From Sauna’s full length Arabic dramas (with more than one act), which he himself in various articles of Abou Naddara and in his unpublished Memoires claims to have been thirty-two in number,[1] only one was published as a separate book during his lifetime: Mūliyīr Miṣr wa-mā yuqāsī (The Egyptian Molière and What He Suffers).[2] However, according to Ibrāhīm ʿAbduh,[3] a one act piece called Il marito infedele, was published in Italy already in 1876. Matti Moosa additionally mentions the Arabic title of a French play -al-Salāsil al-Muḥaṭṭama (The Shattered Chains)- which according to him, appeared in Paris in 1911.[4]

As sketches and dialogues were amply spread throughout Sanua’s diverse journals, Najwā Ibrāhīm ʿAnūs undertook the task of collecting the ones which must be classified as theater plays directly from the magazines.[5] Another scholar, Muḥammad Yūsuf Najm published eight plays –The Egyptian Molière among them- from the manuscripts, Sanua’s daughter Louli Milhaud-Sanua had preserved, in the third of his volumes about Arabic theatre.[6] These eight however, can be reduced to seven because one of them is a short dialogue between an English tourist and donkey-boy (as-ssawwāḥ wa-al-ḥammār).

Sanuaʾs preserved full length plays are therefore, namely, būrṣat miṣr (The Egyptian Stock Market), al-ʿalīl (The Sick), abū rīda l-barbarī wa-maʿshūqatuh kaʿb al-khayr (The Black Abū Rīda and His Beloved Kaʿb al-Khayr), aṣ-ṣadāqa aʿnī zawāg as-sitt warda maʿ ibn ʿammihā (Faithfulness: I mean [i.e. this is to say] Miss Warda’s Wedding to Her Cousin), al-amīra l-iskandarānīya (the Alexandrian Princess), aḍ-ḍarratayn (The two Co-Wives) and mūliyīr miṣr wa-mā yuqāsī (The Egyptian Molière and what He Suffers). All of them are introduced as comedies and describe, in a satirical way, old and new social habits of the Egyptian upper-class: the money exchange on the stock market (būrṣat miṣr), health treatment in the baths of Ḥilwān (al-ʿalīl), the handling of the house employees and the matchmaker (abū rīda l-barbarī wa-maʿshūqatuh kaʿb al-khayr), the cousin-wedding of a girl who faithfully awaits the her beloved’s return while he is studying in England (aṣ-ṣadāqa aʿnī zawāj as-sitt warda maʿ ibn ʿammiha), the exaltation of everything French (al-amīra l-iskandarānīya) and the problems of polygamy (aḍ-ḍarratayn).

The only play in Arabic, separately published during Sanua’s lifetime, The Egyptian Molière, must be considered the least typical example of his short experience as a playwright.[7] The plot is presented as autobiographical and summarizes the problems Sanua encountered while managing his theater company.[8] Unlike the rest of Sanua’s plays in Najm’s collection, his Egyptian Molière was composed in zajal (rhymed-prose). It was most probably rewritten before its publication. As a matter of fact, during the outline of The Egyptian Molière, the the actors are quoting dialogues from former plays which do not coincide with the corresponding texts of Muḥammad Yūsuf Najm’s publication.[9]

Sanua’s legacy of manuscripts contains two more unpublished theater-plays. One is a one act sketch in French, called Bou la-la and the other one is a full-length Arabic play the title of which was destroyed. Both of them will soon be publicly accessible for the first time on this website.

[1] Sanua himself clearly includes the one act sketches within the 32 plays. Chelley quotes an article by Jules Barbier in the journal L’Ezbékié where the latter praises Sanua for having held 160 performances in two seasons and having written 32 plays reaching from the farce in one act up to the drama in five acts. Chelley, J., “Le Molière Egyptien”, in Abou Naddara, nr. 6, 1 August, 1906 and n° 7, September 1906.

[2] Ṣannūʿ, Y., mūliyīr miṣr wa mā yuqāsī, maṭbaʿa l-adabīya, bayrūt, 1912.

[3] ʿAbduh, I., abū naẓẓāra imām aṣ-ṣiḥāfa l-fukāhīya l-muṣawwara wa-zaʿīm al-masraḥ fī miṣr 1839-1912, maktabat al-ādāb, al-qāhira, 1953, p. 24.

[4] Moosa, M., “Yaʿqūb Ṣanūʿ and the Rise of Arab Drama in Egypt”, in: International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, n°5, 1974, p. 417.

[5] ʿAnūs, N., al-laʿbāt at-tiyātrīya, taʾlīf: yaʿqūb ṣannūʿ 1839-1912, al-hayʾa l-miṣrīya l-ʿāmma li-l-kitāb, al-qāhira, 1987.

[6] Najm, M. Y., al-masraḥ al-ʿarabī, dirasāt wa nuṣūṣ, vol. 3, yaʿqūb ṣannūʿ (abū naẓẓāra), dār ath-thaqāfa, bayrūt, 1963.

[7] Badawi, M. M., “The Father of the Modern Egyptian Theater: Yaʿqūb Ṣannūʿa”, in: Journal of Arabic Literature, vol. 16, 1985.

[8] Ibid. p.10.

[9] Najm, op. cit., Beirut, 1963.