Feared for its subversive potential, the
English stage was subjected to the pre-production control exercised by the Lord
Chamberlain for over 200 years. This inter-disciplinary paper aims to shed
light on the principles that led to the establishment of theatre censorship
legislation and the politics of inertia of the ensuing governments, hence
offering an alternative perspective to the moral argument first utilised by
Walpole and later forwarded as a final defence. In doing so, we will explore
the gap between the censors¿ procedures and their discourses, thereby gaining
an insight into the means and hidden dynamics of this disciplinary control.
This will allow us to gauge how (rapidly) different censors have adapted to
internal (i.e. governmental) and external (i.e. theatrical) pressure and how
these changes have affected the relationship between authors and censors.
Finally, we shall question the remaining existence of censorship in the
The paper is based on
archival research carried out at the British Library (Lord Chamberlain¿s
manuscript collection), the National Archives (governmental papers) and on
interviews with authors and theatre practitioners.