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When the Villain Steals the Show: The Character of Claudius in Post-1975 Arab(ic) Hamlet Adaptations

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image of Journal of Arabic Literature

The character of Claudius dominates post-1975 Arabic adaptations of Shakespeare's Hamlet. After a brief survey of the twentieth-century Arab Hamlet tradition, this essay examines five recent Arab Hamlet plays. In four Arabic-language plays, a hypertrophied Claudius plainly allegorizes contemporary or recent regimes in Iraq, Syria, and Egypt. He displaces both Hamlet and the Ghost, who become weak characters. Recurrent animal imagery portrays him as literally a brute, lacking a conscience and impervious to reason. However, this essay argues, the plays are not "political in function": they do not work to build audience support for political change. Instead, Claudius' irresistible power demonstrates the futility of political action (in the Aristotelian sense), including political theatre. A recent Arab-themed Hamlet adaptation in English con firms the pattern but enlarges it to cover the international backers of the local tyrant. Rather than a call for political awakening, then, these five plays offer a dark meditation on the limits of politics.

Affiliations: 1: Yale University


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