arab hamlet


I s there a “right” view of Hamlet? The very question presupposes he is a personage or a historical entity, rather than a created dramatic character. Margaret Litvin’s absorbing study examines this confected persona as it has appeared in the Arab world, especially as it emerged reborn from the fervent matrix of modern Egyptian politics. She supplies a fascinating account of the translations which came at first to Arabic through French versions, which were often heavily cut and bowdlerized. In Dumas’s influential version, the character of Fortinbras was omitted, and the opening scene on the battlements was completely cut. English literary influences were later arrivals, and interpreted locally with anti-colonial implications (Muhammad Hamdi’s 1912 edition of Julius Caesar described the author as “William Shakespeare, the democratic English poet and playwright”). If Arab audiences viewed Hamlet as a heroic figure, it was at first mainly as a fighter against colonial tyranny, engaged in a struggle against the usurper. This was the role that leaders such as Nasser originally adopted: only later in their political careers did they themselves become the tyrants, the “Claudius” figures against whom the younger generation had to act.

more from Jane Jakeman at the TLS here.