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Artistic victories : how legitimate theatre overcame New York City's efforts to impose censorship on Sapho in 1900, Mrs. Warren's profession in 1905 and other productions to 1927

Author: Randy B Kapelke
Publisher: 1998.
Dissertation: Thesis (Ph. D.)--Tufts University, 1998.
Edition/Format:   Thesis/dissertation : Thesis/dissertation : Manuscript   Archival Material : English
Database:WorldCat
Summary:
Olga Nethersole's 1900 production of Clyde Fitch's Sapho (adapted from Alphonse Daudet's novel) and Arnold Daly's 1905 production of George Bernard Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession were acquitted in court of the charges brought against their creators: namely, of offending the public decency. Unlike previous studies, this work starts from the proposition that these cases did not constitute government censorship but a
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Details

Named Person: Bernard Shaw; Alphonse Daudet; Bernard Shaw; Clyde Fitch
Material Type: Thesis/dissertation, Manuscript
Document Type: Book, Archival Material
All Authors / Contributors: Randy B Kapelke
OCLC Number: 42384055
Notes: Submitted to the Dept. of Drama.
Description: viii, 373 leaves : ill. ; 29 cm.
Responsibility: by Randy B. Kapelke.

Abstract:

Olga Nethersole's 1900 production of Clyde Fitch's Sapho (adapted from Alphonse Daudet's novel) and Arnold Daly's 1905 production of George Bernard Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession were acquitted in court of the charges brought against their creators: namely, of offending the public decency. Unlike previous studies, this work starts from the proposition that these cases did not constitute government censorship but a failed attempt to enforce it. This perspective allows for a highly provocative question: what forces prevented New York from succeeding in its efforts against these plays and others to 1927, including the Shubert produced The Lure, Sholem Asch's God of Vengeance, Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms, William J. McNally's A Good Bad Woman, William Francis Dugan's The Virgin Man, Arthur Hornblow, Jr.'s The Captive, and Mae West's Sex? This dissertation answers that question comprehensively addressing Sapho, this century's first major case of attempted American theatre censorship, and more generally addressing Mrs. Warren's Profession and the later dramas.

The authorities failed for five reasons. First, crusades against the plays did not originate from genuine public outrage but from performers eager for free publicity and from disingenuous editors, often from "yellow" newspapers, hoping to profit from coverage of theatre-related scandal.

Secondly, authorities, usually from Tammany Hall, had reputations for corruption and ignorance that rendered them unfit as censors. They failed to prove that they were morally capable of judging theatre, a respected art.

Thirdly, the productions' prestigious elements (their playwrights, audiences, theatres, place in theatre history and others) significantly benefited the defenses' side. Sophisticated New Yorkers, including play jury members, were hardly shocked by suggestive plays, and were loathe to punish theatres with rich traditions or endanger their contribution to dramatic art. This analysis draws from sociologist Pierre Bourdieu's theories.

Fourthly, the performers' status in society, as professionals and as charismatic leaders (according to Max Weber's notion), gave their sides an advantage in public opinion. Actor's Equity battled censorship.

Finally, play defenders argued that the productions taught morality more effectively than could moralists, who were often ridiculed and had become culturally marginalized.

Too often, scholars merely examine censorship's agents and mechanisms. This dissertation calls for further efforts to understand the complexities associated with the fight against censorship.

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