Drama has been subjected to censorship from as early as around 500 BCE. In the US, France and England the government is restricted of banning plays but there exits certain groups that often effectively pressurise theatres, amateur or professional, to cancel plays. Plays are banned on various grounds ranging from sexual, political, religious as well as social reasons.
6. WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF (1962)
Author: Edward Albee
Originally staged in New York in 1962 when the play travelled to Boston in 1963 the audiences claimed that the play was ‘blasphemous’ and ‘obscure’. Albee meets with the theatre owner and agreed to change some objectionable words. This famous play was even rejected from being nominated for the Pulitzer Prize when the censor board refused to accept the jury’s nomination. The drama revolves around a bitter aging couple with the help of alcohol they use a young couple to fuel anguish and emotional pain towards each other.
5. PRESS CUTTINGS (1909)
Author: George Bernard Shaw
Shaw was no novice to violating performance rules, in this play he simply violated another that said – ‘no offensive personalities, as representation of living persons to be permitted on the stage’. The censors believed that Shaw had name the army Commander-in-Chief General Mitchener in his play as a caricature of the General Horatio Kitchener. Shaw’s biographer later revealed that Shaw had originally intended to model the character on the Duke of Cambridge, a brother of Queen Victoria who was also the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army.
Back then Shaw counter-accused the censor’s decision saying they were being mean to him for his political biasness. Later he altered the names (cheekily naming after a clown & a ring master) to satisfy the censors and the play was finally staged.
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4. THE PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD (1907)
Author: John Millington Synge
This was a three act play set in Ireland. Upon its opening the play was condemned as ‘slanders against Ireland’. It was supposed to be a comedy but the critics hardly found it humorous and labelled it as a ‘hideous caricature’. During the second performance, the audiences booed, hissed viciously, stamped their legs, beat their seats and sang ‘God save Ireland’ at the top of their voices. Though scheduled to run for a week, the citizens and critics being offended demanded the theatre to withdraw the ‘un-Irish’ play immediately.
3. Polly (1977)
Author: John Gay
This play had churned arguments even before being staged. It was a sequel play and was actually written in 1728. The Licensing Act was yet to be passed in 1737. But immediately after penning the play down it was sent to King George II who rejected it. He believed that one of the characters was his caricature. Out of sheer frustration of false accusation Gay decided to print the play. People knew that ‘Polly’ was a banned play which stirred curiosity and the sales rose higher to any of Gay’s expectation. It even garnered support for the Duchess of Queensberry & Marlborough. Ultimately the edited version of ‘Polly’ was staged in 1977.
2. THE MAID’S TRAGEDY (1610)
Author: Francis Beaumont & John Fletcher
It is a revenge play. A very powerful drama that draws the audiences in by passionate portrayal of jealousy, greed, romance, blood and lust with a relatively simple story (reminds me of Game of Thrones). The implication of murder of a monarch in the play was too strong to be ignored. With the restoration of monarchy as well as the reopening of the theatres in 1660 regicide was completely prohibited in England. So the play was banned. However in 1685 its ending was rewritten in which the king’s life was spared. In the next century this controversial drama was staged only once at the Royal Court in 1690.
1. CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (1955)
Author: Tennessee Williams
This drama created by one of history’s most enduring dramatist is about Brick, an alcoholic ex-football player, who drinks his days away and doesn’t care about his wife, Maggie. His reunion with his father, Big Daddy, who is dying of cancer, brings back memories and some revelations for both father and son.
In spite of all over-brimming controversies, the play ran for 694 performances on Broadway and won both Pulitzer Prize & the Drama Critics Circle Award of 1956. The subject matter and the language used with frank discussions about greed, homosexuality and sexual desires was a bit too much for the conservative 1950’s society. The play further ran into difficulties on reaching London. Here the play was bluntly refused license for public performance. But many clubs were allowed private performances behind closed curt
ains for their members exclusively.