Director: Tamburlaine not censored

I’m not sure how many people saw the play or even heard about it (I didn’t), but this past week there’s been a big controversy over the “censorship” of the Christopher Marlowe play Tamburlaine. In this article, its director, David Farr, explains that the play was not “censored” to avoid upsetting Muslims; the decision artistic, not political. The affair, which only became known of a week after the play’s run finished as a result of efforts by the Daily Mail and similar media, was the talk of the Vanessa Feltz show on Thursday morning. I couldn’t contribute because I was driving a truck, so here’s my few pennies insha Allah.

As Farr makes clear, his version of the play does not remove the burning of a copy of the Qur’an, but rather has Tamburlaine burn a number of other “superstitious” books as part of a general anti-religious display. Marlowe was said to be an atheist, and the act was portrayed as “a hubristic and nihilistic defiant scream at what he saw as an empty universe”. However, sections in which the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) was in some way insulted were edited out. I haven’t read the play, so I don’t know if or how insult was given, although as Farr points out, anti-Turk feeling was widespread at the time and Tamburlaine wasn’t the only example of an anti-Turkish or anti-Muslim play.

The play was a performance of both parts of Tamburlaine, which if left unedited would run to seven hours, so it obviously had to be abridged, and if this is to be done, sections which could seriously offend a substantial section of the community are as good as any candidates for removal. It should be obvious that the controversy arose because the religion insulted is Islam, not Christianity. While some no doubt object to the censorship of any play for such reasons, there are obviously some who object to people trying to avoid offending Muslims while approving of censorship in service of their own faith. I personally think a society is more civilised if people avoid offending other people’s religions (and before anyone points it out, I know that some Muslims do insult others’ religions and object most vociferously when their own is traduced). Let’s face it, you cannot get on well with anyone by offending people or things dear to them. And sometimes, authenticity is no excuse for staging a play which could inflame communal tensions - as I pointed out when Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ was shown in Russia, a country with a history of anti-Jewish violence where there are still substantial numbers of Jews living.

And even if there is something somehow sacred about a 500-year-old play as Vanessa Feltz was claiming on her show, nothing has been censored in this production anyway. It’s only censorship if the government or council or some other authority orders it changed, or if it’s edited out of texts and the unexpurgated version suppressed. None of that seems to have happened here. Anyone who wants to read the originals can buy them at any well-stocked bookshop.

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