William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download William Shakespeare Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Women and Censorship

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Shakespeare’s portrayal of women was deemed inappropriate to the Restoration sensibility, which romanticized them as gentle, refined creatures innocent of sexual matters. Davenant’s version of Hamlet “sanitizes” Ophelia, transforming her from a full-blooded and sexually conscious woman to a silent, coy creature. Shakespeare’s Ophelia is aware of the sexual implications of Hamlet’s banter, responding with double-entendres of her own. Davenant’s Ophelia responds only with silence, denoting either embarrassment or ignorance.

Ironically, the arrival in the Restoration period of female actors also led to a kind of reverse censorship, in that Shakespeare’s plays were sometimes made bawdier. In his 1670 adaptation of The Tempest, Dryden gave Miranda a twin sister called Dorinda who specialized in sexual innuendo.

Restoration adaptations of Shakespeare became the standard acting texts of the eighteenth century. They were so widely used that many people assumed them to be Shakespeare’s own words. When, in the mid-1700’s, the actor-manager David Garrick announced a production of Macbeth “as written by Shakespeare,” there was an outcry from those who had long loved the existing version, believing it to be Shakespeare’s. In the end, Garrick compromised. He restored the original words in some scenes, but made some “improvements”: He left out Lady Macduff’s death scene, removed the crude Porter, had the witches sing and dance, and wrote a moralistic dying speech for Macbeth. In his version of Hamlet , Garrick cut out the grave-diggers because he...

(The entire section is 368 words.)