The recent production of Mary Stewart left Whispers quietly pondering the subject of religious intolerance, particularly after a subsequent conversation about old queen Bess with a young English person. True enough, the Virgin queen extended a certain toleration to the Catholic community of England after the death of Mary, yet this is not all it was cracked up to be. There was still plenty of imprisonment and execution of Catholics the government deemed “radical”, as well as some strict limitations of movement imposed on Catholics, as well as Jews. It kind of puts one in mind of more recent events, where particularly zealous followers of one particular religion have been given spells of chokey on no particular evidence, while, for the first time since the banning of the kilt, there appears to be movement afoot on imposing a dress code to being British.
All a bit sad really, for it seems a shame that intolerance should be institutionalised. This isn’t just a random social reflection either, for a conference on the subject of censorship in the theatre, sponsored by The Stage will shortly be held at the English National Theatre, which, one hopes, might attract some media attention. In it, the by now well trodden path of debates about the way in which certain religious groups have used political influence to interfere with artistic freedom in the theatre, particularly in the cases of Behzti, which offended certain elements of Birmingham’s Sikh community, causing damage to the theatre and the abandonment of the production and Jerry Springer: The Opera which was subject to much harassment from fundamentalist Christians.
Of course, we should no more interfere with the artist’s freedom to create than prevent folk from freely practicing their religion, with whatever degree of ideological commitment they wish, provided it doesn’t injure life and limb. But with a government keen on legally sanctioning bigotry, isn’t the freedom to manoeuvre against censorship also compromised? Perhaps we need to address both issues at once.