The Bristol Old Vic, performing at the Barbican in London, has cut out part of a classic play because it "would have unnecessarily raised the hackles of a significant proportion of one of the world’s great religions,” the director said.
It was feared that Jewish theatergoers would riot if the role of Shylock were not eliminated from The Merchant of Venice.
You don't believe me? You're right. I just made that up.
Jews have every reason to deplore the Bard's characterization of Shylock. Oddly enough, though, they seem to understand that Shakespeare was playing to the prejudices of his time when creating his cruelly caricatured, but theatrically effective, villain.
Actually, the play that was censored was by Christopher Marlowe. I don't suppose I need to tell you which of the world's "great" religions provoked this onslaught of sensitivity.
Marlowe was, of course, England's greatest playwright before Shakespeare, whose gift for striking and poetic language he shared. (Almost invariably when I look out of an airliner window at cruising altitude, I'm reminded of Marlowe's phrase "the windy country of the clouds.")
Audiences at the Barbican in London did not see the Koran being burnt, as Marlowe intended, because David Farr, who directed and adapted the classic play, feared that it would inflame passions in the light of the London bombings. ...Farr "reworked the text after the July 7 attacks," The Times wrote. "Mr Farr said in a statement: 'The choices I made in the adaptation were personal about the focus I wanted to put on the main character and had nothing to do with modern politics.'”
The burning of the Koran was “smoothed over”, he said, so that it became just the destruction of “a load of books” relating to any culture or religion. That made it more powerful, they claimed.
Members of the audience also reported that key references to Muhammad had been dropped, particularly in the passage where Tamburlaine says that he is “not worthy to be worshipped”. In the original Marlowe writes that Muhammad “remains in hell”.
If they had nothing to do with politics, why did Farr perform his scriptectomy after the July 7 terrorist attacks in London? It would appear that he not only pandered to political correctness, but lied about his motives.
Other productions in Britain have recently run afoul of religious protest. A play called Behzti was closed down in Birmingham after three police officers were hurt in clashes with about 400 demonstrators outside the theater. Jerry Springer the Opera was strongly condemned by some Christian groups. No one felt it necessary to rewrite or shut Jerry Springer, however.
It would seem that Muslim reactions arouse more -- what's the word -- fear than those of Christians.
Not everyone agreed with the director's decision.
Park Honan, Emeritus Professor at the School of English, University of Leeds, and author of Christopher Marlowe: Poet & Spy, said: “It is wrong to tamper with the play, wrong to shorten it and wrong to leave out the burning of the Koran because that is involved with the exposition of Tamburlaine’s character. He’s a false prophet. This is meant to horrify the audience.”The contemporary theater Establishment is not usually reticent about protecting its audience from being horrified. After the Birmingham flap, Nicholas Hytner, the National Theatre's artistic director, said: "The giving of offence, the causing of offence, is part of our business."
It's not entirely clear to me what he intended, but if he meant that the theater has some kind of duty to offend its audience, then that sounds like the statement of a juvenile 1960s-era retard. If he was saying that from time to time the theater will inevitably offend some audience members even if that isn't its specific intention, he had a point.
Tailoring a classic to avoid arousing the hypersensitivity of Muslims is a form of dhimmitude, in which the artistic freedom that goes with political freedom is compromised for the sake of an intolerant religious group.
Britain has recently been debating something called the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, which would make speech a crime if it was designed to incite religious hatred against Muslims. (There is apparently already legislation to "protect" Jews and Sikhs.) The trouble with all such laws is not only that it's up to prosecutors to decide what forms of criticsm or irreverence would come under the heading of inciting religious hatred. Worse, even if hardly anyone is prosecuted under "religious hatred" laws, they can't help having a chilling effect on speech and artistic freedom.
Self-censorship is the most dangerous kind. Since no external authority appears to be doing the censoring, there is no overt action to react against. As with political correctness in general, people learn to to watch what they say until it becomes second nature to avoid certain topics, words, and ideas.
Artists proclaim, in season and out of season, their right to present whatever they see fit. It's sad when their principles go all wobbly along with an increasingly dhimmified Britain.