Critical Context

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Since his student years in Paris, between 1925 and 1928, Tawfiq al-Hakim traveled in Europe on various occasions, and when The Tree Climber was published, he referred to the influence the Theater of the Absurd had exerted on him, particularly after a lengthy stay in France in 1959 and 1960. Among those he cited as important predecessors in this sense were Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco. Nevertheless, al-Hakim preferred to designate his particular conception as irrationalist, and he has maintained, though not to the satisfaction of some critics, that his ideas in this regard should be considered a distinct formulation in their own right. Although it may be contended perhaps that during various stages of al-Hakim’s career, Western drama has provided inspiration for certain works, it should also be noted that his own efforts have manifested distinctive features which have set forth some of the themes and techniques that were recast in The Tree Climber. His early work Shahrazad (pb. 1934; partial English translation, 1944) supplied the author’s own ending to a work which represented in effect a continuation of the Arabian Nights. Some of al-Hakim’s other plays have employed jinn and other fabled beings to achieve unusual, seemingly magical resolutions of problems which were handled in an ironic mode.

In somewhat flippant sketches, such as Himari qala li (pb. 1945; short plays, one translated as The Donkey Market, 1981) and Kullu shay’ fi mahallihi (pb. 1966; Not a Thing Out of Place, 1973), the notion of a talking donkey produces a number of passages where philosophy and nonsense each appear to be allotted their due. Those who have regarded some of al-Hakim’s works specifically as absurdist would include in this category al-Taՙam li-kull fam (pb. 1963; Food for the Millions, 1984), in which mysterious stains on the wall of an apartment seem to evoke images of murder and family intrigue; the shapes that form appear to perform a shadow play of their own, which has particular meanings for different characters. Another well-known work which may be interpreted in several ways is Masir sursar (pb. 1966; Fate of a Cockroach, 1973), which presents quarrels over precedence between an insect king and his queen that very much resemble any wife’s squabbles with her husband; however, first one and then the other becomes fascinated with the struggles of a stranded cockroach—until the household cook drowns the poor creature and the insect and his wife begin arguing again. By such means, al-Hakim’s combinations of comic and bizarre conceptions have given proof of his great versatility in handling various forms of drama.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access