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The Essential Tawfiq al-Hakim

The Essential Tawfiq al-Hakim: Great Egyptian Writers

Edited by Denys Johnson-Davies
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 244
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  • Book Info
    The Essential Tawfiq al-Hakim
    Book Description:

    The importance of Tawfiq al-Hakim (1898–1987) to the emergence of a modern Arabic literature is second only to that of Naguib Mahfouz. If the latter put the novel among the genres of writing that are an accepted part of literary production in the Arab world today, Tawfiq al-Hakim is recognized as the undisputed creator of a literature of the theater. In this volume, Tawfiq al-Hakim’s fame as a playwright is given prominence. Of the more than seventy plays he wrote, The Sultan’s Dilemma, dealing with a historical subject in an appealingly light-hearted manner, is perhaps the best known; it appears in the extended edition of Norton’s World Masterpieces and was broadcast on the old Home Service of the BBC. The other full-length play included here, The Tree Climber, is one that reveals al-Hakim’s openness to outside influences—in this case, the absurdist mode of writing. Of the two one-act plays in this collection, The Donkey Market shows his deftness at turning a traditional folk tale into a hilarious stage comedy. Tawfiq al-Hakim produced several of the earliest examples of the novel in Arabic; included in this volume is an extract from his best known work in that genre, the delightful Diary of a Country Prosecutor, in which he draws on his own experience as a public prosecutor in the Egyptian countryside. Three of the many short stories he published are also included, as well as an extract from The Prison of Life, an autobiography in which Tawfiq al-Hakim writes with commendable frankness about himself.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-166-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    Had the committee for the Nobel Prize decided at an earlier date than 1988 that recognition should be given to the renaissance that was occurring in modern Arabic literature, the prize would surely have been awarded to Tawfiq al-Hakim (1898–1987). As with George Bernard Shaw in the west, Tawfiq al-Hakim’s fame as a writer was not helped by being regarded in the main as a playwright, at a time when most readers found their preferred reading in the novel.

    Even before going to Paris in 1925 to study law—his father was a judge, and no career was more...

  4. Plays

    • The Sultan’s Dilemma
      (pp. 5-86)

      An open space in the city during the time of the Mamluk Sultans. On one side there is a mosque with a minaret; on the other, a tavern. In the center is a house with a balcony. Dawn is about to break and silence reigns. A stake has been set up to which aMAN,condemned to death, has been tied. HisEXECUTIONERis nearby trying to fight off sleep.

      CONDEMNED MAN [contemplating theEXECUTIONER]: Getting sleepy? Of course you are. Congratulations. Sleep well. You’re not awaiting something that will spoilyourpeace of mind.

      EXECUTIONER: Quiet!

      CONDEMNED MAN: And...

    • The Tree Climber
      (pp. 87-164)

      There are no sets in this play, neither are there divisions between times and places, the past, present, and future sometimes all being present at the same time and one person occasionally present in two place on the stage and talking in his own voice twice at the same time. Here everything interlocks with everything else. There are no fixed ‘props:’ every character in the play makes his appearance carrying his ‘props’and accessories and taking them out with him when he has finished. Thus theDETECTIVEappears carrying his chair and file in his right hand, while behind him the...

    • The Donkey Market
      (pp. 165-182)

      Near the donkey market. From afar is heard the braying of donkeys. Outside the market sit two men whose ragged clothes and filthy appearance indicate that they are out-of-work loafers.

      FIRST UNEMPLOYED [to his companion]: Are you able to tell me what the difference is between us and donkeys?

      SECOND UNEMPLOYED: You can hear the difference with your own ears.

      FIRST UNEMPLOYED: The braying?

      SECOND UNEMPLOYED: Just so, the braying.

      FIRST UNEMPLOYED: Couldn’t this braying be donkey talk?

      SECOND UNEMPLOYED: That’s what it must be.

      FIRST UNEMPLOYED: So they’re talking now.

      SECOND UNEMPLOYED: Maybe they’re also shouting.


    • The Song of Death
      (pp. 183-200)

      A peasant house in Upper Egypt. Two women are sitting by the entrance dressed in black: they areASAKIRandMABROUKA.A step or two away from them stand a calf and a goat eating grass and dried clover. The two women are sitting in silence with heads lowered. The sound of a train’s whistle is heard.

      MABROUKA [raising her head]: That’s the train.

      ASAKIR [without moving]: D’you think he’s on it?

      MABROUKA: Didn’t he say so in his letter which Sheikh Mohamed al-Isnawi, the assistant schoolmaster, read over to us yesterday?

      ASAKIR: I hope, Mabrouka, you haven’t told anyone...

  5. Novel

    • from Diary of a Country Prosecutor
      (pp. 201-210)

      When we got back, it was time for the session to begin. Our car approached the court, where we saw people crowded like flies at the entrance. My assistant had slumped down at my side completely prostrate and I took no further notice of him. It did not occur to me to summon him in that state of fatigue to sit through a court session with me after attending an investigation. He was not yet accustomed to a twentyfour-hour day and the instructive night which he had just spent was quite enough for him.

      So I decided to deal gently...

  6. Short Stories

    • Miracles for Sale
      (pp. 211-216)

      The priest woke early as was his wont, preceded only by the birds in their nests, and began his prayers, his devotions, and his work for his diocese in that Eastern land whose spiritual light he was and where he was held in such high esteem by men of religion and in such reverence by the people. Before his door there grew a small palm tree planted by his own hands; he always watered it before sunrise, contemplating the sun as its rim, red as a date, burst forth from the horizon to shed its rays on the dewy leaves,...

    • Satan Triumphs
      (pp. 217-220)

      Some people began worshiping a tree. A pious man, who believed devoutly in God, heard about this. Picking up an axe, he set off to chop down the tree. When he approached it, the devil appeared between the man and the tree and shouted, “Stay where you are, man. Why do you want to cut down this tree?”

      “Because it’s leading the people astray.”

      “Why should you worry about them? Let them go astray.”

      “How can I? It’s my duty to guide them.”

      “It’s your duty to grant people the freedom to do what they want.”

      “They’re not free ....

    • Azrael the Barber
      (pp. 221-224)

      Life is stronger than death. Anyone considering the events of a single day in his life will realize the truth of this, for death haunts us at every step. All the same, we ward it off and usually escape, skipping over its snares. Life’s guiding hand rescues us. Life and death have been playing the selfsame game together from the beginning of time without variation . . . the game children call blind man’s buff. Life and death take turns. One hides and waits anywhere he chooses, while the other calls out, “I see you and know where you are.”...

  7. Autobiography

    • from The Prison of Life
      (pp. 225-234)

      The academic year ended, the examination was held, and—by an act of Providence and despite my artistic involvements—I was admitted to the fourth and last year, the one leading to thelicence.I leftThe Seal of Solomonin the hands of my colleague Mustafa, and headed for Alexandria to spend the summer there.

      On arrival and at my first look at our blessed home, I was almost thunderstruck. What was that I saw before me? It was no longer a house, but a strange structure of which I could not tell the front from the back. One...

  8. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-236)