Love's Labour's Lost in Afghanistan
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Love's Labour's Lost in Afghanistan1
Abstract

The first public presentation of Shakespeare in Afghanistan in over 25 years occurred in 2005; it was the first time that men and women actors had shared a stage since the rise of the Taliban. One of the two plays chosen was, surprisingly, Shakespeare's linguistically difficult early comedy, Love's Labour's Lost (the other play was Romeo and Juliet). The actress Corinne Jaber directed a considerably shortened version of the play, translated into Dari (the Afghan dialect of Farsi), in a Bollywood adaptation. The nationality of the characters was changed from French to Afghan, but the play's Masque of Muscovites in Act Five proved once again how unpopular the Russians remained, so they became Indians. The clash of cultures in this production reflects not only the globalization of Shakespeare as a cultural commodity, but the highly specific local issues of this moment in history. This paper provides still shots and excerpts from an interview with the director.

Keywords

Shakespeare, Love's Labour's Lost, Afghanistan, Corinne Jaber, Performance, Globalization

In September 2005, the actress Corinne Jaber directed a production of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost in Kabul, Afghanistan. Part of a summer-long festival—the Kabul Theatre Summer 2005 and 2nd Afghan National Theatre Forum—the production ran five nights. The festival was aimed at continuing "the revival of theatre in Afghanistan" (Programme) and beginning to "close the gap of recent years, caused by the displacement of so many artists and intellectuals. Afghanistan," Dr. Sayed Makhdoom Raheen, Minister of Information and Culture, continued, "has a century-long tradition of involvement in the theatre arts that now, after the recent difficult period, strictly requires a reinvestigation. Workshops and gatherings of this sort will surely pave the road to the restoration of this form in our country" (Programme). Theatre teams from France, Germany, the UK, the USA, Estonia, and Tajikistan participated, including such well-known artists as Ariane Mnouchkine of Theatre du Soleil. Among the financial sponsors were the British Council, Centre Culturel Français, Goethe-Institut, Kulturstiftung des Bundes, and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul (Programme).2 In the summer of 2006, Jaber returned for a revival in Kabul, and to tour the production in two other cities. This remarkable production raises a number of major issues of theatre, history, and politics, which this essay will address with the assistance of two recent interviews with Corinne Jaber.3

To begin, on what grounds was Love's Labour's Lost, of all the plays of Shakespeare, chosen to be the first Shakespeare play performed in Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion in 1979 and the later rise of the Taliban? Given the play's extraordinary linguistic demands, and its relatively less prominent place in the Shakespeare canon, it was on the surface a surprising choice. Jaber has noted that the Afghan actors she met did not want to do tragedies, after more than twenty years of war, so that left [End Page 443] the comedies, which they wanted to do in Dari, a more ancient version of Farsi: "It does not make sense in a country like this where there's just been war and destruction and no culture for almost 25 years to hold a European play in English [since virtually no one there speaks English]. I think the only reason to do a play like this is to give it to them" in their own tongue (Baldauf). The playtext was adapted (by Jaber and Stephen Landrigan) from a Persian translation by an Iranian scholar, Alaeddin Pazargadi (Landrigan). The play's setting was changed from Shakespeare's French Navarre to Afghanistan, with Navarre now the King of Kabul, and the ladies visiting, not from the French court, but from Herat, a city with a long artistic heritage. When Jaber's production toured the country beyond Kabul in the summer of 2006 and performed in Herat, the King was now from Herat, the ladies from Kabul (Baynham); the play was also performed in Mazar-e-Sharif (Baynham; Jaber1). The play's comic "masque of Muscovites" also had to be transformed—given the still...