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Wavering Identity: A Pirandellean Reading of Saadallah Wannus's The King Is the King Aleya A. Said In an article entitled "Social Origins ofthe Authoritarian State in the Arab East," Khaldoun Hasan al-Naqeeb has investigated the various reasons that prevented the Arabs from achieving longsought -for "national aspirations" for more than half a century. Among the many reasons, al-Naqeeb ascribes this inability to achieve such a common goal to the military regimes that came to power in the 1950s and 1960s. These regimes, he claims, monopolized the sources of authority and social power and completely eliminated "all democratic institutions and freedoms under the pretext ofreform'."1 Their sluggish performance and their failure to meet the socioeconomic demands of their subjects, in addition to the widespread corruption in the public and government sectors , led to growing discontent among the people.2 The dissatisfaction was in turn reflected in the literatures of these countries since intellectuals and literary figures believed in the risky, yet necessary role of the writers as leaders and "guides" of their people.3 Thus, in his article "The MasLĀ·: Design of Reality and Dream," Abdul Fattah Kalaagy comments on the unanimity of issues expressed by Arab playwrights of different countries in their dramatic works. He remarks that most contemporary Arab playwrights deal more or less with the same social and political issues which have recently become the "daily bread of the Arabs." This, he states, has turned their many voices into one "loud and far-reaching" voice.4 In a similar claim, Momena al-Awf, discussing the works of the Syrian playwright Saadallah Wannus (1941-97), identifies Wannus's thematic concerns as reflecting very common issues reverberating in the Arab world: "repression of freedom, tyranny of authority and conflicts among top officials for higher governmental posts," among many others.5 And Abdullah Abu Heifmakes the statement that the theater of Wannus is more preoccupied 347 348Comparative Drama with "questions of function rather than of creativity, which implies that he feels a greater penchant for politics than for art per se."6 Similarly, Peter Clark argues in "Remembering Sa'dallah [sic] Wannus," an article written a few months after the playwright 's death, that behind much of his work "lies the idea of betrayal by corrupt and complacent rule[r]s of the compliant ruled."7 Clark refers to Wannus's play The Elephant O Lord of Ages (Al-FiI Ya Malik Al-Zaman), written in the late 1960s, as an example of this political strain in his works. An English performance of this play presented by the students of the British Council in Syria surprised the non-Syrian audience with its outspokenness which reflected a "thinly veiled allegorical attack on the callous brutality of a ruler towards his own subjects."8 This political line of thought, which is characteristic of the works of Wannus, is detected in his 1977 The King Is the King (??-Malik Huwa ??-Malik). In spite of the fact that Wannus claims universality for the play's theme,9 which, he argues, addresses any class society whether contemporary military or nonmilitary bourgeoisie, the reader nevertheless cannot avoid reading into it a Middle Eastern world. Wannus appears in The King Is the King to be drawing on the fantasy world of an Arabian Nights story only as a framework for propounding the Pirandellean theory of the multiple faces of reality. So far as I know, previous criticism, which most often focuses on the play's epic qualities, has not noted this affinity. Such an approach to the play will lend support to the play's major theme: the ambiguously devious nature of the world of politics. This paper will therefore highlight the Pirandellean concept of reality in the play by focusing on two main points: the relativity of truth and the subsequent incongruities of human life. To be sure, one cannot say with such authority that Wannus was directly influenced by Pirandello, but the fact that he was educated at the University of Cairo in Egypt and the Sorbonne in France makes it very likely that he was acquainted with the Italian writer and his works. When he was a student, Pirandello's works...


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