Controversial Plays That Faced Censorship and Banned


Reviewing the key factors of censorship in art, which is heavily profound in controversial plays



Plays on controversial topics such as religion, sex, etc., have always tackled the possibility of getting banned. Though they’ve often been able to attract huge acclaim and diverse audiences, censorship in art has compelled some of them to be banned from theaters. Here’re five of them that have confronted ultimate censorship for the sake of their message (often considered too bold and provocative) to the society.


Lysistrata (Aristophanes, 411 BC)

This controversial play by Aristophanes played around the ideas of sex and politics and portrayed them in a comedic fashion, especially during the times when women weren’t free to make decisions relating to politics. It was no wonder that people began protesting it. Both the Moscow Art Theatre and the United States quickly spoke out and imposed laws against its production. However, countless novels, films, and performance pieces have taken their inspiration from this classic, and Lysistrata has been able to continue with its popularity in the media.


Ghosts (Henrik Ibsen, 1882)

The creator of A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler, Henrik Ibsen—the famous Norwegian dramatist—staged this play in 1882 in Chicago. It was banned on religious grounds as it referred to sexually transmitted diseases and incest.


Mrs. Warren’s Profession (George Bernard Shaw, 1893)

This play referred to prostitution, especially in a time when women working in brothels were looked down upon. It is no wonder that it secured a place in the history of censorship. Shaw wanted to emphasize the fact about limited job opportunities that were available to women during the Victorian Era. Because of its correlation between the controversy surrounding prostitution and its political theme, the play was banned.


Angels in America (Tony Kushner, 1993)

One of the most controversial plays that attracted censorship quite often, Angels in America is a Pulitzer Prize–winning piece that tackled AIDS, sex, and homosexuality equally. It sparked the much-needed awareness and conversation during the height of Ronald Reagan’s presidency when the AIDS epidemic was spreading in the United States. Despite its honest portrayal of homosexuality, it is considered as one of the biggest examples of censorship in theater.


These plays can be considered as some of the best examples of what makes a drama controversial. Though these creative pieces of work courted a lot of controversy in their time and were banned, their depth, originality, and characters have set some pretty high standards for playwrights of the future.


Have you ever watched a rendition of any of these or any other highly controversial plays? Share your experiences in the comments section below or contact me through Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads. Also, check out my book, Underground Stories.



References 2016. “10 of the Most Controversial Plays Ever.” Accessed December 15, 2017.

Lombardi, Esther. 2017. “Banned Plays through History.” ThoughtCo, November 25. Accessed December 15, 2017.

Wright, KC. 2014. “10 Plays That Faced Major Controversy throughout History.” Backstage, October 21. Accessed December 15, 2017.

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by Rosalie H. Contino, PhD