The Performing Arts in Medieval Islam

Shadow Play and Popular Poetry in Ibn Daniyal's Mamluk Cairo


This is a study of the life and work of Ibn Dāniyāl (d. 1310), a Cairo-based eye doctor, poet, playwright, court jester, and arguably one of the most controversial cultural figures of his time. Drawing on medieval Arabic sources, many still in manuscript and some used for the first time, the author further contextualizes Ibn Dāniyāl’s work with respect to poetry production and popular culture in the Islamic Near East in the post-Mongol period. The book also presents the first full English translation of “The Phantom,” one of Ibn Dāniyāl’s three shadow plays, the only surviving pre-Ottoman Arabic theatrical texts.

E-Book List price

EUR €116.00USD $146.00

Biographical Note

Li Guo, Ph.D. (1994) in Arabic Studies, Yale University, is on the faculty of the University of Notre Dame. His recent publication is Commerce, Culture, and Community in a Red Sea Port in the Thirteenth Century: The Arabic Documents from Quseir (Brill, 2004).

Review Quotes

Prize for Research from the Institut International de la Marionnette, 2015.

"Li Guo hat ein wunderbares Werk über eine Persönlichkeit vorgelegt, die vor allem deshalb so interessant und spannend ist, weil sie uns tief in die Welt der nicht-gelehrten Unterhaltung einer vormodernen nahöstlichen Gesellschaft einführt." – Stephan Conermann, in: Sehepunkte. Rezensionsjournal für die Geschichtswissenschaften 13.4 (2013)
"[Guo] has solved many knotty problems and managed to convey the spirit of a very intriguing but difficult text." – Geert Jan van Gelder, in: Journal of the American Oriental Society 134.3 (2014), pp. 536-539
"…a worthy and important contribution to the history of Arabic literature, as well as the social and cultural history of the Mamluk empire. […]
It is astonishing that Guo has been able to synthesize such complex and dense material into a remarkably readable and informative discussion, and in doing so has led the way for further research by Arabists as well as non-Arabist theatre historians. [...] Guo's achievement is significant and indeed I hope it will be transformative." – Adam Talib, in: Mamlūk Studies Review XVIII (2015), 358-362

Table of contents


Part One: Life as a Play
Act 1: Eye doctor and street buffoon
Act 2: Court panegyrist and jester
Act 3: Satirist and shadow playwright

Part Two: Legacy and Controversy
The making of the Arabic shadow play
The ornament of the poetry
The many faces of a performer

Part Three: The Play
The Phantom: A shadow play

Appendix 1: Manuscripts
Appendix 2: Sources


All those interested in cultural history of medieval Islam, Arabic literature, Arabic poetry, Arab popular culture, Arabic drama, comparative literature, world history of shadow play.

Index Card

Collection Information