State censorship has long been challenged by creative communities and individuals. Artists and writers have historically been among the first to question sanctions and to fight for greater creative and social freedom. This rebellion is still continuing today, with companies such as the Belarus Free Theatre producing incredible productions of great works that have been forced underground by their government. With company members branded political exiles their work is not only brave, but so are they. Following their latest festival ‘Staging a Revolution’, which was staged in secret locations all over London, they continue to raise awareness for the many great works that are still, in some places, forbidden. Throughout history some of the most iconic plays have been banned before they can be seen. Thankfully through resilient defiance by those who sensed their significance, most of us may now enjoy incredible, important stories without fear of persecution.
Lysistrata – Aristophanes
The entire story centres on a sexual strike by the women of Athens and Sparta in a bid to end a battle between the two cities. The effects of this carnal starvation proves to much to bare and eventually results in the peace treaty sought by the women being signed. The explicit content caused the play to be banned in the United States from 1873 until 1930 for it’s ‘immoral and obscene’ nature.
Oedipus Rex – Sophocles
Following Jocasta’s suicide, Oedipus discovers that she, his beloved wife and the mother of his four children, was in fact his own mother. He subsequently blinds himself, so he may never see day again. This brutal play explores the themes of murder, suicide and incest. It is the latter of these that caused it to be banned in the United Kingdom until 1912, as it was thought improper and inappropriate for the tastes of an English audience.
Salomé – Oscar Wilde
It is no great surprise that Wilde should be found on this list. It seems the writer’s focus on the eroticism found in a biblical story proved too much for the Lord chamberlain at the time. Though it was a story many already knew, the way it was presented was considered blasphemous and was pulled from the stage in 1896, when it was set to be performed in London with Sarah Bernhardt in the lead role. It was decided the play would be premiered to a less conservative audience and opened in Paris three years later.
A Doll’s House – Henrik Ibsen
By today’s standards this play holds no great shock factor. In the late 18oos however, the vision of a dutiful wife leaving her husband and children due to feeling belittled and turning her back on assumed submission was considered unseemly as it did not comply with societal expectations of gender roles. Ibsen was ordered to write an alternative ending in which the family remained together. He wrote one as instructed, but later refused to have it performed labelling it ‘barbaric’.
The Children’s Hour – Lillian Hellman
When teachers an elite boarding school are accused of being romantically involved, a witch hunt is mounted and hysteria spreads leading to parents withdrawing their children from the school. When one of the women confesses to the other – either through the pressure leading to clarity, or frenzied anxiety – she is rejected and this leads her to commit suicide. The topic of lesbianism, was deemed sexually perverse and banned in London, Boston and Chicago in 1934.