100 Years Ago: Stage and censor (I)

12 August 2009

August 13th, 1909.

MR FORBES-ROBERTSON’s evi­d­ence before the Parliamentary Com­mittee that is inquiring into the cen­sor­ship of plays will be wel­comed by all those who fear lest the present agitation against a censor­ship might result in undue liberty. The public has a particular esteem for Mr Forbes-Robertson; by some instinctive choice he is set apart in the general playgoing mind as an actor with ideals. Mr Forbes-Robertson said quite plainly that in his opinion the censorship ought to be retained, but that the over­hanging political authority ought not to influence decisions. He ad­mit­ted that in certain details of working the censorship might be improved, for he regarded it as un­fortunate that such a play as “The Devil” should have been licensed re­cently. He regarded control as very necessary in the case of plays which deal with a Scriptural char­acter, and once again he protested that “The Passing of the Third-Floor Back” did not contain a Script­ural charac­ter at all. Very re­markable, too, was his plea that music-halls should be permitted to produce stage plays, and that the demarcation between theatres and music-halls should be legally main­tained no longer. Al­together the evidence before the Com­mittee is revealing views of which the world had no idea. We were led to suppose that Mr Bernard Shaw’s troubles, and those of the writers of what may be called ob-

st­etric plays, had aroused the theatre world to fierce anger with the cen­sorship. Ap­parently it is not so. Indeed, there is reason to believe that an extension of the idea of cen­sorship is neces­sary, for the fic­tion of the day is grow­ing more and more corrupt. We have just laid down a novel in which the heroine is lauded for her loyal self-sacrifice, because she left a million­aire hus­band to consort with a poor man. There are signs to-day, in more realms of art than one, that the intel­lectuals are be­coming con­fused with the immorals.

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