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The King Is the King (Al-Malik huwa 'l-Malik)

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Sa'dallah Wannus

From Modern Arabic Drama: An Anthology
© 1995 Indiana University Press
Reproduced with permission of the publisher, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana.
For information on ordering this anthology, phone 800-842-6796, visit the Indiana University Press website
(, or email


The King Is the King (Al-Malik huwa 'l-Malik) is the most recent in a series of plays in which Sadallah Wannus, one of the Arab world's most prominent dramatists, has experimented with a variety of multilayered presentations on the stage, often involving a complex relationship between the actors and the audience. The basic story, that of Abu al-Hasan, the henpecked husband in the Thousand and One Nights, is set in a frame like the original tale, involving two characters, Zahid and 'Ubayd, who orchestrate the actions and explain their implications. The central tale tells how Abu al-Hasan (whom Wannus calls Abu 'IZZA in the play) is tricked by the King: brought to the palace in a drunken stupor, Abu 'IZZA is put on the throne and made to believe he is King. The actual King's plans immediately start to go badly awry, as Abu 'IZZA assumes the royal mantle with great ease, reducing the redoutable Police Chief to a whimpering underling. The Queen seems entirely unworried by the change. At the end of the play, Abu 'IZZA is still King, and it is left for Zahid and 'Ubayd to draw conclusions about the nature and abuse of authority. In this play as in others, Wannus makes skillful use of framing and distancing techniques. As usual, he also has very specific instructions regarding performance: the actors are to use a very histrionic approach, and the costumes are to be elaborate, all with the purpose of exaggerating social differences and pointing to the play's primary message:

The mottoes on the POSTERS (or slides) should be read aloud by either 'UBAYD or ZAHID or both in unison. These preliminary remarks may be made while the actors make their entrances.

This is to emphasize the role of 'UBAYD and ZAHID as leaders of the game.

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