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Asien-Orient-Institut UFSP Asien und Europa (2006–2017)

Entangled Theaters between Europe and the Arab World

Responsible for the project: Dr. Angela Langone



The research summarized in the following lines aims to deepen cultural ties between some Arab countries (especially Lebanon and Egypt) and some European countries (particularly Italy and France), through the life and the works of Arab intellectuals who lived in the nineteenth and early twentieth century in Europe.

This will cover in particular the playwrights, because the theater, more than other arts, was an art imported from the West with enormous social and political importance.

The Genesis of the Arab Theater

Despite the existence of various pre-theatrical forms, theater - as we define it today - is an art of profound innovation in the Arab-Muslim society which issued from the encounter with Europe. Thanks to the curiosity of a young Maronite Lebanese, Mārūn Naqqāš (1817–1855), the adventure of the theater in Arab countries began. His first play, the first theater play in the Arab world, whose title is al-Baḫīl (‘The Miser’), was played in 1847 in his home in Beirut. It is an adaptation (iqtibās) of The Miser by Molière.

In Egypt, theater is, at least initially, a domain of the non-Muslims. Ya‘qūb b. Rufā’īl Sanū‘ (1839–1912) is a Jew nicknamed “the Egyptian Molière”, a name that shows how his works are influenced by the French theater. He was the author, among others, of Mūlyīr Miṣr wa-mā yuqāsīh (‘Molière of Egypt and what he suffered’). This art found fertile ground and has taken root in Egypt thanks to a huge effort of translation of the European (and especially French) works. The destination of the pioneers of Nahḍa is often Paris and the benchmark for the theater is obviously Molière. Muslims participate in the phenomenon of Nahḍa as well as Christians and Jews. Among the first Muslims who care for theater, one can found ‘Uṯmān Ǧalāl (1829–1898) who writes the Arabic adaptations of four comedies of Molière: Tartuffe, The Learned Women, The School for Husbands, The School for Wives. Those adaptation are not translations, but a real Egyptianization (tamṣīr) of the original works.

Finally, Maghreb knew theater very late. Foreigners (French, Spanish, Italian) were playing in their languages theatrical pieces and built theaters in some North African cities, but the Arabs remained out of these activities for a long time. The birth of an Arabic Maghrebi theater is precisely due to the arrival of the first Egyptian troops. The pioneer of the Tunisian theater was the Egyptian Sulaymān Qardāḥī who arrived in Tunis in 1908. From that time, many companies established in Tunisia. One of the most famous theatrical performances so far is an adaptation (or tawnasa ‘Tunisization’) of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme by Molière, written by Noureddine Kasbaoui (1931–1996) and whose title is al-Marisal (‘The Marshal’).

In Morocco, the ‘sacred monster’ of the scene is Tayeb Saddiki (1939–2016) that draws in both the Arab-Muslim tradition (ḥalqa, bsāṭ, etc.) and the literary heritage French. He collaborated with the French actor André Voisin and many of his works are inspired by Molière.

The research proposed

The research proposed intends to enroll in the field of the Arab studies and more specifically the problem of translation, adaptation, transculturalization of texts, models, theatrical styles in the various Arabic linguistic, religious and social realities.

The sources that will be selected for our study, i.e. the texts produced by some of the above mentioned authors are the result of a hybridization process and of a constant negotiation between two cultures, the European and the Arab-Muslim cultures. The issue of this negotiation is quite crucial in the writing strategies.

Their work goes beyond mere linguistic transfer, as they are true intermediaries between different cultures. They begin a re-articulation of elements that is nor European neither Arab (like the indigenous pre- and para-theatrical forms), but something else: a corridor, an interstitial transition.

Some bibliographical references

Bhabha H.K., 22007, Les lieux de la culture. Une théorie postcoloniale, Payot, Paris (éd.or. 1994). Ǧalāl M. ‘U., 2009, Madrasat al-Azwāǧ, BiblioBazaar.

Langone A.D., 2016, Molière et le théâtre arabe. Réception moliéresque et identités nationales arabe, De Gruyter, Berlin.

Naqqāš M., 1869, Arzat Lubnān, Imprimerie Publique, Beyrouth.

Naqqāš M., 2009, Arzat Lubnān, éd. par Abū Murād N., Phoenix Center for Lebanese Studies, Beyrouth.

Qaṣbāwī al- N., 1997, al-Mārīšāl, Sagittaire Editions, Tunis. Saddiki T., 1997, al-Fīl wa-s-Sarāwīl, Editions Boukili, Kénitra.

Ṣannū’ Y., 1912, Mūlyīr Miṣr wa-mā yuqāsīhi, al-Maṭba‘a al-Adabiyya, Beyrouth.