Portia’s Casket (On Censorship) | Voices News for the week of August 10, 2011

(This is a re-post from my weekly column at The Shakespeare Standard for Voices Wednesday. This was first published on August 10, 2011. See the orginal version here.)

Censorship. It is one of the worst things that can happen to an artist. It even happened to Shakespeare as he was censored during the Elizabethan times for some of his plays, “Jonson, Marlowe, Kyd and Shakespeare would all, to varying degrees, be brought to book for material they had written that was considered seditious. Kyd would be almost tortured to death for a misreading of his work, and it is possible that Marlowe’s typically outspoken verse was a component in his eventual murder.” Though Shakespeare would be a bit luckier, he came to numerous close calls throughout his lifetime. Even Othello, King Lear and Macbeth face censorship in the modern to contemporary times.

I had a complete turnaround in writing today’s column. I was once again going to open some caskets of reviews, opinions and commentaries when I ran into some disturbing news here in the Philippines. Forgive me if this has a very personal note, but I know Shakespeare would understand because he suffered the same way. One of our artists, Mideo Cruz, is facing persecution under the church and the government, the exhibition he was part of was closed down, funding of the Cultural Center of the Philippines is threatened and its officials are being asked to step down. This especially reminded me of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 66:

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,
As, to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm’d in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And guilded honour shamefully misplaced,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,
And strength by limping sway disabled,
And art made tongue-tied by authority, 
And folly doctor-like controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall’d simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.

“An art made tongue-tied by authority,” much like Shakespeare and his fellow playwrights were during their own time. Thankfully, though other artists still suffer such oppression, Shakespeare is more emancipated, if not completely free from censorship.

Indoors. Today, it is a great thing that Shakespeare is considered as a very freeing experience as seen in San Quentin Inmates who participated in Twelfth Night. Bay News City Service quoted Angel Alvarez, a man sentenced to life in prison, “We do this to keep our sanity. At least for me, I do it to keep my sanity.” It is very inspiring to see this kind of Shakespearean influence in contemporary life, “Laughter filled an auditorium in San Quentin State Prison on Friday afternoon as 13 inmates performed a musical version of Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night for a crowded room of staff, guests and fellow prisoners.”

(Photo by Trish Gannon)

Outdoors. Shakespeare in the Parks, on the other hand, show how people can now experience Shakespeare in a way that he might have wanted it to be experienced, uninhibited, without any fear of oppression. Trish Gannon in They Say the Lady is Fair writes about the upcoming performance of Much Ado About Nothing on August 20 at the Heron ball field in Montana. She says that “Shakespeare in the Parks, it could be argued, is a Shakespeare experience in the way he himself intended it to be: live (complete with pauses, and sometimes laughter, when the evening train rolls through town) and unplugged. It’s an experience you won’t want to miss.”

Unbound. It is no longer, Queens, Kings or their retainers that will stop a Shakespearean performance, though chance can try. But as the old saying goes—the show must go on! TheOregon Shakespeare Festival made a makeshift The Bowmer in the Park after the Angus Bowmer Theatre closed due to a damaged ceiling beam. Their will to perform and bring Shakespeare to their audience is very admirable as they fight chance and a threat of financial loss. The show did go on, as Shakespearean plays will go on in the years to come.

Beyond. Shakespeare has also managed to cross cultures. Ateneo de Manila University presents Romeo and Julietin a Muslim setting. Here, no one was offended as one of Shakespeare’s most loved plays is localized by another culture. Even in the description of the financial relationship of United States and China, Shakespeare is quoted, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” He is also expressed freely, not just in plays but also in other artworks as seen in Our Shakespeare in Oil and Face of Clay. Indeed the Bard has come a long way.

Censorship of Shakespeare is still alive, but he is much freer now compared to his fellow artists. A lot of artists are still suffering from oppressive restrictions from the state, church and society. We should work on the emancipation of art all over the world. After all, had censorship succeeded, we would not have Shakespeare in our lives as we do now, and what a dull life that would have been. We should keep up the fight against censorship as Shakespeare did, as he continue to do still. Important as the caskets were, it would have been senseless, if they were never opened.

So again, as I say, let’s open the caskets and start the discourse—without fear or inhibition.


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