Arab Shakespeare: the work of Sulayman Al-Bassam and the Zaoum Theatre Company

Lead Research Organisation: University of Hertfordshire
Department Name: Social Sciences Arts and Humanities RI


Shakespeare's relationship with the Islamic world was until the 20th Century tenuous in the extreme. As a dramatist he focused almost exclusively on European subject material and major characters. Although the earliest performance of a Shakespeare in the Middle East occurred at a remarkably early date (1608), no subsequent performance tradition emerged, in part through Islamic prohibition of theatrical representation. A few translations of Shakespeare began to circulate in the Arab world from the beginning of the 19th Century, and Shakespeare entered the Egyptian theatre in versions derived from 18th century French translations in the late 19th century. But it has been the processes of colonialism and globalisation in the 20th and 21st Centuries that has spread a knowledge of Shakespeare to elite Arab social classes to the wide spread use of the English language, imported and sometimes imposed educational systems, attendance at Western educational institutions, travel to the West, the growth of diaspora communities with greater knowledge of host communities, Information and Communication Technologies, and greater openness to non-Islamic cultures.

This study therefore represents a pioneering venture to:

- Explore performances and appropriations of Shakespeare made by Arab theatrical practitioners within Europe and the Middle East.

- Analyse the nature of these performances and appropriations.

- Explore the potential such performances offer to promote common understanding and social cohesion.


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