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The Censorship of British Theatre, 1737-1843

GoTriple's project summary

This project will produce the first integrated history of the culture of censorship in 18th and 19th-century British theatre. In 1737 the British government passed the Stage Licensing Act as a response to the satirical attacks contained in Henry Fielding's plays. As a result any play that sought a performance license had to be submitted to the Lord Chamberlain's office. In time, an Examiner of Plays took up the role of awarding or refusing a license. When the 1832 Select Committee on Theatre and the subsequent 1843 Theatres Act brought about a significant relaxation of the licensing laws, it brought an end to a fascinating period of strict state surveillance of the stage: it was the only form of pre-publication censorship in the period.This project will produce a digital archive of play manuscripts from the period which will contain a selection of plays that will reveal how the culture of state censorship evolved over the period in response to societal and historial change. Through high resolution digital scans of the manuscripts, scholars and students will be able to see precisely what allusions, themes, and even words were deemed to dangerous to public morality to be uttered on stage. Through the accompanying transcriptions and full editorial apparatus, they will also be able to understand how the Examiners of Plays, representing the State, responded to political events such as the French Revolution of 1789 or the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Moreover, the editorial apparatus (to include brief introductory essays and other primary sources) will assess the degree to which playwrights, theatre managers, and audiences internalized a mentality of self-regulation in the wake of the Stage Licensing Act.

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