Critical Context

Among the numerous types of plays Tawfiq al-Hakim has written, affinities with works of several sorts, from different periods of his career, may be found. In his important and controversial drama Ahl al-kahf (pb. 1933; partial translation, The People of the Cave, 1955-1957), which is based upon the biblical story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, in its Koranic version, the device of prolonged time lapse is used to ponder problems of hope and resurrection during earlier historical periods; in that work, refugees from Roman religious persecution undergo a miraculous sleep of 309 years before succumbing to despair at the prospects of life in a different age. There, as in Voyage to Tomorrow, the ironic convergence of themes across a period of several centuries is skillfully developed.

Other early works also present violent death arising from infatuation and troubled relations between men and women. Later efforts have considered scientific development in a speculative vein while posing problems of political power and the destiny of individuals in the nuclear age. Liՙbat al-mawt (pb. 1957), for example, concerns attempts to sustain a scientist’s love affair despite the effects of radiation sickness, while Ashwak al-salam (pb. 1957) explores the need for international reconciliation in view of the threats to world peace posed by atomic weapons. Other variations of the theme of crime and guilt were explored in al-Wartah (pb. 1966; Incrimination, 1984), where evidence which, it appears, would point to one culprit is revealed instead to implicate a law professor who has been investigating a murder. The conflict between science and nature brought about by the exploration of space has been considered from a somewhat playful standpoint in Ahl al-qamar (pb. 1969; Poet on the Moon, 1984). For that matter, even as he turned to writing on religious subjects during the final years of his life, in his last play al-Hakim utilized the Faust legend in order to depict the opposition faith has encountered from scientific and socialist dogmas.