- Purchase/rental options available:
This essay explores Iranian Shakespeare—its history, its utility, and the ways that cultural scholars in the West have framed Iranians’ love of the Bard. Within such framing, it traces a recurring trend in which Middle Eastern cultural production is normatively positioned through a lens of politicism and narratives of resistance, an act which the essay argues merely substantiates the systems of power in which discourse and cultural values are controlled by Western societies, akin to Orientalism. Using Greenblatt’s “Shakespeare in Tehran” as a case study in this style of scholarship, the essay argues that such thinking stems from dehumanizing philosophies of neoliberalism, which grant subjectivity within conditional limitations. In response, it proposes a new methodology for cultural criticism within the Middle East, one that does not impose Western narratives and stereotypes upon groups of people, but is instead aware of historical and cultural nuance and attentive to the ways in which performance analysis must be accomplished from within. The essay then puts this methodology into practice with a close reading of three recent versions of Hamlet staged in Tehran, exploring the divergent ways in which these playwrights and directors appropriate the beloved text for Iranian audiences. Ultimately, it argues that Shakespeare, theatre, Western culture, and even censorship play complex and multifaceted roles in Iran, and they do not easily conform to our established narratives in which Shakespeare and Western modes of theatre act subversively to dismantle authoritarian power.