A Lucky Pairing will Open the Mind’s Eye to Theatre and Life in Medieval Egypt

September 12, 2012 | CUNY Graduate Center

A fruitful collaboration between Distinguished Professor Marvin Carlson and visiting Fulbright scholar Dr. Safi Mahmoud Mahfouz promises to yield the first translations into English of three plays by Ibn Daniyal, a significant thirteenth-century Egyptian playwright. These plays “are by far the most important dramas surviving in Egypt between Pharaonic times and the nineteenth century,” said Carlson. Publication is expected at the end of this year.

Discovered at the beginning of the twentieth century by the German scholar Georg Jacob, the plays have only been available, till now, in a 1992 critical edition in Arabic. Carlson further explained that their “dramatic ambition and complexity far surpass anything from medieval Europe” and that “they provide not only a rich picture of everyday life in medieval Cairo, but also a detailed performance record that will contribute enormously to our understanding of medieval popular theatre.”

Carlson, who has published widely in theatre history and theory, performance studies, and dramatic literature, serves on the Graduate Center doctoral faculty in theatre and comparative literature and also holds the Sidney E. Cohn Chair in Theatre Studies. He has received the ATHE Career Achievement Award, the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism, the Calloway Prize, and the ASTR Distinguished Scholarship Award.

Dr. Mahfouz is spending a year with the Ph.D. Program in Theatre as a Segal Fellow. An assistant professor of modern American drama at UNRWA University in Amman, Jordan, where he heads the Department of English Language and Literature in the Faculty of Educational Sciences and Arts, he pursues research interests that cover a wide range of topics including modern American literature, modern and contemporary drama, literary criticism and contemporary poetics, comparative literature, Middle Eastern literatures, and synchronous and asynchronous instructional technology.

 He and Carlson first became acquainted through a mutual interest in Arabic versions of the Oedipus legend. Carlson edited The Arab Oedipus, a collection of four plays by contemporary Egyptian and Syrian dramatists that range in time and place from ancient Greek and Egyptian Thebes to a contemporary computer laboratory. The Segal Theatre Center published the book in 2005.

After completing the Ibn Daniyal translation project, Carlson and Mahfouz plan to apply their skills to some neglected modern Arabic works.