Nile Queens, Arabian Princes, Hard-Working Turks and Dirty Old Arabs

“Nile Queens, Arabian Princes, Hard-Working Turks and Dirty Old Arabs: Images of Easterners in Modern Western Plays.” (Special Topic: Fantasy, Image and Arab-Western Encounter). Culture Critique Vol 1 (2). 2009.


Written in 1917, during the height of World War I, by the most renowned playwright working in Great Britain at the time, Heartbreak House was not produced until 1920, two years after the end of the War. Shaw, who had been denounced as a traitor for expressing in “Commonsense About the War,” an essay published in 1914, less than wholehearted support for the war, postponed production of the play because he believed that the theatre-going public was unprepared for the critique of British politics and its pro-war policies contained in his play (Dietrich 128).


There are a number of seemingly obvious targets in the play —technology used for warfare, rich industrialists, self-righteous British nationalists, the British political system, and the supposed saviors of European civilization — but Arabs and the East would not seem, at least at first glance, to be among them. And one can be forgiven, if one reads the play instead of seeing it performed, for minimizing the effect on an audience of seeing one of the principal characters, Hector Hushabye, dressed in what Shaw describes as “a handsome Arab costume” for the entire second half of the play.