Censorship imposed on theatre translations

According to the censorship files consulted, no British, American or German play was censored during the war years. Before 1939, four American and only one German play were blue-pencilled, but no British play was ever prohibited or bowdlerised in Portugal.

Before Breakfast (1916) is a one-act and one-actress, in fact, a monologue- length play, by Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953), with references to non-matrimonial sex, adultery, and the husband’s possible suicide at the end. Obviously, the authorities prohibited the play. The Trial of Mary Dugan (1927) by Bayard Veiller

(1869-1943) is a melodrama that concerns a sensational courtroom trial of a showgirl accused of killing her millionaire lover - referring again to a non-matrimonial relationship. The play was authorised with cuts. The Shanghai Gesture (1926) by John Colton (1887-1946) is a dark melodrama whose main character is a madam, the Dragon Lady, who takes revenge on her ex-lover, but at the end finds out that his gambling addict daughter is her own child, then shoots her. Besides deleting all possible references to prostitution in the play, the censors demanded that the end scene should be changed completely. The unrealistic happy ending should involve a contrite mother, a rehabilitated daughter as well as allusions to a blissful and optimistic future together. The play was not premiered in the end.

The one and only German play that was bowdlerised by the Portuguese censors at the time under scrutiny was Das Wundermittel (1920) by Ludwig Anton Salomon Fulda (1862-1939). Although the same stage play was already authorised in 1934, six years later, in 1940, Fulda’s comedy was permitted on stage only after cuts. Intriguingly, the textual cuts were not required by reason of the potentially defiant messages of the original text, but because of the comic references to the incumbent prime and propaganda minister of the time, Salazar and Antonio Ferro, respectively, which were added to the original script by the translator or creators of the performance.

As can be seen, none of the stage plays above were censored because of offending the other belligerent country. In fact, unlike in equally neutral Ireland, for instance, in Portugal no play was prohibited because of the fact that it might pose a potential threat to the country’s neutral status or cause offence to the nations engaged in war.[1] Nonetheless, a relatively small number of performances, that is, six stage plays were deemed by the censoring officers to contain possibly offensive references to the Axis Powers and their leaders, and were therefore authorised only after small textual cuts. The vast majority of the expurgated lines are seemingly innocuous, for instance, in the Italian comedy, Il signore e servito by Carlo Veneziani (1882-1950), in one of the scenes a minor character calls his dog Adolfo, which was probably presumed by the censor to be a veiled allusion to the Fuhrer (Censorship Report no. 2750, page 13).

Taken together, on the basis of the available censorship reports on theatre translations issued between 1929 and 1945, it seems that only 6% were banned, while 12% of the plays were approved with cuts and 1% with alterations (See figure 5). 67% of the proposals were approved, which indicates a seemingly lenient attitude shown by the authorities towards translations. It is also true though that the apparent indulgence may also be attributed to the fact that due to the lengthy and complicated bureaucratic censorship procedures, theatre practitioners as a rule would tend to avoid submitting censurable material for inspection.

Figure 5: Theatre translations censored in Portugal between 1929 and 1945

Data of the line chart in Figure 6 were retrieved exclusively from CETbase, which means that only staged performances were considered this time. The graph shows that theatre translation and national drama production roughly complement each other. On the whole, it can be said that the rise or fall in the number of the Portuguese plays is almost always accompanied by roughly the same increase and decrease in the number of the theatre translations per year. The average rate of translations - compared to domestic drama production - for the period is 24%. With reference to performances staged in Portugal during the period under scrutiny, the diagram also reveals that excepting the memorable and happy war-ending year of 1945, there is an overall stagnation in the number of performances from the beginning year of the Polttica do Esptrito initiated by Ferro.

Figure 6: National drama production and theatre translation production in Portugal between 1929 and 1945

  • [1] The stage play Roly Poly - a modern adaptation of Maupassant’s renowned short story“Boule de suif” set in the Franco-Prussian war - was withdrawn by the Irish authoritiesafter its second performance in 1940 due to strong pressure from Nazi Germany andVichy France (for more information, see: O Drisceoil 2016 and O Drisceoil 1996). Forinformation on theatre censorship in neutral Sweden, consult Domsa 2011.
 
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