The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.2367 Thursday, 21 December 2000
From: Meg Powers Livingston <
Date: Tuesday, 19 Dec 2000 00:44:55 -0500
Subject: 11.2339 Re: Type Symbols
Comment: Re: SHK 11.2339 Re: Type Symbols
Don Bloom observes:
>This frankness declined as time went on until finally author's had to put
>in dashes for things like "damn" and "hell," much less more serious kinds
>of swearing. And then it all returned in a rush in the past half century.
>Has anyone studied this process enough to detect a pattern in it. Nothing
>serious, but I'm just curious.
One simple answer provides a partial explanation: profanity officially
became censurable by the Master of the Revels in 1606. Henry Herbert,
Master from 1623-1642 and then again from 1660-1673, was a real stickler
and interpreted the term very broadly, going so far as to require the
relicensing of old plays upon revival so he could get their language
cleaned up. The censorship encouraged (even demanded) self-censorship
on the parts of writers and theatrical companies, so I imagine fewer and
fewer writers even attempted it. After Herbert's tenure as Master,
enforcement varied depending on who held the office and on various
licensing acts, but official state licensing/censorship of the theater
in London didn't end until the 1960s. (I seem to recall that Edward
Bond's *Saved* was either the last of the controversially censored
plays, or the first to push the limits of the new "freedom" after the
Some of Shakespeare's plays may seem to have escaped this censorship,
but only because of the circumstances surrounding their printing. If
the offending words/phrases were still present in the copy-text, they
could be restored when printed (if someone cared to restore them),
because print censorship operated differently than dramatic censorship.
But this answer IS only a partial one; a number of other shifts and
processes are clearly also at work, though I'm too brain-weary from
grading at the moment to attempt a coherent discussion. I'd like to
hear what other people have to say on this topic.