the play toured, to perform a traditional dance sequence called the khammārī—“so we have part of that country in our production,” as the troupe’s choreographer proudly notes.67 The accommodations made for the shaykhas also serve to highlight the obstacles in the path of non-elite groups who wish to see the show, of which the film’s cross-cut story of a group of female students from UAE University provides an example. The students’ professor, James Mirrione,68 wants to bring them to the performance but finds that they need to seek permission from their male guardians; for many, their first experience of live theatre requires overcoming their own and/or their families’ suspicions that the genre is immoral or runs counter to Islamic teaching. The show leaves the students impressed and appreciative, however, as the post-performance interviews make clear, and their thoughtful responses prompt a questioning of the social constraints that complicated their attendance.

“I Want to Fly”: The Speaker’s Progress Al-Bassam was in the final stages of writing The Speaker’s Progress when the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011 began (hence its subtitle: A Play in the Shadow of Revolution). As noted in previous chapters, the Gulf states were largely able to neutralize and/or repress the types of revolutionary energies that took hold in Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East, yet in the early months of 2011, as pro-democracy protesters gathered at the Pearl Roundabout in Manama, this was not a foregone conclusion. Al-Bassam’s play serves as an extended commentary on the desires that animated demonstrators across the region to band together to protest corruption and authoritarianism, as well as the mechanisms of intimidation and violence by which many of those protests were quashed. The title character, played by Al-Bassam himself during the production’s international tour in 2011 and 2012, opens the performance



behind a podium, explaining to the audience that in his (unspecified) country theatres are closed, performance is a criminal act, artists have been put on trial. The Speaker professes, deadpan, his full support for these decisions. He then proceeds to screen extracts from a damaged black-and-white film, a joyful, sensual Gulf adaptation of Twelfth Night performed in 1963, but now considered subversive and decadent. In actuality this is a black-and-white film created by Al-Bassam and his theatre troupe for the purposes of the play, but within the world of the play, it is a classic work of Gulf cinema which, as Mai Al-Nakib has argued, acts as a nostalgic reminder, for Kuwaiti and other audience members from the Gulf, of the flourishing of Kuwaiti film and theatre in the 1960s and early 1970s.69 According to the Speaker, the evening’s aim is the objective forensic reconstruction of this previous performance, “as an example of past mistakes, and proof of the corruptive, insidious and illusory nature of false freedom.”70 The play’s other characters are “envoys” sent by various official bodies—the Council of Virtue, the Tourist Board, the Women’s League— to take part in this exercise. They wear lab coats and latex gloves and carry clipboards; they strive to recreate the missing sequences of the film according to precise measurements and instructions, like “Move to B4” or “Turn your head 70 degrees.”71 Yet gradually the very act of performing prompts the envoys to break the rules, to depart from the clinical instructions, to express their emotions and opinions, to sing in chorus, to dress in drag, to adopt a distinctive hand gesture as a “revolutionary signal,” a coded means of communicating their identity as members of a community of revolutionaries72—in short, to form their own micro-community, which creatively outwits the play’s Malvolio figure, the envoy from the Tourist Board. All of this is exhilarating, subversive and dangerous. As one of the envoys notes, it’s “like watching a revolution!”73 The risks are palpable: a surveillance camera surveys the action from centre stage, and at one point, the Speaker is interrogated offstage and returns bearing signs of physical violence. At the end of Act Two, the laboratory itself turns on the rebelling envoys—stage equipment crashes, electrical plugs explode, the Speaker narrowly escapes assassination by a falling sandbag.74 One of the rebels publicly recants his participation in the revolt, nearly strangling one of the female envoys in the process, and tersely informs the Speaker, “I don’t want Shakespeare, I don’t want politics, I don’t want theater.”75


The Speaker bids the play and the project a lyrical farewell: “O happy, happy wreck. /Progress is done.”76 The line references Orsino’s joyful recognition of Viola, previously disguised as his page Cesario, as a woman, and one who is in love with him (“then I shall have share in this most happy wreck,” Twelfth Night 5.1.264). But the Speaker’s recognition is a devastating one: that the future of artistic and individual freedom of which he had dreamt will not materialize. The play gives its last lines to two female characters: the representative from the Women’s League and the Former Actress, in whose exchange the phrase “without shame, without fear” recurs like a refrain. Yet the stage lights diminish throughout the scene, so that the last line—“I want to fly,” redolent of hope, determination and faith in the miraculous—is delivered in the gathered darkness.77 Al-Bassam’s script sets Shakespeare’s text at multiple removes from his own. There is the black-and-white film—an Arabic language adaptation of Twelfth Night, its dialogue not a translation but a rewriting of the original. We watch the envoys staging the roles of the characters they see in the film, while the frame story coinvolving them and the Speaker poses its own meta-theatrical meditation on the nature of censorship, repression, performance and revolt. But through it all the slender hope persists that ordinary human beings can choose to convene as a community, and can encourage each other to defy regimes of repression and surveillance, as tens of millions had tried to do during the Arab Spring protests.

“Princes to Act”: The Cast of the Arab Shakespeare Trilogy Of all of the contemporary writers throughout the Arab world who translate, adapt, appropriate or parody Shakespeare, Al-Bassam is arguably the one whose engagement with Shakespeare’s texts has been the most intensely sustained and the most intellectually complex to date. Yet a text inspired by Shakespeare’s Muse of Fire is only one part of the equation; the others are the “princes to act” upon the kingdom of the stage, and the intently watching “monarchs.” Al-Bassam’s princes are the actors of diverse backgrounds but similarly stellar talent, his KuwaitiBritish-Syrian-Iraqi-Saudi-Lebanese team who bring his versions of Shakespeare’s characters to life on the stage. As Margaret Litvin notes,



“Al-Bassam’s greatest community-building success so far has been his (eponymous) theatre company.”78 Even when his texts themselves model dysfunctional, self-destructive communities, the actors work as a harmonious ensemble whose members are memorable contributors, often not just to a single play, but to the entire arc of the trilogy. Lebanese actor Nicolas Daniel, for example, played Claudius in The Al-Hamlet Summit, Hastings in Richard III and Tagtiga (Toby Belch) in The Speaker’s Progress. Iraqi actor (and director in his own right) Monadhil Daood79 played Polonius/Fortinbras and Richard III’s Catesby, while Nigel Barrett acted the Arms Dealer and Richmond. Actors Carole Abboud, Fayez Kazak, Jasim Al-Nabhan, Amal Omran and Faisal Al-Ameeri all played roles in both Richard III and The Speaker’s Progress, and composer Lewis Gibson has created the soundscape for all three of the trilogy’s plays. To watch The Speaker’s Progress after having seen Richard III: An Arab Tragedy is thus to see it “ghosted,” as Marvin Carlson puts it, by the cast’s performances in the previous play.80 As the Representative of the Tourist Board and as Mullah Farhan, Fayez Kazak inevitably calls to mind his performance as the insidious, unscrupulous Richard, while Amal Omran’s performance as the Former Actress raises the specter of her dispossession and rage as Queen Margaret. The casting creates a sense of community and continuity not just within a play but across the trilogy.

“Isn’t This Hamlet’s Skull?” Forget Hamlet in Kuwait The 2009 Gulf Theatre Festival, at which Kuwait hosted troupes representing each of its GCC neighbors, was bracketed by Shakespearean performances. The festival opened with a mime and dance performance of Macbeth, directed by Yahya Abd Al-Tawwab and starring actress Ahlam Hassan.81 This choice of play and presentation style arguably encapsulated the themes of silencing, censorship, and resistance to authoritarian power which, according to critic Nehad Selaiha, ran through many of the festival’s performances, as well as the accompanying academic presentations.82 The production selected to represent Kuwait at this festival was Iraqi playwright Jawad Al-Assadi’s Insū Hāmlit (Forget Hamlet) by


the Arabian Gulf Theatre Troupe, under the direction of Issa Diyab, a third-year student at Kuwait’s Higher Academy for Dramatic Arts. Diyab had directed Al-Assadi’s play for the Gulf Youth Theatre Festival in 2008, but this production cast new actors in the roles of Ophelia (Hissa Al-Nabhan), Gertrude (Fatima Al-Saffi) and Claudius (Osama Al-Muzayel), and reworked several scenes in response to critique he had received from the Youth Festival judges and audience members.83 Al-Assadi’s play was first staged in Cairo in 1994, directed by the playwright himself under the title Ophelia’s Window. As both that title and Forget Hamlet imply, Al-Assadi’s script decenters Hamlet and refocuses attention on the play’s other characters, particularly Ophelia and Claudius, who become an eyewitness to Old Hamlet’s murder and an epitome of authoritarian evil respectively, and on Laertes, depicted as a blind but outspoken soothsayer, who sees Hamlet as “a rat, good for nothing but sophistry.”84 Having seized the throne, Claudius secures his hold on power by sending suspected dissidents to torture chambers, madhouses, and summary execution: Gertrude: The country isn’t a country anymore! The guillotine has crushed people near and far. The scholars and wise people. Women and men. You’ve turned life into a big pile of blood. Claudius: All I did was wipe out those who were plotting against me.85

After Laertes is locked up in a “sanatorium,” Ophelia accuses Polonius of acquiescing to Claudius’ bloody deeds—but Polonius admires Claudius for being “strong and decisive,” even if it costs his son’s life.86 Ophelia’s attempts to goad Hamlet to action prove equally fruitless, and he, as though taking literally her sarcastic injunction that he should get himself to a monastery,87 renounces both revenge and politics. He explains to Horatio his intention to be “the spiritually pious Hamlet … If I killed Claudius and spilled his blood and sat on the throne myself, what would happen? Would the world rise to a life without violence, in certain justice? Never. Power is an eternal curse … I was alone and that’s how I’ll stay.”88 Al-Assadi’s Hamlet is an anti-hero, whose cerebral circumlocutions ultimately render him indifferent to the urgent needs of those around him. Early in the play, Hamlet asks The Player, a character who appears only once, to recite to him. Like the First Player in Shakespeare’s



Hamlet, who declaims upon the death of Priam and the lament of Hecuba (2.1.453–521), Al-Assadi’s Player chooses an ancient Greek theme: the death of Socrates. The Player recounts that he was Socrates’ jailer: “I was happy, for I admired Socrates. Why? Because Socrates was Athens, and Athens was Socrates. … I watched him, and heard him, and loved him.” When ordered to poison his prisoner, The Player refuses, but is tortured until he gives in. “I took the cup filled with poison … I poured everything in the cup down my throat, and I was victorious. I died, and that death was the most beautiful and radiant moment of my entire life.” On one hand, there could be no starker contrast between The Player—who describes himself as “the guardian of the community,” willing to lay down his life to save a figure who serves as synecdoche for the entire population of Athens—and Hamlet, who “was alone” and wishes to remain alone while the women and men of Denmark are marched to the guillotine. Yet on the other hand, The Player’s tale may be empty rhetoric (he is, after all, still alive as he recounts his own suicide), mere lip service performed to an ideal of community that no longer exists in reality. In Al-Assadi’s play, there is no Mousetrap, no plot by Hamlet to catch the conscience of the king, and The Player has no further dialogue to deliver. Solitude and renunciation cannot protect Hamlet from Claudius, however. When the arrival of a coffin containing Laertes’ dead body threatens to spark a riot among the populace, Claudius orders two soldiers to stab Hamlet (which they do, viciously, as he is taking a bath). In the surreal final events of the plot, a miraculously resurrected Laertes, “totally naked, stained in purple and carrying a large sword,” kills Claudius and sits on the throne, inexplicably prompting Gertrude and Ophelia to poison themselves—repeating the sacrificial act that The Player recounts, but no longer having any community to protect thereby. The gravediggers, who have appeared at various intervals to provide mordant commentary on the mounting death toll, conclude the play by holding up a fragment of a corpse, asking “Isn’t this Hamlet’s skull?” in a matter-of-fact parody of the pathos of Hamlet’s lament for poor Yorick. Along with the skull is Hamlet’s notebook; the gravediggers read in it (and mock) the “What a rogue and peasant slave am I!” soliloquy, then place Hamlet’s severed tongue between the pages and toss the book in the air, scattering the pages to the winds. That final image is a fitting metaphor for Al-Assadi’s own deconstructive appropriation of Shakespeare. Explaining that in his approach to


“holy texts” like Shakespeare’s Hamlet he is tempted either to “sweep them away” or “to kindle them into a flame,” Al-Assadi invites directors of his play to inflict upon it “stoning and abuse, in the sense of taking a big rock and shattering what’s expected.”89 From my reconstruction of this performance based on photos and reviews, it seems the Kuwaiti production followed Al-Assadi’s injunction to break up his text—though what resulted was the opposite of the literary iconoclasm encouraged by the playwright. Some of Diyab’s changes address elements of Al-Assadi’s text that would likely have caused uproar if staged in Kuwait. It would have been extraordinary for the actor playing Laertes to appear “totally naked,” for example, and photos of the conclusion of the 2008 production show the actor with his face painted purple as per al-Assadi’s instructions, but fully clothed, wearing a white suit and a black shirt. The homosexual overtones of the scene in which Hamlet is murdered in his bath, where the guards strip down, and offer to rub and pour warm water on Hamlet’s body, would likely also have required some editing. And there are other obvious interpolations by the director: for example, Diyab opted to portray Hamlet as an alcoholic. The 2009 production photos repeatedly show actor Yusuf Al-Baghali with an uncorked bottle in hand, while a backlit bar with multicolored bottles on the shelves dominates the set. A review of the 2008 performance notes that it opened with Hamlet sitting at a bar, suggesting a similar presentation. The connection between alcohol abuse and Hamlet’s decadent passivity would have reinforced a message common among conservative factions in Kuwait, which tout the countrywide ban on the importation of alcohol as evidence of Islamic piety,90 in self-righteous contrast to (for example) devil-may-care Dubai. Al-Assadi’s messages on authoritarianism and violence also seem largely to have disappeared from Diyab’s staging. Strikingly absent from Kuwaiti reviews of this production, for example, is any consideration of the parallels between Al-Assadi’s Claudius and Saddam Hussein, or between Shakespeare’s Denmark and Saddam’s Iraq. As Margaret Litvin and Thomas Cartelli point out,91 Al-Assadi—who fled Iraq in 1976, returning only in 2003, after the American invasion toppled Saddam— clearly modeled his Claudius on the Iraqi dictator, though the figure also bears a generic resemblance to strongmen and dictators of all stripes and nationalities. Moreover, the first performance of Al-Assadi’s play took place in 1994, just four years after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, the painful anniversary of which is still solemnly commemorated in Kuwait



every year on 2 August. One might assume that the sight of a Kuwaiti theatre troupe performing this play would spur Kuwaiti reviewers to an extended meditation on Claudius-as-Saddam and the historical context of the Iraqi invasion, yet out of eight published reviews, not a single one mentions it.92 I believe this is because when Diyab “took a rock” to Al-Assadi’s play, he remixed fragments of Shakespeare’s into the shards. A review of the 2008 performance recounted elements of Shakespeare’s plot that do not appear in Al-Assadi’s play: the ghostly appearance of Old Hamlet, Hamlet’s feigned madness, the Mousetrap. Moreover, in place of (or rather after) Al-Assadi’s surreal ending, the Kuwaiti production closed with Hamlet reciting “to be or not to be.”93 Diyab himself noted in an interview that his production “revolves around Hamlet and the obstacles he faces, which put him in a humiliating position: will he avenge what has befallen him, or will he retreat? … How can he move from the phase of ‘not to be’ to its opposite? Our play runs counter to what author Jawad Al-Assadi had planned.”94 The festival judges did not seem to mind that this production was actually an idiosyncratic amalgamation of Al-Assadi’s text and Shakespeare’s; they gave Diyab the festival’s Best Director award. Yet shifting the play’s focus back to Hamlet and away from Claudius by reintegrating key scenes from Shakespeare’s play clearly dampened Al-Assadi’s dystopian portrayal of Claudius’ murderous dictatorship. Why, then, did Diyab make this choice? The long shadow of Al-Bassam’s The Al-Hamlet Summit would make it difficult for any Kuwaiti director to “forget Hamlet,” of course, but Diyab may also have believed a softened critique of Claudius and a more empathetic interrogation of Hamlet to be more context-appropriate. In her review of the festival, critic Nehad Selaiha found the production evoked a “protest against the stifling effect of the dominant ideological status quo, both political and religious,”95—a problem arguably more applicable to contemporary Gulf society than a vicious tyrant and his blood-soaked guillotine. It seems the nightmare apocalypse and the severed tongue among the scattered pages did not correspond to Diyab’s vision of his own society: Kuwait’s rulers are not Claudius, and its younger generation are capable of action, however seductive the material distractions symbolized by Hamlet’s uncorked bottle may be. Instead, Diyab wanted to reclaim a Hamlet whose suffering and self-reflection could point the way towards change (and the 2009 production was revived for performance at Kuwait


University in the midst of the Arab Spring in 2011).96 In sum, this Kuwaiti production was less interested in the past resonance of a tyrannical Claudius than in the future repercussions of a struggling Hamlet.

“All the Perfumes of the Arabian Peninsula”: Macbeth in Kuwait in 2014 In May 2014, Kuwaiti theatregoers could have seen two different productions of the Scottish play in as many weeks—one by a youth theatre troupe, and one by a group of more experienced actors, both performing in Arabic. In the first production, Iraqi-trained director Rasoul Al-Saghir oversaw a cast from the Lothan Youth Achievement Center (LOYAC), a regional humanitarian and cultural youth organization.97 The performance took place at the Qibliya School, a historic institution in Kuwait, founded in the late 1940s as one of the nation’s first formal (rather than Qur’anic) schools for girls, and now serving various cultural purposes, including as the site of LOYAC’s headquarters. The troupe performed in an elevated register of Modern Standard Arabic, with a text translated quite precisely from Shakespeare’s own, though cut down to a seventy-minute performance. The edited text lost minor characters like Siward and Lady Macbeth’s doctor, but also made more surgical alterations with an eye to local sensibilities; LOYAC’s Lady Macbeth did not ask demonic spirits to unsex her, for example, nor did she invite them to “come to my woman’s breasts and take my milk for gall” (though other lines from her invocation of the spirits that tend on mortal thoughts in 1.5.39–53 were retained). The performance opened with a full-cast tableau scene, over which Hecate presided from an upper platform; the cast wore stylized Elizabethan/Jacobean costumes, and classical (Western) trumpet and violin music helped to segue between scenes. All of this, combined with the formality of the language, seemed intended as a means of creating a distancing effect between the audience and the action. In other words, this production did not make many overt attempts to provoke audience members into drawing parallels between the action of the Scottish play and the politics of the contemporary Gulf, as other Shakespearean productions we have considered in this chapter decidedly did. The second Kuwaiti Macbeth of 2014, this one directed by Abdullah Al-Turkmani, took masquerade as its theme, perhaps inspired by Lady



Macbeth’s injunction to “look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t” (1.5.64–5). Its cast wore masks over their faces, and donned long cloaks with masks painted on them. The director seemed to want to stress the similarities, the near-interchangeability of Shakespeare’s characters: critic Sharif Saleh described numerous moments when the characters spoke either in chorus or echoing each other, with the witches and the main characters all participating in the chorus at various points.98 But Saleh panned the abstraction of Al-Turkmani’s concept for the production, faulting it for being simultaneously confusing and monotonous, in comparison to LOYAC’s more colorful and more straightforward production. And LOYAC’s production proved popular enough for a revival late in the year, under the aegis of the fifteenth Kuwaiti Theatre Festival.99 Was it mere coincidence that two Kuwaiti troupes were performing adaptations of the same Shakespeare play at the same time? I suspect not. Macbeth is a play about the violence that can be unleashed by an unscrupulous leader, whose desire for power and whose ambition to rule is fueled entirely by self-interest attempting to masquerade as virtue.100 Such a theme carries a particular resonance in Kuwait, given the country’s history of occupation by a tyrannical neighbor who attempted to spin the devastating events in net-positive political terms, as a means of pressuring Israel to withdraw its forces from occupied Palestine.101 In 2014, however, the events of the First Gulf War were almost a quarter century old, and Kuwaitis had heard the language of tyranny and authoritarianism invoked much more recently. In 2011, governments across the Arab world were rocked by the protests and demonstrations of the so-called Arab Spring, which explicitly called for the removal of authoritarian leaders and for an end to corrupt practices that enriched powerful, elite figures to the detriment of the broader citizenry and the state. Though the GCC, as noted in previous chapters, saw comparatively fewer and much smaller demonstrations than countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria, GCC residents could follow news coverage of the calls for revolutionary change in neighboring Yemen and in the broader region,102 and could contribute their own opinions and analysis to increasingly vociferous discussions in social media and other public or semi-public fora—an upsurge in socio-political engagement that scholars May Seikaly and Khawla Mattar have described as “a silent revolution” within the Arab Gulf states.103


In 2011 and 2012, moreover, Kuwait experienced a bout of civil unrest and protests of its own. In November 2011, in the wake of a series of corruption allegations aimed at several parliamentarians and the prime minister, protesters stormed the National Assembly; the following month, the Emir dissolved the Assembly. New elections were held in February 2012, but in June, Kuwait’s Constitutional Court ruled these to be procedurally flawed and reinstated the previous Assembly, as elected in 2009—which the Emir then dissolved once again in October 2012, in the wake of an opposition-led boycott which had prevented the reinstated Assembly from reaching a quorum.104 Protesters argued that the reinstatement of the 2009 Assembly was calculated to weaken the power of Islamist and other opposition forces, who had attained a majority within the Assembly in the February elections. Their anger was further kindled by proposed changes to Kuwait’s election laws, which would have limited the number of votes citizens were permitted to cast from a total of four to one. Supporters of this proposal argued that it would diminish the corrupt practice of vote-buying, but protesters alleged that the changes were actually designed to disadvantage opposition Assembly candidates in favor of government-friendly ones. Thousands of Kuwaitis participated in the protests; some clashed with police, and certain members of the opposition, like protest leader Musallam Al-Barrak, began to characterize the protests as a means of protecting Kuwait’s democratic institutions from the threat of encroaching despotism.105 Protests continued into 2013, and the government was further shaken on 4 May 2014, when five Kuwaiti parliamentarians resigned in protest against pro-government Assembly members’ refusal to call the prime minister for questioning over corruption allegations.106 It is within this broader context that both Al-Turkmani and Al-Saghir decided to stage their productions of Macbeth. As noted, neither production presented itself as straightforward contemporary political allegory. There are, however, certain subtle interpolations, in Al-Saghir’s production in particular, that might have prompted audiences in Kuwait to read Shakespeare’s characters through local/regional frames of reference. For example, after Duncan’s murder, Al-Saghir’s Macbeth (Ayman Al-Saleh) knelt and washed not just his bloody hands but his forearms to the elbow, in the manner of ritual ablutions before prayer, while Lady Macbeth (Shireen Hajji) lamented that her little hand could not



be sweetened by kūlli ‘uṭūr al-jazīrat al-‘arabīya (all the perfumes of the Arabian Peninsula). Might such minor changes have prompted audiences to interpret Macbeth in relation to contemporary Kuwaiti (or broader Arab) political issues? At least one reviewer found that the LOYAC production communicated an urgent message to its viewers: Yahya Abd al-Rahim, writing in Kuwait’s Al-Watan newspaper, praised the performance for the insights it offered into the psychology of despots and criminals, for its exploration of injustice and dictatorship, and for “sounding an alarm bell to warn all of us not to create more tyrants, and that we need to combat them, for they exist in every era.”107 Whatever else Al-Saghir and Al-Turkmani may have hoped to accomplish by staging their respective Macbeths, it does seem clear that each one chose the play as a means of participating in broader national and regional debates about the definition and the dangers of despotism and authoritarianism.

One World Actors Centre and the Annual Shakespeare Festival Thus far our Kuwait-based Shakespeare has mostly spoken Arabic, in a range of registers and modalities of translation. To examine Kuwaiti productions that retain Shakespeare’s English, we turn to the One World Actors Centre (OWAC), founded by Alison Shan Price. Price is both a physicist and a theatre-maker by training, a UK citizen, a long-term Kuwaiti resident, and—as her organization’s name implies—a firm believer in the ability of theatre to transcend boundaries and create communities. In 2012, OWAC gave a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the gardens of the British Embassy in Kuwait, a performance which illustrates the ways in which OWAC productions bring individuals of diverse backgrounds and various cultural influences together into a harmonious and visually striking whole. The actors ranged in age, from the small children in the fairy chorus to middle-aged adults, and in ethnicity: the diverse cast included a Maltese actress in the role of Titania and a Kuwaiti Oberon.108 The costumes, too, were a heterogeneous mix: the nobles of Theseus’ court appeared in Georgian dress; Titania and her fairies wore shimmering and ethereal white chiffon; Oberon was clad in navy blue with a silver mask and armor, his retinue in sequin-spangled black. Taking a cue from


Fig. 1  OWAC’s Julius Caesar, 2013. Courtesy of Alison Shan Price and One World Actors Centre

Shakespeare’s text, the “little changeling boy,” who appeared prominently in this production, wore Indian finery and his story was related through traditional Indian dance and ballet, performed by dancers in red, gold, and green saris. The show was so well-received that it has since become a recurring event in Kuwait: a Shakespeare Festival, produced by OWAC and hosted by the British Embassy. OWAC’s second festival production was Julius Caesar (2013), performed in togas and Roman military dress (Fig. 1). Once again, the cast was a multi-cultural group of Kuwaiti residents—starring Brian McLaughlin in the title role, Augustin Tchantcho as Brutus, Hamad Al-Jenaie as Cassius and Nader Abdullah as Marc Antony—and this time the show also crossed the town–gown boundary between university student life and life in the rest of the city. Students from James Lambert’s Shakespeare class at the American University of Kuwait worked with OWAC to produce a set of interactive activities for audience members before the performance, including a tasting menu of Elizabethan food, and performative presentations on the individual research projects that the students had completed for class. A number of the students also participated as extras in the production—filling out the crowd during Marc Antony’s funeral oration, for example—and thus were in Roman costume themselves during the pre-performance. “Just imagine walking into the British Embassy, being immediately greeted by five men in authentic



Roman garb talking about Roman honor, … then entering into a festival of food, costumes, paintings, documentaries, and architecture, all put on by AUK students,” Lambert reminisced, clearly proud of his students’ accomplishments and their commitment to the event.109 Much Ado About Nothing, the 2014 selection, entailed a similar “Shakespeare fayre” collaboration between OWAC and Lambert’s students. This time, the costumes and backdrops were inspired by seventeenth-century Italian fashion and art, and the production starred OWAC actor and producer Eléni Rebecca Price as Beatrice to Kuwaiti actor Nader Abdullah’s Benedict. Yousef Al-Nasser and Hannah Joy, also Kuwaiti and British respectively, played the roles of Claudio and Hero. The latter couple returned to the festival in 2015 in the title roles of Romeo and Juliet. Lambert’s AUK students, however, did not; the rise of ISIS/ISIL110 had heightened security concerns around the Gulf, and the inclusion of forty students and their props and paraphernalia in a large-scale gathering at the British Embassy was judged a security risk. The final tableau of the deaths of the protagonists, who lay together upon a raised platform, the British Juliet embracing the Kuwaiti Romeo (Fig. 2), attained a special poignancy when juxtaposed with the violent fanaticism which was then wreaking havoc across the border in Iraq, as government troops battled ISIS forces over the cities of al-Karmah and Ramadi. OWAC returned to comedy for their 2016 production, The Merry Wives of Windsor, which starred Alison Shan Price as Mistress Page, Lebanese actress Diana Sfeir as Mistress Ford and Australian actor Brian McLaughlin as Falstaff. In contrast to previous OWAC festival offerings, this one went full-out Elizabethan—ruffed collars for the men, full skirts and lace-up bodices for the women, appropriate for Shakespeare’s only play set in the England of his own day. By all accounts this was a vibrant production, with dynamic performances by the lead actors—a fitting commemoration of the Year of Shakespeare, the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death. Merry Wives celebrates the antics of two clever women who comically outwit the swaggering Falstaff and prove that Master Ford’s jealous suspicions against his wife are unfounded; it also shows young Anne Page rejecting the suitors her parents have arranged for her and eloping with a lover of her own choosing. As such it no doubt provided some of its audience members with food for thought


Fig. 2  OWAC’s Romeo and Juliet, 2015: title characters, played by Yousef Al Nasser and Hannah Joy. Courtesy of Alison Shan Price and One World Actors Centre

regarding ongoing debates about the role of women in society, politics, business and cultural pursuits, both in Kuwait111 and beyond.112 Overall, however, I do not believe that OWAC’s Shakespeare productions are intended as a vehicle for political commentary in the way that, for example, Sulayman Al-Bassam’s Arab Shakespeare Trilogy is. Rather, for this organization Shakespeare is primarily a tool that develops and showcases the performance skills that the center teaches its students. Their Shakespeare productions serve more as demonstrations of proficiency than as courters of controversy. This is not to say, however, that OWAC shies away from politically engaged productions. On the contrary, one of their most successful productions to date is The Blue Box: Memories of the Children of War (2015, 2016), which played to acclaim in Kuwait and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.113 Another is Antigone: An Arabian Tragedy (2015),114 like The Blue Box a bilingual performance, with Diana Sfeir playing an Arabic-speaking Antigone in a



contemporary Middle Eastern setting (Kuwait during the Iraqi invasion for the Kuwait tour, an unspecified war-torn Arab country for the Fringe production) and Eléni Rebecca Price playing the title character as a Celt in Roman-occupied Britain.115 In an extended interview with Price and her Antigone cast at the Fringe, I learned of their previous experiences in Shakespearean roles (Brian McLaughlin, for instance, who played the English-speaking Creon, had performed as Macbeth and Othello before joining OWAC, while Kuwaiti actor Yousef Al-Nasser, who played the English-speaking Haemon, had appeared as Romeo in OWAC’s festival production earlier in the year, and had embarked on the mind-boggling project of creating a one-man adaptation of The Comedy of Errors).116 The actors alternated in expressions of enthusiasm and pessimism about the state of theatre in Kuwait and the trajectory of the Middle East in general. One noted that the premise of the production was that the story of Antigone would resonate in a region wracked by violent political protest and upheaval. Another recounted the difficulties that he had faced in choosing to train as an actor over the objections of his family, some of whom were actively suspicious of the lifestyle and others of whom simply lacked respect for the profession. Still another recounted the challenges that women face, in particular, when they choose to go on to the stage; it has proved difficult for OWAC to find Kuwaiti women who are both willing and able to commit to the intense and time-consuming rehearsal necessary for leading roles (and who could participate in as physically intimate a scene with a male partner as, for example, the final embrace of Romeo and Juliet illustrated above). Yet all the members of the cast expressed admiration for Price, her teaching methods, her unique balance of creativity and precision, and her success in establishing and nurturing a community that crosses national, religious, gender and ethnic lines, both on stage and off. As with Al-Bassam’s SABAB theatre, OWAC’s core actors regularly reappear in their productions, creating for audience members a sense of continuity and stability, a recognizable “family” of cast members. And this family can occasionally provide the encouragement that an actor’s blood relatives do not, as was the case for the actor whose relatives disapproved of his career choice. In interviews, Price stresses the multicultural background of her actors, and the ways in which performance bridges enclaval boundaries.117 The phrase “Theatre unites Cultures in ways Politicians can only Dream of”


captions a photo of Price posted to OWAC’s homepage after her investiture as a Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 2017. OWAC actively works towards the goal of “uniting cultures” in their Shakespeare performances, and their enthusiasm for his work has spilled over into Kuwait’s most prestigious venues—as for example in the 2017 premiere of Ikara in the Drama Theatre of the newly inaugurated Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmed Cultural Center (JACC). Written by Hooda Shawa, British-Palestinian writer residing in Kuwait, and produced by Shawa’s production company, TAQA, Ikara starred OWAC actors Diana Sfeir and Ali Al-Nasr in a Romeo-and-Juliet-type love story localized on Kuwait’s Failaka Island in the third century BCE—a cross-cultural romance set during Kuwait’s early history of settlement and civilization, and a pointed reminder that the long history of the Gulf is one of immigration from and trade with the wider world.118 OWAC’s Shakespeare productions may not contain overt commentary on contemporary Kuwaiti politics or society, but by practicing a “politics of inclusion,”119 their Shakespeare productions nevertheless make significant socio-political statements. Has the Muse of Fire attained the brightest heaven of invention in Kuwait? Perhaps not yet. Nor have princes or other members of the royal family opted to act, nor have any Gulf rulers, to my knowledge, beheld any of the swelling scenes described in this or the previous chapters (though the Al-Nahyan shaykhas did attend Al-Bassam’s Richard III). What is clear, however, is that theatre practitioners in Kuwait have taken a kingdom—or rather an Emirate—for their stage, and that Shakespeare is a crucial tool both for portraying the fissures within that kingdom, and for suggesting ways to surmount them.


1.  For additional information on Shakespear, see Winstone, Captain Shakespear, and Harrigan, “The Captain.” 2. For which, see Chapter 3. 3.  Along his 1800-mile route, 1200 miles of which lay in previously uncharted territory, Shakespear carefully recorded cartographic measurements, collected plant samples, and took photographs, which provided a wealth of new information to institutions like the the British War Office and the Natural History Museum in London. 4. Shakespear, quoted in Harrigan, “The Captain.” 5. Lowe, “The Death.”



6.  Teller, “Shakespear of Arabia.” Had Lawrence not come to the Peninsula, and not urged the British to support Sherif Hussein of Mecca, who fomented the Arab Revolt, and had Abd al-Aziz received the bulk of British support instead, he might have been able to consolidate his territorial control and establish Saudi Arabia as a state much more quickly. 7. The phrase is Salem’s, from “Kuwait: Politics.” 8. As historian Michael Casey notes, “there is some doubt over the exact date of Sabah’s election, as both 1752 and 1756 have been recorded.” Casey, The History of Kuwait, p. 29. 9. Salem, “Kuwait: Politics,” p. 213. 10. The responsibilities of the UAE’s Federal National Council, for example—a 40-member body, half of whose members are appointed and half indirectly elected—are limited to commenting upon draft legislation and making recommendations upon “any general subject pertaining to the affairs of the Union” (Article 92 of the UAE Constitution). Indirect election here means that an “Electoral College,” the membership of which is determined by the rulers of the various Emirates, votes for the candidates. The tasks of Qatar’s Consultative Assembly are likewise, as its name implies, advisory rather than legislative. The Qatari Constitution calls for a 45-member legislature (30 elected and 15 appointed members), but elections for it have been repeatedly postponed, and are now scheduled for 2019 at the earliest. 11.  Members of the Saudi Consultative Council, the Omani Council of State, and the Bahraini Consultative Council are appointed by their respective head of state. The Omani and Bahraini legislatures are bicameral, with membership in the lower houses—Oman’s Consultative Assembly and Bahrain’s Council of Representatives—determined through democratic elections, though as noted above, candidates run independently rather than as representatives of political parties. 12. Alotaibi, Historical Study, p. 142. 13.  Certain bloggers and activists have recently run afoul of this gray area; see, for example, the case of Sara Al-Drees, highlighted by the International Freedom of Expression Exchange in Abrougui, “Kuwait detains activist.” 14. Foley, The Arab Gulf States, p. 189. 15. A seminal exploration of this phenomenon is Anh Nga Longva’s Walls Built on Sand, especially Chapter 3, “The Politics of Exclusion.” For recent evidence of this anti-foreigner bias, see, for example, Associated Press, “In Kuwait, too many foreigners.” 16. Al-Bassam, Interview in Richard III: An Arab VIP. 17. Al-Bassam, The Arab Shakespeare Trilogy, p. 196.


18. As reviewer Barbara Johnson notes, the two elements central to my argument about Al-Bassam’s other work recur in this play: “Petrol Station, making its world premiere, incorporates Shakespearean elements—family drama, generational baggage—but it’s updated for 2017. Unlike Al-Bassam’s previous works, this one features a cast whose members all identify as American, but the diversity onstage is still astonishing” [emphasis added]. Johnson, “BBW.” 19. Al-Bassam, Curriculum Vitae. 20.  The Stage. 21. “Mr. Sulayman Al-Bassam.” Tokyo International Arts Festival. 22. “The 60-Watt Macbeth,” SABAB. 23.  Hamlet in Kuwait (documentary). 24. “Hamlet in Kuwait synopsis,” SABAB. 25. “Hamlet in Kuwait: Synopsis,” ScorpionTV. 26. Al-Bassam, “Shakespeare, Global Debris,” p. 124. 27. Suspicion of insidious, culture-eroding foreign influence tends to attach more to the upper strata of expatriate workers, while migrant workers are more often stereotyped as lawless or as posing health risks. See for example Kareem, “Gentrification and Xenophobia.” 28.  The title references the cooperative political organization of Middle Eastern and North and East African states officially titled “The League of Arab States,” established in 1945 and currently consisting of twenty-two members, counting Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, whose membership is presently suspended. It may also remind readers familiar with the history of Shakespeare in Arabic translation that in the mid-1950s the Arab League embarked upon an ambitious project to translate the canon of world literature into Arabic, beginning with the works of Shakespeare: one might say the first “Arab League Hamlet” was the translation by Muhammad Awad Muhammad of Alexandria University, published in 1972. See the dissertation by Tounsi, Shakespeare in Arabic, p. 31. 29. McMillan, “A Play for Our Times.” 30. Berkowitz, Review. 31. McMillan, op. cit. Allfree’s review likewise critiqued the play’s “deliberately vague, Everyman portrait of political tyranny” (Allfree, Review). 32. Costa, Review. 33. Shuttleworth, “Fascinating Update.” 34. “Awards at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.” 35. Al-Bassam, Arab Shakespeare Trilogy, p. 5. 36. Ibid., p. 6. 37. Ibid., p. 8. 38. Ibid., p. 10. 39. Ibid., p. 20.



40. Ibid., p. 23. 41. Ibid., p. 47. 42. Ibid., p. 25. 43.  Ruth 1:16–17, King James Bible. 44. Al-Bassam, Arab Shakespeare Trilogy, pp. 40–1. 45. Ibid., p. 41. 46. Ibid., p. 56. Al-Bassam’s script calls for the actor to repeatedly pronounce ‘Is-’ and ‘Iz-’ while white noise drowns out the subsequent syllables. 47. Ibid., p. 56. 48.  In between these productions, however, Al-Bassam also wrote Al-Muqāwaḍa (Trading), a play which takes inspiration from Romeo and Juliet, as well as from pre-Islamic Arab tales of star-crossed lovers, like Qays wa Layla. This play was performed in Kuwait at the 2003 Gulf Youth Theatre Festival and the 2004 Qurain Arts Festival, but has not toured internationally like the AST. Of it one reviewer wrote, “Al-Bassam transforms the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets… into a struggle between brothers over a piece of land, and quickly the extent of that struggle reveals itself, shedding light on its corruption, and the way in which it tears the younger generation apart” (‘Alī, “Shaksbīr yawlid”). Despite its positive or neutral mercantile connotations, the noun of the play’s title is etymologically related to the verbs meaning “to demolish, to tear down” (form I), “to break off, to smash” (form II), “to collapse, scatter, be dispersed” (form V)—an echo of Shakespeare’s and Al-Bassam’s concerns, in their respective plays, with the effects of violent societal disintegration. 49. The Arabic word sabab means “reason,” “cause,” or “motive”; as written in English, it also contains Sulayman Al-Bassam’s initials, SAB. Most of the people mentioned here feature on the “Key Collaborators” page of the SABAB website: 50. Al-Bassam, Arab Shakespeare Trilogy, p. 61. 51. Ibid. 52. Litvin, “For the Record,” p. 228. 53. Al-Bassam, Arab Shakespeare Trilogy, p. 77. 54. Ibid., p. 86. 55. Unnamed student, Interviewed in Richard III: An Arab VIP. 56. Al-Bassam, Arab Shakespeare Trilogy, p. 129. 57. Hamza Bin abd al Mutalib was killed in Battle of Uhud (625) protecting the Prophet; Abu Thar Al Ghufarri fought with the Prophet at the Battle of Badr (624); Summayah bin Khayyatt was tortured to death by a Meccan tribe in 615 when she refused to renounce Islam; Al Husein Bin Ali was the Prophet’s grandson, who was killed in the


Battle of Karbala (680); and Al Hassan Al Basri was a Muslim scholar who opposed the Umayyad Caliphate (d. 728). 58. A collection of animal fables purported to provide allegorical advice for rulers, originally written in Sanskrit, translated into Arabic in the eighth century. Ibn Al-Muqaffah is the protagonist of Al-Bassam’s 2006 play Kalila wa Dimna. 59. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this section are taken from the film Richard III: An Arab VIP. 60. Margaret Litvin provides a persuasive critique of this issue in “Doomed by ‘Dialogue.’” 61. For a glimpse into how the Abu Dhabi heritage and tourism authorities discuss the history and significance of the fort, see “Al Jahili Fort,” Abu Dhabi Digital Government website, and “Al Jahili Fort,” Visit Abu Dhabi website. 62. See Thesiger, Arabian Sands. 63. For more on the significance of these portraits, see Davidson, After the Sheikhs, especially pp. 66–70. 64. Litvin, “For the Record,” p. 230. 65. The National Brewing Company brewed Seera beer in the al-Mansura neighborhood in Aden from 1980 until 1994, when it was razed by invading northern forces in the Yemeni Civil War. Susanne Dahlgren notes that protests against the brewery began in the early 1990s, shortly after the reunification of North and South Yemen, illustrating the increasing influence of Islamist and intolerant strains from the North within southern Yemeni society. See Dahlgren, Contesting, pp. 254– 258, and Werr, “South Yemen’s Only Brewery.” 66. It is important to note that the “organizers” here play a similar sort of gate-keeping function to that of the local producers who advise on the censorship of touring productions, as examined in Chapter 4; they present themselves as mouthpieces for or interpreters of the desires of other official bodies, but their advice may be based on assumptions rather than secure understanding of what those desires are. 67. Richard III: An Arab VIP. 68. Mirrione’s theatrical endeavors with the UAEU students and the Doha Players are described in Chapters 3 and 5, respectively. 69. Al-Nakib, “Traveling Postcards.” 70. Al-Bassam, Arab Shakespeare Trilogy, p. 142. 71. Ibid., p. 147. 72. Ibid., p. 157. 73. Ibid., p. 173. 74. Ibid., p. 186. 75. Ibid., p. 194. 76. Ibid.



77. Ibid., p. 196. 78. Litvin, “Review of The Speaker’s Progress,” p. 51. 79. Daood directed Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad (2012), another Arabiclanguage Shakespeare adaptation commissioned by the RSC, which later played in the Gulf, at Doha’s Katara Village. 80. Carlson, The Haunted Stage, p. 104. 81. Al-Bajalātī, “Iftitāḥ mihrijān.” 82.  Selaiha, “Theatre in the Gulf.” Selaiha found the Macbeth piece “prosaic.” 83.  Ṣāliḥ, “Insū Hāmlit.” 84. Al-Assadi, Forget Hamlet, p. 242. 85. Ibid., p. 271. 86. Ibid., p. 252. 87. This is, of course, an ironic rewriting of Hamlet’s command to Ophelia, “Get thee to a nunnery!” (3.1.122). 88. Al-Assadi, Forget Hamlet, p. 264. 89. Ibid., pp. 223–224. 90. In 2015 Kuwaiti National Assembly member Nabil Al-Fadhl was accused of “insulting the nation” when he suggested that the country should consider lifting the ban on alcohol importation; “Kuwait lawmaker,” Gulf News. 91.  See Litvin’s “Translator’s Note,” p. 227, and Cartelli, “State of Exception,” pp. 213–214. 92. One reviewer describes Claudius as “thirsty for bloodshed” (muta‘aṭṭish li-safk al-dimā’) but the review’s primary focus is on the choreography and stylized artistry of the piece rather than its content. Al-Shammarī, “Insū Hāmlit.” 93. Al-Shammarī, and Al-Khatīb, “Akūn aw lā akūn.” 94. “Tumathil al-Kuwayt,” StarTimes. 95. Selaiha, “Theatre in the Gulf.” 96. Rashūd, “Hāmlit yatajawwul.” 97. A youth organization with chapters in Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon and Yemen. 98.  Ṣāliḥ, “Mākbith Al-Turkmānī.” 99. Video of the festival performance, dated 18 December 2014, is available at “Masraḥīyat Mākbith.” 100. Cf. the discussion of Michael Roes’s Someone is Sleeping in My Pain in Chapter 6. 101.  Between 12 August 1990 and the UN-mandated deadline of 15 January 1991 for the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, Saddam Hussein offered to comply if and when the Israeli army withdrew from the Palestinian, Syrian, and Lebanese territories it had occupied, thus


attempting to cast himself as the champion of Arabs under occupation elsewhere. See for example Al Jazeera, “Arafat’s Costly Gulf War Choice” and Ibrahim, “Confrontation in the Gulf.” 102. Khawla Mattar has argued that coverage of the Arab Spring protests on satellite news channels like Al Jazeera in Qatar and its main regional rival Al-Arabiya (which is Saudi-owned and based in Dubai) was skewed to reflect their owners’ and their respective states’ socio-political interests (Mattar, “The Arab Spring through Gulf Satellite Television Stations”). 103. Seikaly and Mattar, The Silent Revolution. 104. See Agence France-Presse, “Kuwaiti Emir dissolves Parliament.” 105.  Al-Barrak, who directed warnings against the exercise of authoritarian rule at the Emir himself, was sentenced in April 2013 to five years in prison for insulting the Emir. His conviction was swiftly overturned by Kuwait’s Court of Appeals, but he was charged again and convicted, in February 2015, to two years in Kuwait’s Central Prison. He was released in April 2017 after serving his sentence, to the jubilation of his supporters. See, for example, al-Mutairi, “Al-mu‘arriḍ al-kuwaītī Al-Barāk”; BBC News, “Kuwait’s Emir Warned”; and Radio Sawā, “Bi-tuhmat ihānat.” 106.  Middle East Eye, “Turmoil in Kuwait.” The following month, opposition members accused senior government officials of embezzlement and accepting bribes totalling millions of dollars (see for example Kholaif, “Kuwait opposition,” and Al-Jasser, “Kuwait corruption claims”), charges which the government denied (Associated Press, “Kuwaiti leader”). 107. ‘Abd al-Raḥīm, “Shabāb Loyak.” 108.  Price had produced a version of MSND in 2006, with her previous drama school, Kuwait Acting Speech Theatre (KAST), with a Cameroonian-Kuwaiti actress in the role of Titania. Production photos are posted on the Facebook page of Ballerine’s, an Indian dance school and events planning service, which opened a branch in Kuwait in 2000 and trained the dancers in Indian dance for both the Midsummer Night’s Dream production (Ballerine’s Dance School Facebook page). 109. “AUK Students Live the Shakespearean Experience,” AUK News. 110.  Acronyms for the alternative translations of al-Dawla al-Islāmīya fī ’l-‘Irāq wa ’l-Shām as “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” or “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,” respectively. In Arabic, ISIS is referred to (pejoratively) with the acronym dā‘ish. 111. For more on which see for example Foley, op. cit., Chapter 5, “When only women will work,” pp. 167–210; Longva, op. cit., Chapter 7, “Gender Relations, Ethnicity, and the National Project,” pp. 187–222.



112. One obvious analogy to the on-stage antics was US primary election season, which at the time this production went up saw a highly intelligent woman laboring under a cloud of suspicion, and a billionaire with an unbounded ego firmly convinced of his own irresistible powers of attraction, each racking up state-by-state victories. 113. An original OWAC production, based on the book The Blue Box by Emma Abdullah, self-published, 2014. For a review of OWAC’s Edinburgh production, see Clarke, “The Blue Box.” 114.  Adapted from Jean Anouilh’s version of the play (1944), performed during and written with deliberate allusions to the Nazi occupation of France. 115.  Reviewed in Edinburgh by McMillan, “Theatre Review: Antigone,” and Beck, “Antigone: An Arabian Tragedy.” For a review of an earlier version of the production in Kuwait, see Pinto, “Antigone, a modern recount.” 116. Al-Jenaie, et al. I have opted to keep the cast members’ individual comments anonymous here. 117. See for example her remarks in the following: Al-Yagout, “Interview with Alison Shan Price”; de Kuster, “The Heroine’s Journey”; Al-Yagout, “The (One) World”; Praveen, “One-on-one.” 118.  Sfeir plays Nawras, daughter of the island’s governor, and Al-Nasr plays Anaxarchos, a Seleucid general charged with delivering a stele engraved with a new code of law to the island’s inhabitants; their budding romance offends a contingent of islanders who view the arrival of Anaxarchos’ fleet as a military invasion. Co-directed by Alison Shan Price and Yousef Al-Hashash, with Eléni Rebecca Price as production manager, Ikara was the first Arabic-language play to premiere at the JACC, and the first performance in the Drama Theatre. 119. I intend this phrase to contrast what Anh Nga Longva dubs Kuwait’s “politics of exclusion” (Longva, op. cit., p. 43).

References “The 60-Watt Macbeth.” SABAB website. ‘Abd al-Raḥīm, Yaḥya. “Shabāb Lōyāk lil-funūn al-isti‘rādīya saṭarū sīrat Mākbith min jadīd: Al-Mukhrij Rasūl al-Saghīr a‘ād iktishāf qudirātihi” (The young people from LOYAC, raise the curtain once again on the story of Macbeth: Director Rasoul al-Saghir displays his talents). Al-Waṭan, 11 May 2014.

292  K. HENNESSEY Abrougui, Afef. “Kuwait Detains Activist Sara Al-Drees for Insulting the Country’s Ruler.” International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX). Agence France-Presse, “Kuwaiti Emir dissolves Parliament.” The National, 7 October 2012. Al-Bassam, Sulayman. The Al-Hamlet Summit (English and Arabic texts). Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 2006. Al-Bassam, Sulayman. The Arab Shakespeare Trilogy. London: Bloomsbury, 2014. Al-Bassam, Sulayman. Curriculum Vitae, 2015. Al-Bassam, Sulayman. Kalila wa Dimna, or the Mirror for Princes. Ottawa: Oberon, 2006. Al-Bassam, Sulayman. “Shakespeare, Global Debris, and International Political Theatre.” In Doomed by Hope: Essays on Arab Theater, edited by Eyad Houssami. London: Pluto Press, 2012. Al-Bajalātī, al-Ḥussaynī. “Iftitāḥ mihrijān al-masraḥ al-khalījī al-‘āshar fī al-Kuwayt.” (The Opening of the 10th Gulf Theatre Festival in Kuwait). Al-Khalīj, 2 April 2009. 879bdf63-1845-4615-8350-a1d215c8c87c. Al-Assadi, Jawad. Forget Hamlet. Translated by Margaret Litvin. In Four Arab Hamlet Plays, edited by Marvin Carlson and Margaret Litvin with Joy Arab. New York: Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Publications, 2015. ‘Alī, ‘Awād. “Shaksbīr yawlid ‘arabīyan min makhbar Sulaymān al-Bassām” (‘Shakespeare is born Arab in Sulayman Al Bassam’s laboratory’). Al-‘Arab, 2 November [or possibly 11 February] 2015. /%D8%AB%D9%82%D8%A7%D9%81%D8%A9/44923/%D8%B4%D9%83 %D8%B3%D8%A8%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D9%8A%D9%88%D9%84%D8%AF%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A8%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D9%81%D9%8A%D9%85%D8%AE%D8%AA%D8%A8%D8%B1-%D8%B3%D9%84%D9%8A%D9 %85%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A8%D8%B3%D8%A7%D9%85. “Al Jahili Fort.” Abu Dhabi Digital Government website, 2017. https://www.;jsessionid=6UMNXhI_mJEruE22n8HTR ybftFMHDw6QubxjGEsVPhQasv9Zq95P!1237937807!-482351815!151 2052757055. “Al Jahili Fort.” Visit Abu Dhabi website. do/attractions.and.landmarks/iconic.landmarks/al.jahili.fort.aspx. Al-Jasser, Hamad. “Kuwait Corruption Claims Divide Ruling Family.” Al-Monitor, 14 June 2014.



Al Jazeera, “Arafat’s Costly Gulf War Choice,” 22 August 2009. http:// www. aljaz m/pr o grammes/ploh istor yofr evolution/2009/ 2009/08/200981294137853350.html. Al-Jenaie, Hamad, Brian McLaughlin, Ali Al-Nasr, Yousef Al-Nasser, Alison Shan Price, Eléni Rebecca Price, and Diana Sfeir (the cast and director of Antigone: An Arabian Tragedy). Collective interview with the author, Edinburgh, 10 August 2015. Allfree, Claire. Review of The Al-Hamlet Summit performance in Edinburgh for Metro, 20 August 2002. the-al-hamlet-summit-theatre-review-474514/. Al-Mutairi, Khālid. “Al-mu‘āriḍ al-kuwaītī Al-Barāk ba‘d ifrāj ‘anihi” (Kuwaiti Opposition Member Al-Barak After His Release). Al-Khalīj al-Jadīd, 21 April 2017. Al-Nakib, Mai. “Traveling Postcards: Retracing Kuwait’s Modernity” (presentation). Gulf Studies Symposium, American University of Kuwait, 18 March 2017. Alotaibi, Naif Khalaf N. A Historical Study of Saudi Theatre with Reference to the History of Theatre in the General Presidency for Youth Welfare (PhD dissertation). University of Exeter, 2013. Al-Shammarī, Ḥāfiẓ. “Insū Hāmlit: tanāghim fī lughat al-jasd” (“Forget Hamlet: A Symphony in Body Language”). Al-Qabas, 8 April 2009. http://archive. Al-Shammarī, Mufriḥ, and ‘Abd al-Ḥamīd al-Khatīb. “‘Akūn aw lā akūn’ hawwalat Hāmlit min faylasūf ilā qātil” (“‘To Be or Not to Be’ Transformed Hamlet from a Philosopher to a Killer”). Al-Anba’, 29 October 2008. D9%83%D9%88%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%88-%D8%A7%D9%83%D9%88%D9% 86-%D8%AD%D9%88%D9%84%D8%AA-%D9%87%D8%A7%D9%85% D9%84%D8%AA-%D9%81%D9%8A%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%88% D9%81-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%89-%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%AA%D9%84/. Al-Yagout, Najoud. “Interview with Alison Shan Price: The Person.” Kuwait Times, 2 April 2017. interview-alison-shan-price-person/. Al-Yagout, Najoud. “The (One) World of Alison Shan Price.” Bazaar, 31 December 2015. Associated Press. “In Kuwait, ‘Too Many Foreigners’ Becomes a Frequent Refrain.” VOA News, 21 February 2017. in-kuwait-too-many-foreigners-becomes-a-frequent-refrain/3733118.html. Associated Press. “Kuwait Leader Denies Corruption Claims.” Boston Globe, 12 June 2014. kuwait-premier-denies-corruption-allegations/GPer30tkaXiZkf9xxMVmJO/ story.html.

294  K. HENNESSEY “AUK Students Live the Shakespearean Experience.” AUK News, 10 April 2013. 1365583552929&newsType=N. “Awards at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.” Edinburgh Festival Fringe website. ScotFringeFirst. Ballerine’s Dance School Facebook Page. ballerines.ent/photos/a.1458609034406062.1073741831. 1457723407827958/1458609954405970/?type=3&theater. BBC News. “Kuwait’s Emir Warned at Opposition Protest,” 16 October 2012. Beck, Richard. “Antigone: An Arabian Tragedy” (performance review). BroadwayBaby, 19 August 2015. Berkowitz, Gerald. Review of The Al-Hamlet Summit performance in Edinburgh for The Theatre Guide London. reviews/edinburgh2002.htm. Carlson, Marvin. The Haunted Stage: The Theatre as Memory Machine. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001. Cartelli, Thomas. “State of Exception: Forgetting Hamlet.” In Shakespeare and the Ethics of Appropriation, edited by Alexa Alice Joubin and Elizabeth Rivlin. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, 211–220. Casey, Michael S. The History of Kuwait. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing, 2007. Clarke, Joshua. “The Blue Box: Memories of the Children of War.” BroadwayBaby, 12 August 2016. Available at shows/the-blue-box-memories-of-the-children-of-war/712988. Costa, Maddy. Review of The Al-Hamlet Summit performance in Edinburgh for The Guardian, 13 August 2002. stage/2002/aug/13/theatre.artsfeatures1. Dahlgren, Susanne. Contesting Realities: The Public Sphere and Morality in Southern Yemen. Syracuse University Press, 2010. Davidson, Christopher. After the Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies. Oxford University Press, 2013. de Kuster, Peter. “The Heroine’s Journey of Alison Shan Price.” The Heroine’s Journey, 30 July 2016. https://theheroinejourney2016.wordpress. com/2016/07/30/the-heroines-journey-of-alison-shan-price/. Foley, Sean. The Arab Gulf States: Beyond Oil and Islam. Boulder, CO: Lynne Reiner, 2010. Hamlet in Kuwait (documentary). Trojan Horse Films, 2001. Trailer available on Vimeo at



“Hamlet in Kuwait synopsis.” SABAB website. hamlet-in-kuwait/. “Hamlet in Kuwait: Synopsis.” ScorpionTV website. http://www.scorpiontv. com/hamlet-in-kuwait. Harrigan, Peter. “The Captain and the King.” Saudi Aramco World, September/ October 2002, pp. 12–21. the.captain.and.the.king.htm. Holderness, Graham. “Introduction.” The Arab Shakespeare Trilogy. London: Bloomsbury, 2014. Ibrahim, Youssef M. “Confrontation in the Gulf; Arafat’s Support of Iraq Creates Rift in P.L.O.” The New York Times, 14 August 1990. http://www. Johnson, Barbara. “BBW: Timely New Play Petrol Station Premieres at Kennedy Center.” Broadway World, Washington, DC, 25 March 2017. https://www. Kareem, Mona. “Gentrification and Xenophobia in the Gulf.” Al-Akhbar, 29 November 2011. Kholaif, Dahlia. “Kuwait Opposition Demands End to Corruption.” Al-Jazeera, 11 June 2014. kuwait-opposition-demands-end-corruption-201461113937107882.html. “Kuwait Lawmaker Faces Charges over Alcohol Remark.” Gulf News, 5 January 2015. Litvin, Margaret. “Doomed by ‘Dialogue,’ Saved by Curiosity? Post-9/11 Arab Performances under American Eyes.” In Doomed by Hope: Essays on Arab Theater, edited by Eyad Houssami. London: Pluto Press, 2012, 158–177. Litvin, Margaret. “For the Record: Conversation with Sulayman Al Bassam.” In Shakespeare and the Ethics of Appropriation, edited by Alexa Alice Joubin and Elizabeth Rivlin. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, 221–240. Litvin, Margaret. “Review of The Speaker’s Progress (directed by Sulayman Al Bassam).” Shakespeare 9:3 (2013), 350–352. Litvin, Margaret. “Translator’s Note” [for Al-Assadi’s Forget Hamlet]. In Four Arab Hamlet Plays. Edited by Marvin Carlson and Margaret Litvin, with Joy Arab. New York: Segal Publications, 2015: 227–228. Longva, Anh Nga. Walls Built on Sand: Migration, Exclusion, and Society in Kuwait. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997. Lowe, Daniel A. “The Death of Captain Shakespear.” Qatar Digital Library.

296  K. HENNESSEY “Masraḥīyat Mākbith Firqat Lōyāk.” (The play Macbeth, by the LOYAC troupe). YouTube, posted 3 Feburary 2015. watch?v=qi0-eM6IrmM. Mattar, Khawla. “The Arab Spring through Gulf Satellite Television Stations: Reporting or Controlling?” In The Silent Revolution: The Arab Spring and the Gulf States, edited by May Seikaly and Khawla Mattar. Gerlach Press, 2014, 223–236. McMillan, Joyce. “A Play for Our Times: The Al-Hamlet Summit.” The Scotsman, 8 August 2002. McMillan, Joyce. “Theatre Review: Antigone: An Arabian Tragedy.” WOW, 12 August 2015. Middle East Eye and Agencies. “Turmoil in Kuwait Parliament over Corruption Row.” Middle East Eye, 16 May 2014. turmoil-kuwait-parliament-over-corruption-row-761406920. “Mr. Sulayman Al Bassam.” Tokyo International Arts Festival IVP [VIP?] guest profile. Pinto, Christina. “Antigone, a Modern Recount of a Greek Tragedy.” The Times [Kuwait], 13 April 2015. Times_Antigone–a-modern-recount-of-a-Greek-tragedy. Praveen, Ghazal. “One-on-One with Alison Shan Price.” The Times [Kuwait], 8 February 2015. Radio Sawā. “Bi-tuhmat ihānat Amīr al-Kūwayt: hḥukm jadīd bi-sijin Musallam al-Barāk” (For Insulting the Emir: A New Sentence of Imprisonment for Musallam al-Barrak). Al-Ḥurra, 22 February 2015. https://www.alhurra. com/a/muslim-albarrak-sentence-kuwait/266800.html. Rashud, Muhammad. “Hāmlit yatajawwul fī jāmi‛at al-Kūwayt” (Hamlet wanders through Kuwait University). Al-Raī, 28 April 2011. Richard III: An Arab VIP (documentary film). Produced by Shakir Abal; written and co-directed by Abal and Tim Langford, 2011. Salem, Paul. “Kuwait: Politics in a Participatory Emirate.” In Beyond the Façade: Political Reform in the Arab World, edited by Marina Ottaway and Julia Choucair-Vizoso. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2008, 211–230. Ṣāliḥ, Sharīf. “Insū Hāmlit tumaththil al-Kuwayt fī al-masābaqa al-rasmīya” (Forget Hamlet Represents Kuwait in Official Competition). Al-Nahār, 3 April 2009. Ṣāliḥ, Sharīf. “Makbith al-Turkmānī… ‘alā al-ṭarīqa al-qūṭīya” (Al-Turkmani’s Macbeth… Gothic style). Al-Nahār, 29 May 2014. http://www.annaharkw. com/annahar/Article.aspx?id=461317&date=29052014.



Seikaly, Mai, and Khawla Mattar, eds. The Silent Revolution: The Arab Spring and the Gulf States. Berlin and London: Gerlach Press, 2014. Selaiha, Nehad. “Theatre in the Gulf.” Al-Ahram Weekly, Issue 943, 16–22 April 2009. Shuttleworth, Ian. “Fascinating Update of Shakespeare to the Modern Middle East.” The Financial Times, 16 August 2002. The Stage. Review of Zaoum Theatre’s Dreaming in Car Parks, 1996. Cited on SABAB Theatre’s “Press and Media” page. Teller, Matthew. “Shakespear of Arabia.” BBC News Magazine Monitor, 17 January 2015. Thesiger, Wilfred. Arabian Sands. London: Penguin, 2007 [1959]. Tounsi, Mohamed Mohamed A. Shakespeare in Arabic: A Study of the Translation, Reception, and Influence of Shakespeare’s Drama in the Arab World (PhD dissertation). Greenley, CO: University of Northern Colorado, 1989. “Tumathil al-Kuwayt fī al-dawra al-‘āshara li-mihrijān al-khalīj al-masraḥī Insū Hāmlit, wa ma zālat al-ma‘sāa mustamirra” (Forget Hamlet Represents Kuwait in the Tenth Gulf Theatre Festival, and the Tragedy Continues). StarTimes “World of Theatre” archive. http://www.startimes. com/?t=15771416. Wells, Stanley, and Gary Taylor, general editors, with John Jowett, and William Montgomery, eds. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 2005. Werr, Patrick. “South Yemen’s Only Brewery Stays in Business Despite Islamic Distaste for Alcohol.” Reuters/LA Times, 17 June 1990. Available at http:// Winstone, H.V.F. Captain Shakespear: A Portrait. London: Quartet Books, 1978.

Conclusion: The Peninsula in 2016, the “Year of Shakespeare”

The Peninsula is Full of Noises: Imported and “New Local” Shakespeare The world celebrated Shakespeare with fanfare in 2016. A worldwide British Council campaign trumpeted “Shakespeare lives!” on the 400th anniversary of his death, encouraging Shakespeare-themed events and activities from Albania to Vietnam. Defying doubting Thomases, mind-bending logistical hurdles, and jetlag, Shakespeare’s Globe completed the tour of its production of Hamlet “to every country in the world.” Around the world, celebrated actors declaimed purple passages on stage and on film, TV and radio. Universities organized “Shakespeare400” conferences and symposia at which scholars of literature and the humanities spoke, many thrilled by the sudden spike of public interest in their work. Filmmakers, musicians, translators, slam poets, origami artists and Lego designers all bent their talents to the service of commemorating the Bard of Avon. The Arabian Peninsula celebrated Shakespeare400 with mixed results. The region saw an uptick in Shakespearean productions in 2016, as we will see. But by and large these were imported from the UK, rather than representative of local efforts to engage with Shakespeare’s texts. And the region’s most entertaining Shakespeare-inspired work of the year—the Saudi rom-com film Barakah Yoqabil Barakah (Barakah Meets Barakah)—premiered without audiences or critics seeming to notice the extent or the cleverness of its (admittedly subtle) invocations of Hamlet. © The Author(s) 2018 K. Hennessey, Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula, Global Shakespeares,




As 2016 began, the Globe-to-Globe cast, which had already brought their Hamlet to Dubai’s DUCTAC Theatre and Muscat’s Ministry of Education Auditorium in October 2015, swung back through the Gulf and East Africa, performing at the American United School in Kuwait; at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia; at the Cultural Hall of the Bahrain National Museum in Manama; at the Al-Rayyan Theatre in Qatar; and in the Markazi refugee camp for Yemenis outside Obock, Djibouti—all in less than two weeks.1 It was a remarkable accomplishment, but where the Arabian Peninsula is concerned, a few qualifications are necessary. I warmly applaud Shakespeare’s Globe for their ingenuity in locating a Yemeni refugee camp and then getting their troupe there, to perform for spectators who were no doubt yearning for entertainment and creativity and for intellectual escape, however fleeting, from the miserable conditions in which they find themselves. Yet I have reservations regarding the way this event served to check Yemen off of the Globe’s list of “every country in the world.”2 Djibouti is not Yemen. Given the state of turmoil and violence in most of Yemen’s urban areas it would have been completely inadvisable to visit the mainland, but the Globe could perhaps have arranged to visit, for example, the relatively stable Yemeni archipelago of Socotra, over 300 miles away from the mainland, just off the Horn of Africa. It has been suggested that one of the first performances of Hamlet outside of Europe took place in 1608 off the coast of Socotra, on an East India Company ship called the Red Dragon, as the ship made its long journey to Java,3 so a Globe performance there would have resonated with its legendary predecessor. Socotra may have been logistically impossible, however, and Obock was obviously a laudable alternative. To imply that the visit to Obock “counts” as Yemen, however, inaccurately inflates the Globe’s already sufficiently impressive touring accomplishments. Moreover, it inadvertently echoes the political maneuverings of displaced Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who has found it expedient, as scholar Natalie Peutz has argued, to treat the Obock camp as an extension of Yemeni territory.4 Would it not have been more accurate to admit that violence and instability made some countries impossible to visit, rather than claiming that the Globe took their Hamlet to every country in the world? The Obock performance also raises the broader question of how representative the Globe-to-Globe tour’s venues were, and how accessible



to the local populations that the tour was trying to attract. KAUST, for example, functions in ways not at all representative of wider Saudi society. Founded in 2009, the university is a highly contained experiment in social liberalization inside the Kingdom. Within the boundaries of its campus, non-Saudi rules apply: women study with men and can drive,5 and the intimidating muṭawwi‘ūn (the “religious police”) are forbidden to enter. Most of its faculty, and around three-quarters of the student body, are foreign rather than Saudi. The surreal nature of the KAUST experiment was clear to Dominick Dromgoole, former Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe and originator of the idea of the worldwide Hamlet tour, who described the campus as “an eerie replica of The Truman Show,” with “some of the most beautiful modern architecture [he] had seen,” but “a sense of artificial composition.”6 After the evening’s performance, he chatted with three of the university’s students: They had seen Hamlet, and were snapped alert with excited thought. They told me it was the politics that thrilled them, a young man going against his own mother, and a king, and the state apparatus. They had no specific idea what Hamlet wanted, but they knew that he wanted something different, something new, and that he wanted freedom from the past.7

Meditating both on this conversation and on the campus itself, Dromgoole eventually arrived at the realization that KAUST is “a utopia, a manifestly fake one … and like all utopias, part of its process was to expose the wrongness of the world it existed in.”8 It might have been more useful for the Globe to have performed their Hamlet in one of Saudi Arabia’s less utopian locales. A performance in the Saudi city of Dammam, for example—a city which holds an annual theatre festival in defiance of Wahhabist disapproval, and which supports Saudi performing artists in other ways, such as by organizing a Saudi Film Festival, in a country that till late 2017 refused to license cinemas9—could have provided a shot in the arm to Saudi actors and directors struggling to create their own productions. Shakespeare’s Globe no doubt had other considerations that determined their choice of venue, however (for instance, they would likely have had to recast the female parts with male actors, had they played anywhere in the Kingdom outside of KAUST). And admittedly, my critiques are relatively minor ones to set against the grand accomplishment of their tour, which provided audiences



across the region with the opportunity to see a professional production starring the Globe’s talented Shakespearean actors. The first local troupe to seize the gauntlet thrown down by the Globe’s Hamlet by staging their own 2016 Shakespearean performance was Resuscitation Theatre (RT) in Abu Dhabi. In February they premiered a new Shakespeare-themed play by Faisal Jadir, adapter of RT’s Comedy of Errors, as described in Chapter 5. Entitled Knights and Wolves, this play drew its inspiration from The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613),10 as well as from The Knight’s Tale in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, a source text for Kinsmen. Advance publicity for the play suggested that Jadir had adapted his sources quite liberally. One teaser ran as follows: From the crimson skies, lightning will strike. A coup d’état. Knights hellbent on destruction. Two orphaned sisters desperate to escape the shadows and the anarchy that surrounds them. Will Sir J claim back what is rightfully his? Will The Entity meet his maker? And will The Pack push their prey to the precipice?11

The aesthetic is Shakespeare as blockbuster action movie, a move that would undoubtedly attract adoring fans of Justin Kurzel’s 2015 Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender, and certainly fitting RT’s brief as a “defibrillator” of classic texts. Yet for all the “Arcite and Palamon meet the X-Men” hype, this adaptation actually evoked a very contemporary and all-too-real conflict. Jadir turned his knights into two young women, orphaned refugees fleeing an unspecified war zone—Syria and Iraq, I assume, would have been uppermost in most spectators’ minds—and courageously confronting would-be predators in camouflage uniforms, in an expressionist-influenced parallel reality. As with RT’s Cymbeline/Al Malik—but in contrast to the spirit of homage that characterized many of the region’s 2016 Shakespeare events—Jadir’s approach to Kinsmen was irreverent, even critical of the original text: “It was a very flamboyant, almost mindless play to me,” he said. “I could see nothing but the darkness underneath and the absurdity. So I decided to turn it on its head and almost parody the original.”12 The play ran for three nights at the Emirates Writers’ Union auditorium at the National Theatre in Abu Dhabi, the same venue that had hosted their Comedy.13 In March the pendulum swung back from local to imported Shakespeare. The Reduced Shakespeare Company came to Doha to give



two “Britfest” performances of The Complete Works (Abridged) at Katara Drama Theater, which also hosted a free screening of Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing (1993), presumably with the male and female nudity of the opening bathing sequence edited out. Not to be outdone by Katara, the Qatar National Convention Center hosted a sold-out classical music concert by the Qatar Philharmonic, with selections from Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet and other Shakespeare-inspired compositions. In Bahrain, the British Council invited budding authors to attend a Hamlet-themed creative writing workshop with Linda Bilton, an English professor at the University of Bahrain.14 An adaptation of The Merry Wives of Windsor, in which three locally based male actors in deliberately unconvincing wigs played all the roles, opened in Dubai just in time for April Fool’s Day. Their performance, billed as “uproarious comedy,” took place in the southwest suburb of Jebel Ali, in a specially constructed outdoor theatre (and proved so popular that the trio were invited to run the production again, this time indoors in the more centrally located DUCTAC, in June).15 In the run-up to Shakespeare’s birthday on 23 April, NYUAD hosted its fourth annual Global Shakespeare Student Festival, while the British Council in the UAE offered theatregoers the chance to participate in a “largescale, interactive” Romeo and Juliet, set in Dubai in 2016.16 In May, students at the University of Bahrain put on a performance of Twelfth Night rewritten in contemporary English, while in Kuwait, the One World Actors Centre performed Merry Wives at the British Embassy, with a multicultural cast of expats and Kuwaitis.17 Other celebratory efforts fell flat. A well-publicized British Council “summit” on “Shakespeare in Translation,” scheduled for early May and co-sponsored by Qatar University, Shakespeare’s Globe, and Writers’ Centre Norwich, was inexplicably cancelled at the eleventh hour, the night before international participants were scheduled to fly to Doha. Earlier in the year Qatar University had retracted their support for a symposium on Gulf theatre—which was to discuss Shakespeare in the Gulf, among other topics—with an equally perplexing lack of explanation. And the Gulf summer—admittedly not a season conducive to much activity or movement—passed without much additional Shakespeare-mania. Then in September the British Council of Bahrain brought part of the British Film Institute’s “Shakespeare on Film” collection to the Mashq Art Space in Budaiya, a Manama suburb. The BC describes “Shakespeare on Film” as follows:



A special BFI curated programme of around 20 feature films shows how British cinema has transformed and reimagined Shakespeare’s work. The programme includes the earliest surviving silent Shakespeare, faithful adaptations by British actor/directors who have made Shakespeare’s work accessible internationally (such as Olivier and Branagh); performances by today’s greatest Shakespearean actors including Judi Dench (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and Ian McKellen (Richard III); experimental and playful reworkings that reinforce Shakespeare’s enduring relevance as source material (Prospero’s Books, Theatre of Blood and Next) and expressions of themes such as diversity, identity and desire (Othello, Romeo and Juliet and The Angelic Conversation) [emphasis added].18

Of this twenty-film collection, the Bahraini screening included only three selections, none of which were cited under the BC’s blurb’s rubrics of “diversity, identity and desire,” nor “experimental re-workings.” Instead, they chose the Manchester Royal Exchange Hamlet (2015), with Maxine Peake in the title role; Branagh’s Much Ado (1993); and Roman Polanski’s Macbeth (1971). The choice of this triptych is interesting, given that Polanski’s film was controversial for its graphic violence and for its portrayal of Lady Macbeth sleepwalking naked, and that Branagh’s opens, as mentioned, with a nude bathing scene. The selection of Hamlet with a female actor in the lead role suggests that the BC Bahrain was willing to challenge audiences’ expectations, but the event timings seem to suggest that Branagh’s and Polanski’s films were at least slightly edited for screening in Bahrain: the Hamlet film, which runs for 184 minutes, was given an ample 200-minute time slot, while Branagh’s 111-minute Much Ado was screened in 110 minutes, and Polanski’s 140-minute Macbeth in a mere 130. It is not difficult to imagine which scenes from the latter two would have been the first to go, just as it is clear why the BC Bahrain would have opted to steer clear of, say, the homoerotic imagery of Derek Jarman’s The Angelic Conversation (1985). The BC Bahrain did try to encourage local engagement with Shakespeare by announcing the “Bitesize Bard” global short film competition, in which “budding filmmakers can reinterpret one of eight iconic Shakespeare scenes in a single take,”19 though to the best of my knowledge this announcement was followed by radio silence. Oman encouraged local artists to engage with Shakespeare, by sponsoring an exhibition entitled “Shakespeare Through Omani Eyes,” which was held in the Opera Galleria complex adjacent to the Royal Opera



House Muscat, and which featured twenty-eight Shakespeare-inspired paintings by Omani artists.20 The event was timed to coincide with the inaugural performance of the Opera House’s 2016–17 season, Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, performed by the Opéra de Monte-Carlo at the end of September, thus juxtaposing an imported Shakespeare performance with local artistic endeavors.21 October brought more Shakespeare films to the Gulf, this time a selection of ten-minute shorts originally created for “The Complete Walk” in London, an April 2016 event which allowed spectators to watch the films as they strolled between the city’s Westminster and Tower Bridges. Another ambitious initiative of Dominick Dromgoole’s, the shorts featured iconic actors and were shot in the locales in which Shakespeare set his plays: Romeo and Juliet in Verona, Antony and Cleopatra in Egypt, and so forth. Dubai producer Asad Raza Khan, whose company Tall Tales Productions had helped bring Piya Behrupiya (the Indian adaptation of Twelfth Night described in Chapter 4) and Shakespeare’s Globe’s Hamlet to the UAE, engineered a Dubai screening of ten of the “Complete Walk” films, which were screened at the Junction Theatre from 20 to 22 October and billed as “Shakespeare in the Sands.”22 Meanwhile, neighboring Abu Dhabi hosted the Emirati leg of the Bedouin Shakespeare Company’s London–Rome– UAE tour of The Tempest, which played at the Abu Dhabi Theatre and The Club.23 Towards the end of the year the homage turned—perhaps inevitably—to pastiche and parody. In Dubai, a trio of professional actors from the UK performed the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s Complete Works (Abridged) at DUCTAC.24 In Bahrain, the Manama Theatre Club, in cooperation with the British Council, staged Paul Nimmo’s Will Shakespeare Save Us! (1995), which portrays the trials and tribulations of a theatre troupe who turn to the work of an obscure English poet named Shakespeare after their excruciatingly bored king threatens them with painful deaths if they fail to amuse him.25 But Bahrain, which had hosted a remarkable number of Shakespeare-themed events not merely for Shakespeare400 but also to celebrate “Bahrain-UK 200” (the 200th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the UK and Bahrain26) seemed to have exhausted its festive energies before 2016 came to an end: a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Cultural Hall, scheduled for late December to conclude the year of celebrations, quietly dropped off the events calendar.27



As this brief survey demonstrates, while the 2016 Shakespeare celebrations offered residents of the Gulf a diverse range of events to attend, the majority of these were imported rather than locally created. This is not a necessarily negative observation; as noted in Chapter 4, examining the reception of Shakespearean productions that come to the region after being created elsewhere can still offer insights into the complexities of the Arabian Peninsula’s societies. Yet on the Peninsula as elsewhere, financial considerations, and the conditions attached to them, inevitably impact which performances are ultimately produced. British Council support and funding drove much of the region’s 2016 Shakespearean production and programming, and the branches of the BC across the Gulf tended to favor “global” or UK-origin initiatives, like “Shakespeare on Film” and “Bitesize Bard,” rather than locally sourced ones. Similarly, Gulf producers took their cue from London, whether by engaging UK-based actors to perform The Complete Works, or by borrowing “The Complete Walks” films for screening in the Emirates. In the case of Bahrain, where Shakespeare400 overlapped with the BritishBahraini bicentenary, the focus on UK performances was somewhat more understandable, yet still seemed to fit prevailing stereotypes that local culture is an oxymoron. The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature may have joyfully claimed to showcase “Shakespeare in the original Arabic!” in March,28 but it was Shakespeare in (British) English that predominated in the Gulf for the rest of the year. And all the while a massive national tragedy illustrating the consequences of war, violence, and lust for power played out across Yemen, though sadly not upon the relatively safe confines of the stage.

Double Blessing: Barakah Meets Barakah adapts Hamlet In my view, the true star of the Arabian Peninsula’s 2016 Shakespeare celebrations was a work whose Shakespearean elements effectively went unacknowledged: the Saudi romantic comedy Barakah Yoqabil Barakah (Barakah Meets Barakah), directed by Mahmoud Sabbagh. One of the film’s sub-plots involves male protagonist Barakah ‘Urabi (Hisham Fageeh)’s participation in a community theatre production of Hamlet, in the role of Ophelia, yet most reviewers seemed to read this as one lighthearted comedic bit among many in the film. To be sure, Barakah’s



appearance on the amateur stage, bearded and in a teal ball gown, chest hair peeking out of an Elizabethan-style bodice, was bound to provoke sympathetic chuckles, and perhaps a roll of the eyes from some viewers at the thought that Saudi law still (in 2016) prohibited women from acting on the public stage with men.29 But though reviewers acclaimed the comedy, the videography, and the acting, none read the entire film as a meditation on Shakespeare’s play.30 No doubt this stems from the facts that the film is vastly different in tone from Shakespeare’s tragedy, and that its resonances are subtle rather than glaring. Nor does the film provide us a one-to-one character correspondence, an in-your-face “Barakah-as-Hamlet” analogy. Instead, as the play-within-the-film subplot makes clear, Barakah can identify with, and be identified with, aspects of the characters of both Hamlet and Ophelia—as can the film’s female protagonist, Bibi Harith (Fatima AlBanawi). The film opens with Barakah walking across a covered bridge in Jeddah—alone, in Saudi dress, hemmed in on all sides by reinforced concrete, to an accompaniment of evocative piano chords. He makes the rounds of Jeddah’s poorer neighborhoods as a municipal functionary tasked with enforcing the city’s byzantine list of rules restricting the use of public space—telling a greengrocer that he needs to remove the fruits and vegetables carefully displayed on the sidewalk around his store, and informing a young entrepreneur who is trying to run a Parisian-style café that he isn’t permitted to keep his tables and chairs outside. Barakah clearly takes no delight in enforcing these rules, and his conflicted position—wanting do his job conscientiously, but questioning the rules he is being asked to enforce—is an ethical dilemma that he repeatedly ruminates upon. A visual parallel to this dilemma is the contrast between his appearance in public, for which he wears an impeccable thawb, shamagh and aghal, his official credentials hanging from a lanyard, and in private, where he wears African print pajamas and literally lets his hair down. Another parallel lies in his performance of Ophelia in the play-withinthe-film: Barakah feels awkward and physically uncomfortable on stage and in his costume, and at one point has a dream in which he plays Hamlet himself, with Bibi joining him on stage in the role of Ophelia (Figs. 1 and 2). In contrast to Barakah, who shares a simple house with his elderly father, Bibi lives a life of wealth and privilege. But she also juggles two



Fig. 1  Barakah Meets Barakah: Barakah (right) in costume as Ophelia; his friend Maqbool (left) as Hamlet. Courtesy of El-Housh productions

Fig. 2  Barakah Meets Barakah: Barakah’s dream. Bibi (left) as Ophelia, Barakah (right) as Hamlet. Courtesy of El-Housh productions

increasingly conflicting identities: as the “heavenly hips” her adoptive mother Mayyada uses to advertise her boutique clothing store, and as an Instagram sensation who posts videos urging her followers to rebel against consumerism, to attend cultural events, and to empower themselves—videos in which only the bottom half of her face can appear. As mentioned previously, Barakah dreams of Bibi as Ophelia, and over the course of Barakah’s and Bibi’s budding romance (a relationship that, like Hamlet’s and Ophelia’s, is constantly surveilled31), her



lines repeatedly echo Ophelia’s. When Barakah attempts to give her what he thinks is a romantic gift, of lingerie—Barakah staring nonplussed at a bright pink bra in a lingerie shop provides one of the film’s numerous moments of levity—Bibi refuses to accept it, in an echo of Ophelia returning Hamlet’s love letters (in 3.1.95–104). Flowers, Bibi explains, are a more appropriate gift for a woman than the thong underwear Barakah has chosen, and their colors have symbolic meaning: white for purity, red for passion and violet for new beginnings (note the parallels to Ophelia’s mad speech in 4.5.176–85: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance … And there is pansies; that’s for thoughts”). Later, when Bibi’s adoptive parents have conceived a child, the pregnant Mayyada announces their intention to marry Bibi to her uncle, much as Polonius, Gertrude and Claudius plot to marry Ophelia off to Hamlet for their own ends. Yet Bibi is not ultimately a victim of others’ machinations. She does not lose her mind, nor does she drown herself, singing (though she does go out on the water, on an evening boat trip complete with live traditional music—one of Barakah’s romantic gestures). She is a much stronger, more independent figure than Shakespeare’s Ophelia, and arguably more so than Barakah, since she has built a lucrative creative career for herself. Of the two protagonists, she is the one with greater wealth and social capital, and a more prominent public persona, both as heir-apparent to Mayyada’s flourishing business and as an entrepreneur in her own right. She is also a Hamlet figure, just as ethically conflicted as Barakah is about the roles that her family and her society constrain her to play—and just as Barakah laments his uncertainties and his inability to move forward, Bibi rails against the constricting hypocrisies that her society imposes. The two protagonists of Barakah Meets Barakah are thus both Hamlet, and both Ophelia. They are also both Barakah, a name which in Arabic means “blessing” (as in Laertes’s line “A double blessing is a double grace,” 1.3.53). As the film’s title suggests, “Bibi” is just a nickname, and by the end of the film she has decided to begin using her real name again—at which Barakah jokes that he will change his name to Bibi. This interchangeability, this ability to choose to be both Barakah and Bibi, both Hamlet and Ophelia, this recognition and celebration of the similarities and the complementarity that these protagonists share, helps to lend poignancy to one of the play’s central critiques of Saudi society. The film makes clear that the rigid constructs that segregate the nation’s men



and women also force individual men to repress facets of their personality that could be considered “feminine” and deter women from behaving in ways that are socially coded as “masculine,” discouraging individuals of all stripes from being fully themselves. Barakah is not supposed to be empathetic, romantic, artistic; Bibi is not supposed to be an activist, an entrepreneur, or even a recognizable face. The film stresses the crucial point that these codes are not written in stone, not an unchanging, immutable feature of Saudi society. Those wondering skeptically “If this film is really an adaptation of Hamlet, then where is Old Hamlet’s ghost?” have only to consider the two sequences in the film that show Barakah speaking to his father Urabi, an ill and elderly man who sits silently as Barakah compares a series of images of contemporary Saudi Arabia to a set of black-and-white photos from the late 1960s and 1970s. The earlier photos show men and women mixing freely, dressing in a variety of styles, attending parties, going to the cinema—freedoms which, as Barakah laments, the government severely curtailed after late 1979, when Islamic militants seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca.32 Barakah asks why the older generation failed to hand down these freedoms and this openness to their own sons and daughters and when his father remains mute and immobile, Barakah concludes sadly that the previous generation lost their courage as they grew old. Recent seismic changes within Saudi society, like the designation of Muhammad Bin Salman as Crown Prince in June 2017, the first-ever mixed-gender celebration of Saudi National Day in September 2017, and the unexpected announcement that same month that the Kingdom would allow women to drive beginning in June 2018, suggest that Barakah’s melancholy meditation may not be the final word on the subject. But whatever changes are still in store in Saudi Arabia, as an independent film, written and directed by a Saudi director, and starring Saudi actors, Barakah Meets Barakah is a groundbreaking achievement. It incisively critiques the current state of Saudi society, yet does so with a deft, lighthearted touch, and it weaves Hamlet so subtly into its romantic comedy that most viewers seem not to have noticed the extent of its presence. It stands in understated but brilliant contrast to much of the other Shakespeare 400 hoopla. Like Merry Wives in Dubai, performed by local residents for Dubai audiences, and The Two Noble Kinsmen, radically rewritten as Knights and Wolves and performed by Resuscitation for its local following in Abu Dhabi, Barakah Meets Barakah draws



inspiration from Shakespeare at the same time that it speaks directly to a specific local context and concerns.

Whither bound? Shakespeare on the Peninsula Since 2016 Though 2016 has ended, the region’s engagement with Shakespeare continues. The Doha Players presented Hamlet in February 2017, in a staging meant to emphasize, as director David Pearson put it, “that these characters do not belong to some far away fairyland, but rather are us.”33 In April a local, all-female cast in the UAE staged Macbeth, reimagining the Scottish play as a murderous struggle between high-powered executives in a multinational security and surveillance corporation called Scotland Corp.34 Still other local Shakespeare productions are underway as this manuscript goes to press. A number of my colleagues in Yemen have contributed performances to a Shakespeare-inspired film, which includes, among other things, footage of Yemeni poet Ziyad al-Qahm reciting his newly composed poetic response to Sonnet 116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds …”).35 Yemeni Professor Subhi al-Zuraiqi has embarked upon a translation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream—the first full translation of a Shakespeare play into Yemeni Arabic. The Dubaibased Danu Theatre Company is producing Sulayman Al Bassam’s The Al-Hamlet Summit, with a mixed cast of Emiratis and expats, directed by Danu’s founder Padraig Downey. And Romeo and Juliet seem to be everywhere: students at the American University of Sharjah are rehearsing the play, while their counterparts at the American University of Kuwait will shortly premiere West Side Story (Shakespeare’s tragedy rewritten as a Broadway musical). Meanwhile, under the direction of Shireen Hajji, Kuwait’s LOYAC youth theatre troupe is staging an Arabic language adaptation by Iraqi theatre-maker Rasoul Al-Saghir, entitled Ḥuṣṣa wa Badr and set in the early twentieth-century Gulf, with the Capulets as a local family of wealthy merchants who look down their noses at their neighbors the Montagues because the latter earn their living by laboring as pearl divers.36 The troupes that create these productions use Shakespeare as a vehicle for socio-political critique, as well as a means of highlighting and celebrating distinctive aspects of their own cultures and histories. Just as importantly, these troupes themselves bridge many of the divides—be



they linguistic, sectarian, ethnic, gender or class-based—that separate other residents of the Arabian Peninsula from their neighbors. By performing together as a diverse but harmonious ensemble, they model for their audiences not a homogeneous, segregated enclave but a different and more inclusive type of community. It is my prediction and my hope that in the coming years the region will see more and more performances like these. For on the Arabian Peninsula, the most powerful productions of Shakespeare are those that attract, convene and call into being diverse “new local” communities—and then enact those communities on the stage or screen as an illustration of their possibility.


1. Exact tour dates were as follows: UAE, 10–11 October 2015; Oman, 22 October 2015; Kuwait, 6 January 2016; Saudi Arabia, 9 January 2016; Bahrain, 11 January 2016; Qatar, 13 January 2016; and Obock Yemeni refugee camp, 16 January 2016. 2. This is the way in which the Hamlet tour was billed both during and after its completion—as, for example, in Dominick Dromgoole’s published account of the tour, which describes the project as “taking Hamlet to every country in the world.” On the cover of the UK version of the book, this phrase is blazoned on a flag held by a ruff-wearing cartoon figure; the hint that the tour had something of a colonialist flag-planting or civilizing mission quality to it was, I assume, unintentional. The cover image can be seen here: Hamlet-Globe-Taking-Shakespeare-Country/dp/1782116907. 3.  The account of this performance came to light in Strachan and Penrose, eds. The East India Company Journals, pp. 5–31. It has been cited since by numerous scholars, including Loomba, “Shakespearian Transformations”; Taylor, “Hamlet in Africa”; and Holderness and Loughrey, “Arabesque.” For the case that the account may have been fraudulently inserted into the journals by noted Shakespeare forger John Payne Collier (1789–1883), see Kliman, “At Sea.” 4. In a presentation at the American University of Kuwait, Peutz noted that Hadi and his aides regularly visit Obock to take photos of themselves distributing food and aid to the camp and its inhabitants, as part of Hadi’s effort to maintain (or rather regain) his legitimacy as leader of the nation. Peutz, “In Dire Straits.” 5. Shortly before this book went to press, King Salman signed a royal decree that women would be able to drive and to acquire drivers’ licenses beginning in June 2018—another change that would have been unforeseeable in 2016.



6. Dromgoole, Hamlet Globe to Globe. 7. Ibid., p. 224. 8. Ibid., p. 224. 9. See Murphy, “In Land Without Movie Theaters” and Paul, “Saudi Arabia Lifts Cinema Ban.” 10.  A tragicomedy upon which Shakespeare and John Fletcher likely collaborated. 11. “Resuscitation Theatre presents…”. 12. Quoted in Hill, “Abu Dhabi.” 13. Exact dates: 18, 21 and 23 February 2016. 14. “Bahrain Shakespeare on Film Festival,” British Council Bahrain. 15. For social and other media coverage see “Coming Soon”; “Are You in the Mood”; Fortini, “5 Things to Do”; “The Merry Wives,” Berry Events; “The Merry Wives” Facebook page. 16. “Shakespeare Under the Stars;” also see Hickman, “Play Review.” 17. For more on the University of Bahrain English Drama Festival, and on One World Actors Centre, see Chapters 3 and 7 respectively. 18. “Bahrain Shakespeare on Film Festival,” British Council Bahrain. 19. “British Council Announces Shakespeare Lives,” British Council Bahrain Website. 20. “ROHM Hosts,” Bahrain News Agency. Articles in the Times of Oman and the Oman Observer also describe the exhibition, though in barebones detail (“Shakespeare through Omani Eyes” and “ROHM to Host Shakespeare”). 21. “Roméo et Juliette,” ROHM. 22. “Shakespeare in the Sands,” TimeOut Dubai. 23. At the Abu Dhabi Theatre 16–19 October and at The Club in Abu Dhabi 19 and 20 October 2016. 24. Originally scheduled for 22–26 November, extended to 12–26 November 2016. Listings available at “The Complete Works” on Dubaiing and Platinum List. 25. For listings of this event, which ran 9–12 November 2016, see “Will Shakespeare Save Us!” and “Manama Theatre Club.” 26. 1816 is an odd date upon which to celebrate this event, as the “establishment of diplomatic relations” that year took the form of an unofficial (though signed) agreement between British Political Resident William Bruce and the Al-Khalifa family that Britain would refrain from taking sides in a territorial dispute between Bahrain and Oman, since referred to as a “Treaty of Friendship.” One would think 1820—when the British signed the General Maritime Treaty recognizing, among other things, the Al-Khalifa family’s right to rule Bahrain—would be a more appropriate



starting point, albeit one that did not coincide with a massive global Shakespeare celebration. 27. “Midsummer Nights Dream.” 28. This was the title given to a festival panel which asked historian John Julius Norwich and authors Abdulla Al-Dabbagh and Sulayman Al-Bassam to comment on Shakespeare’s pervasive appeal. For the festival listing, see “Shakespeare in the Original Arabic!” 29. An official Saudi government decree in February 2018 eliminated this prohibition. For more, see Chapter 1, n. 96. 30. See, for example, Neil Young’s review of the film, which opens and is riddled with Shakespearean quotes and allusions, but which sees the am-dram production merely as “a backdrop” (Young, “Barakah: Berlin Review”). 31. Their interactions are repeatedly interrupted by warnings that the religious police are approaching. 32. Led by Juhayman Al-Otaibi, the group of several hundred militants seized the mosque on 20 November 1979, calling, among other things, for the overthrow of the Al Saud dynasty. It took the Saudi military, with support from Pakistani military commandos, until 4 December 1979 to dislodge the militants from the site. The state’s response was, initially, one of violent spectacle—dozens of militants who were captured by the military were executed in January 1980, beheaded in public squares in cities throughout Saudi Arabia—followed by the promulgation of stricter regulations on a broad range of issues, from artistic pursuits to gender segregation. 33. Quoted in Holla, “The Doha Players.” 34. Zakaria, “Now see Macbeth.” 35. In the interests of full disclosure: both the film and the MSND translation were undertaken at my suggestion. 36. Hajji played Lady Macbeth in LOYAC’s 2014 production of Al-Saghir’s adaptation of the Scottish play, as described in Chapter 7. Facebook and Instagram publicity postings translate the title as “Hussah and Bader, the Musical,” premiering at the Yarmouk Cultural Center in Kuwait City on 29 November 2017.

References “Are You in the Mood for Shakespeare?” Khaleej Times-City Times, 30 May 2016, 18. “Bahrain Shakespeare on Film Festival.” British Council Bahrain Website, 2016.



“British Council Announces Shakespeare Lives.” British Council Bahrain Website, posted 23 April 2015. press/british-council-announces-shakespeare-lives. “Coming Soon: Much Ado as Shakespeare Play Comes to Dubai.” Dubai Week, 19 March 2016. “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” (events listing). Dubaiing, 2016. “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” (events listing). Platinum List, Dubai Events, 2016. event/38969/the-complete-works-of-william-shakespeare-abridged?show= 38884. Dromgoole, Dominic. Hamlet Globe to Globe: Two Years, 193,000 Miles, 197 Countries, One Play. New York: Grove Atlantic, Kindle Edition, 2016. Fortini, Ellen. “5 Things to Do: Catch a Performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor or See the Piano Quintet.” The National, 2 June 2016. https:// Hickman, Alan Forrest. “Play Review: Romeo + Juliet.” Cahiers Élisabéthains, 93:1, 143–148. Hill, Jessica. “Abu Dhabi Community Theatre Wants to Attract More Emirati Talent.” The National, 16 February 2016. Holderness, Graham, and Bryan Loughrey. “Arabesque: Shakespeare and Globalization.” In Globalization and Its Discontents: Writing the Global Culture, edited by Stan Smith, 36–96. London: DS Brewer, 2006. Holla, Anand. “The Doha Players to Bring Shakespeare’s Hamlet to Life.” Gulf Times, 26 February 2017. Available at story/534416/The-Doha-Players-to-bring-Shakespeare-s-Hamlet-to-. Kliman, Bernice W. “At Sea About Hamlet at Sea: A Detective Story.” Shakespeare Quarterly 62:2 (Summer 2011), 180–204. Loomba, Ania. “Shakespearian Transformations.” In Shakespeare and National Culture, edited by John J. Joughin, 109–141. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997. “Manama Theatre Club: Will Shakespeare Save Us!” (advertisement). Bahrain-UK 200 Instagram page, 2016. BMBNMEBlM9u/?taken-by=bhuk2016. “Midsummer Nights Dream Performance at the Cultural Hall.” Bahrain-UK 200 Website, 2016.



“The Merry Wives of Windsor” (events listing). Berry Events, 2016. http:// “The Merry Wives of Windsor (Dubai).” Facebook page, 2016. https://www. Murphy, Brian. “In Land Without Movie Theaters, Saudi Filmmakers Keep the Cameras Rolling.” The Washington Post, 12 April 2015. https://www. Paul, Katie. “Saudi Arabia Lifts Cinema Ban, Directors and Movie Chains Rejoice.” Reuters, 11 December 2017. us-saudi-film/saudi-arabia-lifts-cinema-ban-directors-and-movie-chains-rejoice-idUSKBN1E50N1. Peutz, Natalie. “In Dire Straits: Documenting Yemen’s Humanitarian Crisis and the Mixed Migration Flows of Refugees, Migrants and Returnees Crossing the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.” Presentation at the Gulf Studies Symposium, American University of Kuwait, 17 March 2017. “Resuscitation Theatre Presents…” Resuscitation Theatre, list-serve email advertising the troupe’s production of Knights and Wolves, 11 February 2016. “ROHM Hosts Shakespeare Through Omani Eyes.” Bahrain News Agency, 28 September 2016. “ROHM to Host Shakespeare Through Omani Eyes.” Oman Observer, 25 September 2016. rohm-host-shakespeare-omani-eyes/. “Roméo et Juliette.” ROHM Website, 2016. en/performance/performance-detail?i=252. “Shakespeare in the Original Arabic!” Emirates Festival of Literature event listing, for panel featuring Abdulla Al-Dabbagh, John Julius Norwich, and Sulayman Al-Bassam, 9 March 2016. “Shakespeare in the Sands.” TimeOut Dubai, October 2016. “Shakespeare Lives: A Creative Writing Workshop.” British Council Bahrain, 2016. “Shakespeare Through Omani Eyes.” Oman Times, 28 September 2016. http:// “Shakespeare Under the Stars.” British Council Shakespeare Lives, advertisement for performance at Kilachand Studio Theatre, DUCTAC, 21–23 April 2016.



Strachan, Michael, and Boies Penrose, eds. The East India Company Journals of Captain William Keeling and Master Thomas Bonner, 1615–1617. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1971. Taylor, Gary. “Hamlet in Africa 1607.” In Travel Knowledge: European “Discoveries” in the Early Modern Period, edited by Ivo Kamps and Jyotsna G. Singh. New York: Palgrave, 2001, 223–248. Wells, Stanley, and Gary Taylor, general editors, with John Jowett and William Montgomery, eds. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 2005. “Will Shakespeare Save Us!” British Council Bahrain Website, 2016. https:// Young, Neil. “‘Barakah Meets Barakah’ (‘Barakah Yoqabil Barakah’): Berlin Review.” The Hollywood Reporter, 15 February 2016. Zakaria, Sherouk. “Now See Macbeth from a Woman’s Point in UAE.” City Times, 13 April 2017. now-see-macbeth-from-a-womans-point-in-uae.

Appendix: ACA-LC Transliterations of People’s and Place Names

As written in this text In transliteration Abd al-Ghani Al-Mutawwa ‘Abd al-Ghanī al-Muṭawwa’ Abd al-Karim Qasim ‘Abd al-Karīm Qāsim Abd al-Nasser Al-Arasi ‘Abd al-Nāṣir al-‘Arāsī Abdullah Abbas ‘Abdallāh ‘Abbās Abdullah Awadh Yasin ‘Abdallāh ‘Awaḍ Yāsīn Abdullah Ba Sahi ‘Abdallāh Bā Ṣāhī Abdulla Dabbagh ‘Abdallāh Dabbāgh Abdullah Malek ‘Abdāllah Mālik Aden ‘Adan Adnan Muhammad Abdulaziz Wazan Adnān Muḥammad ‘Abd al-‘Azīz Wazan Ahlam Hassan Aḥlām Ḥassān Ahmad Al-Izki Aḥmad al-Izkī Ahmed Ben Saddik Aḥmad Bin Ṣiddīq Ahmad Faris Al-Shidyaq Aḥmad Fāris al-Shidyāq Ahmed Shawqi Aḥmad Shawqī Al-Dhafir Al-Ẓafīr Alfred Farag Al-Farīd Farāj Ali Abdullah Saleh ‘Alī ‘Abdallāh Ṣāliḥ Ali Ahmed Ba Kathir ‘Alī Aḥmad Bā Kathīr © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2018 K. Hennessey, Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula, Global Shakespeares,


320  Appendix: ACA-LC Transliterations of People’s and Place Names

Ali Salem Al-Beidh ‘Alī Sālim al-Baīḍ Amani Al-Dhamari Amānī al-Dhamārī Amin Hazaber Amīn Hazabir Amin Saleh Amīn Ṣāliḥ Amr Gamal ‘Amr Jamāl Aydarous Bin Muhammad al-Kindi ‘Aydarūs Bin Muḥammad al-Kindī Aziz Al-Hadi ‘Azīz al-Hādī Bashar Atiyat Bashār ‘Aṭiyāt Bayan Shbib Bayān Shbīb Deera Square Maydān Dīra Fahd al-Hoshani Fahd al-Ḥawshānī Fareej Kulaib Farīj Kulayb Fatima Al-Baydhani Fāṭima al-Bayḍānī Fatima Al-Saffi Fāṭima al-Ṣaffi Gamal Qasim Jamāl Qāsim Ghassan Zaqtan Ghassān Zaqṭān Hadramawt Ḥaḍramawt Hissa Al-Nabhan Ḥiṣṣa Al-Nabhān Hodeidah Ḥudayda Husayn Al-Dhafiri Ḥusayn al-Ẓafīrī Ibn Battuta Ibn Baṭūṭa Ibrahim Abdullah Ghalloom Ibrāhīm ‘Abdallāh Ghalūm Ibrahim Al-Hamdan Ibrāhīm al-Ḥamdān Ibrahim Jalal Ibrāhīm Jalāl Iliya Hawi Īliya Hāwī Iman Aoun Īmān A‘ūn Imru Al-Qays Bin Hujr Al-Kindi Imru’ al-Qays bin Ḥujr al-Kindī Ismail Lambo Isma‘īl Lambū Ismail Sa‘id Hadi Isma‘īl Sa‘īd Hādī Issa Diyab ‘Issā Diyāb Jabra Ibrahim Jabra Jabrā Ibrāhīm Jabrā Jawad Al-Assadi Jawwād al-Āsadī Kawkaban Kawkabān Khalid Alharbi Khālid al-Ḥarbī Khalil Mutran Khalīl Muṭrān Khawlan Khawlān Lahj Laḥj Lutfi Hamoud Luṭfī Ḥamūd Mahmoud Ba Khariba Maḥmūd Bā Kharība Muammar Gaddafi Mu‘ammar al-Qadhāfī

Appendix: ACA-LC Transliterations of People’s and Place Names


Muhammad Abdullah Sayigh Muḥammad ‘Abdallāh Ṣay’igh Muhammad Al-Duqmi Muḥammad al-Duqmī Muhammad Ali Luqman Muḥammad ‘Alī Luqmān Muhammad Awudh Ba Saleh Muḥammad ‘Awuḍ Bā Sāliḥ Muhammad Hamdi Muḥammad Ḥāmdī Mustafa Al-Bandari Muṣṭafā al-Bandārī Mustafa Hashish Muṣṭafā Ḥashīsh Nabiha Azim Nabīha ‘Aẓīm Nagib Haddad Najīb Ḥaddād Nehad Selaiha Nihād Salayḥa Nizami Ganjavi Niẓāmī Kanjawī Omar Ahmed Abdullah Ali ‘Umar Aḥmad ‘Abdallāh ‘Alī Omar Al-Rakhm ‘Umar al-Rakhm Osama Al-Muzayel Usāma al-Muzay‘il Qaboos Bin Said Qābūs bin Sa‘īd Qatia Qaṭī‘ Ramsis Awad Ramsīs ‘Awād Rasoul Al-Saghir Raṣūl al-Saghīr Saadullah Wannous Sa‘dallāh Wannūs Safa Khulusi Ṣafāʼ Khulūṣī Sa‘id Aulaqi Sa‘īd ‘Awlaqī Saleh Abdulrahman Saliḥ ‘Abd al-Raḥman Sami Al-Juraydini Sāmī al-Juraydīnī Sami Metwasi Sāmī Mitwāsī Samir Abd al-Fattah Samīr ‘Abd al-Fattāḥ Seyoun Say’ūn Shakir Abal Shākir Ābal Shihr Shiḥr Shireen Hajji Shirīn Ḥājjī Sobhy Youssef Subḥī Yūsuf Suhayr Al-Qalamawi Suhayr al-Qalamāwī Sulayman Al-Bassam Sulaymān al-Bassām Tanyus Abduh Ṭānyus ‘Abduh Tawfiq Al-Hakim Tawfīq al-Ḥakīm Uthman Suqi ‘Uthmān Sūqī Wa’el Abdullah Wā’il ‘Abdallāh Wajdi Al-Ahdal Wajdī al-Ahdāl Yahya Abd al-Tawwab Yaḥyā ‘Abd al-Tawwāb Yahya Muhammad Sayf Yaḥyā Muḥammad Sayf


A Abal, Shakir, 265 Abd al-Hamid, Sami, 62 Abduh, Tanyus, 50 Abdullah, Wa’el, 54, 86. See also Akūn aw Lā Akūn Abu Dhabi, 30, 84, 96, 103–106, 186–187, 266, 288n61, 305, 310, 313n12 British actors, 162 Education Council, 97, 153, 163 entertainment options, 163 Festival (ADF), 160, 161n32, 173, 204n20 Guggenheim, 105 Louvre, 105 Music and Arts Foundation (ADMAF), 161 National Theatre, 153, 302, 305 New York Institute of Technology (NYIT-AD), 93 New York University (NYUAD), 36n50, 83, 85, 94, 99, 102, 103–107, 135, 136, 143n50, 196, 303

Paris-Sorbonne in, 93, 133 performing arts, 106, 151, 152, 157, 183–184 Resuscitation Theatre (RT), 183–191, 302, 310. See also Hannan, Maggie and Salah, Faisal Tempest, The, 305 tolerance, 16 Zayed University, (ZU), 84, 94, 96, 97, 109, 110, 151, 163 Aden, 44–50, 53–56 British/colonial occupation, 30, 49 Emergency, 54 Julius Caesar, 46 National Brewing Company, 267 Occupation during Civil War (1994), 220 Operation Magic Carpet, 239n33 Romeo and Juliet, 46 theatre, 46 University, 92 Akūn aw Lā Akūn, 54, 56, 289n93 Al-Ahdal, Wajdi, 3, 32–33n4, 216 Al-Ahmadi, 63

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2018 K. Hennessey, Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula, Global Shakespeares,


324  Index Al-Ahmadiya primary school, 58 Al-Ain, 68, 135, 265, 266 Al-Assadi, Jawad, 251, 271–275 Al-Bandari, Mustafa, 61, 62, 66 Al-Bassam, Sulayman, 181, 258–271, 314n28. See also Al-Hamlet Summit, The, Arab League Hamlet, The and Arab Shakespeare Trilogy, The (AST) Al-Hamlet Summit, The, 258–262 Al-Muqāwaḍa (Trading), 287n48 Arab League Hamlet, The, 258 Arab Shakespeare Trilogy (AST), The, 16, 108n19, 251, 255 black and white film, 269 Hamlet in Kuwait (play), 256–258, 262; documentary film, 256, 286 Richard III: An Arab Tragedy, 25, 262–268 SABAB theatre troupe, 31, 253–256 Speaker’s Progress, The (adaptation of Twelfth Night), 254, 255, 268–271 Zaoum Theatre, 255–257 Al-Baydhani, Fatima, 2, 3, 5, 32n3, 215, 216, 239n25, 239n32 Al-Beidh, Ali Salem, 56 Al-Dhafir, 222–224, 226 Al-Duqmi, Muhammad, 50, 51 Al-Falāj (The Canal), 70 Al-Hadi, Aziz, 2 Al-Hakim, Tawfiq, 48 Al-Hamdan, Ibrahim, 71 Alharbi, Khalid, 227, 228 Al-Hoshani, Fahd, 227, 237 Al-Irayfi, Khalifah, 63 Al-Izki, Ahmad, 209–214, 237 Al-Juraydini, Sami, 46 Al-Karmah, 281 Al-Kindi, Aydarous Bin Muhammad, 4 Al-Kindi, Imru Al-Qays Bin Hujr, 217 Al-La‘ibūn (The Players), 71

Al-Qalamawi, Suhayr, 102 Al-Qasimi, Sultan Bin Muhammad, 69, 130, 77n89 Al-Rakhm, Omar, 53 Al-Rasheed, Abd al-Aziz, 59 Al-Rasheed, Madawi, 232, 233 Alshammari, Shahd, 101, 102 Al-Shidyaq, Ahmad Faris, 14, 34n14 Al-Shukaili, Fatma, 102 American United School of Kuwait (AUSK), 8, 300 American University of Dubai (AUD), 93 American University of Sharjah (AUS), 33n6, 93, 97, 98, 130–133, 135, 139, 140, 311 Anglo-Kuwaiti agreement, 120 Antara ibn Shaddad, 210–214, 237n4–7 Anti-Semitism, 217 Antony and Cleopatra, 30, 89, 139, 140, 305 At American University of Sharjah, 30, 89, 139, 140 Apartheid Wall, 117, 128 Arab Open University (AOU), 93, 99, 101 Arab Shakespeare Trilogy, The (AST), 16, 108n19, 251, 254, 270, 282, 285n17, 287n48. See also Al-Bassam, Sulayman Arab Spring, 18, 132–134, 138, 268, 277 Bahrain, 36n42, 96, 137, 138 protests, 1, 36n42, 91, 95, 195, 214, 232, 270, 290n102 Richard II, 154, 155 Art for All, 154, 155, 172n14 As You Like It, 108n17, 193, 209, 235 Aulaqi, Sa‘id, 44, 47, 48, 51 Authenticity, 70, 159, 179, 180 Authoritarianism, 195, 258, 268, 274, 277, 279, 290n105


‘Aysmir Ma‘ish al-Sirāj (The Lamp Will Keep You Company), 2–5, 215–222, 239n29, 239n32, 240n35, 240n37, 241n43 Azim, Nabiha, 51 B Baghdad, 38n72, 62, 74n48, 76n61, 237n7 Baghdad Richard, The, 262, 263 Bahrain, 19, 21–23, 57–60, 63–65, 92, 161, 303–306 Arab language theatre festivals, 213 Arab Spring, 36n42, 96, 137, 138 Awal Theatre (or Masrah Awal), 63 Bahrain-UK 200, 305 British Club, 182. See also Manama Theatre Club (MTC) British Council, 303, 304 Consultative Council, 285n11 creative writing workshop, 303 English Drama Festival, 136, 137, 143nn42,55,56, 313n17 Hamlet, 300, 304 Manama Theatre Club, 305 Merchant of Muharraq, The, 137–139, 143n56 monarchy, 97, 200 National Museum, 300 Othello, 65 public universities, 94 Richard III, 136, 137 sectarian conflict, 138 Shakespeare400, 306 society, 65; Twelfth Night, 139 University, 92, 96, 136, 143, 303 Ba Kathir, Ali Ahmad, 55, 56, 62, 74nn35,37,39, 89. See also Merchant of Venice, The festival, 54 Humām, 56 Shaylūk al-Jadīd (The New Shylock), 56


Basra, 61, 62 Bedouin Shakespeare Company (BSC), 151, 152, 162–166, 171n7, 179, 184, 305. See also Hamlet Belgrave, Charles, 182 Bellini, Vincenzo, 166, 168, 169 Belonging, 32, 37n63, 63, 121, 125, 159, 203, 205n45, 258 ownership and, 7, 141, 198 modes of, 25 sense of, 191 Ben Saddik, Ahmed and Abdullah, 28, 37 Bidoun, 36n43 Bin Dalmuk, Ahmed, 58 Bin Jawad, Abd-Elkarim Bin Ali, 67, 68, 70, 76n81 Bird in Hand, 61 Bitesize Bard, 304, 306 Bombing of Doha Players’ theatre, 7, 192, 194, 201, 260 Bomb-itty of Errors, 160. See also Q Brothers Borah, Saswati, 136, 137 Brecht, Bertolt, 48 British Club of Bahrain, 182, 183, 204nn4,5, 304 British Council, 108n20, 213, 299, 303, 305, 306, 313nn15,18 British Raj, 44, 45 British School Al-Khubairat (BSK), 162, 163, 184 Buddhism, 23 C Cairo, 38, 55, 62, 66, 132, 272 University, 135 Capital, 25, 27, 261 cultural, 15, 19, 25 social, 309 Censorship, 88, 159, 161, 164–166, 168, 184, 212, 271

326  Index authorities, 152 circumventing, 16, 253 conference on, 97 Gulf campuses, 95 nature of, 270 negotiating, 149–177 official, 171, 234, 235 regimes of, 15, 150, 166 regulations, 31, 49, 153, 161 Royal Opera House Muscat (ROHM), 168 self-, 15, 164 textual, 165 theatre and, 29, 180 UAE, 162, 166 Yemen’s relative lack of, 18 Chandos portrait, 15 Christian, 23, 124, 138, 192, 193, 213 Cemetery in Kuwait, 249 families, 121 Citizenship, 7, 23, 25, 37n51, 64, 121, 126, 132, 179, 180, 200, 201, 211 as capital, 25, 37n51 Clapp, Nicholas, 33n12 Clubs, 181, 202, 255 community, 61 night, 70 social, 60, 63, 66, 182 sport, 60, 65 Comedy of Errors, The, 106, 160, 163– 165, 185–187, 189, 204nn7,16, 283, 302 Bedouin Shakespeare Company, 163–165 Bomb-itty of Errors, 160. See also Q Brothers Comedy of Errors, A, 185–187, 189. See also Resuscitation Theatre (RT) Community, 202, 221, 230, 234, 254, 255, 259, 260–264, 270–273, 283, 306, 312

creation, 191 micro-, 202, 219, 235, 254, 269 rural, 224 Company Theatre, 157, 158 Complete Walk, 305, 306 Conflict, 18, 19, 28, 53, 65, 70, 120, 138, 140, 218, 239n34, 240n34, 254, 255, 302 domestic, 258 intergenerational, 99, 256, 259 international, 99 Israeli-Palestinian, 62, 67 regional, 58, 134 Coriolanus, 90, 117, 141 Corruption, 33, 99, 150, 214, 220, 268, 278, 287n48 Cosmopolitanism, 26, 45, 132, 212 Cranko, John, 169, 170 Crime on Restaurant Street, A, 33. See also Al-Ahdal, Wajdi Critical thinking, 96, 126 Cymbeline, 90, 190, 191, 302 Al Malik (The King), 189, 190, 302. See also Resuscitation Theatre (RT) D Dabbagh, Abdulla, 15, 34n16, 314n28 Damascus, 32, 38n72, 265 Dammam, 71, 301, 213 Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyya, 38n71, 123, 265 Dari Qatar, 203, 205n49 D’Avenant, William, 135 Democracy, 18, 34n24, 133, 233, 260, 268 Demographics, 14, 18, 19, 35n38, 57, 64, 76n75 Dench, Judi, 304 Dhahran, 98 Digital Theatre, 213, 237n8


Discrimination, 99, 100, 213 Doha, 5, 6, 8, 14, 17, 18, 26, 35n34, 36n41, 58, 98, 152, 191–198, 200–203, 213, 288n68, 289n79, 302, 303 Drinkwater, John, 61 Dryden, John, 135 Dubai, 14, 26, 36n50, 97, 98, 152–155, 157, 158, 160, 163, 171, 186, 274, 290n102, 310, 311, 313n22 American University of, 93 Indian residents of, 25 Lady Gaga, 149 Romeo and Juliet, 303 Shakespeare in the Sands, 305 Zayed University, 94 Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Center (DUCTAC), 31, 157, 160, 161, 172n20, 173n34, 300, 303, 305 Dubai International Academic City (DIAC), 98, 105 E Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 255, 258, 282, 286n34, 291n113 Education City in Doha, 6, 98, 194 Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, 14, 306 Empty Quarter, 14, 33n12, 189, 266 English Drama Festival, University of Bahrain, 136, 137, 143nn42,55,56, 313n17 Exclusion, 136, 138, 214, 258 Expatriates, 1, 6, 19, 22, 23, 27, 31, 32, 126, 140, 180–183, 191, 196, 266 F Fageeh, Hisham, 306 Fatāt al-Jazīra, 49


Festival of Yemeni Theatre, 54, 55 Fiennes, Ginny and Ranulph, 33n12 Film(s), 29, 130, 142n16, 149, 152, 171n9, 213, 240nn44,47, 266, 268–270, 288n59, 305–307, 309–311, 314n29 Barakah Yoqabil Barakah, 235 Dari Qatar, 203 documentary, 124, 222, 225, 262, 265, 299, 304 Doha Institute, 202 musical, 77n96 Oman, 31 Roes, Michael, 223–226 Saudi women and, 71, 150 Fitna, 4, 5, 215–217, 220–222, 239nn25,29, 240nn40–42 Fondazione Arena di Verona, 169, 170 Foreign residents, 16, 22, 23, 25–27, 35n34, 35n38, 59, 64, 132, 138, 180, 191, 200, 201, 209, 212, 258 Freedom, 16, 25, 61, 133, 181, 210, 211, 255, 269, 270, 301, 310 academic, 20, 30, 88, 95, 102, 106 of association, 118 of expression, 30, 95, 96, 106, 107, 234, 242n72, 252, 253, 285n13 G Gaddafi, Muammar, 15, 195 Gamal, Amr, 72n6 Ganjavi, Nizami, 72n13 GDP, 22, 25, 35n32 Geelan, Christopher, 11–13 Gender, 99, 124, 181, 185, 196, 198, 201, 202, 212, 219, 235, 254, 283, 310, 312 constructs, 87 divides, 29, 126 identity, 30 imbalance, 23

328  Index integration, 119, 120, 129 Othello, 65 politics, 159 roles, 65, 220, 222 segregation, 30, 65, 68, 94, 118, 126–130 Georgetown School of Foreign Service, 94, 109n37, 200 Ghost, 223, 229, 230, 256, 310 Global Shakespeare Student Festival (NYUAD), 135, 136, 143n47, 303 Globe-to-Globe, 12, 154, 157, 160, 300 Google Translate, 89–91 Gottschalk, Christopher, 118, 120, 123–125, 127, 128, 134, 141, 142n22 Gounod, Charles, 305 Grand Mosque in Mecca, 310 Grass, Günter, 32n4 Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, 105 Gulf, 22–32, 60–71, 93–107, 109n26, 130, 169–171, 172n9, 179–193, 220, 236, 237, 251–256, 264, 267–269, 276, 284, 290n101 Arab, 5, 10, 21, 37n51, 67, 69, 70, 76n61, 131, 132, 215, 263 audiences, 150, 263, 265, 269 Bedouin heritage, 132 citizens, 14, 18, 138, 183, 212, 254 crisis of 2017, 263 expatriates, 183, 187, 192 Globe-to-Globe performances in, 300 government, 19, 35n38, 96, 201 performance, 43, 149 Shakespeare, 57, 60, 71, 140–155, 171, 179, 182, 202, 203, 209, 250, 303, 305, 306 society, 18, 23, 65, 181, 183, 188, 263, 266, 275

states, 17, 21, 23, 25, 36n43, 43, 57, 63, 64, 74n45, 180, 263, 268, 277, 285n14 theatre, 6, 10, 57, 74n40, 76n65, 170, 185, 191, 195, 202, 212, 271, 289n95, 303 Theatre Festival, 213, 271 theatre troupes, 179, 182, 183, 185, 191, 265, 272, 311 universities, 94, 95, 117, 125, 141, 149 War, 191, 256, 277, 290n101 Youth Theatre Festival, 213, 272, 287n48 Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), 18, 19, 21, 24–26, 152, 166, 182, 185, 187, 213, 252, 254, 264, 267, 271, 277 Gulf University of Science and Technology (GUST), 101, 119, 142n26 H Haddad, Nagib, 47, 50 Hadramawt, 4, 15, 53, 55, 56, 215, 217, 220, 240n36 Haines, Stafford B., 44 Hajji, Shireen, 278, 311, 314n36 Hamad Bin Khalifa University, 6, 194 Hamdi, Muhammad, 46, 75n49 Hamilton, 121, 237n2n4 Hamlet, 33n12, 77n83, 172nn14,20, 194, 242n67, 286, 289n87, 299–312, 313n6 Akūn aw Lā Akūn, 54, 86, 289n93. See also Abdullah, Wa’el Al-Hamlet Summit, The, 253, 255, 258–260, 262, 271, 275, 311. See also Al-Bassam, Sulayman Arab League Hamlet, The, 258, 286n28. See also Al-Bassam, Sulayman


Arab world, 44 Barakah Yoqabil Barakah (Barakah Meets Barakah), 299, 306–310 Bedouin Shakespeare Company (BSC), 38n71, 151, 152, 162–166, 171n7, 173nn36,37, 179, 184, 305 censorship and, 151 Doha Players, 6, 60, 61, 191–194, 201, 205, 311, 314n33 film, 304 Hamlet in Kuwait, 258, 271, 274, 276; Al-Bassam, Sulayman, 257–262, 271; documentary film, 256, 262, 286n23 Hamlet/Ur-Hamlet, 30, 33, 44, 83–87, 102, 105, 107nn2,8, 255–262, 271–276. See also Polendo, Rubén and Theater Mitu Hāmlit, Ukhruj min Ra’sī (Hamlet, Get Out of My Head), 226–229, 231, 232, 235, 241nn61,62 Insū Hāmlit (Forget Hamlet), 251, 271, 272, 289nn84,88 Manchester Royal Exchange (performance recording, 2015), 304 Resuscitation Theatre (RT), 183, 184–186, 189, 191, 204, 302. See also Hannan, Maggie and Salah, Faisal Saudi Arabia, 71 Theater Mitu, 83–105. See also Hamlet/Ur-Hamlet translation of, 50 UAE, 305 world tour, 299–301, 313n2 Yemeni adaptations, 30, 52–54, 56 Hamoud, Lutfi, 45, 72̄n6


Hannan, Maggie, 184, 190, 191. See also Resuscitation Theatre (RT) Harakayn Sīnamā (Hurricane Cinema), 72n6. See also Hamoud, Lutfi Hashish, Mustafa, 66, 68 Hazaber, Amin, 215, 221. See also ‘Aysmir Ma‘ish al-Sirāj (The Lamp Will Keep You Company) Health care, 23, 37n51, 60, 203 Hecuba, 273 Henry V, 14, 69, 249, 263 Kay, Jolyon, 69 Henry VI, 263, 267 Part II, 83, 106 Higher education, 30, 38, 91, 104, 106, 109n21, 129 Hijazi, Salama, 47 Hinduism, 23 Hip-hop, 159–161, 172n29. See also Q Brothers Homosexuality, 99, 138, 274 Houthi rebellion, 93, 240n42 Human Rights Watch, 24, 96, 105 I I Capuleti e I Montecchi (The Capulets and the Montagues), 166, 168 Ibadhi, 23, 213, 238n14 Ibn Battuta, 45, 71n4 Identity, 8, 30, 59, 64, 101, 127, 136, 160, 179, 186, 196, 198, 200, 201, 217, 235, 258, 269, 304 constructs, 31, 132, 212 hybrid, 211, 213 individual, 188, 196 Kuwaiti, 121, 126 local, 132 national, 8, 16, 19, 28, 34n18, 63, 122, 203

330  Index Othello, 65 political, 120, 238n11 Independence, 22, 35n35, 49, 63, 64, 74n48, 98, 120, 125, 152, 181, 252 Inequality, economic, 26, 214 Infrastructure, 60, 66, 92 Insū Hāmlit (Forget Hamlet), 251, 271 International diplomacy, 251, 258 Internet content, 152 Iraq, 14, 19, 21, 60–62, 63, 65, 108n14, 183, 238n9, 251, 254, 256, 264, 270, 271, 274–276, 281, 302, 311 history, 20, 262, 264, 275, 283 invasion of Kuwait, 253, 264, 274, 275, 283 US-led invasion of, 192, 194 ISIS, 91, 163, 173n39, 212, 281, 290n110 Islam, 15, 19, 23, 28, 35, 37nn53,65, 76n79, 108n12, 149, 150, 153, 169, 171n2, 213, 238n14, 253, 259, 264, 287n57 history, 48, 59, 213 law, 62, 122 J Jabra, Jabra Ibrahim, 108n18, 238n9 Jadir, Faisal, 186, 187, 204n11, 302 Jalal, Ibrahim, 62 Jarman, Derek Angelic Conversation, The, 304 Jarrab, 249, 250 Jeddah, 68, 77n96, 86, 228, 230, 241n58, 242n63, 307 Jinn/jinni, 3, 223, 241n48 Jizaʾ al-Khiyāna (The Punishment of Treachery), 50 Judaism, 4, 74n39, 76n66, 89, 138, 215, 218, 219, 249

Jewish community, 23, 45, 62, 239n33 Julius Caesar, 30, 44–46, 48, 53, 74n37, 75n49, 100, 194, 280 Aden, 46 Al-Sha‘b wa Qayṣar (The People and Caesar), 48 American University of Kuwait (AUK), 93, 99, 100, 109, 117–130, 132, 142n24, 202, 250, 280, 281, 311 One World Actors Centre (OWAC), 100, 251, 279, 280, 303 K Kafala system, 24 Kawkaban, 222 Khalīj ‘Adan (Gulf of Aden) troupe, 72n6 Khawlan, 222, 224, 241n46 Khulusi, Safa, 14, 15 King Abd al-Aziz Public Library (KAPL), 89 King Abdulaziz University (KAU), 86 King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), 93, 94, 109n28, 300, 301 King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM), 93, 98 King John, 194 King Lear, 50, 73n22, 104, 108n18, 111n67, 135, 149, 170 King Saud University, 38, 92 Kitāb al-sāq ‘alā ‘l-sāq (Leg Over Leg), 34n14 Knowledge Village, 98 Kumar, Atul, 157–159, 172nn22,26 Kurzel, Justin, 302 Kuwait, 9, 12–15, 35n38, 36n43, 58– 61, 74n44, 108n20, 118–121, 126, 237, 271, 272, 274–280, 286n23, 287n48, 290n105


actor(s), 11, 254, 281, 283 American United School, (AUSK), 8, 300 American University of Kuwait (AUK), 93, 95, 99, 117–130, 280 Arab Open University in, 99, 101 City, 8, 26, 63, 249, 257, 314n36 constitution, 122, 252, 253 freedom of expression, 253 gender segregation, 118 generation gaps, 256 Golden Era, 252 and Gulf states, 21–23, 213, 237, 252 Higher Academy for Dramatic Arts, 272 Iraqi invasion, 253, 264, 274, 275, 283 Julius Caesar, 93, 99, 100, 109, 117–120, 123–129, 132, 142n24, 202, 250, 280, 281, 311 Little Theatre (KLT), 60, 63, 75n52, 205n25 Macbeth, 8–13, 15, 276–279 Merry Wives of Windsor, 303 Much Ado about Nothing, 120–127 Oil Company (KUOCO), 60 Othello, 102 performances, 31, 59, 253, 274– 276, 279. See also Staged in Kuwait (SIK) politics of inclusion, 284 Shakespeare, 9, 17, 30, 99, 101, 237, 247, 249–251, 266, 277–279, 284 social structure, 126 theatre, 9, 58, 283 Theatre Festival, 271, 277, 280 United Education Company, 9 universities, 94, 119


University (KU), 92, 94, 96, 109n34, 118, 128, 129, 142n25, 275 urban development, 86 L Lahj, 48 Sultan of, 44 Lamb, Charles and Mary, 89 Lambert, James, 99, 100, 110nn52,53, 280, 281 Lambo, Ismail, 51, 52 Land Without Jasmine, A, 33. See also Al-Ahdal, Wajdi Lawrence of Arabia, 251 Layla wa Majnūn, 72n13 Le Médecin Malgré Lui (A Doctor in Spite of Himself), 71 Literary heritage, 3, 5, 217 British, 99 English, 86, 101, 110n56 literature and, 5, 17, 68, 196, 259, 286n28, 299 oral, 2, 216 pre-Islamic, 14, 210–213 London, 26, 27, 34n15, 67, 72n8, 75n53, 141, 154, 184, 255, 258, 284n3, 305, 306 Elizabethan, 26, 27, 29 London School of Economics (LSE), 97 Love, 53, 70, 72n15, 101, 103, 108n17, 138–139, 151, 169, 188, 212, 218, 242, 260, 270, 309 classroom discussion, 99 stories, 139, 169, 210, 256, 284 tragedies and, 86 violence and, 135 Lothan Youth Achievement Center (LOYAC), 276, 277, 279, 311, 314n36

332  Index Luqman, Muhammad Ali, 49 M Macbeth, 6, 7, 9–12, 15, 38n71, 74n37, 167, 172n14, 173n48, 194, 195, 222–226, 235, 256, 271, 276–279, 283, 289n82, 302, 304, 311, 314n34 all-female cast, 311 Al-Saghir, Rasoul, 276, 278, 279, 311, 314n36 Al-Turkmani, Abdullah, 276–279, 289n98 American University of Sharjah, 130–135 Arabia, 130–132, 134, 139, 142n40, 143n43; Deconstructed, 135, 143n46, 143n59 Doha Players, 6, 61, 194, 201, 314n33 Lady, 10, 11, 68–71, 130, 131, 169, 233, 224, 276, 278, 286n22, 304, 314n36 Polanski, Roman, 304 Royal Opera House Muscat (ROHM), 166, 168 Someone Is Sleeping in My Pain: An East-West Macbeth, 222, 225, 226, 289 United Arab Emirates University (UAEU), 135, 288 Verdi, Giuseppe, 166, 167 Young Shakespeare Company, 8–10, 12, 13, 38n71 60-Watt Macbeth, The, 225 Majlis al-Umma (National Assembly), 96, 118, 252, 278, 289n90 Malek, Abdullah, 70 Manama, 37n70, 58, 138, 182, 268, 300, 303 Municipal Council, 233

Theatre Club (MTC), 182, 183, 305, 313n25 Master of the Revels, 29, 237n3 McKellen, Ian, 304 Media, 97, 110n41, 149, 150, 163, 195, 197, 214, 263 coverage, 14, 17, 85, 164 print, 152 social, 86, 96, 143n42, 203, 277, 313n15 Mendes, Sam, 195 Merchant of Venice, The, 3–5, 15, 43, 61, 66–68, 74n39, 75nn49,59,60, 76nn62,65, 100, 137 Merchant of Basra, The, 61, 62 Merchant of Muharraq, The, 138 Oman, 30 Qatar, 30 Shaylūk al-Jadīd (The New Shylock), 56. See also Ba Kathir, Ali Ahmad Shihr, 53 Yemen, 57, 215–217, 219, 220, 235 Merry Wives of Windsor, The, 281, 303 Dubai, 303 Falstaff, 166, 169, 281 Kuwait, 303 One World Actors Centre, 281, 303 Midsummer Night’s Dream, A, 103, 279, 304, 305, 311 One World Actors Centre, 279 Mīl al-Dhahab (The Golden Mile), 3, 32n3, 215, 217, 239nn28,32 Mirrione, James, 8, 195–198, 201, 268, 288n68 Modes of belonging, 25, 32 Molière, 60, 68, 71 Morrison, Conall, 154, 155, 156, 172n16 Mousetrap, The (Hamlet), 273, 275 Mr. Hamoud’s Cinema, 45


Much Ado about Nothing, 100, 120–127, 250, 281, 303, 304 American University of Kuwait, 120–127 Branagh, Kenneth, 303 One World Actors Centre, 281 Muharraq, 138 Mumbai, 44, 157, 158 Murder, 10, 56, 85–87, 156, 169, 217, 224, 227, 263 Desdemona, 65 Hamlet, 151, 152, 272 Macbeth, 132–133, 278 mysteries, 60 real-life perpetrators, 85, 86 in shopping malls, 86 Muscat, 66, 68, 102, 166, 167, 169, 238n21, 300, 305 Musical, 9, 55, 60, 121, 153, 172n14, 192, 311 Mutran, Khalil, 51, 61, 73n25, 75n59, 238n9 N Najd, 72n18, 217, 250 National, The, 133, 157 National Dialogue in Yemen, 18 Nationalism, 59 Naturalization, 25, 200, 201 “New local” theatre, 32, 49, 127, 132, 136, 179–208, 219, 254, 299, 312 New York Film Academy, 184 Nimmo, Paul, 305 Will Shakespeare Save Us!, 305 North Yemen, 35n35, 54, 92, 220 O Obock, Djibouti, 300, 312nn1,4 Oil, 17, 27, 64, 86, 111n64, 121, 183, 220, 252


industry, 23 early production, 60, 61 wealth, 61, 66 Oman, 21–23, 33n12, 56, 66–68, 70, 92–94, 166–169, 189, 209–214, 237n1, 238n16, 285n11, 312n1, 313n26 Al-Layla al-Ḥālika (The Dark Night), 209–214 German University of Technology (GUtech), 93 Gulf states, 21 history of, 213 mentioned in Macbeth Arabia, 132 Merchant of Venice, The, 30, 62, 67, 68 Ministry of Information and Youth, 66 nation states, 19 Royal Opera House Muscat (ROHM), 31, 68, 166, 168–170, 304, 313n20 Royal Symphony Orchestra, 68 Shakespeare, 30, 31, 209, 304 Sultan Qaboos University (SQU), 102 television, 68 Thesiger, Wilfred, 266 universities, 94, 99 Omani Theatre Festival, 213 Omanization, 70 Ophelia, 71, 151, 194, 260, 272, 273, 289n87, 306–309 Ophelia’s Window, 272. See also Al-Assadi, Jawad Opportunity, 9, 53, 77n96, 101, 104, 125, 131, 132, 135, 166, 202, 229, 267, 302 economic, 5, 26 Othello, 43, 48, 50, 51, 63–66, 73, 90, 101–103, 135, 143n56, 160, 209–213, 237n1,3, 238n9, 283, 304

334  Index Al-Layla al-Ḥālika (The Dark Night), 209–214, 238n10 Bahrain, 65 Jizaʾ al-Khiyāna (The Punishment of Treachery), 50, 51 in Lahj, Yemen, 48 Othello: The Remix, 154, 159–162. See also Q Brothers Qatar, 63, 66 Ottoman Empire, 58, 120, 197 P Parker, Guy, 135 Parker, Martin, 137 Patriarchy, 100 Pirandello, Luigi, 48 Polendo, Rubén, 83, 85, 102–104, 110n61. See also Theater Mitu Politics, 30, 65, 77n96, 100, 150, 204n3, 213, 214, 221, 222, 229, 238n11, 256, 269, 272, 276, 282, 284, 285n15, 291n119, 301 Arab, 258, 259 Emirati, 133, 134 gender, 159 geo-, 21 Kuwaiti, 284, 285n7 local, 251 participatory, 251 Political Agent, 58, 249, 250 Population, 7, 18, 22, 24, 26–28, 32, 49, 66, 86, 91–93, 126, 157, 214, 220, 232 data, 35n31, 76n74, 109n22 Elizabethan London, 27 female, 23 foreign residents, 22 growth, 26, 64, 92 local, 46, 301 national, 22, 25 nomadic, 58 Portal campus, 104

Post-national spaces, 18, 19 Post-colonial studies, 197 Poverty, 2, 17, 27 Al-Faqr (Poverty), 231 line, 27, 36n43 Price, Alison Shan, 100, 279–282, 291n117 Price, Eléni Rebecca, 281, 283, 284, 291n118 Price, George and Joan, 60 Private Universities Council, 127 Prokofiev, Sergei, 166 Q Q Brothers, 154, 159–161. See also Bomb-itty of Errors, Hip-hop and Othello: The Remix Qasim, Abd al-Karim, 62 Qasim, Gamal, 71 Qatar, 5–7, 14, 19, 21–23, 62–64, 92, 196–198, 200, 203, 204n1, 213, 264, 300, 312n1 Academy, 193 Doha Players, 60, 61, 191–193, 195 Foundation, 197, 205n40 Georgetown School of Foreign Service, 95 Masraḥ al-Aḍwa, 63 Merchant of Venice, 30, 62 National Convention Center (QNCC), 195, 197, 303 national, 22, 76n75, 200 Philharmonic, 167, 173n40, 303 Shakespeare, 18, 31, 91, 179, 180 Texas A&M University (TAMUQ), 93 theatre, 179 universities, 94, 95, 109n30 University, 303 Virginia Commonwealth University (VCUQatar), 93


Qawārib Jabalīya (Mountain boats), 32n4. See also Al-Ahdal, Wajdi R Racine, Jean, 48, 89 Racism, 100, 210, 211, 213 Radio, 48, 53, 290n105, 299 Raider, Dennis ("BTK Killer"), 85 Ramadi, 281 Rap and hip-hop, 159–161, 172n29 Reduced Shakespeare Company, 182, 193, 302, 305 Regicide, 28, 156 Religion, 22, 23, 98, 100, 150, 152, 171n2, 201, 213, 214 Rentier state, 7, 25, 128, 200 Residency permit, 27, 181, 200 Resuscitation Theatre (RT), 183–186, 189, 191, 204, 302. See also Hannan, Maggie Richard II, 154, 156, 157, 160, 172n13 Ashtar Theatre Company, on tour in Dubai, 154–157 Richard III, 136–138, 143nn52,54,56, 179, 195, 202, 265, 271, 284, 287n55, 304 Bahrain, 136, 137 Mendes, Sam, 195 Richard III: An Arab Tragedy, 38n71, 110n57, 253, 262, 263, 271 Richard III: An Arab VIP, 265, 285n16, 288nn59,67 Riyadh, 29, 38, 71, 89, 92, 108n12, 149, 227, 228, 231, 233, 241n59, 242n63, 250 Roes, Michael, 222–226, 289 Romance of Antar, The, 210. See also Antara Ibn Shaddad Romeo and Juliet, 33n12, 44, 46, 48, 52, 53, 55, 56, 70, 72n13,


74n36, 103, 166, 168, 281–284, 287n48, 303–305, 311 Aden, 46 American University of Kuwait, 311 American University of Sharjah, 311 Awal Theatre, 63 Ba Kathir, Ali Ahmad, 55, 56 Ballet at ROHM, 166. See also Prokofiev, Sergei Dubai, 303 Gounod, Charles, 305 Humām, 55, 56 Hussa wa Bader, 311 I Capuleti ed i Montecchi, 166 Ikara, 284 Jahīm al-Shakk (The Fires of Doubt), 53 Jawad, Abd-Elkarim Bin Ali Bin, 67 Lahj, 48 Oman, 67 One World Actors Centre, 303 Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad, 289n79 Romeo and Juliet the Musical, 172n14 Roméo et Juliette, 305, 313n21 Rūmiyū al-Farīj (Romeo the Unparalleled), 70 Saleh, Amin, 70 Shihr, 52 Shirīn and Farhād, 46 Shuhadā ’ al-Gharām (Martyrs for Love), 47 Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Illych, 303 West Side Story, 311 Rootedness, 139, 196 Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, 193 Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra (ROSO), 68, 167 Royal Opera House Muscat (ROHM), 31, 68, 166, 168–170, 304, 313n20

336  Index S Saadiyat Island, 104, 105, 135 SABAB Theatre Company, 31, 181, 253–255, 262, 283, 286n22, 287n49 Sabbagh, Mahmoud, 306 Salafism, 212 Salah, Faisal, 171n6, 184, 204nn15,19 Saleh, Ali Abdullah, 32n4, 34n24, 56, 220, 239nn33,34 Saleh, Amin, 70 Saleh, Sharif, 277 Sana’a, 1, 48, 55, 56, 92, 109n23, 220–222, 239n33, 240n34 Sana’a University, 92 Saudi Arabia, 19, 21, 29, 37nn59,66, 71, 72n18, 77n96, 97, 91–94, 108nn12,20, 197, 203, 209, 217, 230–233, 264, 314n32 actors, 227, 301, 310 actresses, 77n96, 150 Barakah Meets Barakah, 235, 299, 306–311 citizens, 27, 36n43, 231 expatriate workers, 64 Film Festival, 301 Globe-to-Globe Hamlet, 300 government, 77n96, 232, 314n29 Islamists, 212 military, 314n32 monarchy, 94 playwrights, 71, 227 population, 22, 26 Shakespear, William Henry Irvine, 250 society, 87, 171n4, 229–231, 235, 301, 309, 310 Society for Culture and the Arts, 71 territory, 49 theatre, 31, 213, 253–254 university campus, 99 women, 71, 77n96, 87, 150, 171n4 Sayf, Yahya Muhammad, 54

Sayigh, Muhammad Abdullah, 46, 47 Scarlatti, Domenico, 166 Scheppelmann, Christina, 170 School(s), 9, 12, 14, 46–48, 54, 58, 59, 60, 66, 68, 91, 122, 126, 153, 164, 165, 182, 212, 276 elementary, 58, 108n20, 137 missionary, 58 primary, 58, 162 private, 8, 109n23, 126, 193 secondary, 8, 60, 88, 93, 103, 107n9, 126, 163, 266 Sedition, 156, 221 Selaiha, Nehad, 15, 87, 89, 271, 275 Sexuality, 28, 30, 33n4, 71, 94, 100, 103, 123, 149–151, 159, 161, 164, 276 Seyoun, 4, 53, 55, 215, 216 Shakespear, William Henry Irvine, 249–251, 284nn1,3,4, 285n6 Shakespeare, William adaptations, 13, 47, 61–62, 70, 136, 137, 215, 237, 251–254, 262, 277 and the Arab World, 14, 15, 18, 31, 104, 155, 209, 270, 286, 304, 311 Arabic translations, 67, 102, 154, 155, 209, 210, 306, 311 censorship and, 153 characters, 33n12, 140, 210, 212, 213, 238n9, 254, 270, 277, 278 in classrooms, 30, 59, 60, 99, 105 communities and, 219 constitutional debate and, 123 cultural transformation and, 19 Doha Players, 7, 8, 192–196, 201, 205 festivals, 104, 135, 136, 196, 251, 279, 280, 303; Global Shakespeare Student, 135, 303; Globe-to-Globe, 154, 157


films, 305, 311; Shakespeare in the Sands, 305 global importance, 16, 104, 106, 107n5, 250 Global, 104, 106, 135, 136 Globe Theatre, 12, 150, 154, 172nn14,20, 299–301, 303, 305 Gulf theatre and, 62, 63, 70, 182, 303 imported, 302, 305, 306 -inspired activities, 53, 70, 251, 299, 303, 305, 311 language, 16, 103, 120, 130, 136, 137, 139, 143n56, 154, 189, 216, 223, 225, 258 literary authority, 137 London, 26, 27, 29 opera and ballet, 166, 168–170 in the Original Arabic, 14, 33, 306, 314 parodies of, 255, 270, 305 plays. See individual entries and rap, 159. See also Hip-hop and Q Brothers segregation and, 129 socio-political issues and, 16, 91, 235, 311 texts, 53, 63, 83, 90, 100, 200, 201, 217, 225, 238n9, 251, 253, 261, 270, 280, 299 through Omani eyes, 304 touring, 77n93, 149–177, 299–303 and translation, 35n28, 59, 67, 73n23, 110n57, 215, 303 universities, 30, 68, 71, 83–91, 99–105, 107, 117, 129, 131, 135 Year of, 281, 299, 302, 306, 310. See also Shakespeare400


Yemeni characters, 4 Yemeni folktale and, 3, 5 Shakespeare in the Sands, 305, 313n22 Shakespear of Arabia, 251, 285n6. See also Shakespear, William Henry Irvine Shakespeare’s plays. See separate entries under individual titles Shakespeare400, 299, 302, 305, 306, 310 Shakespeare4Kidz, 154, 172n14 Shapiro, James, 16, 34n19 Sharjah Theatre Days, 130, 213, 258 Sharjah, 30, 69, 95, 97, 130, 152, 153, 213, 265 Shaw, George Bernard, 48, 89 Shawqi, Ahmed, 55, 89 Shia/Shi’ite, 23, 29, 35n39, 98, 126, 138, 212, 213, 232, 239n34 Shihr, 53, 216 Sīrat ‘Antara ibn Shaddād (The Life of Antar ibn Shaddad), 210, 237n7 Sirr Shahrazad (Shahrazad’s Secret), 74n37 Social fragmentation, 86, 99 Society, 46, 61, 65, 101, 120, 150, 202, 214, 222, 235, 236, 256, 258, 309 civil, 32, 34n24, 95 literary, 63 Socrates, 273 South Yemen, 35n35, 46, 54, 56, 92, 220, 288n65 Staged in Kuwait (SIK), 9–13 Stoppard, Tom, 193 Storytelling, 21, 159 Sturgess, Kim, 8, 195–198, 201, 205n41

338  Index Suez, 45, 250 Sultan Qaboos University, 92, 102, 110nn56,60 Sunni, 19, 23, 29, 35n39, 36n42, 98, 126, 138, 212, 213, 232, 239n34, 240n42 Sunni-Shi’a conflict, 19, 98, 212, 213, 232 Suqi, Uthman, 48–50 Surveillance, 18, 99, 230, 242n72, 261, 269, 270, 311 T Ṭabīb bil-Mish‘ab, 71 Tales from Shakespeare, 89 Tall Tales Productions, 157, 305 Taming of the Shrew, The, 102, 108n17, 166, 169, 194 al-Qalamawi, Suhayr, 102 Ballet, 166, 169. See also Royal Opera House Muscat (ROHM) and Scarlatti, Domenico Tassa, Anthony, 130–135, 139, 141, 142nn33,39 Tate, Nahum, 50 Television, 10, 37n70, 48, 53, 68, 69, 71, 150, 152, 171n4, 252, 299 satellite, 149, 153, 290n102 Tempest, The, 7, 108n17, 135, 136, 195–198, 200–202, 205, 305 Doha Players, 8, 135, 195, 200 Enchanted Isle of Love and Tempest, 135, 196 Isle is Full of Noises, The, 135 Terrorism, 109n23, 150, 192, 194, 201, 203, 232, 258, 264 Tertiary educational development, 30, 87–88, 91–95 Theatre, 9, 12, 14, 15, 18, 20, 25, 28, 32, 44–46, 50, 57–60, 67, 68, 85, 94, 103, 105, 125, 132, 154, 159, 163, 164, 179–185,

191–193, 196, 226–228, 230, 235, 252, 265, 268, 283 amateur, 66 Black Box, 6, 83, 117, 127, 194, 195 commercial, 153 community, 6–8, 31, 106, 181, 202, 209 contemporary, 74n40 critic, 49, 87 Days, 213, 258 director, 141 educational, 8 Emirati, 61 experimental, 55 festival, 17, 55, 74n34, 130, 213, 271, 272, 277, 301 Gulf, 57, 74n40, 76n65, 185, 191, 195, 212, 271, 289n95, 303 history of, 18, 20, 44, 48, 71, 71n2, 160 Madinat Jumeirah, 155 maker, 47, 55, 61, 130, 154, 180, 258, 279 management, 153, 155, 162, 172n12 Masraḥ al-Aḍwa’ (The Theatre of Lights), 63 Masraḥ al-Shabāb (The Youth Theatre), 66 Masraḥ al-Talafizyūn (Television Theatre), 53 Masraḥ Awal (Awal Theatre), 63 Mitu, 83–87, 102, 104, 107n2 musical, 153 “New local,”, 32, 49, 127, 132, 136, 179–208, 219, 254, 299, 312 Omani, 70 Parsi, 45, 72nn7,8 practitioner, 16, 47, 86, 104, 139, 171, 201, 253, 255, 284 programs, 103, 185


Qatari, 61, 180 Saudi, 71, 228 troupe, 6, 17, 29, 45, 48, 63, 64, 66, 106, 150, 153, 180, 181, 183, 191, 216, 254, 269, 272, 275, 276, 305 workshops, 104, 135 Yemeni, 47, 54, 55, 66, 171n5 Zaoum, 255 Thesiger, Wilfred, 266 Thousand and One Nights, 48, 239n29, 241n48 Thuwal, 300 Tokyo International Arts Festival, 259, 286n21 Touring productions, 17, 31, 149– 177, 288 Translation, 13, 15, 50, 51, 61, 72, 75nn49,59, 93, 155, 210, 237n4, 238n9, 243n76, 270, 279, 286, 311 Arabic, 30, 32n2, 44, 46, 88–91, 102, 108n18, 277, 229 English, 32n3, 189, 239n25, 263, 265 Transliteration, 32n1, 88, 90, 91, 121, 237n6 Transplant university, 93, 104, 109n27 Treaty of Jeddah, 72n18 Tribal modern, 132, 142n36 Trojan Women, The, 127, 142n21, 204n13 Turandot, 168 Twelfth Night, 7, 137, 139, 154, 157, 172n14, 192–194, 254, 269, 270, 303, 305 Bahrain, 139 Doha Players, 7, 192–194 Piya Behrupiya, 154, 157–159, 162, 172n24, 305 The Speaker’s Progress, 254, 268–270 Two Noble Kinsmen, The, 204n11, 302, 310


Knights and Wolves, 204n11, 302, 310. See also Resuscitation Theatre (RT) U United Arab Emirates (UAE), 14, 19, 35n38, 38n71, 92, 97, 109n30, 110n46, 111n76, 133, 142nn32,38, 159, 189, 190, 196, 213, 264–266, 285n10, 312n1 Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation, 161 American University of Sharjah, 130 censorship, 97, 151, 152, 153, 158, 159, 162, 163, 166, 171n9 Comedy of Errors, A, 164 foreign workers, 35n34 Gulf states, 21–24 independence, 63 Islam, 171n2 Macbeth, 311 Ministry of Economy, 153 population, 26, 35n34, 157 Romeo and Juliet, 303 Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, 163, 164 Shakespearean performances, 31, 70, 154, 157, 160 Tempest, The, 305 theatre, 179 University of the (UAEU), 68, 69, 135 United Education Company of Kuwait, 9 Université de Paris-Sorbonne Abu Dhabi, 93 University City, 96, 98, 110n43 University of Bahrain, 92, 96, 136, 138, 143n53, 303, 313n17 University of Hodeidah, 93 Urbanization, 26

340  Index V Van der Merwe, Mione, 7, 8, 193, 194, 196, 198, 205n36 Verdi, Giuseppe, 166, 167 Violence, 18, 49, 56, 58, 65, 83, 85–87, 132–135, 184, 224, 272, 274, 277, 300, 304, 306. See also Arab Spring Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar (VCU Qatar), 93, 95 Visa, 23, 24, 95, 183 W Waddell, Tim, 9–13 Wannous, Saadallah, 48, 258 WeAreQatar, @, 203 Will Shakespeare Save Us!, 305 Williams, Richard, 262 Williams, Tennessee, 48 Winter’s Tale, A, 100, 108n17 X Xenophobia, 213, 286n27 Y Yemen, 1–5, 14, 17–19, 21–23, 31, 43–57, 91–94, 109n24, 115, 130, 132, 150, 151, 163, 164, 171n5, 209, 213, 217, 218, 240n34, 268, 306

actors, 44, 51, 52, 54, 220, 223 adaptation, 30, 48, 215 Al-Ahdal, Wajdi, 3, 216, 321 Al-Baydhani, Fatima, 2 Al-Hadi, Aziz, 2, 320 Arabic, 2, 3, 215, 311 citizen, 25 Civil War, 30, 54, 55, 86, 220, 239n34, 288n65 government, 32n3 Hadi, Abd Rabbu Mansour, 300 Mīl al-Dhahab, 3, 32, 215, 217, 239 refugee camp, 300, 312n1 Saudi-led aerial bombardment, 91 society, 34n24, 222 territory, 33n12, 300 theatre, 44, 46, 47, 48, 52–55, 66, 74n34, 217, 220, 222 women, 2, 73n26, 94, 109n30 Yemen-American Language Institute (YALI), 2–5 Z Zayed University, 94, 96, 97, 109n31, 110n57, 151, 162, 163 Zaynab (Yemeni storyteller), 4, 5, 53, 215–218, 221, 222, 239n25, 240n40 Zaynal, Musa, 61

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