Shakespeare and the Greater Middle East

deadline for submissions: 
April 30, 2018
full name / name of organization: 

Call for papers: special issue of Shakespeare: ‘Shakespeare and the Greater Middle East’

Guest edited by R. M. Christofides, University of Liverpool. 

Papers are invited for a special edition of Shakespeare entitled ‘Shakespeare and the Greater Middle East’. William Shakespeare, his collaborators and competitors, all engaged with the myths, figures and tropes of what we today call the Greater Middle East. This twenty-first-century phrase, coined at the time of the neoconservative government of George W. Bush, denotes a predominantly Muslim threat to the West that stretches beyond the traditionally-conceived Middle East into Mediterranean Africa, Central Asia and the Eurasian Balkans. Produced as interactions beyond Europe proliferated, the works of Shakespeare and his peers offer us a timely opportunity to investigate representations of these sites lying on the margins of Europe and beyond. Moreover, with Shakespeare studies ever more global, there has never been a more apposite moment to focus scholarly attention on how those early modern representations can reframe the transcultural and geopolitical encounters of our time directly or indirectly related to that region – the migrant crisis, the Arab Spring, Israel/Palestine, the division of Cyprus, the conflict in Syria, and the rise of populist, anti-immigrant political parties within Europe.

Shakespearean journeys take us from Venice to Cyprus in Othello, to Anatolia in Troilus and Cressida, to Egypt and Syria in Antony and Cleopatra, from Assyrian Antioch (in modern-day Turkey) to Tyre in Lebanon and on to Pentapolis in North Africa in Pericles, not to mention the Greek islands themselves at Europe’s extremity, part of the mutable Mediterranean that provides the island setting of The Tempest. Contemporaries such as Phillip Massinger, Robert Daborne and Christopher Marlowe imagined Tunis and Carthage, while plays not necessarily set in that region have been reinvented by artists, writers and theatre directors from various cultural perspective across the Greater Middle East, the most obvious example being Arab interpretations of Hamlet, a significant body of work covered by Margaret Litvin’s Hamlet’s Arab Journey: Shakespeare’s Prince and Nasser’s Ghost (2011). While the focus on how sites such as Rome and Venice influenced Shakespeare’s imagination has been a well-trodden path, much is still left to uncover and explore in how Shakespeare was influenced by the Greater Middle East and how that influence is politically relevant for us now in terms of religion, race, migration, and so on.

This special issue on ‘Shakespeare and the Greater Middle East’ has, then, two clear aims. The first is to focus on the connections and disjunctions between understandings of this region in Shakespeare’s day and understandings now. Indeed, our current cultural moment shares a key paradox with the early modern period – an interest in, and developing awareness of, the dizzying diversity of the lands surrounding the Mediterranean, a diversity which nevertheless tends to be translated into a homogenous threat to the ‘way of life’ of white, Christian Europe. Secondly, this issue seeks to encourage an investigation of how these connections and disjunctions can gloss current geopolitical debates. For example, as I have elsewhere proposed, the Turco-Venetian struggle for Cyprus and the concomitant fear of the Turk we see in Othello has been a political reality in Cyprus for four hundred and fifty years, leading to ethnic conflict, war, and the division of the island in the twentieth century. Consequently, the play tells a very different story when seen from an explicitly Cypriot perspective. What other possibilities are there for reframing scholarly debates about Shakespeare? Shakespeare’s plays, and those by his peers, take the embryonic racial and religious constructions of his day – many of which are still with us in more developed forms – and turn them inside out, unpack and reconstitute them, offering us the opportunity as critics to unpack and reconstitute the relationship between a fracturing Europe and a polycultural Greater Middle East still often imagined in Europe as a single, undifferentiated threat.  I also welcome reviews of performances relevant to the region, for example those that have been translated into regional languages or performed in settings across the Greater Middle East.

Please submit abstracts of c. 250 words with accompanying CV by 30 April 2018 to