College of Arts & Sciences

arts&sciences

Hamlet’s Arab Journey

By Andrew Thurston

Since he loomed from the scratching quill of William Shakespeare in the early 1600s, Hamlet hasn’t had any letup. According to the Royal Shakespeare Company, “Every minute of the day, [Hamlet] is being staged somewhere in the world.”

In Hamlet’s Arab Journey: Shakespeare’s Prince and Nasser’s Ghost (Princeton University Press, 2011), Assistant Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature Margaret Litvin charts his travels through the postcolonial Middle East.

Plotting the Danish prince’s evolution through multiple translations, theatrical performances, and civil invocations, Litvin intertwines the play with the political history of the region, particularly that of the late Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser. Hamlet, promises Litvin in the opening pages, “will speak in different voices: secular and Islamist, shrill and playful, heroic and ironic” to encapsulate a pressing Arab debate: “The problem of self-determination and authenticity.” Put another way, “To be, or not to be.”