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What's so Funny - the Sultan's Dilemma - Contemporary World Literature

In: English and Literature

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Week 6 Written Assignment - What’s So Funny?
Contemporary World Literature

Tawfiq al-Hakim utilized different types of comedy with varying techniques throughout his play The Sultans Dilemma to lighten the seriousness of the mood. However, al-Hakim’s comedic style is more of a witty “philosophical-esc” type humor. I believe that he used this device as effective means to communicate a moral dilemma of what is right.

The seriousness of the storyline as the Sultan confronts his own fate as he places chooses between the law and the hand of the sword - the laws of the land vs. the authority of the Sultan - is mildly muted through the jesting of sidewall characters. For instance, the opening of the play is met with comedic relief as the Executioner and Condemned Man banter about the impending death sentence as they toast to the Condemned Man’s health and Executioner’s masterful work of beheading. Comedy is also, interwoven into Act II, when the Shoemaker and Wine Merchant chitchat about how they might use the Sultan if they were to purchase him, followed by the Child who begs him Mother to buy the Sultan for him as if it the mighty leader is no more than a toy. These characters allowed for the playwright’s message to be conveyed in such a way that does not deduct from its substance, but rather simply removes the solemnity in the mood of the play.

I appreciated the use of comedy in The Sultans Dilemma, and thought it was well balanced. However, for all intensive purposes of this assignment, I will illustrate the positives as well as the negative aspects of using comedy in this play.

* Two positive attributes of the use of comedy in this play include that it allowed a lightened tone over a serious subject matter and helped build up the suspense to the different climatic points throughout the play.

Examples from text: The opening scene of Act I gave a humorous banter while gripping the readers’ attention to find out the exact nature of the Condemned Man’s crime as well as his fate. This was also done in Act II, but with vendors as the readers were about to learn the Sultan’s impending fate.

*Two negative aspects of the use of comedy in this play include that it was overly drawn out in some areas and disconnected in some other instances.

Examples from text: The opening conversation between the Executioner and the Condemned Man was extremely long compared to any other use of comedic relief. Furthermore, the use of comedy faded out from scene to scene and left the reader rather confused as to its nature and al-Hakim’s intent.

References:
Al-Hakim, T. & Johnson-Davies, D. (2008). The Essential Tawfiq al-Hakim: Plays, Fiction, Autobiography. New York, NY: The American University in Cairo Press.
Al-Hakim, T. (1960). The Sultans Dilemma, in The Norton Anthology of World Literature. (2002). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.…...

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