Logo der Universität Wien
You are here:>University of Vienna >Faculty of Philological and Cultural Studies>Department of English


Norbert Bachleitner

According to the Theatre Legislation Act (Theaterordnung) of 1850 performances had to be authorized by the Regional Government (Landesregierung), in the case of Vienna by the Regional Government of Lower Austria. Passages which broke an article of the Code of laws (Allgemeines Strafgesetzbuch), passages which criticised the Emperor or his family, passages which were considered dangerous for reasons of security, which were deemed indecent or blasphemous were cut. In 1903 the Ministry of internal affairs (Innenministerium) established a Theatre board (Theaterbeirat), which reviewed plays which were about to be staged and recommended them to be either licensed or banned. In 1918 Parliament abolished censorship, nevertheless theatres and cinemas were still kept under observation and the authorities could demand changes of dramatic texts. In special cases the Regional Government had the right to authorize or forbid plays, and the Theatre board was maintained until 1928. While social plays were less severely judged in this era, in principle the Regional Government stuck to the regulations of the Theatre Legislation of 1850. The texts had to be submitted to the Regional Government, one of its officials observed the dress-rehearsal. The court theatres and their successors the Federal theatres (Bundestheater) were exempt from this procedure. During the last years of the monarchy a special court office (Obersthofmeisteramt) was responsible for the censorship of the court theatres, but it delegated this responsibility to the Literary Bureau of the Ministry of foreign affairs. Since 1898 its sub-director Jettel Freiherr von Ettenach was the court theatre censor. After the change of regime in 1918 competences were rather unclear, but on the whole the court theatres were hardly affected by censorship.

Cases of censored plays in this epoch concerned, for instance, Oscar Wilde's Salome - in 1903 in the Deutsches Volkstheater the play could only be staged after serious problems with the censors had been solved - and G.B. Shaw's Arms and the Man – in 1904 the Theater in der Josefstadt had to delete from their version of the play attacks against the Austrian and Serbian army. In 1921 the play was eliminated from the repertory of the Schönbrunner Schloßtheater as a consequence of manifestations against it, in the operetta adaptation entitled Der tapfere Soldat the hints at the two armies had to be cleared as well. Finally, in1925 Shaw's Saint Joan was declined by the Burgtheater "da in diesem Stück sowohl politische wie kirchliche Angelegenheiten scharf satyrisch behandelt werden. Trotzdem das Burgtheater mit der Aufführung ein Kassenstück ersten Ranges gewonnen hätte und der Schaden der Nichtannahme mit mehr als einer halben Milliarde beziffert werden kann, hielt die Direktion das Stück für die Gepflogenheiten des Burgtheaters nicht geeignet." (cited in Dirnberger 1983, 260)

In the period of the corporate state (1934-38) works that offended patriotic, Roman-Catholic or moral sentiments were banned, in addition to that communist, socialist and national-socialist literature was suppressed. The theatre was censored according to art. 26 of the constitution, in the same way as the press, broadcasting programs and films.

In the nazi era theatres in Vienna were subject to the nazi literary policy. Apart from current book bans the import of literature from 'enemy' countries such as France and Great Britain was stopped in 1939 to avoid the loss of foreign exchange. In 1942 a list of English and US authors to be banned in Germany was published. On the stage German authors were to be promoted, while leftist and Jewish literature was prohibited. Is is rather surprising to see that despite these literary-political principles Shakespeare and Shaw appear among the authors most often performed between 1938 and 1945. The predilection of nazi directors for Shaw's plays will have to be explored.

In the epoch of occupation by the allied forces (1945-55) nazi literature was censored. Each play to be staged had to be reviewed by the allied forces, i.e. in Vienna by US or Soviet authorities. On the other hand, these authorities tried to promote certain plays considered useful in the context of re-education. In any case in the decade after the second world war a lot of English and American plays were staged at Viennese theatres.

After 1955 censorship in the strict sense does not exist any more. Nevertheless, from time to time the public prosecutor had to deal with works of art, films and plays, especially in the case of charges by individuals or corporations. So far there is no information about the ban of an English play in this epoch. It is evident that as formal censorship recedes informal censorships takes its part, i. e. different forms of influencing theatrical production and reception, at the same time auto-censorship becomes more and more important.

The concept of 'censorship' in its wider sense, as it is used here, includes bans of plays, demands for changes in the text in order to 'attenuate' certain aspects considered dangerous, but also the documentation of discussions about plays before or after the first night as well as auto-censorship of repertory or during the production of a certain play. Among the key issues mentioned in the introduction of this paper the following are most important: Which factors are responsible for the selection of plays? Which factors are decisive in the process of translation or adaptation? What is the extent and nature of the influence of politics on theatrical production in a given epoch? What is the political background of (auto-)censorship?

University of Vienna | Universitätsring 1 | 1010 Vienna | T +43-1-4277-0