The al-Bassam Theatre’s ‘Murder of Clarence’

Tuesday on the NewsHour, Jeffrey Brown profiles Kuwaiti writer and theater director Sulayman al-Bassam, who adapts Shakespeare to explore contemporary culture and politics in the Persian Gulf.

Al-Bassam, 36, was born and raised in Kuwait. He spent 10 years in the United Kingdom, studying theater at the University at Edinburgh and working in London’s theater world, before returning home six years ago to found the Al-Bassam Theatre in Kuwait City. Though its projects vary greatly in scale, style and location, its recurrent themes examine the relationship between the Arab world and the West.

“Richard III: An Arab Tragedy,” which is being performed at Arabesque, is presented in Arabic with English subtitles. The play unfolds within the feudal atmosphere of an oil-rich kingdom. The questions of leadership, religion and foreign intervention that are at the heart of Shakespeare’s play take on powerful new meanings in a modern Arab-Islamic context. Below is the “Murder of Clarence,” the final scene of Act I from the play (English transcript after the video).


CLARENCE: (Making ritual cleansing in water before prayers.) I swear there is no God but Allah. God forgive my sins….In God’s name what art thou?

MURDERER: A man as you are.

CLARENCE: If you be hired for money go back again and I will send you to my brother Gloucester …He shall reward you better for my life than the King does for news of my death.

MURDERER: You are deceived, he hates you.
CLARENCE: Do not slander him. He is kind and merciful.

MURDERER: Merciful as rain on mud huts. He sent me to slaughter you.
Pray now for you must die.

CLARENCE: Dare you counsel me to pray to God yet would war with God by murdering me?…He who kills without due reason, it is as though he kills the whole of humanity.

CLARENCE: And do not shed blood that is sacred by Allah’s law.

CLARENCE: Al Rawandi in the sources says: beware of shedding innocent
MURDERER: Pray! (Drowns him in prayer water.)