Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata in 411 BCE and after the first few performances, was taken to court by Kleon, a politician who objected to its ‘political impropriety’. Aristophanes got away with it (mostly) because of the audience’s support.
Much later, in 1873, the play was banned from being brought into the United States under the Comstock Act; this ban was not lifted until 1930.
All classic Greek plays were banned in 1942 in Nazi occupied Greece and then again, in 1967, this time by the milirtary regime of Greece who banned all works they deemd to be anti-war and with themes of freedom and independence.
“He’s an incendiary! A rebel!” And who is saying this? Government officials, experienced people who ought to know better… and this ignorance is widespread. Call a crook a crook, and they consider it an undermining of the state apparatus… Consider the plight of the poor author who nevertheless loves his country and his countrymen intensely.” – Gogol, on the city administrators’ reaction to his play, which opened in the late 1830s.
The Tsar Nicholas I, who watched the play, allowed it to continue saying “All have gotten their due and me most of all!”. Read the play and you’ll see that it’s not as gracious or benevolent as it sounds.
In 2004, in the Birmingham Repertory Theatre was forced to cancel its run of Behzti, a play by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, due to violent protests by Sikhs, outside the theatre.
All of Havel’s plays were banned in his home country of Czechoslovakia in 1968, after the Soviet invasion. Indeed, Havel himself was not allowed to leave the country during that period to see any of his plays in foriegn lands.
As an aside, the New Yorkbased Human Right Foundation instituted the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent in 2012, duly suported by Dagmar Havlova, his widow.
The play was banned by schools in New Hampshire for encouraging homosexuality.
Many of Shakespeare’s plays have fallen under suspicion, but in 1996, a school in New Hampshire removed this comedy because of the cross-dressing and the allusion to same-sex romance (which actually doesn’t happen in the narrative) — which they saw as breaking the school’s rule on “prohibition of alternative lifestyle instruction.”
Ghosts was written when Ibsen was living in Rome in the summer of 1881 and was published in December in Denmark. He anticipated its reception: “It is reasonable to suppose that Ghosts will cause alarm in some circles; but so it must be. If it did not do so, it would not have been necessary to write it.” There was an outcry of indignation against the attack on religion, the defence of free love, the mention of incest and syphilis.
Ghosts was sent to a number of theatres in Scandinavia, who all rejected it. In England the lord chamberlain, the official censor, banned the play from public performance but there was a single, unlicensed, “club” performance in 1891 on a Sunday afternoon at the Royalty theatre.
In 2017, This week, the estate of Edward Albee denied a director in Oregon the rights to stage his best-known play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? because he wanted to cast a black actor in the role of Nick, the young male visitor. The director refused, the rights were withheld.
Albee himself, before he died in 2016, had previously taken legal action to prevent a production which cast the plays’ two couples as gay.
Even before its premiere in 1664, the first version of Tartuffe was already a subject of great concern in the court. Though the king approved the play for performance at court, he heeded protests of devout members of the court and clergy and forbade any further public performance.
Determined to get it back on the boards, he rewrote and retitled it The Imposter. That version played in 1667 and was immediately censored by the Paris authorities. Finally, the king intervened and on February 5, 1669, Tartuffe opened at the Palais-Royal.
This monumental Pulitzer-winning play tackled homosexuallity, sex and AIDS head on, sparking much needed conversation and awareness at the heirht of Regan’s presidency. But the whole world wasn’t ready, its 1993 premiere faced numerous threats and protests.
Despite massive strides in gay rights over the past two decades, high schools and colleges still see occasional ire for teaching or performing the play’s contriversial content.
In 1956, the British Foriegn Office attempted to ban a tour of the Berlinr Ensemble with Brecht’s Mother Courage, Caucasian Chalk Circle and Drums and Trumpets. In a letter to the Home Office, they said, “We do not recognise [East Germany] and the purpose of a visit by the Berliner Ensemble would be to build up that regime’s prestige.” Fortunately, the more liberal Home Office prevailed and the tour took place at the Palace Theatre later that year.
The play was also banned in South Africa in the early 60s.
When initially written back in 1879, the play was banned in Britain and was the subject of controversy and requests to “change the ending.”
Nora, the free-spirited and complex heroine led the controversy, creating an uproar with her choice to leave her husband’s home and reject the positions of wife and mother.
Salome, written in 1882, was censored by the Lord Chamberlain on the basis that it negatively portrayed Biblical figures on the stage. Dr. Adam Parkes, an English Professor at the University of Georgia and scholar of British censorship, believes that “private comments by the Examiner, Edward Smyth-Pigott, indicate that it was the mixture of biblical narrative with scandalous sexuality that got Wilde in trouble.”
In accordance with late-Victorian morals, Salome was described by Edward F.S. Pigott, the Examiner of Plays, in a letter to the Lord Chamberlain’s office as “half Biblical, half pornographic”. The Lord Chamberlain refused to give the play a license till 1912.
In 1905, Richard Strauss composed an opera based on Wilde’s work, which was also banned.
The Maharashtra state censor board for theatre stopped the staging of Janardhan Jadhav’s ‘Jai Bhim, Jai Bharat, scheduled for performance in February 2016. The play deals with the issue of Dalit atrocities through an imaginary conversation between Ambedkar, Gandhi and a Dalit activist. The censor board suggested 19 cuts in order for the play to be staged, by invoking the Dramatic Performances Act of 1876.
This great Chinese drama has actually never been performed inside mainland China, Its initial run in Beijing was cancelled for political reasons, and the avant-garde examination of the personal versus the collective was instead produced in Taiwan.
Xingjian’s fraught history with the Communist Party came to a head in 1987 when he permanently exiled himself to France, and the Chinese Government banned this play, in effect till today.
Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot was banned in communist Czechoslovakia, in East Germany, Romania and Bulgaria till the collapse of the Soviet Union. In addition, and for reasons largely unclear, the play (even the text or the book) was banned in Guantanamo Bay.
But perhaps the most outrageous case of gagging came from the playwright himself: in 1988, he sued a Dutch theater company named De Haarlemse Toneelschuur for trying to stage Waiting for Godot with an all-female cast. One of Beckett’s main arguments was that women don’t have prostates: Vladimir frequently has to leave the stage to urinate because of his prostate problems, and Becket thought that a woman couldn’t play Vladimir because she would disregard the character’s main traits. The ban was lifted by Judge Huguette Le Foyer de Costil in 1991, two years after his death, who ruled that an all-female production of Beckett’s play wouldn’t harm Beckett’s legacy or the original intention of his play.
This was the first of many plays in British India to face opposition from the colonial administration. In 1872, following a performance of the play in Lucknow, the actors were sent packing from the city because ‘it threatened to stir up rebellion against oppressive living and working conditions’. The popularity of this play was one of the provocations that prompted the passing of the Dramatic Performances Act (1879), the first act of colonial censorship in the subcontinent.
The play was translated by Reverend J.Long for which he was sentenced to prison and charged with sedition. “I PRESENT” The Indigo Planting Mirror “to the Indigo Planters’ hands; now, let every one of them, having observed his face, erase the freckle of the stain of selfishness from his forehead, and, in its stead, place on it the sandal powder of beneficence, then shall I think my labour success”
In the Eastern Bloc, Animal Farm was on the list of forbidden books until the end of communist rule in 1989. Additonally, the book was banned at the 1977 International Book Fair in Moscow and was banned for six days – along with 63 other books – in 1987 in high schools in Florida.
The play was banned in 1986 from the Theatre of Nations Festival (run by the ITI) in Baltimore, after persistent objections from Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Czechoslavakia and the Soivet Union; and in Kenya in 1991.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was first performed in 1955 in London at the New Watergate Club, and then only performed at a series of club theatres, including the Comedy Theatre in Piccadilly Circus.
This was because club theatres staged plays for ‘members only’ and the Lord Chamberlain refused to give the play a license for public performance.
The play also ran into difficulties in its earlier run in New York after a complaint was lodged by the Children’s Aid Society, that the children in the cast were being exposed to “vulgar language” and “unhealthy suggestions” in the play. The play was only allowed to continue after a joke about homosexuality and certain slang references to homosexuality were edited out.
Vijay Tendulkar’s Sakharam Binder was first performed in Bombay in March 1972. Following this, the censor certificate that had been issued was abriptly cancelled and only a court order permitted its scheduled shows from being staged.
The censor board then re-issued a certificate of suitability with 32 conditions which, in effect, destroyed the dramatic intent of the play and the prodcer and director refused to stage it in the manner suggested.
It was only after further appeals to the Bombay High Court that the conditions were lifted.
Sizwe Bansi is Dead was performed wihout a script in its earliest versions in the 1970s. This prevented the authorities from using a written script as evidence that a particular work was incendiary or subversive. The authorities responded by demanding that the thetares where the play was sed be shut down an/or fined.
The play was performed anyway, with the theatres viewing the one-day closure as free publicity, since there was no real evidence to impose their closure or the fines.
The two actors were arrested numerous times during the performance and continued to perform it, on principle, several times through South Africa.
In 1912, the Central Conference of American [Reform] Rabbis urged the College Entrance Examination Board to remove Merchant from its lists of plays “to be intensively studied” as a prerequisite to college admission. In 1917, the Anti-Defamation League launched a campaign to ban the study of Merchant in American high schools on the grounds that “Shylock is erroneously pictured as typical of all Jews.” Several hundred schools acceded to the ADL’s request.
But in 1950, When parents in Brooklyn in 1950 tried to force the New York City Board of Education to drop The Merchant of Venice (and Oliver Twist, with its repulsive Jewish villain, Fagin) from high school curricula, the ADL likened the effort to “book-burning.”
Ningalenne Communistakki (You Made Me A Communist) by Thoppil Bhasi, was first performed at Chavara, Kollam, on December 6, 1952. On the 85th day of its performance in March 1953, it was banned by the Thiruvananthapuram DM according to the provisions of the Dramatic Performance Act, alleging that the play propagated “subversive ideas” and encouraged the people to “rebel against the government”.
Defying the ban, the troupe staged the play at Kovalam, leading to arrest of all the artists and a case being registered against them. Following an intense legal battle, the ban was lifted after two months.
All of Arthur Miller’s plays were banned in the Soviet Union in 1970, because of Miller’s efforts to free dissident writers. In America, there have been several attempts to challenge the play’s inclusion in the reading lists published and prescribed by schools.
In 1982, the parents of students in schools in Pennsylvania said the play contains ‘sick words from the mouth of demon-possessed people. It should be wiped out of thr schools or the school board should use the texts to fuel the fires of hell.’ And in 1987, parents of students in Kentucky said the play was ‘junk’ and should not be required reading for their children.
In 2016, the Central University of Haryana performed the play Draupadi as part of its day long programme in memory of the author, who had died a few months prior. The ABVP claimed the play was anti national as it portrayed Indian soldiers in a bad light and filmed the show, after which there was an agitation in front of the University. While the scheduled performance was not prevented from being staged, the significant protests, marches and agitations by the protestors, as well as threats of charges of sedition against the University and the performers, has ensured that a repeat performance would be difficult and dangerous.
Miss Julie was published in 1888 and was banned in 1889 through most of Europe for its frank portrayal of sexuality. In Sweden – Strindberg’s own country – the ban stayed till 1907 while in England, it was imposed for nearly 50 years.
The performance of this play was prohibited by an order dated 27 January 1910 because Kichaka and his followers in the play were seen as representing Lord Curzon and his subordinates in the administration of India and many sections of the dialogue were disguised attempts to hit out at the British government of India.
The publishing and performance of this play was one of the reasons (among many others, not all to do with performing arts) that caused the British to formalise and institute the India Press Act or the Censorship Act.