Drama: the period of maturity
This chapter will discuss subsequent developments in Arabic drama from the 1930s to the present. The early part of this period is dominated to an unusual extent by a single figure, whom we have already met as a pioneer of the Arabic novel,1 Tawfīq al-Ḥakīm (1898–1987).
As already noted, despite the similarities of many aspects of their careers, there is curiously little evidence of any direct link between the advances made by Muḥammad Taymūr and others in the period around the First World War and al-Ḥakīm's own early theatrical production, which were born of a marriage between the Egyptian popular theatre and European theatrical influences – though the combination of serious political and social comment with the use of colloquial Egyptian dialect as a medium for the plays is of course common to both authors.
Born in Alexandria into a middle-class family, al-Ḥakīm appears to have developed a passion for the theatre from an early age, which was reinforced when he moved to Cairo in 1917 to prepare for the school Intermediate Certificate. Attending performances by Jūrj Abyaḍ and other troupes whenever he could, he began improvising plays with friends and soon started writing plays himself; every Thursday afternoon a sketch would be performed in the guest-room of one of the group. So low was the status enjoyed by the Egyptian theatre at this time, however, that al-Ḥakīm was forced to write under the name ‛Ḥusayn Tawfīq' to escape the attention of his family.
These activities appear to have formed a direct prelude to the first stage of al-Ḥakīm's theatrical career proper, the first phase of which comprised six plays written for the popular theatre of the ‛Ukāsha brothers already mentioned. Of these six plays, two are of particular note for their combination of more serious elements with the elements of comedy and melodrama commonly found in Egyptian drama of the preceding period. The first, al-Ḍayf al-Thaqīl (1919?), builds on the nationalistic sentiments expressed in the 1919 Egyptian Revolt and which were subsequently reflected in al-Ḥakīm's seminal novel ‛Awdat alRūḥ.2 In an unmistakable reference to the British occupation of his country, alHakīm depicts a guest who continually extends the length of his stay, exploiting