Control and Censorship of Drama


Control and Censorship of Drama

Drama has always played a significant role in reflecting societal norms, challenging conventions, and provoking thought. However, throughout history, various forms of control and censorship have been imposed on dramatic works, limiting their freedom of expression. This essay explores the control and censorship of drama from a literary standpoint, examining historical contexts and providing notable examples that highlight the ways in which governments, institutions, and societal forces have sought to exert control over dramatic narratives. 

Censorship in the theater has historically been more stringent and narrow-minded compared to censorship in other forms of art, such as literature. Unfortunately, some of the most remarkable examples of Russian drama faced significant delays in reaching the stage, often spanning several years or even decades after their initial creation. Control and Censorship of Drama

For instance, Alexander Griboyedov's play "The Misfortune of Being Clever" was written in 1824 but wasn't performed until 1831, two years after the author's death. Similarly, "Boris Godunov" made its stage debut in 1870, a staggering 45 years after it was written and 30 years after Pushkin's passing. It took 20 years for "The Affair" (Delo) and 30 years for "Tarelkin's Death" (Smert' Tarelkina) to finally be showcased, long after Sukhovo-Kobylin had penned them.

Historical Context

To understand the control and censorship of drama, it is essential to consider the historical context in which it has occurred. From ancient Greece to the Renaissance and beyond, societies have grappled with the influence and power of dramatic works. In ancient Athens, for instance, the City Dionysia festival provided an avenue for the performance of tragedies and comedies, but these works were subject to scrutiny by the state. Similarly, during the Renaissance, the Church held considerable authority over drama, often intervening to ensure that plays adhered to moral and religious standards.

Throughout history, governments have utilized drama as a tool for propaganda, political control, and social engineering. In totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, for example, dramatic works were strictly controlled to align with state ideologies. Writers like Bertolt Brecht faced persecution and censorship for their works challenging the regime. Similarly, during Elizabethan England, playwrights faced censorship by the state, with the Master of the Revels holding the authority to license and censor plays. Control and Censorship of Drama

Institutional Censorship

 In addition to state control, institutions have also exerted significant influence over the content of dramatic works. The Catholic Church's Index Librorum Prohibitorum, for instance, included numerous plays considered immoral or heretical. Even in more recent times, theater companies and producers have been known to exercise censorship in response to societal pressures. The cancellation of productions due to protests or controversies surrounding their content is a manifestation of institutional censorship.

The Index Librorum Prohibitorum, Latin for "Index of Prohibited Books," was first established in 1559 and remained in use until 1966. Its primary purpose was to identify and ban books deemed heretical, immoral, or dangerous to Catholic doctrine. The Church aimed to protect the faithful from erroneous or corrupting ideas, as well as to maintain its authority as the arbiter of religious and moral truths. The Index played a central role in enforcing censorship within Catholic societies.

Societal Forces

Societal forces, including public opinion, moral values, and cultural norms, have also played a pivotal role in shaping the control and censorship of drama. William Shakespeare's plays, for example, often tested the boundaries of societal norms, exploring themes such as sexuality, gender, and politics. His works, like "Othello" and "The Merchant of Venice," faced criticism and attempts at censorship due to their provocative content. Similarly, Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House" challenged prevailing gender roles, sparking controversy upon its premiere. Control and Censorship of Drama

Henrik Ibsen's play

Henrik Ibsen's play, A Doll's House, serves as a prime example of the control and censorship imposed on dramatic works. First performed in 1879, the play explores gender roles, marriage, and societal expectations, challenging the prevailing norms of the time. This essay examines how A Doll's House faced censorship, criticism, and societal backlash, illustrating the ways in which the play's themes and message challenged the control exerted by institutions and societal forces.

Due to its controversial content, A Doll's House faced censorship and alterations in various productions. In some cases, the play's ending, which depicted Nora leaving her husband and children, was altered to provide a more palatable conclusion. Censorship, whether enforced by the authorities or self-imposed by theater companies, sought to diminish the play's radical impact and align it with societal expectations. Ibsen himself expressed frustration with the alterations, as they undermined his intended message.

A Doll's House elicited strong societal backlash and criticism, particularly from those who viewed it as a threat to established norms and values. Critics accused Ibsen of promoting immorality, undermining the sanctity of marriage, and challenging traditional gender roles. The play's portrayal of a woman leaving her family was seen as an affront to the idealized image of motherhood and domesticity. Such reactions highlight how societal forces sought to control and censor dramatic works that challenged the status quo.

Self-Censorship and Subversion

Under oppressive regimes or within restrictive societies, playwrights and artists have resorted to self-censorship or subversive techniques to navigate the limitations imposed on their work. In Soviet Russia, playwrights like Mikhail Bulgakov employed allegory and symbolism to convey their intended messages while evading direct censorship. Subversive theater groups and underground performances have also emerged as a means of challenging established norms and circumventing official control.


Control and censorship of drama have been recurring themes throughout history, impacting the creative expression of playwrights and challenging the freedom of artistic voices. From state control to institutional censorship and societal pressures, the struggle for artistic autonomy continues. However, artists and playwrights have also demonstrated resilience, using subversion and ingenious techniques to convey their messages. The ongoing battle for creative freedom and the exploration of controversial and thought-provoking themes in drama remains a vital aspect of challenging societal norms and fostering progress. Control and Censorship of Drama



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.