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Drama

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Roger Allen

From An Introduction to Arabic Literature
© 2000 Cambridge University Press
Reprinted with the permission of Cambridge University Press

INTRODUCTION


In 1963 the prominent Egyptian short-story writer and playwright Yusuf Idris chose to publish a series of articles in the Cairene literary monthly, Al- Katib, under the title, 'Towards an Egyptian Theatre'. Whatever yardstick one may wish to use in deciding what the terms 'theatre' and 'drama' may imply in the Arab world context - a point we will discuss in detail below - there can be little argument about the fact that by 1963 an Egyptian tradition of modern Arabic drama was well over a century old. Surveying the development of the drama genre up to that point, Idris suggests that, while the processes of translation, 'Arabicisation', and adaptation may have been able to transfer certain elements of drama into the Egyptian context, and indeed while certain Egyptian playwrights may have produced accomplished works that made use of local themes, the end result of all this creative activity was still culturally derivative. There remained a disjuncture between Arabic drama in Egypt and the indigenous cultural tradition. Were there, Idris wondered, no examples of drama to be found within the heritage of the Egyptian people? Idris's response to these questions took the form of a remarkable and innovative play, Farafir, that was performed in 1964. However, in the context of the series of articles he continued by exploring the nature of the dramatic in the Middle East and the West and the kinds of drama performance that had been popular in the pre-modern period of Middle Eastern history. The questions that he raised at that time and the answers he provided constitute a conveniently modern point of reference through which to consider the nature of drama in its Arab world context and the types of dramatic event that were the precedents to the modern tradition.

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