Staging Hobb-al-Vatan: Patriotism and Nationalism in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Iranian Plays

By Sheida Dayani
Submitted to Session P4958 (Nationalism In and Out of "Translation": Theater, Satire, and Memoirs across the Persianate World, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Modern playwriting in Iran emerged in late nineteenth century alongside quests for modernism, class equality, and the rule of law, and it flourished with the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1911. The Revolution spoke of nationalism and “the reawakening of an ancient civilization” in face of Western economic and cultural penetration, but it also borrowed from the modernity, progress, and lawfulness of the West. Prior to the state agendas for nation-construction and national identity under Reza Shah, a call for patriotism, union of religions, and equal treatment of ethnicities is evident in late-nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century Iranian plays. Hobb-al-vatan (love of fatherland), was a translated concept, borrowed from Ottoman and Caucasian counterparts, that soon became the rallying cry of the Constitutional theatre.

This paper will examine Iranian theatre’s early calls for an Iranian identity prior to the formation of an Iranian nation-state. Of particular interest are plays that showcase religious or ethnic minorities, and their notions of national identity. Examples are Ti?tr-e Karim Shirehi by an anonymous writer, and a translation of Narim?n Narim?nov's Nader Shah from Azeri Turkish into Persian in 1906. This translated play is the first historical Iranian play with explicit advocacy for civility and patriotism, and the first play to portray an Armenian character who fights for his country, Iran. In sharp contrast to its preceding comedies, Nader Shah also stands as the first modern Iranian play that translated the form of tragedy into an Iranian structure. It is also the first play to have been translated into Persian by an Iranian woman, T?j M?h ?f?q al-Dawla.

The paper will investigate how Persian playwriting, itself a product of imported modernization, was a medium for translating a pre-modern sense of national Iranian identity to the modern concept of nationalism with an eye on the French Revolution. Was early Persian playwriting tied to the previous literary traditions with a continuous sense of Iranian identity, or was it a “modern and progressive” way to implement “cultural refinement” and “educate” the populace? My arguments are informed by Marvin Carlson’s The Theatre of the French Revolution, Gregory Jusdanis’s Belated Modernity and Aesthetic Culture: Inventing National Literature, Ahmad Ashraf’s “Iranian Identity,” and Afshin Marashi’s Nationalizing Iran: Culture, Power, and the State, 1870-1940.