Marooned Texts, Shipwrecked Performances:
Shakespeare and Censorship

Convenors: Veronika Schandl (Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Hungary) and Nataliya Torkut (Zaporizhzhya State University, Ukraine)

Censorship has been in the focus of literary studies in the past few years. Recent projects that have been launched in England (co-ordinated by the British Academy), Spain, Portugal, as well as Central-Eastern European countries show that this is a scholarly interest that unites Europe. In our seminar we would like to take the theme of the conference: that is Shakespeare’s shipwrecks to a metaphoric level, and discuss how Shakespeare’s texts and performances were marooned, or got shipwrecked by the workings of censorship, both in Early Modern England and in history ever since.

The theatre can be viewed as standing on the threshold of two worlds, one shown on the stage and the other, that of contemporary reality on which the theatre has to reflect, which it sometimes criticizes and against which it sets the illusory reality of the play. As it exists in what is basically a conflict zone of reality and the world of the performance, it affects both. The theatre therefore does not only reflect the social, political and cultural discourses of a given society, but, whether actively or passively, also forms them. Therefore, centralised regimes always wished to control what discourse the theatre enters into. Elizabethan and Jacobean England were no exceptions to this rule. Thus we welcome in our seminar essays discussing how regulatory decisions in Shakespeare’s England affected the stage and the plays. We would very much wish this discussion to go beyond the somewhat exhausted subversion-versus-containment dichotomy and offer a more diverse understanding of the cultural and political significance of the discussed plays and theatre performances (e.g. with regards to the question of ‘positive’ censorship).

Shakespeare’s position in the European canon as the number one playwright has secured the interests of all authoritarian societies in the reception of Shakespeare as well. That is why the seminar would like to devote time to the Shakespeare’s reception under the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century as well. The seminar welcomes papers discussing the fate of both the Shakespearean texts as well as those of the performances under the Fascist and Socialist regimes of Europe.

The seminar would encourage an interdisciplinary discussion, uniting textual and performance critics, and wishes to launch a project that would dive deep and bring the wreckages of shipwreck texts and performances to the surface. 


“Censorship and Literary Journalism: Cunqueiro’s Shakespeare and Franco’s Spain”
Elena Domínguez Romero, UCM, Spain
and Rubén Jarazo Álvarez, UDC, Spain

Quite soon after the Spanish Civil War, the Galician author Álvaro Cunqueiro turns out to be a conservative writer who suffers the cultural limitations of Francoism despite his ideas. The author writes –in Castilian and Galician– about myths which are suitable for the likes of Galician people and provides local settings to make his stories familiar to readers as a means of promoting Galician culture beyond dictatorial limits.

His controversial attitude is strongly criticised during the first years of Francoism. Cunqueiro will then mostly use his journalistic articles to talk about Shakespeare’s works, reach a wider readership, and support his own position. In his defence, the author will always explain that he uses Classics like Shakespeare to be able to escape from censorship rather than to cope with it.

The present paper will analyse the presence of Shakespeare in Cunqueiro’s journalistic articles as well as the use of these articles in defence of his Galician translations and adaptations of some Shakespearean plays.


“Don’t ‘offend the chastest Reader, or the modestest Hearer’: Hamlet’s theatre translations in Franco’s Spain”
Elena Bandín
University of Murcia

It was not until 1963 that the Francoist regime issued the first official laws to regulate theatrical censorship. Before, there were no consistent criteria to be discerned and this arbitrariness exerted by the censors drove most translators, playwrights and theatre directors into self-censorship.

Francoist censorship licensed all Shakespeare’s plays to be performed. The Spanish theatre translations of his plays did not suffer interference from the censors’ hands, except for very few cases of blasphemous or coarse language and some explicit sexual references. The leniency of the censors is explained by the classical nature of the plays, the need to incorporate Shakespeare to the repertoire of the national theatre and, most importantly, by the self-censorship practiced by the translators before submitting the scripts.

In this paper, we will illustrate how self-censorship acted as a norm of translation by examining three different Spanish translations of Hamlet signed by distinguished playwrights of the period (José María Pemán, Antonio Buero Vallejo and Nicolás González Ruiz). Most of the shifts found in two of the manuscripts must be attributed to circumspect censorship. Translators restrained themselves from rendering controversial passages and offered bowdlerized translations of Hamlet to be performed. The translators’ task was shaped by the context in which it was carried out and, in some cases, they consciously contributed to securing the morals of the Francoist regime acting as censors of their own work.


“Why was Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet staged by Slovene Youth Theatre in 1983 Censored?”
Denis Poniž
Academy for Thetare, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana/Slovenia

The author of this paper is now for two years intensively researching the impact of »invisible censorship« (invisible because  former  communist Yugoslavia, of which now indipendent Slovenia was a part, officially had no censorship institution) on Slovene drama texts and performancies. Although his research is focused on national playwriters and theirs texts, he has found (in archives of state security police and central committeee of communist party) noumerous evidencies how texts of foreign playwriters had been  censored as well. Sometimes reasons for  censorship interventions were rather strange, sometimes – from today standpoint – also ridiculous and even absurd.

            Such a case was also performance of Shakespeare's tragedy Romeo and Juliet staged by  Serbian director Ljubiša Ristić for Slovene Youth Theatre, the leading Slovene stage company in the 80s. The performance, titled Romeo and Juliet / The commentaries (1983) was prepaired and staged as parallel stories of »real« (Shahespeare's) heroes and two teenagers from one poor and  with socialist flathouses overfilled suburb of capital Ljubljana, living in a misery and without any hope. The story of »contemporary« heroes was written by Ristić and his collaboratos.

The invisible (and partly today still unknown) censors  wasn't censored only Ristič's added text but censors found surprisingy, (Romeo and Juliet was staged up to this year noumerous times in different Slovene theatres without any problems), also in Shakespeare original text some  »socialist spirit of working people offended statemenst«, we can read such  »judgement«  in one report of secret state police officer.

            In my paper I discuss the whole story and describe how Ristić and his co-workers on the project Romeo and Juliet//The commentaries solved all the problems  with censors and rescued the performace which was a great sucess.


“From Romantic imagination to young-adult fiction – how Macbeth and Midsummer Night’s Dream got shipwrecked in Polish tradition”
 Maria Kardel
University of Sheffield

Despite their importance in the Polish theatrical and literary canon, Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream can be considered examples of textual and cultural marooning. Indeed, ever since the Romantic period, the political and erotic themes present in both plays have been isolated from the original wholes and channelled through media most acceptable at a given historical moment. Such processes of fragmentation and textual dissection reach back to Juliusz Słowacki’s play Balladyna (1834), which features mischief of the fairies alongside a bloody stain on the murderess’s forehead. Although this Romantic text discusses corruption through power and the pitfalls of careerist ambition, under the Stalinist regime Balladyna escaped the fate of other national plays, as well as Shakespeare’s Macbeth; it was consistently staged through the entire Social Realist period, whilst productions of Macbeth were allowed only after the changes of October 1956, and even then, they were usually benchmarked against Balladyna’s success. Similarly, it took decades for the directors of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to shake off the Romantic filtre applied to the interpretations, and to liberate Shakespeare’s political message from not only from the oppressive Communist censorship, but also the Romantic diction.

This textual and cultural marooning is not restricted to the clash between Shakespeare and the Communist regime; the most relevant post-1989 example of such textual shipwreck is a young-adult novel Nutria i Nerwus by Małgorzata Musierowicz (1994), loosely based on the storyline of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and featuring large swathes of the original text.

This lesser-known history of the cultural reception of both texts is as disjointed as Słowacki’s mock-Shakespeare play, and Musierowicz’s prose - this paper will therefore offer an attempt to analyse the alienation of Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream within the Polish tradition, as a process parallel to appropriation and assimilation.


“Censored (?) Shakespeare in Communist Romania”
George Volceanov

The paper tries to answer the following questions:

  1. What is the current state of research into the censorship of Shakespeare translations in Communist Romania?
  2. Were Shakespeare translations censored in Communist Romania? If so, to what extent?
  3. What solutions / methods would be most helpful for further research on this topic?


“Theatrical Magic. Religion and Politics in The Tempest”
Eric Harber

The plays of Shakespeare have several dialogues with his contemporary world: with politics and the ‘monarchy’, religion, manners, literary conventions, history and European culture. There is a ‘cyclic’ tendency in historical scholarship concerned with the period that alternatively denies or emphasises the similarities of   catholic and protestant beliefs: the reformation was the (true) fulfilment of the past, or a break with it producing new doctrines that were inseparable from politics. But literature was as much influenced by propaganda as by doctrine.

This short paper would look at Shakespeare’s response to the sharp edge of Elizabethan and Jacobean religious controversy on the question of the ‘miraculous’, showing that Shakespeare, in responding to the politics and the controversy it generated, used a perspective derived from an Italian compilation of Greek myths to counter the theological scepticism that contributed to it.

These myths might together be viewed as a ‘religion’; it can be shown that one of them provides the hitherto unknown “source” of the play (and the play’s magic) which when the details are given will be seen not to be conjectural as several suggestions (and their functions) are.


“Shipwrecks on the Czech Sea: Tempest in Five Fits”
Pavel Drábek
Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic

Shakespeare's The Tempest has had its cultural history in the Czech lands. Ironically, it was rather turbulent and tempestuous, as the present paper observes in five anecdotal fits based on archival research – from the Austro-Hungarian era, from Czechoslovakia, and from the post-1989 Czech Republic. The historical examples discussed in the paper veer between the official history (the one which is medialized, anthologized and normally presented at conferences) and the private history, which admits failures and the unpolished realities that lack in the "big" words but, nevertheless, constitute the reality of individual translators' and theatre artists' lives.


“The Lamentable Tragedy of Locrine (1595):The Shipwreck of a Pseudo-Shakespearean Play”
Gabriella Reuss
Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Piliscsaba, Hungary

For all academic efforts, there is little factual evidence about the once ‘Shakespearean’ play, The Lamentable Tragedy of Locrine. We have no unquestionable data either about its author’s identity or its date of composition. Nor do we know any record of its performance. We only know that it was entered on the Stationer's Register on July 20th, 1594 and was printed by Creede next year,* and that the initials on the title page ascribe its revision to ‘W. S.’.** Also, it is certain that the playtext circulated in manuscript prior to publication as several contemporary texts have chunks, borrowed or lent, highly similar to those of Locrine.***
While several theories have been published concerning the questions of date, authorship and borrowings, the question of its (lack of) staging has not stirred up academic interest.**** Perhaps the play was silenced by authorities on the grounds of touching a sensitive spot, Queen Elizabeth’s marriage policy, or perhaps, it simply lost its topicality as to the wrestling with the Spanish Armada. Interestingly, the play encompasses the two themes with generous equality: maritime adventures in its first half, amorous adventures in the second.

This paper will consider the backgrounds and the plausibility of reasons why the text could or did not land on stage. Moreover, it will argue that the emphatic presence of maritime experience in the play defines the date of composition in the year of the Armada campaign, 1588. The play also marks the accumulated presence and importance of such an experience in contemporary public discourse.

* Creede bought several play texts from 1594 on wards from the Queen's Men who broke up that year and sold the prompt copies in their possession to cover their expenses. Usually the plays which were sold to the printers were already taken off the repertoire.

** ‘Newly set forth, ouerseene and corrected by VV.S.’. On the attribution, see also ’Shakespeare, Text and Paratext’ by Sonia Massai.

*** The direction of borrowings is not unambiguous: “An examination of the borrowed passages in the plays,” Jane Lytton Gooch warns in the Appendix of her critical edition, “indicates that Locrine originally borrowed from Spenser and that Selimus, in turn, borrowed from Locrine.” (Gooch, p. 145) However, she admits that in two cases “Selimus is closer to the Spenserian original” than Locrine. (Gooch, p. 145) Furthermore, for two lines, between Selimus and Locrine the borrowing goes in the opposite direction, as Baldwin noticed (in his On the Literary Genetics of Shakespeare’s Plays 1592-94, pp.218-214). In my view it is not impossible to assume, that the direction of borrowings goes quite the other way round: it was the works of the 1590s that used the Locrine material from the manuscript circulating in sundry hands. As for some reason it was not performed, contemporaries could make good use of the material afterwards.

**** For the national self-fashioning related to the Huns in the play, see my other paper on Locrine: ’The Image of the Invincible Enemy: Locrine and the Huns’ in New Perspectives in Mid-Tudor Literature, eds. Zsolt Almási and Mike Pincombe, Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press, forthcoming in 2011.


“Hamlet in Ukraine: the art of power and the power of art”
Darya Lazarenko
Zaporizhzhia National University, Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine

The paper dwells upon the two levels of the confrontation between the regime with its regulating mechanisms which include censorship, literary criticism and editorship and the Ukrainian intellectual elite. In this strained communication Hamlet performed a number of different functions serving as a certain semiotic compendium used by the both sides as a source of images, expressive means, cognitive models, symbolic ciphers and, above all, inspiration and creative energy. The first level of the ideological and aesthetic confrontation can be correlated primarily with the translations, censorship and editing practices. It is the level of using Hamlet as a weapon in the ideological struggle. Second level is the level where Hamlet is turned into a peculiar mirror reflecting the interaction of the literature and the power. On this level Hamlet becomes the center of the developed system of the intertexts inspired by it, which are using the images of the play as artistic instruments for operating on the reality of the contemporary world.

Both levels imply reduction, transformation and deformation of the initial semantics of the tragedy sometimes so considerable and significant that the cultural product resulting from them could be called a marooned text – the text which survived a shipwreck and was left on the outskirts of the interpretive tradition. Some of the shipwrecks have quite a different character being the final stage in the carefully elaborated process of ideological suppression and submission. This kind of the marooned texts which had survived the disaster were later returned to their rightful place in the cultural history. Still, even today when half a century has passed the picture is not complete - it requires and certainly deserves attentive and scrupulous restoration where the given paper outlines some of the possible vectors of research.  


“Ukrainian Hamlet and «hamletizing» Ukraine: «Will you play upon this pipe?»”
Nataliya Torkut
Classic Private University, Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine

As the totalitarian tendencies in the Soviet Ukraine grew stronger, the authorities managed to take the verbal communicative processes under complete control, and literature became one of the instruments of sanctifying the political metanarrative, Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet took up the central position in the conflict of interpretations. Hamlet’s status as a universally recognized and generally acknowledged masterpiece made it impossible either to ignore this work of literature or transform its semantics in corpore. So, the totalitarian discourse scrutinized the wide spectrum of its semantic valencies trying to single out those of them which could be used for reaching relevant ideological or aesthetic objectives.

The poem «The death of Hamlet» (1932) by Mykola Bazhan can be given as a demonstrative example in this respect. Bazhan’s poem depicts Hamlet as a degraded personality, lost in the futile reflections and unable to act decisively. Moreover, some of the traits imputed to Hamlet are absolutely not characteristic of him, among them – hypocrisy and meanness. His doubts are interpreted as certain moral duality in the crucial moment of the great social battle when absence of a direct position is equal to betrayal. The paper explores the pronounced warlike, sometimes even militaristic voicing of the zone of the conflict, present in the poem, as well as analyzes the aggressive colouring of its metaphors. The peculiar deformation of Hamlet’s initial axiological semantics is investigated in the context of the intensive polemics of the Ukrainian poets (Evgen Pluzhnyk, Leonid Pervomaiskyi, Sava Holovanivskyi) with Mykola Bazhan on the subject of the axiological core of the image of Hamlet.

All in all, in Ukraine Hamlet has proved its miraculous ability to avoid the ideological traps and semantic snares, staying “not a pipe in Fortune’s fingers”. In the Ukrainian Shakespeare discourse a number of shipwrecks did occur. They were the shipwrecks of the artificial and forced interpretations, crashed against the proud and majestic cliffs of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.