Performing Hamlet in Iran from 1900 till now – Theatrocracy after two major revolutions in Iran

Leitung: Prof. Dr. Andras Kotte, Prof.Dr. Peter W. Marx
Forschungsassistentin/Doktorandin: MA Azadeh Ganjeh

Ever since the seventeenth century Shakespeare has been appropriated and re appropriated to serve the changing political objectives across the world. The interest in the reception of Shakespeare beyond the borders of Britain has been so great and scholarly writings on the issue have been so extensive that it may at the first glance seem to be of little benefit to set foot on an already-trodden road. But, from the viewpoint of this investigation which questions the effect of performing Shakespeare in two major historical periods in Iran and tries to approach performing Shakespeare as a cultural mobility puts the matter in a new perspective, and helps the reader understand why western theatre had such a great influence in political and social improvement in Iran during decades.

The evolution of western drama from the cycles of mystery and miracle plays is well known. Less well understood is the parallel development in Iran. By the late 19th century, the mystery play, Taziya was on the brink of giving birth to a secular Iranian drama, due to the turbulent history of the Constitutional Revolution at the beginning of the 20th century and the fundamental social and political changes in the big towns of Iran, Taziya lost royal and upper-class patronage. The successful conversion of religious ritual drama into secular drama was thwarted for two reasons. The intellectual elite considered Taziya to be a backward superstition-ridden ritual, and were far more attracted to western-style theatre.

From the middle of the 19th century onward, the production of western dramas was encouraged. After Nasir al-Din Shah and his entourage began extensively to visit Europe, a theatre hall was established at the local polytechnic in Tehran. In this early period, the Iranians merely adapted French plays, mostly by Moliere. Characters from the French dramas and ambiance were Persianized, and local proverbs and stories were incorporated. The audience consisted chiefly of the members of the court. Iranians got their first glimpse of Shakespeare through a translation of The Taming of the Shrew in 1900, and since then Shakespeare absorbed the most attention of Iranian elites who presumed theatre as the best instrument for importing modern culture to Iranian society. Shakespeare's importance in view of the constitutional revolution is to some extent that constitutional period can be called Shakespeare period. Among all of the Shakespeare's translated works, Hamlet absorbed the widest attention in modern Iranian theatre.
The victory of the Islamic revolution was followed by enthusiastic efforts aimed at transforming this very western art, which prior to the revolution had remained limited to a small group of overindulged intellectuals, into a fully Persian form of art based on the new revolutionary culture and beliefs of the society. There is no doubt that every major social event, particularly cultural and political revolutions are followed by their own specific culture, literature and art. After the initial onset of the Islamic Revolution, More Farsi translations and adoptions have been made of Hamlet than of any other Shakespeare's work. Hamlet's nature is of such fluidity that enables him to conform to diverse circumstances. Iranian directors found the translation of Hamlet something which could break them out of their depression. they saw the echoes of times in Hamlet: revolution and death, turmoil and confusion.
The revolution of 1978-9 stopped theatre vehicle for few years by exerting restrictions on it. With Significant growth in the use of symbolism and signs in theatrical performances, hamlet turned to perform as the best metaphor of current situation. With strict censorship and the ongoing power struggle between artists and extremists in Islamic Republic, Iranian drama is continuing to undergo transformations.

The study is set up to explore these questions:

What happens to Hamlet in circulation of text to performance on Iranian stages?

What are the effects of performing Shakespeare hamlet on Iranian theatre and culture?

How does hamlet adjust to its new context and what is the role of agencies in this transportation?

The researcher will use descriptive research method and It will try to answer those questions through qualitative data collection and analysis based on cultural mobility and semiotics. The research would be narrowed By Case study of two considerable Hamlet performances before and after Islamic revolution and interviews with Iranian master directors in and out of Iran. It would be also necessary to analyze existing documents such as critics and archived photos and films of these performances.