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World Shakespeare and the Arab Spring

posted on: Aug 28, 2015

But if Nasser and his counterparts liked Caesar, Egyptians loved Hamlet. Today, the proud and vengeful prince is quoted by mild Islamists (Mustafa Mahmud) and radical exiled ones (Yusuf al-Qaradawi), erudite intellectuals (Jabra Ibrahim Jabra) and hysterical ones (Sadiq Jalal al-Azm). Journalists reveled in denouncing a “rotten Denmark” when the cartoon controversy broke out in 2005. And “Shall we be or not be?” (the infinitive “to be” does not exist in Arabic) has become a slogan for “the Arab condition.” In televised debates, Hamlet is invoked by Gulfie preachers and Syrian secularists in exactly the same way to make contradictory claims. He has become an empty and capacious symbol, his words used to argue anything and its exact opposite. In Arabic, Hamlet is Shakespeare’s most translated and most frequently performed play.