Friday, November 25, 2005

Tamburlaine censored or not? Depends on P.O.V

UK: The London Times reported a couple of days ago.

IT WAS the surprise hit of the autumn season, selling out for its entire run and inspiring rave reviews. But now the producers of Tamburlaine the Great have come under fire for censoring Christopher Marlowe’s 1580s masterpiece to avoid upsetting Muslims. Audiences at the Barbican in London did not see the Koran being burnt, as Marlowe intended, because David Farr, who directed and adapted the classic play, feared that it would inflame passions in the light of the London bombings. Simon Reade, artistic director of the Bristol Old Vic, said that if they had not altered the original it “would have unnecessarily raised the hackles of a significant proportion of one of the world’s great religions”. The burning of the Koran was “smoothed over”, he said, so that it became just the destruction of “a load of books” relating to any culture or religion. That made it more powerful, they claimed. ....The censorship aroused condemnation yesterday from senior figures in the theatre and scholars, as well as religious leaders. Terry Hands, who directed Tamburlaine for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1992, said: “I don’t believe you should interfere with any classic for reasons of religious or political correctness.” Charles Nicholl, the author of The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe, said it was wrong to tamper with Marlowe because he asked “uncomfortable and confrontational questions — particularly aimed at those that held dogmatic, religious views”. He added: “Why should Islam be protected from the questioning gaze of Marlowe? Marlowe stands for provocative
David Farr gets space in the Guardian(not surprising)that there was no censoring, just a play that choose a more philosophically route.
It is complete nonsense to suggest, as the Times did yesterday, that my decision to alter the burning-of-the-books scene in Tamburlaine was based on a desire to appease Islamic opinion. As I made clear, my decision to adapt the text was purely artistic. Journalists and academics often forget that theatre directors are dealing with living texts. We constantly adapt, chop, cut and change to make the work vibrant and rigorous for a modern audience, to present our particular vision in as limpid a way as possible. I believe one reason my production of Tamburlaine became so successful was that it eschewed the normal shields-and-shouting masquerade in favour of a philosophically purer and harsher reading of the text. Greg Hicks' Tamburlaine was an existential free spirit encountering the inevitable nihilism of his own godless ambition. Marlowe, it seems to me, is captivated by this idea. An alleged atheist and anti-establishment scoundrel who was killed at the age of 29, Marlowe gravitates gleefully towards the dark libertarianism of Tamburlaine's free will. This thrilled me as a director and I wanted to pursue this vision with clarity and fervour.
So David Farr believes he can improve on Marlowe's play by taking the specific plot and making it more broader in scope. Instead of attacking the Koran, all religious books are burned, all religions are damned..etc..etc.
In our production, Tamburlaine's god does not belong to any religion, for they are all in hell. "Seek out another godhead to adore. The god that lives in heaven, if any god. For he is god alone, and none but he." The phrase "if any god" becomes key. Tamburlaine is positing what Marlowe could never have proposed at that time without literally risking his neck. He is proposing atheism. One other thing should be made clear. Never in our rehearsal discussions did we receive any pressure from the Muslim community - this was never the question. Never did we receive any pressure from the Young Vic or the Barbican to change any scenes. Never did I receive external pressure of any kind. The decision to focus the play away from anti-Turkish pantomime to an existential epic was artistic, mine alone, and I stand by it.
So at the very least David Farr is an egostical, self centered artist who feels he has the ability to "improve" and "clarify" what Marlowe was talking about. At worst, the guy is lying because you read the last part of no "external" pressure, he doesn't address Simon Reade statement that it was changed not to offend Muslims. The first conclusion I don't have a problem with other than hubris of it, the second conclusion is another step in the wrong direction.

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