Announcements, Articles, Volume 3

An 1868 Egyptian Helen of Troy play published

An 1868 Egyptian Helen of Troy play published
Marvin Carlson
Arab StagesVolume 2, Number 1 (Fall 2015)
©2015 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Publications

The current (October 10 issue of Al-Hayat announces that the first theatrical text translated and published in Arabic in Egypt, Beautiful Helen (1868), by Sheikh Tahtawi (1801-1873) has been discovered by Syed Ali Ismail, a professor of theater criticism in Helwan University. Published by the Egyptian General Book Authority, the Tahtawi text was commissioned by Khedive Ismail and was present on the occasion of the celebration of his ascent to the throne in January 17, 1869. This marked the opening of the first official stage in the Uzbek district in Cairo.

The French original is known as La belle Hélène (1864) by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, and was set to music by composer Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880). The play is preserved in an 86-page document and contains three acts. The Arabic version follows the events of the French original closely, although taking considerable liberty with the conventional version of the myth. The opening actions essentially follow the Greek tradition. Venus, the goddess of beauty, sends a message to Calchus, the High Priest of the Temple of Jupiter. She orders him to deliver Helena to Paris, son of King Priam of Troy, because she has blessed their love. Indeed Paris promptly falls in love with Helena, who is married to Menelaus, king of Sparta. However, in the occasion of her king and husband’s absence Helena sees Paris and falls likewise in love. At this point the French version inserts a series of alternative actions, rather in the manner of Euripides, but adopting, of course, a much more distinctly comic orientation. When Menelaus returns and discovers his wife in the arms of Paris, he calls in a chorus of other kings to bear witness to the scandal. Paris departs after vowing to return, and Helen remains with Menelaus, trying to convince him that what he saw only took place in his dream.

In the final act the kings and their entourage are on summer vacation when a presumed high priest of Venus arrives by ship. He states that Helen must go with him to a remote island, where she shall be sacrificed to atone for her sins. At first Helen refuses, but when she discovers that the priest is in fact a disguised Paris, she willingly departs. Discovering the deception, the outraged Greeks vow that they will pursue the lovers and demolish the city of Troy.



Arab Stages
Volume 2, Number 1 (Fall 2015)
©2015 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Publications

Founders: Marvin Carlson and Frank Hentschker

Editor-in-Chief: Marvin Carlson

Editorial and Advisory Board: Fawzia Afzal-Khan, Dina Amin, Khalid Amine, Hazem Azmy, Dalia Basiouny, Katherine Donovan, Masud Hamdan, Sameh Hanna, Rolf C. Hemke, Katherine Hennessey, Areeg Ibrahim, Jamil Khoury, Dominika Laster, Margaret Litvin, Rebekah Maggor, Safi Mahfouz, Robert Myers, Michael Malek Naijar, Hala Nassar, George Potter, Juan Recondo, Nada Saab, Asaad Al-Saleh, Torange Yeghiazarian, Edward Ziter.

Managing Editor: Meir A. Farjoun

Assistant Managing Editor: Nina Angela Mercer

Table of Content

  • The 2015 Egyptian National Theatre Festival by Dalia Basiouny
  • Damascus Theater Laboratory by Waseem Al Sharqy
  • The Birth of Modern Iraqi Theatre: Church Drama in Mosul in the Late Nineteenth Century by Amir Al-Azraki and James Al-Shamma
  • Theatre as an Optimistic Political Act: Lebanese Theatre Artist Sahar Assaf by Michael Malek Najjar
  • A Feminist Tuberculosis Melodrama: Melek by Painted Bird Theatre by Emre Erdem
  • Much Ado About “Theatre and Censorship Conference” by Dalia Basiouny
  • Mass Media Muslims: A Three Lens Theory of Representation by Jamil Khoury


  • Issam Mahfouz’ The Dictator presented in New York by Marvin Carlson
  • An 1868 Egyptian Helen of Troy play published by Marvin Carlson
  • Nahda: Five Visions of an Arab Awakening
  • Malumat: Resources for Research, Writing/Publishing, Teaching, & Performing Arts compiled by Kate C. Wilson

Book Reviews

  • Muslim Rap, Halal Soaps, and Revolutionary Theatre by Karin van Nieuwkerk, ed. – A book review by Marvin Carlson
  • Arab American Drama, Film and Performance: A Critical Study, 1908 to the Present – A book review by George Potter
  • Inside/Outside: Six Plays from Palestine and the Diaspora – A book review by Michael Malek Najjar

Short Plays

  • Out of Control by Wael Qadour
  • The Village of Tishreen by Muhammad al-Maghut

Martin E. Segal Theatre Center
Frank Hentschker, Executive Director
Marvin Carlson, Director of Publications
Rebecca Sheahan, Managing Director

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