Jordan, Syria
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The Best ‘Hamlet’ Ever Is In The Shakespeare Tent At Zaatari

To be or not to be!” the boy is chanting, and the crowd behind him echoes his words. It isn’t a protest, though it looks a bit like one. This is Hamlet like you’ve never seen, performed by young Syrian refugees in Jordan’s Zaatari Refugee Camp with uncanny aptness.

The camp might seem an unlikely place to put on Arabic versions of the Bard’s tragedies; the international aid organizations that were asked to fund them apparently thought so, and declined. So the Zaatari theater crew built the “Shakespeare Tent” out of scrap and recycled materials, and its actors are now rehearsing Hamlet and King Lear.

Their bare-bones staging in no way impedes the plays’ power. It rather sweeps away eras of student boredom at being force-fed Elizabethan language, revealing Shakespeare’s genius: namely, to put words to the pain of having to make impossible choices.

Like Hamlet, these young Syrians have inherited a bloody conflict that has left them haunted by the ghosts of loved ones. Like him, they know that the voice of a murdered person comes back to life as a collective call for revenge—so in their version, Hamlet’s father is played by the whole chorus speaking in unison. And since media coverage of Syria hasn’t given them a speaking part, they’ve claimed one through Shakespeare’s lines, delivered with the authority of experience.

The plays will debut on March 27, World Theater Day, and Ban Ki Moon, Angelina Jolie, and other high-profile humanitarians have been invited. For those who can make it, these performances are not to be missed.

For more info – Shakespeare In Zaatari’s Facebook page

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Jennifer MacKenzie

Poet, writer and teacher Jennifer MacKenzie grew up on Bloomcrest Dr. in Bloomfield Hills, MI, which inspired her to wonder about places with patterns other than floral. Following her education at Wesleyan University's College of Letters and the University of Iowa's Writers Workshop, she followed a zig-zag course that included a pilgrimage across the top of Spain and a long sojourn in Syria in pursuit of the language of Muhammad al-Maghout and Moudthaffar al-Nawwab. While in Damascus she completed the books of poems "Distant City" and "My Not-My Soldier" (forthcoming from Fence Books) and edited the magazine Syria Today. Her poems and essays can be found in numerous journals including the Kenyon Review online, Guernica, Quarterly West, and Lungfull. She currently lives in New York.

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