Tawfiq al-Hakim Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

In addition to drama, Tawfiq al-Hakim was active in a number of genres. Among his novels, written rather early in his career, al-Qasr al-mashur (1936; the enchanted palace) is notable as a collaborative effort composed with the distinguished man of letters Taha Husayn. His most celebrated work of long fiction, Yawmiyat na՚ib fi al-aryaf (1937; Maze of Justice, 1947), draws on al-Hakim’s experience as a legal functionary and deftly combines social commentary with satire. Other novels are significant as indications of al-Hakim’s propensity to experiment with this form of fiction. At intervals during his career, al-Hakim wrote short stories, which are most readily accessible through the two-volume collection Qisas, published in 1949. He also published a number of essentially autobiographical works, of which Sijn al-ՙumr (1964; The Prison of Life, 1992) deserves particular mention; Zahrat al-ՙumr (1943; life in flower) is a compilation of letters, translated from the French, from al-Hakim’s correspondence with those he met during his student days in Paris. Reflections on drama, art, and life are presented in works of literary criticism such as Min al-burj al-ՙaji (1941; from the ivory tower) and Fann al-adab (1952; the art of literature), as well as other studies. For a number of years, beginning in 1943, al-Hakim wrote columns for the influential newspapers Akhbar al-yawm (news of the day) and al-Ahram (the pyramids) of Cairo. His collection of political essays, ՙAwdat al-waՙy (1974; The Return of Consciousness, 1985), and a companion volume of documents published the next year, aroused criticism in some circles and wonderment in others, for their unfavorable commentary on the government of Egypt under President Gamal Abdel Nasser.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

At the beginning of the twentieth century, drama in Egypt and the Arab world remained a derivative and largely secondary form of creative expression. Puppet and shadow plays were produced alongside adaptations drawn for the most part from French and Italian playwrights. Some innovations were introduced on the Egyptian stage with the production of works by Salim Khalil al-Naqqash, Yaՙqub Sannuՙ (James Sanua), and Ahmad Shawqi. After World War I, important new plays were written by Mahmud Taymur, and Najib al-Rihani’s performances in comic roles also aroused interest in the theater. Nevertheless, with only an exiguous native tradition, Tawfiq al-Hakim came to the forefront of modern Egyptian dramatists with strikingly original depictions of time-honored Middle Eastern themes. His earlier work, particularly that beginning with The People of the Cave, achieved the fusion of regional themes with European techniques. More than that, al-Hakim’s work came to be classed as pioneering on at least three other fronts as well. He brought to the Egyptian and Arab stage unique and distinctive interpretations of Western works, notably versions of classical Greek drama. Many of his works have a surrealistic bent, suggesting analogies, which he has encouraged, with the Western Theater of the Absurd. He was also among the first Arab dramatists to write dialogue in colloquial language. Purists, who insisted on the use of classical Arabic, were outraged, but others have...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Badawi, M. M. Modern Arabic Drama in Egypt. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Badawi’s study examines the state of Arabic drama in modern Egypt, touching on al-Hakim.

Badawi, M. M., ed. Modern Arabic Literature. Cambridge History of Arabic Literature. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992. This history of Arabic literature from the mid-nineteenth century to the late twentieth century contains a long section on al-Hakim as well as a description of many other major dramatists in Egypt and the Arabic world.

El-Enany, Rasheed. “Tawfiq al-Hakim and the West: A New Assessment of the Relationship.” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 27, no. 2 (November, 2000): 165-175. An analysis of one of al-Hakim’s early novels on the cultural clashes between the East and the West. Provides insights into the dramatist’s views.

Hourani, Albert. Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939. Rev. ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Provides a clear explanation of al-Hakim’s place in Egyptian literature.

Long, Richard. Tawfiq al-Hakim: Playwright of Egypt. London: Ithaca Press, 1979. One of the most complete biographical sketches of al-Hakim, with a thorough review of all of his major works.

Safran, Nadav. Egypt in Search of Political Community: An Analysis of the Intellectual and Political Evolution of Egypt, 1804-1952. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961. Useful, especially for understanding interconnections between social and political change and Arabic intellectual movements.

Shetawi, Mahmoud al-. “The Treatment of Greek Drama by Tawfiq al-Hakim.” World Literature Today 63, no. 1 (1989). A specialized study.

Starkey, Paul. From the Ivory Tower: A Critical Analysis of Tawfíq al-Hakím. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Ithaca Press, 1988. A monograph. Includes an index and a bibliography.

Starkey, Paul.“Tawfiq al-Hakim.” African Writers. Vol. 1. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1997. A concise overview of the life and works of al-Hakim.