Questions (Please answer one :
• 1) How can Elizabeth’s regulations that governed theater be viewed as friendly and protective of theater to allow it to flourish? In other words, how did Elizabeth protect theater through censorship?
• 2) Should the theater (or the arts) be censored?
A paragraph will be fine.
Censorship During The Renaissance
As England emerged from the Middle Ages (approximately A.D. 500-1500) into the Renaissance, the nature of theater evolved into a new form. Theater became secularized (removed from the church) and commercialized (a profit-making business). In Shakespeare Alive!, Joseph Papp and Elizabeth Kirkland describe the beginnings of this transformation:
Throughout the medieval period, drama was for amateurs. In the early days, respectable craftsmen …put on Bible-based plays under the auspices of their particular guild organization. These plays, financed by a guild and traveling from town to town on colorful pageant wagons, brought to life the Biblical stories…Such plays were performed entirely for the glory of God and were very definitely not-for-profit affairs…In the decades leading up to the great year of 1576, these old traditions were combined and transformed into a kind of itinerant theater. Groups of actors, or strolling players, would travel around England, drumming up audiences and putting on plays whenever and wherever they thought they had a chance of financial success.
So, what happened in that “great year” of 1576? James Burbage, an actor and carpenter, built the first permanent English theater just outside of London appropriately named–The Theatre. “Without this shrewd and courageous move, actors, playwrights, and English drama itself might never have gained the permanence, independence, and truly professional status they needed to live and flourish (Shakespeare Alive!).”
Burbage’s construction of The Theatre ushered in an era in which theaters were owned by individuals, acting companies, or business people. Professional productions were staged at nine theaters where plays were performed almost daily.
Your brief text reading of pages 274-284 will provide you some background on Elizabethan drama and, particularly, the playwrights Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. Your reading will also introduce you to Elizabethan theater production and acting. Additionally, it will briefly discuss theater after the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
As we begin discussing Elizabethan Theater, I want to talk about the Master of Revels, a critical figure in Elizabethan theater. First, though, a little background regarding the political/religious culture in which Elizabethan theater and the Master of Revels functioned . . . Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) was a huge supporter of the theater and especially of Shakespeare’s acting company. The daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth came to the throne after a tumultuous time for the kingdom. When Henry died, his teenage son Edward became king but soon died at age 16. Edward’s cousin, Lady Jane Grey, became queen, but was usurped only a week later by Mary (who was Henry VIII’s daughter by his first wife). Queen Mary, known as Bloody Mary, imprisoned Jane in the Tower of London and then had her beheaded. Mary also imprisoned her stepsister Elizabeth in the Tower of London. Queen Mary declared Catholicism as the only religion in England and initiated five years of persecution (imprisonment, torture and murder) of Protestants. When Mary died, Elizabeth came to power. Queen Elizabeth restored the Protestant faith as the official religion of England (as it had been under her father Henry VIII) and required everyone to attend Protestant services on Sundays. As Elizabeth and England faced the threat of invasion by the Catholic Spain, internal religious-political factions emerged. One faction of extremists detested the Catholics and wanted a “purer” Protestant Church. These were the Puritans. As Puritans achieved increasing political power, the homes of Catholics were searched for Catholic books and religious items and fines were imposed. Catholic priests were arrested and tortured. “Being Protestant was equivalent to being patriotic; Catholics were by definition betraying the nation (Shakespeare Alive!).” Many Catholics rebelled at the lack of religious freedom. Queen Elizabeth tried to create peace and prevent a civil war. Amazingly–despite this turmoil, this was the golden age of England. And the arts–especially theater–thrived!
So–back to the Master of Revels. He was a government official who regulated theater. Queen Elizabeth ruled that theaters could not be in the boundaries of London and that plays could not deal with religious or political issues. Additionally, the Act to Restrain Abuses of Players prohibited profanities on stage, the taking of the Lord’s name in vain, and offenses to the Queen. Women could not appear on the English stage. Acting companies needed to be licensed; plays needed to be licensed. It was the Master of Revels who collected fees, censored plays, issued fines, and–according to Shakespeare A to Z–accepted bribes. Plays needed to be submitted before performance to the Revels’ office, and playwrights were obligated to change the plays as required by the Revels’ office. On the surface, it may appear that Elizabeth was not a friend of the theater. Yet, Elizabeth is credited with protecting the theater–especially from the attacks by the Puritans who believed that theater was the instrument of the devil. The Puritans demanded tighter regulations and that theater be prohibited! A number of years after the death of Elizabeth and Shakespeare, England erupted in civil war (1642). The Puritans came to power and imposed the most extreme form of censorship. They prohibited acting and shut and tore down all the theaters.