The bigger picture

“Kudos for Khurram Ali Shafique for offering an alternative reading of The Tempest, and that too according to Iqbal,” writes Peerzada Slaman in this review of Shakespeare According to Iqbal, originally published in Dawn, Books and Authors on April 5, 2010.

Shakespeare according to IqbalThey say William Shakespeare created the most of God. The reference is to the myriad of (believable) characters that he created. Even when someone tries to criticise him, the best s/he can do is to suggest that Hamlet is an ‘artistic failure’. Notice the use of the word artistic. Shakespeare’s works can be less successful but they’re never less artistic. And art reflects life, if it isn’t life.

There must be a reason why literary giants like Allama Iqbal showered profuse praise on Shakespeare, for the playwright’s art was gleaned from life. Iqbal was no ordinary individual himself. His perceptions of, and outlook on, human existence is no secret. If Allama Iqbal praised Asadullah Ghalib, Mawlana Rumi or Shakespeare, the common thread was life.

Shakespeare created characters that were flesh and blood, embodying all the human traits. Iqbal could see the bigger picture behind his ostensibly eccentric or plain dramatis personae. Kudos for Khurram Ali Shafique for offering an alternative reading of The Tempest, and that too according to Iqbal.

The book is divided into three parts (‘The Seven Stages of Potent Art’, ‘Twice Upon a Time’, ‘The Human Spirit’) which highlight the confluence, to a certain degree, of the Shakespearean play and the nearly two centuries’ old Persian poem Haft Payker (Seven Beauties) by the legendary poet Nezami Ganjavi. Rumi also features with his masterful Masnavi, which is the least surprising.

The special thing about the book is the notes at the end that elaborate the allusions, references and events mentioned in the three sections. They elucidate the finer points of the text, even for those who know The Tempest (if not Shakespeare) and Iqbal (if not in entirety) like the back of their hand.

An interesting aspect that the book highlights is the 14-line poem that the Allama wrote for William Shakespeare. The discussion in the section ‘The Human Spirit’ suggests that each couplet of the nazm traces the progress of one of The Tempest’s principal characters, and from Prospero’s art through to the major conflicts that appear in its chronological storyline of the play. It’s worth a careful read, and a cautious appraisal.

— Peerzada Salman

Shakespeare According to Iqbal An alternative reading of The Tempest
By Khurram Ali Shafique
Iqbal Academy Pakistan, Lahore
ISBN 978-969-416-447-2
47pp. Rs70

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