Sheiken, not stirred

A little south of Basra, now merged into the Basra metropolitan area, is the small - 60,000 currently - city of Zubayr.  In times past, though, it was an emirite, its Emir being entitled to the Arabic honorific of Sheik.  The Sheik of Zubayr.  Sheik Zubayr....  Say it, let it roll off your tongue.

Which brings us to the postulated author Sheik Zubayr bin William, a sixteenth century Arab born, or at least living in, England.  The idea of an Iraqi Shakespeare was first raised by Ahmad Faris Shidyaq in the 19th Century, by all acounts in a tongue in cheek fashion.  The argument was made in all appearances of seriousness in 1960 by Iraqi poet, journalist, and novelist Safa Khulusi.  Khulusi was a literary scholar, well versed in English literature as well as his native culture.  And to him, apparently, the idea made sense.  After all, at least according to Khulusi, "Shakespeare" used more Arabic places in his work, and used more Arabic derived terms in his work, than could be accounted for by chance.  Alexandria, Memphis, Tyre, Jerusalem, Aleppo, Antioch, Damascus and Tripoli find mention in his work.  Phoenix and the Turtle, Othello, Henry V, Taming of the Shrew, all mention Arabic places or features. Macbeth provides us with the first use of the term "assassain" in English; assassain is derived from the Arabic ħashshāshīyīn.  Hashshāshīyīn is itself derived from Hashish, which could well be said about other things.  But none of that.

The kicker, though, was the Chandos portrait.  Obervers of the Oxenfraudian authorship fantasy are acquainted with the damage "it sounds like Shakespeare!" can do; for Khulusi the Chandos portrait looked like an Arab.  Mainly, the beard, but the general cast of features as well gave the appearance of an Arab - at least for Khulusi.  He also found comfort in the idea that the multiple spellings of Shakespeare could represent English speakers coming to grips with the spelling of Sheik Zubayr, to put it mildly an unfamiliar name for Elizabethans.  The hyphen that makes its way into the spelling indicates that the name was, in fact, two names in origin.

None of this is all that unfamiliar in authorship debate terms.  Even the theory of the hyphen will sound familiar with long time imdbers who recall the now deleted thread that informed us all "Shakespeare" was actually the anglicized version of "Jacques Pierre".  Sheik Zubayr does have one thing that separates him from the other candidates: he never existed.  Or more precisely, there is no evidence to indicate that such a person existed in Elizabethan England.  Not that this stopped Khulusi, or the most celebrated adherent to this particular theory, Libyan Shakespeare expert and all around former man of culture Muammar al-Qaddafi.

There is no reason why this should be a draw back.  After all, if Marlowe can be posited as author of works written twenty years after his well-publicized death, if the rotting and putrifying corpse of Oxenford can write eleven plays in clearly Jacobean styles after the Earl's death in 1604, what is the problem with positing someone who never existed as the author.  Because, you see, this is what makes the non-existant Sheik Zubayr a better candidate than Oxenford: with no biography to be nailed to like a thief to a cross, you can posit any life span for the guy you want.  No longer do you have to move The Tempest up to 20 years before the tragicomedy was born in order to account for it.  No need to worry about the five act sturcture problem!  All solved.  Because when you are inventing someone out of whole cloth you get to assign him any death date you want!  You can even have him supervising personally the trail of identity deceits and false leads necessary to conceal authorship all the way up to and beyond the First Folio!  Heck, even up to the second folio!  Free of any constraints you are free to invent,  And since alternative authorship is all invention anyway, positing ANY alternate authorship requires swallowing the elephant, why strain at the gnat of utter non-existence?

 

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