Introducing Shakespeare & Censorship In the Elizabethan era,…

Introducing Shakespeare & Censorship 

In the Elizabethan era, regal and religious voices dominated debate over the output of theatre. Elizabeth I’s proclamations about what was, and was not, deemed suitable for public performance were galvanised in the appointment of Edmund Tilney as the Master of the Revels in 1581. A figurehead for censorship in many forms, Tilney licensed and regulated nearly every script produced for performance in London. Such was the power of Elizabeth’s appointed censor that he not only banned hundreds of specific scenes, but he also shut down entire plays like The Isle of Dogs and even sentenced writers like Jonson and Middleton to short terms in prison.

Fast forward to 2018, 50 years after the Theatre Act ‘abolished’ censorship, and countless voices are still raised in similar debates across the globe on the values and dangers of art, and the censorship of plays in the contemporary landscape. International Artists still find themselves on the run and self-censorship abounds. Art, it is clear, will always be contentious no matter what the era.

In celebration of the Theatre Act anniversary, our Shakespeare & Censorship series brings together voices from around the world to share their experiences of censorship in action and enable us to expand our understanding of the legacy of censorship we are still contending with today. Wherever you are and whatever your viewpoint, we want to add your voice to the debate. Join us in person at our panel discussions, have your say in our online twitter polls, tune in to live tweets from select events or follow our Censorship Blog series and have your say.

For those thinking of attending our in-house events for the Censorship series, we’re delighted to announce our initial line up of boundary-pushing artists and award-winning academics and journalists for our spring and summer panel events:  

On 17 May our Censorship – Then and Now panellists will be Kandy Rohman, one of the actors in the banned ‘Exhibit B’ exhibition by the Barbican; Professor Steve Nicholson, award-winning writer of a four-volume history of theatre censorship in the twentieth century and Professor John Jowett, general editor of the New Oxford Shakespeare and Arden Early Modern Drama. Patrick Spottiswoode, who became founding director, Globe Education in 1989, chairs this discussion tracing pivotal moment in the history of censorship and considering what censorship means for the arts today.

On 24 May we welcome BBC Broadcaster and journalist for The Economist and the London Evening Standard, Anne McElvoy to chair a discussion on Press Censorship and the Commonwealth. Anne will be joined by Pia Zammit, founding member of activist group #OccupyJustice; producer of, and actor in Stitching, the last play to be banned in Europe as well as Akbar Khan, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

Our Shakespeare Under the Radar event on 5 July will explore the ways Shakespeare’s plays have been used to circumnavigate censors on the international stage. We welcome Radio 4 Front Row and BBC1 Newswatch presenter and award-winning journalist Samira Ahmed to chair this event. Panellists include theatre director and actor Memet Ali Alabora, whose 2012 experimental theatre production, Mi Minor, and the government’s response to it, resulted in he and his creative team having to leave Turkey. Also joining the debate are Professor Tony Howard, writer of three drama-documentaries on the history of multicultural Shakespearean acting in Britain and America and Rachael Jolley, journalist and editor of the Index on Censorship magazine.  

Later in the year, we also welcome Julia Farrington, a freelance campaigner who set up the Arts programme with Index on Censorship to tackle the causes of self-censorship in the arts to chair our Censored No More? event.

Curious about our Censorship season? Read the first in our Censorship Blog series and find out more about the events.