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An emerging nation, its Arabic theatre heritage and the influence of English-language stage drama

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submitted on 2023-07-09, 08:19 and posted on 2023-07-10, 05:21 authored by Alan S. Weber, Kim C. Sturgess

The authors analyse and decode several unique features of theatrical culture and the teaching and performance of Shakespeare in the oil-rich Arabian Gulf nation of Qatar. What could be described as a traditional and conservative Bedouin society, Qataris have with little native tradition of the performing arts nevertheless uneasily allowed the development of both an Arabic-language and English-language theatre culture. Parallel to national theatre efforts has been an equally prominent English expatriate drama tradition stretching back to the 1950s in Doha. As part of economic diversification strategies (since almost all government revenues are derived from petroleum and natural gas production), the government of the State of Qatar has embarked on a number of cultural development projects, including new museums, heritage preservation, book publishing, music and theatre, and educational development (for example, the higher education hub called Education City). Some of this social and economic development focuses on local culture, while other initiatives encourage international engagement with well-known Western cultural icons such as Shakespeare, as well as contemporary visual artists including Damien Hirst, Richard Serra and Luc Tuymans, to signal Qatar's desire to brand itself as an emerging, sophisticated and cosmopolitan nation. This study examines the ambivalence in Qatar towards the Western artistic influence as a form of cultural imperialism and erosive of Muslim values, yet the local fondness for English culture in part due to Britain's protectorship over the Gulf states in the form of the maritime truces and Political Resident system. Tracing the history of the Doha Players troupe, as well as the state-sponsored Qatar National Theatre, provides the context for the difficulties in presenting The Tempest to a local audience in November 2015. The directors faced the challenges of censorship, logistical concerns and the tradition of gender segregation that permeates all layers of society and education. This study presents a complex and conflicting portrait of Qataris’ ambivalent attitudes not only towards Shakespeare, but also towards Qatar's colonial heritage, Western literature, modernity, the newly dominant Anglo-American paradigm of education (related to the rise of global Englishes) and the extraordinary transformation of Qatar from a traditional mixed beddu/hadar culture to a significant regional power broker within two generations. 

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Published in: QScience Connect
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Open Access funding provided by the Qatar National Library.



  • English


Hamad bin Khalifa University Press

Publication Year

  • 2021

License statement

This Item is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Institution affiliated with

  • Weill Cornell Medicine - Qatar

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