Born: Husay Tawfiq Ismail Ahmad al-Hakim in Alexandria, Egypt, 9 October 1898. Education: Educated at Damanhur infant school; Muhammad Ali Secondary School, Cairo, until 1921; law school at University of Cairo, 1921-25; the Sorbonne, Paris, 1925-28. Family: Married in 1944 (wife died 1977); one son (died 1978) and one daughter. Career: Apprentice public prosecutor, Alexandria, 1928-29, then public prosecutor in small towns, 1929-34; director of Investigation Bureau, Ministry of Education, 1934-39; director of social guidance, Ministry of Social Affairs, 1939-43; then full-time writer: associated with the newspapers Akhbar al-Yawm and Al-Ahram; director general of Egyptian National Library, 1951-56; member of the Egyptian Higher Council of Arts, Literature, and Social Sciences, 1956-59, and from 1960. Egyptian representative, Unesco, Paris, 1959-60. President, Nadi al-Qissa, 1974. Awards: State literature prize, 1961. Awarded Cordon of the Republic, 1958. Member: Academy of the Arabic Language, 1954. Died: 26 July 1987.



In the Tavern of Life and Other Stories, translated by William Maynard Hutchins. 1998.


Ahl al-Kahf. 1933; translated as The People of the Cave, 1989.

Shahrazad. 1934; as Shahrazad, translated by William M. Hutchins, in Plays, Prefaces, and Postscripts, 1981.

Muhammad. 1936; as Muhammed, translated by Ibrahim Hassan el-Mongy, 1964, revised by Ahmad Kamal Metwalli, 1985.

Nahr al-Junun, in Masrahiyat [Plays]. 1937; translated as The River of Madness, in Islamic Literature, 1963.

Masrahiyat [Plays]. 2 vols., 1937.

Praksa, aw Mushkilat al-Hukm [Praksa, the Difficult Business of Ruling]. 1939.

Nashid al-Anshad [The Song of Songs]. 1940.

Sulayman at-Hakim. 1941; as The Wisdom of Solomon, translated by William M. Hutchins, in Plays, Prefaces, and Postscripts, 1981.

Pygmalion. 1942.

Shajarat al-Hukm [The Rulership Tree]. 1945.

Al-Malik Udib. 1949; as King Oedipus, translated by William M. Hutchins, in Plays, Prefaces, and Postscripts, 1981.

Masrah at-Mujtama’ [The Theatre of Society] (collection). 1950.

Al-Aydi al-Na’ima. 1954; as Tender Hands, translated by William M. Hutchins, in Plays, Prefaces, and Postscripts, 1981.

Isis. 1955.

Al-Masrah al-Munawwa’ [The Diverse Theatre] (collection). 1956.

As-Safqa [The Deal]. 1956.

Rihla ila al-Ghad [Voyage of Tomorrow]. 1957; as Al-’alam al-Majhul [The Unknown World], 1973; as Voyage to Tomorrow, translated by William M. Hutchins, in Plays, Prefaces, and Postscripts, 1981.

La’bat al-Mawt [Death Game]. 1957.

Ashwak al-Salaam [The Thorns of Peace]. 1957.

Al-Sultan al-Ha’ir. 1960; as The Sultan’s Dilemma, translated by Denys Johnson-Davies, in Fate of a Cockroach, 1973; also translated by F. Abdel Wahab, in Modern Egyptian Drama, 1974; with The Song of Death, in Arabic Writing Today—The Drama, edited by M. Manzalaoui, 1977.

Ya Tali’ al-Shajara. 1962; as The Tree Climber, translated by Denys Johnson-Davies, 1966.

Al-Ta’am li-Kull Fam. 1963; as Samira wa Hamdi, 1973; as Foodfor the Millions, translated by William M. Hutchins, in Plays, Prefaces, and Postscripts, 1981.

Rihlat al-Rabi’ wa-l-Kharif [Spring and Autumn Journeys] (includes verse). 1964; as Ma’a al-Zaman [Over the Years], 1973.

Shams al-Nahar. 1965; as Shams wa Qamar, 1973; as Princess Sunshine, translated by William M. Hutchins, in Plays, Prefaces, and Postscripts, 1981.

Al-Warta. 1966; as Incrimination, translated by William M. Hutchins, in Plays, Prefaces and Postscripts, 1981.

Bank al-Qalaq [Anxiety Bank]. 1966.

Masir Sarsar. 1966; as Fate of a Cockroach, translated by Denys Johnson-Davies, 1973.

Majlis al-’Adl [Council of Justice]. 1972.

Al-hubb [Love] (collection). 1973.

Fate of a Cockroach (includes Fate of a Cockroach; The Song of Death; The Sultan’s Dilemma; Not a Thing out of Place), translated by Denys Johnson-Davies. 1973.

Al-Dunya Riwaya Hazaliya. 1974; as The World Is a Comedy, translated by Riad Habib Youssef, with A Conversation with the Planet Earth, 1985.

Al-Hamir [Donkeys]. 1975.

Ashad al-Sa’ada al-Zawjiya [Happily Married] (collection). 1981.

Imsik Harami [Catch a Thief]. 1981.

Ah … Law ‘Arafa al-Shabab [Oh ... If Only Youth Knew]. 1981.

‘Imar Mu’allim Kanduz [The Building of Master Kanduz] (collection). 1981.

Plays, Prefaces, and Postscripts (includes Shahrazad; The Wisdom of Solomon; King Oedipus; Tender Hands; Voyage to Tomorrow; Food for the Millions; Princess Sunshine), translated by William M. Hutchins. 2 vols., 1981-84.


Awdat al-Ruh [Return of the Spirit]. 1933.

Ahl al-Fann [Artistes]. 1934.

Al-Qasr al-Mashur [The Enchanted Castle], with Taha Husayn. 1936.

Yawmyyat Na’ib fi al-Aryaf. 1937; as The Maze of Justice, translated by Abba S. Eban, 1947.

Tarikh Hayat Ma’ida [Biography of a Stomach]. 1938; as Malik al-Tufayliyin [King of the Moochers], 1946; as Ash’ab, Amir al-Tufayliyin [Ash'ab, Prince of the Moochers], 1963.

‘Usfur min al-Sharq. 1938; as Bird of the East, translated by Bayley Winder, 1966.

‘Ahd al-Shaytan [Pact with Satan]. 1938; as Madrasat al-Shaytan [Satan's School], 1955.

Raqisat al-Ma’bad [The Temple Dancer]. 1939.

Al-Ribat al-Muqaddas [The Sacred Bond]. 1944.

Qisas [Stories]. 2 vols., 1949.

‘Adala wa Fann [Justice and Art]. 1953; as Ann wa’l-Qanun wal’Fann [The Law, Art, and I], 1973.

Arini Allah [Show Me God]. 1953.

Min Dhikrayat al-Fann wa’t-Qada’ [Memories of Art and Justice]. 1953.

Madrasa al-Mughaffalin [School for Fools]. 1953.

Laylat at-Zifaf [Wedding Night]. 1966.

Al-Amira al-Bayda aw Bayad al-Nahar [Snow White]. 1978.


Tahta Shams al-Fikr [By the Light of the Sun of Thought]. 1938.

Himar al-Hakim [Al-Hakim's Ass]. 1940.

Sultan al-Zalam [The Reign of Darkness]. 1941.

Taht al-Misbh al-Akhdar [By the Light of the Green Lamp]. 1941.

Min al-Burj al-’Aji [From the Ivory Tower]. 1941.

Zahrat al-’Umr [The Flower of Life]. 1943.

Himari Qala li [My Donkey Told Me]. 1945.

Fann al-Adab [The Art of Literature]. 1952.

‘Asa al-Hakim [Al-Hakim's Staff]. 1954.

Ta’ammulatfi al-Siyasa [Reflections on Politics]. 1954.

Al-Ta’aduliya [The Art of Balance]. 1955.

Adab al-Haycat [The Literature of Life]. 1959.

Sijn al-’Umr. 1964; as The Prison of Life, translated by Pierre Cachia, 1992.

Qalibuna al-Masrahi [Our Theatrical Form]. 1967.

Qult. . . dhat Yawm [I Said . . . One Day]. 1970.

Tawfiq al-Hakim yatahaddath [Tawfiq al-Hakim Discusses]. 1971.

Thawrat al-Shabab [Revolt of the Young]. 1971.

Ahadith ma’a Tawfiq al-Hakim min sana 1951-1971 [Conversations with Tawfiq al-Hakim], edited by Salah Tahir. 1971.

Rahib bayna Nisa’ [A Monk among Women]. 1972.

Rihla bayna ‘Asrayn [Journey Between Two Ages]. 1972.

Himari wa’Asaya wa’l-Akharun [My Donkey and Stick and the Others]. 1972.

Hadith ma’a al-Kawtab. 1974; as A Conversation with the Planet Earth, translated by Riad Habib Youssef, with The World Is a Comedy, 1985.

‘Awdat al-Wa’y. 1974; as The Return of Consciousness, translated by Bayley Winder, 1985.

Safahat min al-Tarikh al-Adabi min Waqi’ Rasa’il wa-Watha’iq [Pages from Literary History: Selected Letters and Documents]. 1975.

Bayn al-Fikr wa’l-Fann [Between Thought and Art]. 1976.

Ta’am al-Fann wa’l-Ruh wa’l-Aql [Food for Art, Spirit, and Intellect]. 1977.

Malamih Dakhiliya [Inner Features]. 1982.

Equilibrium and Islam. 1983.

Critical Studies:

Tawfiq al-Hakim by I. Adham and I. Nagi, 1945; Studies in the Arab Theatre and Cinema by J. Landau, 1958; Tawfiq al-Hakim and the West by Gilbert Tutunji, 1966; Drama and Society in Contemporary Egypt by A. Ismail, 1967; ”Un Dramaturge egyptien: Tawfiq al-Hakim et l’avantgarde” by Nada Tomiche, in Revu de litterature comparee, 45, 1971; The Modern Egyptian Novel by H. Kilpatrick, 1974; Arabic Writing Today—The Drama (includes translations) by M. Manzalaoui, 1977; ”Philosophical Themes in Tawfiq al-Hakim’s Drama,” in Journal of Arabic Literature, 8, 1977, From the Ivory Tower: A Critical Study of Tawfiq al-Hakim, 1987, and ”Tawfiq al-Hakim (1898-1987): Leading Playwright of the Arab World,” in Theater Three, 6, 1989, all by Paul Starkey; Mort— resurrection: Une Lecture de Tawfiq al-Hakim by J. Fontaine, 1978; Tawfiq al Hakim: Playwright of Egypt by Richard Long, 1979; ”Idealism and Ideology: The Case of Tawfiq al-Hakim” by Pierre Cachia, in Journal of the American Oriental Society, 100, 1980; Modern Arabic Drama in Egypt by M.M. Badawi, 1988; ”The Treatment of Greek Drama by Tawfiq al-Hakim” by Mahmoud al-Shetawi, in World Literature Today, 63, 1989.

Tawfiq al-Hakim is widely regarded both as the founder of the modern Egyptian theatre, and as a major contributor to the development of the modern Arabic novel.

Though he had already written some plays in colloquial Arabic for the popular theatre while studying in Cairo, it was al-Hakim’s stay in France between 1925 and 1928 that played the major role in determining the course of his future literary career. In Paris he fell under the spell of avant-garde authors such as Shaw, Maeterlinck, and Pirandello, and it is these writers’ influence that is apparent in the ”intellectual” plays for which al-Hakim is best known.

The first of these dramas, Ahl al-Kahf (The People of the Cave), related the Qur’anic story of the sleepers of Ephesus to the contemporary situation of Egypt, as the country woke from a long period of stagnation to face the challenges of the 20th century. The Pirandellian confusion between fantasy and reality apparent there was carried further in Shahrazad, in which the heroine of The Thousand and One Nights is presented as the embodiment of a ”mysterious woman,” whose nature is interpreted by the other main characters each according to his own disposition, but whose true nature remains elusive to the end of the play. Meanwhile, al-Hakim had already produced his first novel, Awdat al-Ruh [Return of the Spirit], a work set at the time of the 1919 uprising against British rule. This work, characterized by a vision of the Egyptian peasant as the direct descendant of his Pharaonic forebears, marked the beginning of a new realistic trend in the Arabic novel, and was much admired by, among others, Nasser.

The series of ”intellectual” dramas begun with The People of the Cave and Shahrazad was continued with Pygmalion—partly inspired by Shaw’s play of the same title—and Al-Malik Udib (King Oedipus), an attempt, according to the author, to rework the legend of Oedipus in accordance with Islamic beliefs, eliminating the concept of fate. Though these plays have apparently little direct relevance to contemporary Egyptian society, elsewhere al-Hakim’s treatment of his themes is clearly intended to relate to the Egypt of the day. Sulayman al-Hakim (The Wisdom of Solomon), for example, discusses the relationship between wisdom and power, using stories from the Qur’an and The Thousand and One Nights; Isis takes as its main theme the question of whether the end justifies the means; and in Al-Sultan al-Ha’ir (The Sultan’s Dilemma)—a play set in Mameluke Egypt—al-Hakim discusses a question which he regarded as crucial for the world, and the Egypt, of the 1960s: should the country seek to resolve its problems by the application of law, or by force?

In addition to these ”intellectual” plays, al-Hakim composed, between 1945 and 1950, a series of short plays on Egyptian social themes—of widely varying quality—which were later collected and published in book form.

Unlike most Egyptian writers of his generation, al-Hakim had not allowed himself to become identified with any particular political party in the inter-war years. This attitude of detachment stood him in good stead with the new regime which came to power in 1952, and in the following years he received a number of honours and official appointments. His attitude towards the new regime was expressed in the play Al-Aydi al-Na’ima (Tender Hands), the main theme of which is the need for reconciliation between the various classes of Egyptian society. Meanwhile, he had continued to produce a stream of essays and articles in the Egyptian press, in addition to three more major novels, including Yawmyyat Na’ib fi al-Aryaf (The Maze of Justice), the work regarded by some as his masterpiece. This work, in diary form, and based on al-Hakim’s own experiences as a rural prosecutor, presents a damning picture of corruption in Egyptian rural society, highlighting the gulf between the mentality of the Egyptian fellah and that of the European-style legal system imposed on him.

Two main trends can be seen in al-Hakim’s work during the post-1952 period. Firstly, his major works are for the most part all plays; secondly, his work shows a new enthusiasm for technical experiment, largely, though not exclusively, inspired by developments in contemporary Western theatre. The first, and most successful, of these experimental plays—Ya Tali’al-Shajara (The Tree Climber)—shows the influence of the ”theatre of absurd,” with which al-Hakim had become acquainted on a recent visit to Paris; while Al-Ta’am li-Kull Fam (Food for the Millions), for example, seems to have been influenced by Brecht.

By the end of his life, al-Hakim had become almost a national institution in his native Egypt. The range of themes and influences evident in his work, however, makes an overall evaluation difficult; and his work is further marked by an inconsistency both of quality and of outlook. On the one hand, his use of language is characterized by an admirable simplicity of style; on the other, much of his work is marred by a tendency to quasi-philosophical rambling at the expense of artistic unity. Many of his plays lack dramatic qualities, and were— on his own admission—intended to be read rather than acted. The best of them, however, have an appeal far beyond the Arab world, and assure him of a lasting place in the history of modern Arabic literature.

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