Monday, July 28, 2008

Censorship of Plays in Great Britain

Great Britain's "Censor of Plays" was described by Joseph Conrad in 1907 as a "public man" whose "office flourished in the shade; not in the rustic shade beloved of the violet but in the muddled twilight of mind, where tyranny of every sort flourishes."

This certainly seems to describe Britain's official censor from the viewpoint of the liberal 20th century. Following are some of the Censor's considerations in deciding whether a play would live or die.


Never show Jesus or refer to royalty. Do not blaspheme or mention homosexuality.

Anyone harming friendly relations with a foreign power is in trouble. Anything likely to cause a breach of the peace could bring the curtain down.

It is a miracle any plays ever made it to the stage, so strict were the rules laid down by the lord chamberlain, a senior member of the royal household who acted as Britain's official censor.

Now, for the first time, his records are being published, revealing the judgements of the military officers turned "stage police" hired to read every script.

The 200-year-old office of the lord chamberlain had to check each new play before it was staged in Britain until 1968, when censorship was abolished.

"The whole thing was a tragi-comedy," said Dominic Shellard, a professor of English whose book The Lord Chamberlain Regrets ... was published on Wednesday.

Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot was labelled "an interminable verbal labyrinth" by censors, who demanded he replace one "fart" with a "belch". Swear words were swiftly excised.


Read it all here.

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