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Akhir Yom (The Last Day):1 A Localized Arabic Adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 March 2008


This paper is an exploration of the 2004 Arabic adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which premiered in Casino du Liban in Beirut. The Last Day was created by Oussama al-Rahbani, who also composed the musical scores. The play shows how local Shakespeares resonate with the wider global field of study, which in turn echo East–West cultural interactions. The Last Day challenges our perception of the Other in Arabic drama as it questions intraculturalism within the conflict-ravaged Middle East. It prompts us to ask how we should address local Shakespeares in a global context, and how local knowledge illuminates our understanding of Shakespeare's reception. This paper emphasizes the fluidity of the field of Shakespearean studies and the instability of East–West cultural divides.

Copyright © International Federation for Theatre Research 2008

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2 Badawi, Muhammad Mustafa, ‘Commitment in Contemporary Arabic Literature’, in ‘Issa Boullata, J., ed., Critical Perspectives on Modern Arabic Literature (Washington, DC: Three Continents Press, Inc., 1980), pp. 2344Google Scholar, here p. 25.

3 ‘Ali al-Ra'i, al-Masrah fi al-Watan al-‘Arabi (Theatre in the Arab Homeland) (Kuwait: al-Majlis al-Wạatani lil Thaqafah wa al-Funun wa al-Adab, 1980), p. 53.

4 Whittingham, Ken, ‘Egyptian Drama (in Culture and Resistance: Cinema Drama)’, MERIP Report, 52 (November 1976), pp. 1319CrossRefGoogle Scholar, here p. 13.

5 Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, ‘Modern Arabic Literature and the West’, in ‘Issa J. Boullata, ed. Critical Perspectives, pp. 7–22, here p. 11.

6 ‘Arabicizing’ is a term that is often used by Arabic scholars to suggest free translation.

7 al-Shetawi, Mahmoud F., ‘Shakespeare's Journey into the Arab World: An Initial Bibliography’, Shakespeare Yearbook, 13 (2002), pp. 442–99Google Scholar, here pp. 488–9. Each of the translators or adaptors called their play ‘Romeo and Juliet’, the exception being Haddad, who called it ‘Martyrs of Love’. The three translations between 1959 and 1990 were published without the translators’ names.

8 See Ra'i, al-Masrah fi al-Watan al-‘Arabi, pp. 245–53. See also ‘Abidu Basha, Bayt al-Nar: al-zaman al-da'i’ fi al-Masrah al-Lubnani (House of Fire; Lebanese Theatre, the Lost Years) (London, Beirut and Cyprus: Riad al-Rayyes Books, 1995), p. 152.

9 The Rahbanis’ films are the least known of their artworks; see Jan Aliksan, al-Rahbaniyun wa-Fayruz (The Rahbanis and Fayruz) (Damascus: Dar Talas, 1987), pp. 139–44.

10 Aliksan, al-Rahbaniyun wa-Fayruz; Fua'd Badawi, Jaarat al-Qamar: Fayruz wa Rahbani wa al-aghani (Neighbour of the Moon: Fayruz, the Rahbanis and the Songs) (Cairo: al-Dar al-Qumiyah lil-Tiba'ah wa al-Nashr, 1969). See Aliksan, al-Rahbaniyun wa-Fayruz, pp. 277–320, for reviews and views on the Brothers.

11 Quoted in Massad, Joseph, ‘Liberating Songs: Palestine Put to Music’, Journal of Palestine Studies, 32, 3 (2003), pp. 2138CrossRefGoogle Scholar, here pp. 27–8.

12 See Ghassan Salamé, Le Théâtre politique au Liban 1968–1973 (Political Theatre in Lebanon 1968–1973) (Beirut: Dar al-Mashreq, 1974), pp. 110–17.

13 Ibid., p. 34.

14 Ibid., p. 48.

15 Ibid., p. 49. Also in Ra'i, al-Masrah fi al-Watan al-‘Arabi, pp. 252–3.

16 Berberoglu, Berch, Turmoil in the Middle East: Imperialism, War, and Political Instability (New York: State University of New York Press, 1999), p. 124Google Scholar.

17 In 1964 the Brothers produced an operetta titled Baya' al-Khawatim (The Ring Merchant), which Ra'i (al-Masrah fi al-Watan al-‘Arabi, p. 247) related to A Midsummer's Night Dream, although Aliksan's analysis (al-Rahbaniyun wa-Fayruz, pp. 112–13) does not support that claim. For a Lebanese adaptation of A Midsummer's Night Dream visit the Carakalla dance company (who also adapted Much Ado About Nothing, which I had the pleasure of seeing in Beirut), at website.asp?id=8495&name=Caracalla%20Dance%20Group&cat= dance

18 ‘Metropolis Shakespeare’ is Martin Orkin's term for Shakespearean studies in Europe and North America. See Orkin, , Local Shakespeares: Proximation and Power (London and New York: Routledge, 2005), pp. 1, 23Google Scholar.

19 Some critics have connected Shawqi's to Shakespeare's play: Waddah al-Khatib, ‘Rewriting History, Unwriting Literature: Shawqi's Mirror-Image Response to Shakespeare' in Journal of Arabic Literature 32:3 (November 2001) 256–83, here pp. 260–2; al-Shetawi, Mahmoud F., ‘Arabic Verse Drama and Western Literary Influence’ in International Journal of Islamic and Arabic Studies 3:2 (1986) 5168Google Scholar, here p. 66 n. 10; and ‘Abdel Rahim Yagi, Fi el-Johood el-Marsrah, al-Igrekia, al-Orepea, al-‘Arabia (Effort in the Theatre; Greek, Opera, Arabic). (Beirut: el-Mussast el-‘Arabia al-Darisat wa-la-Nashat, 1980), pp. 155, 164–71. I am not, however, convinced that Shawqi's play is based on Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. I would argue that it is based on John Dryden's All for Love, or the World Well Lost, for two main reasons: first, Masra' Cleopatra begins at the battle of Actium and the two lovers are very conscious of their legendary love story; second, the love between Antony and Cleopatra in Shakespeare's play is almost a domestic affair by comparison.

20 Hikmeh means ‘wisdom’, which is also the name of the famous Christian school that has a reputation of exceptionally high standards. Al-Riyadi means ‘sport’, and is the name of an existing basketball team. But like his rival, Matar aspires to get on the board of another famous Lebanese secondary school. He asks Mousier Palmito (Paris) to fund the cost of obtaining a seat on the board of Lycée, which is a secondary French school in Beirut, in exchange for his daughter's hand (I, xi).

21 The actual name of the Hikmeh team is La Sagesse, but it is evident that the team belongs to the Hikmeh school. Rahbani omitted the riot from his play. The incident was reported on the Lebanese Forces website on 27 May 2003 and again on 7 June 2003; see news1may272003.asp (accessed 7 June 2007). The incident was covered by Charles Storch, ‘For Drama, NBA Finals Aren't in Lebanon's League’, Chicago Tribune, 18 June 2003.

22 Romeo and Juliet, III, i: 103–4. All references to Romeo and Juliet are taken from Gibbs, Brian, ed., The Arden Shakespeare, 2nd series (London and New York: Methuen, 1980)Google Scholar.

23 Oussama al-Rahbani, personal interview with the author, Café al-Najjar, Beirut, Lebanon, 16 August 2004.

24 John ‘Assis, ‘Raqs fi Akhir Yom’ (Dance in The Last Day), al-Dalil, 9–15 May 2004; also production programme.

25 Marlene Khalifa, ‘Min al-Shari’ ila al-Hub’ (From Street [Brawls] to Pure Love), al-Nahar, 13 June 2004, p. NN.

26 Dima Sa'd, ‘“Akhir yom”, qussat hubb tafdah hashashat al-salm al-ahli’ (The Last Day, Love Story Exposes the Fragility of National Peace), al-Balad, 27 April 2004.

27 Rahbani, interview, 16 August 2004.

28 I, xxii. It is perceived that Greek Orthodox is a higher form of Christianity, therefore the believer would have to pass several obstacles before he is able to convert.

29 Fajr (), dawn; dhuhr (), after true noon; Asr (), mid-afternoon; Maghrib (), from sunset until dusk; and Isha'a (), dusk (Bassam 2004).

30 Oussama al-Rahbani, personal interview with the author, Oussama Rahbani's studio, Int-Ellias, Beirut, Lebanon, 20 August 2004.

31 Sa'd, ‘“Akhir yom”’.

32 Zaynab Hamud, ‘Romeo wa Juliet nuss mughayir bitwaqi’ Rahbani, Shakespir fi “Akhir yom” sar. . .lubnaniyan!’ (Romeo and Juliet an Alternative Text by Rahbani; Shakespeare in The Last Day Becomes Lebanese!), al-Anwar, 1 May 2004.

33 ‘Abidu Basha, ‘Hawl al-’amal al-Rahbani; Akhir yom: al-iftiraq ‘an al-tajribah al-qadimah min dun mughadiratha’ (On the Rahbanis’ Work: The Last Day, Separation from Old Experimentation without Separating from It [Family Tradition]), al-Nahar, 28 May 2004.

34 Simon Nassar, ‘Akhir yom, masrahiyat al-jil al-jadid min al-Rahabni’ (The Last Day, a Play by the New Rahbani Generation), al-Riyad, 24 May 2004. With regards to Nassar's comment Badawi wrote (Jaarat, p. 254) that Fayruz, with the support of the Rahbani Brothers, ‘is admired by the intellectuals’ her songs have ‘more depth, breadth and inclusiveness’ of emotions than any other Arabic artist.

35 The Arabic odes (qasa'id) are much longer than their Western counterparts and were often written as praising eulogies of the poets’ tribal leaders.

36 I, xxvi.

37 Rahbani, interview, 20 August 2004.

38 Stephanie Marlin-Cruiel, ‘Wielding the Cultural Weapon after Apartheid: Bongani Linda's Victory Sonqoba Theatre Company, South Africa’, in Richard Boon and Jane Plastow, eds., Theatre and Empowerment, Community Drama or the World Stage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 94–124, here pp. 94–5.

39 Rahbani, interview, 16 August 2004.

40 Berberoglu, Turmoil in the Middle East, p. 124.

41 Samir Khalaf, Cultural Resistance: Global and Local Encounters in the Middle East (London: Saqi Books, 2001), pp. 204–5.

42 Ibid., pp. 212–13.

43 Cleary, Joe, Literature, Partition and the Nation-State: Culture and Conflict in Ireland, Israel and Palestine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 3, 4CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 21, 41.

44 Quoted in ibid., p. 19.

45 I, xx.

46 Cleary, Literature, Partition and the Nation-State, p. 11.

47 I, xxiii.

48 Stage direction (I, xxviii). Fusha is used on a daily basis by politicians as well as the Arabic media.

49 Rahbani, interview, 20 August 2004.

50 Hiro, Dilip, Inside the Middle East (London and New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982), pp. 105–7Google Scholar.

51 Rahbani, interview, 20 August 2004.

52 I, xxviii.

53 I, xxviii.

54 I, xxviii.

55 Yusuf al-Huwayik, ‘Akhir yom ibda‘ jadid liUsama al-Rahbani yusawwir “al-nikayat” al-lubnaniyyah . . . “al-hikmeh” wa “al-riyadi” ‘ala al-khashabah’ (The Last Day, Oussama al-Rahbani's New Creation Depicts the Spitefulness of the Lebanese . . . ‘al-Hikmeh’ and ‘al-Riyadi’ onstage), al-Diyar, 18 April 2004.

56 al-Huwayik, ‘Akhir yom’.

57 Harriri's assassination prompted the ‘Cedar Revolution’ which forced Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.

58 I am not suggesting that all men living in West Beirut are male chauvinists, only that Mustafa is depicted as such in this play.

59 I, xxiii.

60 ‘No, this is wrong’ (I, xxiii).

61 I, xxiii.

62 ‘But I am very Lebanese’ (I, xxvi).

63 II, xxviii.

64 Salamé (Le Théâtre politique au Liban, p. 51) argues that the Arabs are united against the colonizers.

65 Moreover, when we mention the Middle East we do not include Israel; we only cover those countries in the region that have Arabic as the official language.

66 Bharucha, Rustom, The Politics of Cultural Practice: Thinking through Theatre in an Age of Globalization (London: Athlone, 2000), p. 63Google Scholar.

67 Ibid., p. 9; my italics.

68 Massai, Sonia, ‘Introduction: Defining Local Shakespeare’, in idem, ed., World-Wide Shakespares: Local Appropriations in Film and Performance (London: Routledge, 2005), pp. 111Google Scholar, here p. 7.

69 Bourdieu, Pierre, The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature, ed. Johnson, Randal (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995), pp. 163–4Google Scholar.

70 Ibid., p. 183.

71 Massai, ‘Introduction’, p. 4. Some of the most influential writing on the topic includes Michael Bristol Michael D. Bristol, Shakespeare's America, America's Shakespeare (London: Routledge, 1990); Bristol, Michael D., Big-time Shakespeare (London. New York: Routledge, 1996)Google Scholar; Hodgdon, Barbara, The Shakespeare Trade; performance and appropriations (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998)Google Scholar; Kennedy, Dennis, Foreign Shakespeare: contemporary performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993)Google Scholar. Barbara Hodgdon (1998) and Dennis Kennedy (1995).

72 Shakespeare Survey seems to re-enforce the idea that each of Shakespeare's plays is a field with its own forces, through the journal's publications of ‘The Tempest and After’, 43 (1991); ‘Hamlet and Its Afterlife’, 45 (1992); ‘Romeo and Juliet and Its Afterlife’, 49 (1996); ‘King Lear and Its Afterlife’, 55 (2002); and ‘Macbeth and Its Afterlife’, 57 (2004).

73 Whatever Oussama Rahbani produces is subject to what Bourdieu calls the habitus he has formed either consciously or unconsciously. ‘The habitus . . . is a set of dispositions which generates practices and perceptions . . . the dispositions of the habitus are “structuring structures” through their ability to generate practices adjusted to specific situations’ see Bourdieu, Field of Cultural Production, p. 5.

74 Ibid., p. 58.

75 Ibid., p. 164.

76 Ibid., p. 58.

77 Ibid., p. 183.

78 II, ii: 33–4, 42–3.

79 I, xviii.

80 I, xviii.

81 I, xix [o].

82 V, iii: 101–3.

83 II, xxv.

84 Fischlin, Daniel and Fortier, Mark, Adaptations of Shakespeare: A Critical Anthology of Plays from the Seventeenth Century to the Present (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), p. 14Google Scholar.

85 See note 1 above.