Arabic Shadow Theatre 1300-1900

A Handbook


This handbook aims mainly at an analytical documentation of all the known textual remnants and the preserved artifacts of Arabic shadow theatre, a long-lived, and still living, tradition — from the earliest sightings in the tenth century to the turn of the twentieth century. The book consists of three main parts and a cluster of appendixes. Part One presents a history of Arab shadow theatre through a survey of medieval and premodern accounts and modern scholarship on the subject. Part Two takes stock of primary sources (manuscripts), published studies, and the current knowledge of various aspects of Arabic shadow theatre: language, style, terminology, and performance. Part Three offers an inventory of all known Arabic shadow plays. The documentation is based on manuscripts (largely unpublished), printed texts (scripts, excerpts), academic studies (in Arabic and Western languages), journalist reportage, and shadow play artifacts from collections worldwide.

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Li Guo, Ph.D. (1994), Yale University, is Professor of Arabic at the University of Notre Dame. His most recent book, The Performing Arts in Medieval Islam: Shadow play and popular poetry in Ibn Daniyal’s Mamluk Cairo (Brill, 2012) is the winner of the IIM Prize for Research in the category “New conceptual tools,” Institut International de la Marionnette, France, 2015.
"Li Guo's Arabic Shadow Theatre 1300-1900: A Handbook is a sweeping survey and interesting introduction to all things shadowy and theatrical. It is rare to say that an academic study is a joy to read, but this book certainly proved to be the case. […] it is well worth engaging with and will stimulate discussions about theatre and shadow theatre beyond the Arab world." Usman Butt, in Middle East Monitor, 2020

“No standard work on the subject has been produced until now […] Dozens of synopses of plots, together with some translations are especially valuable.” Caroline Stone, in AramcoWorld
List of Figures

part 1: Research

1 Arabic Shadow Theatre in Historical Sources
 1 Late ʿAbbasid Accounts (c. 1000–1250)
 2 Mamluk Accounts (c. 1250–1517)
 3 Ottoman Accounts (c. 1517–1900)
 4 Western Visitors’ Accounts (c. 1760–1900)

2 Early Modern Scholarship
 1 Orientalism and Arab Shadow Theatre: c. 1890–1945
 2 Early Arab Scholarship: c. 1900–1950

3 New Studies
 1 Western Scholarship Since the 1950s
 2 Arab Research Activities Since the 1950s

part 2: Resources

4 Primary Sources: Manuscripts and Artifacts
 1 Manuscripts
 2 Shadow Figures

5 Language, Style, and Terminology
 1 Content and Language
 2 Songs in the Shadow Play: Canonic and Non-Canonic Verses
 3 Terminology

6 Performance
 1 Scenes from Medieval Cairo
 2 Shadow Theatre of the Ottoman Time
 3 Scenes from Early Modern Era

part 3: Repertoires

7 Medieval Arabic Shadow Plays: Ibn Dāniyāl and Others
 1 Ibn Dāniyāl’s Three Plays
 2 An Unconfirmed Mamluk Shadow Play

8 Ottoman Egyptian Shadow Plays
 1 Sources
 2 An Original Description of the Repertoire
 3 Six Early Ottoman Egyptian Shadow Plays

9 Late Ottoman and Early Modern Egyptian Plays
 1 Four Egyptian Shadow Plays of Late Ottoman Time
 2 Short Plays from Early Modern Egypt

10 Syrian and Levantine Plays
 1 An Overview
 2 Lebanon
 3 Syria, Damascus
 4 Syria, Aleppo
 5 Syria, the Coastal Region
 6 Other Syrian Plays

11 North African Plays
 1 The Maghreb: Tunisia and Algeria
 2 Libya

Epilogue: Notes from the Field
Arabic Shadow Theatre Today

Appendix 1: Arabic Shadow Plays: an Inventory

Appendix 2: Shadow Theatre in Premodern Arabic Poetry
 1 The Prime Metaphor: God, Reality, and Shadow Play
 2 Performance as Illusions Making and Performer as Illusionist

Appendix 3: The Cast
 1 Egypt
 2 Syria and the Levant
 3 Tunisia and Algeria
 4 Libya

Appendix 4: The Programme of a Layla Celebration

Appendix 5: Glossary (Arabic – English)
All interested in world history of puppetry and shadow theatre, Arabic literature, Arabic drama and theatre, Arabic vernacular poetry and storytelling, popular culture of the premodern Middle East, Arabic dialects.
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