This is nothing new. Many years ago, in another lifetime and long, long before 9/11, I myself played Sir Toby Belch in a production of Twelfth Night that made everyone Muslim and set the whole thing in the Ottoman court, notwithstanding how preposterous that made the story line. But that one was just a case of a director trying to make a splash; this one is explicitly politically motivated — although the point seems a bit unfocused. If Hamlet is a Muslim prince, who is King Claudius? The United States? Does Hamlet’s indecision become that of a young Muslim deciding whether or not to join the violent jihad?
From Backstage, with thanks to AntidhimmitudeFrenchChapter:
Hamlet has become a Muslim prince at the Ottoman court in an adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy which its Bosnian director says reflects the world after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
In possibly the biggest theater co-production the war-torn Balkans region has seen in some 20 years, Haris Pasovic is seeking to put “Hamlet” into a 21st Century setting.
“One of the most important issues of the 21st century is the world’s increased understanding of the Muslim issue following the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York,” Pasovic, himself a Bosnian Muslim, told Reuters in an interview this week.
“I think the Muslim world today is facing the question: ‘To be or not to be?’, and I don’t mean metaphysically,” he said before the show’s premiere late on Wednesday in Sarajevo.
Sarajevo-born Pasovic was among the most prominent theater directors in the then-Socialist Yugoslavia, living and working in Belgrade before Bosnia’s 1992-95 war….
This time he chose the Ottoman court for its resemblance to Shakespeare’s Danish one, where characters vie bloodily against one another for control over the throne and the court’s affairs.
The play, set in obviously Eastern, though minimalist scenery, is visually striking with colourful costumes and mystical music performed live on stage.
It was well received in Sarajevo, a traditionally multi-ethnic city dominated by moderate Muslims since the war.
Just as Ottoman princes wore undershirts embroidered with Islamic prayers before they went into battle, Pasovic’s Hamlet wears an undershirt on which the line “To be, or not to be — that is the question” is printed in Arabic script.
“That undershirt is important because it is like a human skin. I think that every serious man today must wear the question ‘To be, or not to be?’,” Pasovic said.
And so a story in a Christian setting, in which the hero questions the injustices of the world and his own personal tragedy, can just as well apply to Muslims.
“Hamlet is a universal story that concerns us all,” Pasovic said. “These issues do not concern only Muslims, but all people equally, showing that we all share the same problems regardless of religion, nation and culture.”