26 Nov 2005

That England, that was wont to conquer others

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Churchill and Wellington, Shakespeare and Milton, and all the other heroes of English history and English letters must be revolving in their graves at a speed of 78 rpm-s today at news of Christopher Marlowe’s play Tamburlaine the Great being presented on the London stage in censored form, the famous scene in which Tamburlaine burns the Alcoran rewritten in deference to Muslim sensitivities at a time when British military forces are in the field fighting Islamo-fascism.

Can one even begin to imagine imagine London stage performances removing (rather than adding by the barge-load) uncomplimentary references to Nazis during the time of Churchill? or scenes offensive to French sensibilities being excised during the Napoleonic wars? or the London theatre grovelling to Spain in the time of the Armada?

IT WAS the surprise hit of the autumn season, selling out for its entire run and inspiring rave reviews… (but) 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.

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