Friday, November 25, 2005


It was the surprise hit of the autumn season, selling out for its entire run and inspiring rave reviews. But now the producers of Tamburlaine the Great have come under fire for censoring Christopher Marlowe’s 1580s masterpiece to avoid upsetting Muslims. Audiences at the Barbican in London did not see the Koran being burnt, as Marlowe intended, because David Farr, who directed and adapted the classic play, feared that it would inflame passions in the light of the London bombings.

Simon Reade, artistic director of the Bristol Old Vic, said that if they had not altered the original it “would have unnecessarily raised the hackles of a significant proportion of one of the world’s great religions”. The burning of the Koran was “smoothed over”, he said, so that it became just the destruction of “a load of books” relating to any culture or religion. That made it more powerful, they claimed.

Members of the audience also reported that key references to Muhammad had been dropped, particularly in the passage where Tamburlaine says that he is “not worthy to be worshipped”. In the original Marlowe writes that Muhammad “remains in hell”.

The censorship aroused condemnation yesterday from senior figures in the theatre and scholars, as well as religious leaders. Terry Hands, who directed Tamburlaine for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1992, said: “I don’t believe you should interfere with any classic for reasons of religious or political correctness.” Charles Nicholl, the author of The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe, said it was wrong to tamper with Marlowe because he asked “uncomfortable and confrontational questions — particularly aimed at those that held dogmatic, religious views”. He added: “Why should Islam be protected from the questioning gaze of Marlowe? Marlowe stands for provocative questions. This is a bit of an insult to him.”

Marlowe rivalled Shakespeare as the most powerful dramatist of the Elizabethan period. He died aged 29 in a brawl over a tavern bill. Tamburlaine the Great was written not later than 1587. It tells the story of a shepherd-robber who defeats the king of Persia, the emperor of Turkey and, seeing himself as the “scourge of God”, burns the Koran....

Park Honan, Emeritus Professor at the School of English, University of Leeds, and author of Christopher Marlowe: Poet & Spy, said: “It is wrong to tamper with the play, wrong to shorten it and wrong to leave out the burning of the Koran because that is involved with the exposition of Tamburlaine’s character. He’s a false prophet. This is meant to horrify the audience.

More here


English urged to reclaim identity

Britain's first black Archbishop has made a powerful attack on multiculturalism, urging English people to reclaim their national identity. The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, said that too many people were embarrassed about being English. "Multiculturalism has seemed to imply, wrongly for me, let other cultures be allowed to express themselves but do not let the majority culture at all tell us its glories, its struggles, its joys, its pains," he said. The failure of England to rediscover its culture afresh would lead only to greater political extremism, he said.

Dr Sentamu, a former judge in Uganda, called for the English to rediscover their cultural identity by properly marking celebrations such as St George's Day on April 23. "I speak as a foreigner, really. The English are somehow embarrassed about some of the good things they have done," he said. "They have done some terrible things but not all the empire was a bad idea. "Because the empire has gone there is almost the sense in which there is not a big idea that drives this nation."

The archbishop, who fled Idi Amin's regime in 1974, said he would not be where he was today were it not for the British Empire and the English teachers and missionaries who worked in Africa. Dr Sentamu was speaking to The Times before his enthronement as the church's No2 at York Minster on November 30. As the most senior black churchman, who during his time as a bishop in London was an adviser to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry that found institutional racism in the police, he received racist and abusive letters, some covered in human excrement, after his appointment was announced earlier this year.

But as a direct product of the British Empire, he intends to make a mission of his passion for English culture, and the Christian roots of that culture, during the next decade or more that he will spend as primate of England's northern province. "What is it to be English? It is a very serious question," he said. "I think we have not engaged with English culture as it has developed. It is a culture that whether we like it or not, has given us parliamentary democracy. It is the mother of it. It is the mother of arguing that if you want a change of government, you vote them in or you vote them out," he said. "It is a place that has allowed reason to be at the heart of all these things, that has allowed genuine dissent without resort to violence."

He disliked the word "tolerance" when used in reference to different cultures. "It seems to be the word tolerance is bad because it just means putting up with it," he said. "I was raised in the spirit of magnanimity. That is a better word than tolerance. "If you are magnanimous in your judgments on other people, there is a chance that I will recognise that you will help me in my struggle."

He will work closely with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, whom he described as "my Moses". "I have chosen in that analogy to try and be a Jethro to him. Jethro was Moses's father-in-law who was always very practical, making suggestions. In the end it was Moses who had to put them out (into practice)." A spokesman for the Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed Dr Sentamu's comments. He said: "I'm only embarrassed about being English when we lose a cricket match in the way we've just lost one."


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