The Monk's Daughter and Her Suitor: An Egyptian Shadow Play of Interfaith Romance and Insanity.

Author:Guo, Li


The shadow play is a theatrical art form with a rich history. In the nineteenth century, Western travelers and adventurers to Egypt reported on their experiences attending "shadow play shows"; but what they saw was actually karagoz, an imported genre performed in Turkish. (1) Scholars, on the other hand, began to notice the indigenous Arabic shadow play known as khayal al-zill. At the turn of the twentieth century, with Georg Jacob (d. 1937) and Paul Kahle (d. 1964) at the helm, (2) German orientalists conducted fieldwork--discovering manuscripts, attending performances, and documenting them. While their research prioritized Ibn Daniyal's (d. 1310) work, the earliest surviving testimony to this art form, (3) attention was paid to later development as well. In 1903 Friedrich Kern (d. 1921) saw a shadow play titled Lib al-bayt (Play of the House) about the saga of a Coptic monk whose daughter falls in love with a Muslim merchant. He published a synopsis, based on memory. (4) When Curt Prufer (d. 1959) came to Cairo for doctoral research shortly afterward, he too set sights on this play. Priifer made contact with the performer, Darwlsh al-Qashshash, a shadow master in Cairo's old town, and gained access to his notebooks. He presented a transcribed script, which he titled Li'b ed-der (Play of the Monastery), accompanied by his own line drawings, and submitted it as his thesis at Erlangen, where Jacob taught. (5)

I thank the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) for funding my research in Cairo in the summer of 2015. Special thanks go to Raouf Hilal, the Director of the Egyptian National Library (Dar al-Kutub), for granting me permission to examine and digitize a key codex whose microfilm was missing when the building that housed the Microfilm Collection (Bab al-Khalq) was damaged by a bombing in 2014. I would also like to extend my gratitude to the friendly and able staff at both branches of the Department of Manuscripts, Papyrus, and Numismatic Collections (Corniche and Bab al-Khalq) and in the Periodicals Reading Room. Peri Bearman and two anonymous reviewers for JAOS offered sharp critique, insightful comments, and valuable suggestions for the improvement of this essay. Marlis Saleh and Ekin Enacar, of the University of Chicago, helped me with Coptic and Turkish names. Francesca Bellino, formerly of the University of Turin, kindly shared with me her work on the Paul Kahle Fonds and facilitated my research into the material there. I am grateful to them all. All errors that remain are mine.

Regarding his source material, Priifer wrote that in 1905 he saw several manuscripts at the shadow master's place, but was only allowed to view them for a short time. (6) Judging from the content, the primary codex upon which he based his edition is not among the eight surviving manuscripts described below. By all indications, Priifer's manuscript, which contains poems not found elsewhere (more on this below) and dialogue that is entirely missing from all the eight known manuscripts, is unaccounted for today. (7)

During his stay in Cairo Paul Kahle obtained a manuscript of zajal poems for shadow plays from the same master. This Diwan kedes (kuds, kadas) is attributed to several poets. (8) Among them is Dawud al-Munawi, himself a shadow master, who once performed for the Ottoman sultan and wrote a poem about it. (9) Kahle also hunted down rare shadow play artifacts. Among the eighty-plus flat puppet figures he acquired in the Nile Delta village of al-Manzala, three depict the main characters of the play under discussion: the Monk, his daughter, and her suitor. (10)

German orientalists' work caught the attention of the Egyptian bibliophile, Ahmad Taymur (d. 1931)," who started his own acquisition in earnest: the well-known Taymur Manuscripts and Rare Books Collection of the Egyptian National Library has six Ottoman and early modern shadow play manuscripts, three of which were owned by the aforementioned performer al-Qashshash. (12) It is apparent that the resourceful shadow master al-Qashshash

After the initial discovery, the remarkable theatrical work of the Coptic monk and his daughter seems to have slipped into oblivion. Taymur did not publish anything further, and while Kahle evidently planned to carry on, his research notes remain unfinished. In his 1993 encyclopedia of shadow plays, Khayal al-iill al-'arabi, Faruq Sa'd reintroduced the work to Arab readership, using two Taymur manuscripts, as he had no access to Kahle's unpublished material. (13) Recently I was able to examine all six Taymur manuscripts in Cairo and gain access to Kahle's papers in Turin. It is now time to move forward.

In what follows, I track the trajectory of the play from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century, detailing all known textual and visual testimonies. I document all the elements identified as that of the shadow play, mapping out the various layers of the composite core text. Through a comparison of the "working script" (via Prufer's transcript, which only covers a fraction of the contents documented by the manuscripts) with the other texts, I discuss the transformations that shed light not only on the play itself, but also on the state of Egyptian shadow theatre in Ottoman and early modern times in general.


    (1.) (Tl) Taymur shi'r, no. 785: Kitab al-Rawd al-waddah fi tahani al-afrah al-musamma bi-ijtima al-shaml fi fann khayal al-iill (The Luminous Garden of Joyful Songs, Known as Selected Lyrics from Shadow Plays)

    The title(s) make clear that this was a book of poems for performers of shadow plays with special reference to selected scenes. The names of both Hasan and Darwlsh al-Qashshash, father and son, appear frequently. The randomly arranged verses belong to six plays, chief among them 'Alam wa-Ta ddir, after the two protagonists. (14) The manuscript is paginated. Consisting of 300 pages, it is made up of two volumes (sg. kitab), in different hands and on various types of paper. The parts that cover 'Alam wa-Ta adir are pp. 1-155 and 165-282, written in one hand. Long song-cycles are often marked with a phrase, or refrains, serving as heading. Loosely arranged in terms of the order of the overall narrative line, volume one deals with events before the protagonist's madness and volume two continues from there to the finale. Volume two also includes additional songs.

    In addition to 'Alam wa-Ta adir, the other shadow plays in the manuscript are Abu Ja far, about the farcical rivalry between two countrymen; Li'b al-mandr (The Play of the Lighthouse [of Alexandria]), the townspeople's fights against the Crusading naval fleets; Li'b al-timsah (The Play of the Crocodile), about a fisherman's life; Shaykh Sumaysim, a Sufi master's dealings with a landowning woman; and al-Hajjiyya (The Pilgrimage Tale), a comic take on the treacherous journey. (15)

    (2.) (T2) Taymur shi r, no. 970: al-Sirmata fi azjal khayal al-zill (A Collection of Shadow Play Songs)

    Ahmad Taymur had remarked that zajal songs from shadow plays were collected in anthologies known as sirmata (surmata), of which he possessed several. (16) The songs in this collection can be linked to five shadow plays, chief among them 'Alam wa-Ta adir. Different hands are witnessed, as the clusters are arranged randomly. The opening song introduces the presenter (muqaddim) as "Hasan Qashshash and his son Darwish Qashshash." The manuscript, paginated, has headings that highlight the scenes. The play is divided into four clusters: pp. 1-31; 66-122; 164-81; and 187-203. The clusters are not arranged in any particular order, for the first and second overlap in content. Compared with T1, this codex is much leaner; yet it offers elements not witnessed in the former. Noteworthy is the second cluster, which offers the most detailed headings for the songs and is in essence a condensed version of the complete work.

    Other shadow plays found in the manuscript are Shaykh Sumaysim, Li'b al-timsah, Li'b al-shuni (The Play of the Boating), about a disastrous ride by a raucous group crossing the Nile, (17) and Abu Ja far.

    1. (T3) Taymur shi r, no. 666: Majmu (Songbook)

      On the corner of the title page is a note by Taymur that the shadow master al-Qashshash was also a poet (nazim) of the anthology, "whose home was at the corner of the Amir al-Juyush marketplace," a stone's throw from the Khan al-Khalili bazaar. The table of contents lists sixty-six zajal poems, by al-Shaykh Su ud, Ali al-Nahla, and Dawud al-Munawi al-'Attar, showcasing a wide range: love songs and panegyrics (religious and political) for weddings, festivals, and other public celebrations. The manuscript has folio numbers. Three song-cycles from the play, under the rubric "The Sane and the Insane," are included on fols. 94r-104r; 138v-41v; and 150v-52v respectively.

    2. (T4) Taymur shi'r, no. 776: Safinat zajal madh fi al-nabi (A Collection of zajal Songs in Praise of the Prophet)

      Both title page and colophon identify the manuscript as safinat zajal, namely, a songbook in oblong format, like a ship (safina), with the lines running horizontal to the spine. The colophon contains a date of completion: 13 Muharram 1301 (15 November 1883), and the name of the scribe and owner, Muhammad Jad [ibn] Musa. Among the sixty-six song-cycles contained herein, two are from "The Sane and the Insane" (pp. 57-60, 173-87). The manuscript is paginated, written in a disciplined and diligent hand.

    3. (T5) Taymur shi'r, no. 667: Majmu (Songbook)

      In light of the similarities of this codex with T4 and T6, the provenance could be traced to Muhammad Jad. The anthology consists of mostly devotional, and some didactic, poems. Of the sixty-four song-cycles featured, two were used for 'Alam wa-Ta adir: one from "The Sane and the Insane" (pp. 103-27; two missing pages were later inserted between pp. 126 and 127) and one from "Ta (c)adlr and the Devil {Hfrit)" (pp. 214-28). The manuscript is paginated...

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