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Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg
Universitätsbibliothek

Theatre

From Sauna’s full-length Arabic dramas (with more than one act), which he in various articles of Abou Naddara and in his unpublished Memoires claims to have been thirty-two in number, only one was published as a separate book during his lifetime: Mūliyīr Miṣr wa-mā yuqāsī (The Egyptian Molière and What He Suffers). However, according to Ibrāhīm ʿAbduh, a one-act piece called Il marito infedele, was published in Italy already in 1876. Matti Moosa additionally mentions the Arabic title of a French play -as-Salāsil al-Muḥaṭṭama (The Shattered Chains)- which according to him, appeared in Paris in 1911.

DAs sketches and dialogues were amply spread throughout Sanua’s diverse journals, Nagua Ibrahim Anous undertook the task of collecting the ones which must be classified as theater plays directly from the magazines. Another scholar, Muḥammad Yūsuf Najm published eight plays –The Egyptian Molière among them- from the manuscripts, which Sanua’s daughter Louli Milhaud-Sanua had preserved, in the third of his volumes about Arabic theatre. These eight plays, however, can be reduced to seven because one of them is only a short dialogue between an English tourist and donkey-boy (as-sawwāḥ wa-al-ḥammār).

Sanuaʾs preserved full-length plays are, therefore, būrṣat miṣr (The Egyptian Stock Market), al-ʿalīl (The Sick), abū rīda l-barbarī wa-maʿshūqatuh kaʿb al-khayr (The Black Abū Rīda and His Beloved Kaʿb al-Khayr), aṣ-ṣadāqa yʿanī zawāg as-sitt warda maʿ ibn ʿammihā (Faithfulness: [which means] Miss Warda’s Wedding to Her Cousin), al-amīra al-iskandarānīya (the Alexandrian Princess), aḍ-ḍurratayn (The two Co-Wives), and mūliyīr miṣr wa-mā yuqāsī (The Egyptian Molière and what He Suffers). All of them are introduced as comedies and describe, in a satirical way, old and new social habits of the Egyptian upper-class: the money exchange on the stock market (būrṣat miṣr), health treatment in the baths of Ḥilwān (al-ʿalīl), the handling of the house employees and the matchmaker (abū rīda l-barbarī wa-maʿshūqatuh kaʿb al-khayr), the cousin-wedding of a girl who faithfully awaits her beloved’s return from England (aṣ-ṣadāqa aʿnī zawāj as-sitt warda maʿ ibn ʿammiha), the exaltation of everything French (al-amīra l-iskandarānīya) and the problems of polygamy (aḍ-ḍurratayn).

The only play in Arabic, separately published during Sanua’s lifetime, The Egyptian Molière, must be considered the least typical example of his short experience as a playwright. The plot is presented as autobiographical and summarizes the problems Sanua encountered while managing his theater company. Unlike the rest of Sanua’s plays in Najm’s collection, his Egyptian Molière was composed in zajal (rhymed-prose). It was most probably rewritten before its publication. As a matter of fact, during the outline of The Egyptian Molière, the actors are quoting dialogues from former plays which do not coincide with the corresponding texts of Muḥammad Yūsuf Najm’s publication.

Sanua’s legacy of manuscripts contains two more unpublished theater plays. One is a one-act sketch in French, called Bou la-la and the other one is a full-length Arabic play with a torn title.

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