Censorship


Censorship
   The Gottsched-Neuber reforms of the 1730s had firmly established in both the public and the aristocratic consciousness that theater was a moral institution with responsibilities for Bildung (a term meaning cultural education and refinement). Friedrich Schiller's subsequent deliberations on the role of theater as a moral institution added weight to the argument that theater had a special function in German society. The Napoleonic wars of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, however, prompted a reappraisal of such notions, and the Carlsbad Decrees of 1819 were the result. These decrees were drafted at a conference of German states in Carlsbad (now in the Czech Republic) and later enacted into law as a means of counteracting revolutionary sympathies. Their numerous provisions provided for uniform press censorship and strict governmental supervision of both rehearsals and performances.
   In March 1820 the Prussian government set a precedent for most German states and principalities by codifying censorship as a matter of police enforcement. The 1820 codification was in many ways an extension of 18th-century reform movements, since censorship perpetuated the fiction of the ruler's role as "trustee for his people," assuring them of good taste and appropriateness in theatrical fare. Most courts throughout Germany and Austria made frequent pronouncements about guaranteeing the "validity" of theater by keeping "vulgarity and disrespectful expressions at a genteel remove from the stage," but those pronouncements "rang hollow . . . in light of the sovereign's disregard of the theater in every other respect except censorship" (Hans Knudsen, Deutsche Theatergeschichte [Stuttgart: Kröner, 1970], 319).
   Court theaters were exempt from official censorship, since they came under the exclusive jurisdiction of the local ruler, but local rulers were loath to present themselves as nonconforming to the larger, more powerful courts (such as Prussia), under which they operated even in the 19th century as feudal vassals. The police theater censor made his official debut in Prussia on 16 March 1820, after a decree by Prince Karl von Hardenburg (1750-1822) granting the royal police minister responsibility for theater performances. Censorship took place thereafter in Berlin under the jurisdiction of a "royal presidium [established] for all theaters, those crown administered excepted . . . whose jurisdiction shall extend to all published and non-published tragedies, dramas, comedies, and/or musical plays, which, without expressed permission of the royal presidia or those persons assigned authority to grant said permission, may not be performed" (H. H. Houben, Polizei und Zensur [Berlin: Gersbach, 1926], 102). In other words, court theaters were expected to censor themselves (which they nearly always did) but private theaters were to be strictly supervised.
   In 1848 censorship protocols appeared to change substantially in the aftermath of street riots and calls for a republican parliament among most of the German states. A "Cabinet Order" by Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm IV liberalized the 1820 decree, stating that theater censorship was "incompatible" with the "basic legal provisions of free speech." The order called for the elimination of theater censorship. On 31 January 1850, a new Prussian constitution went into effect; Article 27 granted "every Prussian" the "right through word, print, writing, and visual means to express his opinion," but the Berlin police began immediately to look for ways to extend their jurisdiction over theater, since "presentation" (Darstellung) was not officially spelled out in Article 27. In February 1850 the Royal Police Presidium issued regulations that required officers to file official reports on theater performances "if the content of the play offers anything suspicious" (Houben, 104). In December 1850 Berlin police chief Karl Friedrich von Hinckeldey (1805-1856) issued a police directive that successfully excluded theater from the freedoms of Article 27. In Vienna, the Habsburg court was no less flexible. Johann Nepomuk Nestroy lampooned his problem with Austrian censors in his Freiheit in Krähwinkel:
   A censor is a pencil who has taken human form, or a human being who has become a pencil, an eraser become flesh hovering over the human imagination, a crocodile who lingers along the banks as the river of ideas flows by, easing into the water to bite off the heads of writers.
   That line was cut by Viennese censors and not allowed to be performed.
   The unification of the German Reich in 1871 left intact the essentially unrestricted power of police to censor the stage, largely because the vast majority of theater producers, managers, agents, and actors liked the system as it was. The idea of theater as a moral institution usually implied state support of one kind or another, even if that meant restrictions on subject matter. The highly publicized Ladenburg-Kugler Plan (proposed by an official in the Prussian Culture Ministry named Adalbert von Ladenburg and an art history professor named Franz Kug-ler) encouraged state control of theater so long as the state subsidized it. The plan called for raising the artistic standards of provincial stages, cultivating participation in those theaters among provincial governments, rationalizing the system of taxation on box office sales, implementing qualifications for managers of theaters, creating real training institutes for young theater artists, regulating royalty payments to playwrights and composers, developing a pension plan for performers, and finally establishing a set of regulations by which all legal questions regarding theater performance could be settled. There was great hope that such measures might be implemented; in the end, none of them was. It remained for private organizations such as the Deutsche Bühnenverein (German Producers' League), Genossenschaft deutscher Bühnenangehöriger (Society of German Theater Artists), Pensionanstalt für Theaterschaffende (Theater Artists' Pension and Retirement System), and Vereinigung künstlerischer Bühnenvorstände (Organization of Theater Boards of Directors) gradually to realize the points of the Ladenburg-Kugler Plan over the next half-century.
   Cracks in the censorship façade began to appear as well, as talented lawyers such as Richard Grelling (1853-1929) successfully appealed police decisions in Prussian courts, allowing Oskar Blumenthal, Otto Brahm, Max Reinhardt, Viktor Barnowsky, and others to present plays by Frank Wedekind, Gerhart Hauptmann, Carl Sternheim, and Arthur Schnitzler to the general public. Police censors usually used language of moral outrage when banning a play or calling for changes in a script. They found the use of the "inherited disease theory" [in Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts causing brain damage, for example, inappropriate for a "family drama." When Sigmund Lautenberg attempted to do Max Halbe's Der Amerikafahrer (The Traveler to America), censors demanded that a male cast member not touch an actress's bloomers but "rather her back or at most the hem of her skirt." Censors banned the use of German words or words in languages the audience might understand that could cause offense: they forbade Weiber (wenches) and Roué in Der kleine Schwerenöter by Leon Gandillot and Mieder (corset) in Marquise by Victorien Sardou and disallowed an actor from undoing his suspenders in Dr. Jojo by Albert Carré. Grelling usually got permission for managers to present plays in question if certain offensive portions of the script were omitted; Reinhardt got permission from the police to do Frühlings Erwachen (Spring'sAwakening) by arguing that the high ticket prices and the small capacity of the Kammerspiele would attract a wealthy clientele unlikely to stir up trouble.
   With the collapse of the Second Reich in 1918, most censorship protocols collapsed with it. For about six years, the German theater experienced unprecedented freedom from governmental intervention. After the death of President Friedrich Ebert (1871-1925), however, local jurisdictions began to ban plays, often using the same arguments frequently heard in the Wilhelmine period; in many cases, courts upheld their decisions.
   Under the Nazi dictatorship, censorship did not officially exist. Theaters were supposedly independent entities and remained theoretically autonomous, allowing artistic freedom fancifully to flourish. But Joseph Goebbels, in his capacity as propaganda minister, held complete executive authority over all professional theater activity in Germany and ultimately its annexed territories. Theater directors had to submit all plays for approval to the Propaganda Ministry, whose officials merely wanted to examine plays "to insure that the German Volk and its ethnic sensibilities would not be injured" (Hildegarde Brenner, Die Kunstpolitik des Nationalsozialismus [Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1963], 16).
   The German Democratic Republic employed a similar procedure to assure conformity with state goals for the theater. The regime regarded theater in particular as "one of the most important facets of domestic policy, [assuming] artistic production . . . as a socially formative force" (H. G. Huettich, Theater in the Planned Society [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1978], 2). The "official" artistic policy was one of "socialist realism," which assumed that only "positive" portrayals of communist societies were feasible because such societies had achieved their major goals and were no longer subject to criticism.
   All preoccupation with art for its own sake, as well as with dilettantism, form, myth, and mysticism of any kind, had to be negated. Art had simply to be functional, and as such, supportive of the Party while accessible to the intellects and feelings of the majority of the people. [Theater] was assigned a central role in the social system as a planned, organized, and well integrated part of a cultural policy aimed at solidifying the people behind the Party. (Huettich, 11)
   In West Germany, numerous localities sought to ban Bertolt Brecht's plays in the 1950s, and in some instances those bans were effective. By the 1960s, however, Brecht's and most other plays, along with a myriad of performance styles, appeared with increasing frequency, a trend that continued beyond the collapse of the GDR and into the 21st century.

Historical dictionary of German Theatre. . 2006.

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