Cyndia Susan Clegg

in British and Irish Literature

ISBN: 9780199846719
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

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As Donald Thomas aptly suggests, the difficulty of writing about literary censorship “is to avoid writing the history of too many other things at the same time” (Thomas 1969, cited under General Overviews, p. xi). Censorship poses both a semantic and a diachronic problem. The word censorship may refer to the positive law that prescribes what may or may not be spoken or written under its definitions and to the punishment of the law’s transgressors. In English law this is complicated by the body of case law that mediates the positive law through interpretation and precedents and that can transform law over time. Censorship may also refer to prior restraint (usually licensing), that is, to efforts to vet texts prior to publication or performance. Licensing itself is not entirely a distinct category, however, because in the early years of British publishing, licensing was an early form of copyright that protected a publisher’s “ownership” of a book. Similarly, dramatic license might entail the permission of a dramatic censor—from early on through the office of the Lord Chamberlain—or it might involve a grant (usually royal) for an acting company or a theater to do business. In addition, although the word censorship is usually associated with government or church regulation and restraint, special interests—public, commercial, and personal—have influenced motives for and acts of control. With such pressures it is not surprising that censorship changes over time and reflects particular concerns and interests at any given cultural moment, resulting in a diachronic problem for defining censorship. This is further complicated with regard to the censorship of English and Irish literature. Ireland, though culturally different, for many years was subject to English rule, so for much of its history Irish literature was regulated by the same laws as English literature. With the creation of the Irish Free Republic in the early 20th century, and later, the Republic of Ireland, Ireland enacted regulations that differed drastically from English regulation and that reflected very different cultural pressures. Literary censorship, then, is not a static category; instead, it encompasses cultural bias, politics, religion, law, publishing and trade relations, copyright, and the responses of individual writers to any or all these. To sort out this complexity, censorship and English literature must be considered separately from censorship and Irish literature, and dramatic censorship for each must be considered separately from censorship and publication (manuscript or print).

Article.  13892 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (British and Irish)

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