Arab Shakespeare

  • Holderness, Graham (PI)

Project: Research

Project Details

Key findings

Research in this area began in the context of a study of Shakespeare and globalization conducted with UH Visiting Professor Bryan Loughrey and sociologist Martin Allbrow (Roehampton University). Sulayman Al-Bassam’s Al-Hamlet Summit provided an example of theatrical work that in its intercultural and linguistic hybridity transcended the parameters of ‘post-colonial’ writing (see ‘Arabesque’, 2007), and was therefore identified as a new globalized form of theatre. Holderness published between 2006 and 2008 a series of critical contextualizations of Al-Bassam’s adaptations of Hamlet and Richard III, exploring their cultural, linguistic and theatrical significance, and highlighting their value as border-crossing cultural conversations.

This critical work has in part been shaped by a close working relationship with the dramatist. Collaboration with Al-Bassam led to the joint publication of a bilingual English/Arabic text of the Al-Hamlet Summit, published by University of Hertfordshire Press (2006). Holderness also advised Al-Bassam on his subsequent project, Richard III: an Arab Tragedy which was produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford in 2009. When this production was staged at the Theatres Bouffes du Nord in Paris, the text, with a critical essay by Holderness, was published in French, and sold by the theatre as a programme.

Al-Bassam’s latest play, The Speakers Progress, an adaptation of Twelfth Night, has been presented in America and Kuwait. Al-Bassam has publicly acknowledged the indebtedness of the play to Holderness’s study of the 2007 suicide bomb attack on the Doha Players theatre (see ‘Rudely Interrupted’). Al-Bassam has also registered for a PhD programme at the University of Hertfordshire, in order to develop an intellectual framework for his theatre practice, under the supervision of Holderness.

The impact of this research can also be measured in terms of Holderness’s successful leadership in the development of a new area of Shakespeare studies, Arab Shakespeare, both within and beyond the academy. Arab dramatists have been translating and adapting Shakespeare’s plays for over a century, but there has been no substantial body of critical work on the topic, and little public awareness of its existence. Holderness’s work on Arab Shakespeare has led to the emergence of such a body of work, to a raised international and media profile for the topic, and to opportunities for the sharing of cultural experience across ethnic, political and religious barriers.

Within the academy this work has proved of interest to students and teachers.

As a consequence of this working relationship between academic research and theatre practice, ideas generated from the research are able to reach a much wider constituency. Beneficiaries include theatre companies, theatre professionals, theatre audiences in countries across the world (Al-Bassam’s work has been performed in countries across Europe, America, Africa and Asia). The research both influences the creative work, and provides a framing context for its reception.
Effective start/end date1/08/0631/07/07


  • UKRI - Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC): £7,827.00


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