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Riot and Great Anger

Stage Censorship in Twentieth-Century Ireland

Joan Fitzpatrick Dean

Publication Year: 2010

    Under the strict rule of twentieth century Irish censorship, creators of novels, films, and most periodicals found no option but to submit and conform to standards.  Stage productions, however, escaped official censorship. The theater became a "public space"—a place to air cultural confrontations between Church and State, individual and community, and "freedom of the theatre" versus the audience’s right to disagree.
    Joan FitzPatrick Dean’s Riot and Great Anger suggests that while there was no state censorship in early-twentieth-century Ireland, the theater often evoked heated responses from theatergoers, sometimes resulting in riots and the public denunciation of playwrights and artists. Dean examines the plays that provoked these controversies, the degree to which they were "censored" by the audience or actors, and the range of responses from both the press and the courts. She addresses familiar pieces such as those of William Butler Yeats, John Millington Synge, and Sean O’Casey, as well as the works of less known playwrights such as George Birmingham. Dean’s original research meticulously analyzes Ireland’s great theatrical tradition, both on the stage and off, concluding that the public responses to these controversial productions reveal a country that, at century’s end as at its beginning, was pluralistic, heterogeneous, and complex.  

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Table of Contents

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pp. ix-


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pp. xi-xii

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xiii

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pp. 3-10

On 24 September 1819 Reverend W. C. Armstrong, then Provost of Sligo, suspended performances of The Hypocrite, Isaac Bickerstaffe’s 1768 adaptation of Molière’s Tartuffe. A touring company, under the management of a Mr. Clarke, staged in Sligo what Armstrong thought to be an unacceptable calumny on certain of its citizens...

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1. Theatrical Censorship and Disorder in Ireland

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pp. 11-33

Two striking anomalies foreground any analysis of Irish stage censorship: first, the Lord Chamberlain’s authority did not extend to Ireland; second, despite strict, even draconian, regulation of print and film, Ireland as Free State and Republic never institutionalized stage censorship. Although many writers proudly proclaim, “There is no stage censorship in Ireland,” de facto instances of censorship regularly occurred throughout the twentieth century...

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2. Theatre, Art, and Censorship

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pp. 34-59

Between 1897 and 1907 issues of stage censorship were at the core of the emergence of modern Irish drama. What would and would not be accepted on stage were questions that resurfaced in the most celebrated instances of theatrical disorder in the first decade of the century. There were, in fact, very few instances at any time during the twentieth century when institutional forces succeeded in censoring a play in Ireland..

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3. “The Evil Genius”

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pp. 60-85

In Theatre Audiences, Susan Bennett observes that “the refusal in much contemporary drama to take up either the issues or forms that are familiar to audiences ‘trained’ in the traditional experience of theatre (or, perhaps more significantly, theatre studies) begs that dramatic criticism adopts new discourses in questioning how plays engage audiences.”1...

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4. “The Boom of the Ban”

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pp. 86-99

At the end of the first decade of the twentieth century the authority of the Lord Chamberlain was under greater challenge than at any time before the late 1960s when he was finally stripped of his power to censor and license plays. In 1909 as it had three times in the nineteenth century, Britain again undertook a review of the Lord Chamberlain’s powers through a parliamentary inquiry...

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5. The Riot in Westport; or, George A. Birminghamat Home

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pp. 100-113

On Wednesday, 4 February 1914, the performance of George A. Birmingham’s General John Regan, punctuated by catcalls throughout the first act, was stopped during the second act when angry protesters stormed the stage.Members of the audience who were not part of the preplanned action, which was cued by the cry “Now boys!” fled the theatre...

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6. The Freedom of the Theatre in the Irish Free State, 1922–1929

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pp. 114-126

How and why theatre eluded institutional censorship in the Irish Free State is rightly seen in the larger contexts of, first, the campaign for, and resistance to, censorship and, second, Irish stage history between 1922 and 1929. From a legal perspective, the reason the Irish stage retained its celebrated freedom was that the regulation of printed materials was discrete from the licensing of stage plays for production...

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7. Irish Stage Censorship from Salome through Roly Poly

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pp. 127-145

Proponents took pains to characterize the 1929 Censorship Act as other than a literary censorship, but in practice, it quickly became exactly that. Within three years, the Censorship Board banned serious literary works and expanded its remit to enact literary censorship predicated not on “the general tendency of the work” but on isolated passages...

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8. The Fifties

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pp. 146-176

At the end of the 1940s, individuals and groups as well as the government in Ireland recognized the need for, and benefits of, arts enterprises. The Inter-Party coalition that came to power in early 1948 under John Costello saw the importance of tourism as an industry and the potential of theatre to attract foreign visitors to Ireland...

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9. New Theatrical Economies

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pp. 177-197

In the early 1960s the Abbey was hardly the welcoming home to new Irish playwrights one expects to find in a national theatre. The Abbey turned down Behan’s The Quare Fellow (1956), Hugh Leonard’s Walk on the Water (1960) and Madigan’s Luck (1963), John B. Keane’s Sive (1959)...

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pp. 198-202

In 1899 when Edward Martyn expressed anxiety over The Countess Cathleen, Yeats was willing not only to see the play vetted by two Catholic clergy but also to change what was deemed offensive. At the beginning of the century, the advanced nationalist press argued for a distinctly Irish censorship, “sanitary measures,” to purge the stage of pernicious foreign influences...


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pp. 203-236

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 237-252


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pp. 253-261

E-ISBN-13: 9780299196639
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299196646

Publication Year: 2010