Banned Plays Through History

Dramatic works for the stage are banned, too! Some of the most famous challenged and banned plays in history include Oedipus Rex, Oscar Wilde's Salome, George Bernard Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession, and Shakespeare's King Lear. Learn more about banned classics in theater history and discover why these plays have been so controversial.

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Lysistrata - Aristophanes

Lysistrata and Other Plays
This controversial play is by Aristophanes (c.448-c.380 BC). Written in 411 BC, Lysistrata was banned by the Comstock Law of 1873. An anti-war drama, the play centers around Lysistrata, who speaks of those who died in the Peloponnesian War. The ban on Lysistrata was not lifted until 1930.
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Oedipus Rex - Sophocles

Oedipus the King (Oedipus Rex)
Oxford University Press
This controversial play is by Sophocles (496-406 BC). Written in 425 BC, Oedipus Rex is about a man who is fated to murder his father and marry his mother. When Jocasta discovers that she married her son, she commits suicide. Oedipus blinds himself. This play is one of the most famous tragedies in world literature.
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Salome - Oscar Wilde

Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays
Oxford University Press
Salome is by Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). Written in 1892, Salome was banned by the Lord Chamberlain for its depiction of Biblical characters, and it was later banned in Boston. The play has been called "vulgar." Wilde's play is based on the Biblical story of Princess Salome, who dances for King Herod and then demands the head of John the Baptist as her reward. In 1905, Richard Strauss composed an opera based on Wilde's work, which was also banned.
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Mrs. Warren's Profession - George Bernard Shaw

Mrs. Warren's Profession is by George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950). Written in 1905, Mrs. Warren's Profession is controversial on sexual grounds (for its portrayal of prostitution). The play was suppressed in London, but the attempt to suppress the play in the U.S. failed.
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The Children's Hour - Lillian Hellman

The Children's Hour is by Lillian Hellman (1905-1984). Written in 1934, The Children's Hour was banned in Boston, Chicago, and in London for its hint of homosexuality. The play was based on a law case, and Hellman said of the the work: "It's not about lesbians. It's about the power of a lie."
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Ghosts - Henrik Ibsen

Ghosts is one of the most controversial plays by Henrik Ibsen, a famous Norwegian dramatist, who is famous for Hedda Gabler and A Doll's House. The play was banned on religious grounds for references to incest and sexually transmitted diseases.
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The Crucible - Arthur Miller

The Crucible is a famous play by Arthur Miller (1915-). Written in 1953, The Crucible was banned because it contains "sick words from the mouths of demon-possessed people." Centering around the Salem witch trials, Miller used the events of the play to shed light on current events.
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A Streetcar Named Desire - Tennessee Williams

Streetcar Named Desire
New Directions Publishing Corporation
A Streetcar Named Desire is a famous and controversial play by Tennessee Williams (1911-1983). Written in 1951, A Streetcar Named Desire features rape and the descent of a woman into insanity. Blanche Dubois relies on "the kindness of strangers," only to find herself taken away at the end. She's no longer a young girl; and she has no hope. She represents some bit of the Old South fading away. The magic is gone. All that's left is brutal, ugly reality.
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The Barber of Seville

The Barber of Seville/The Marriage of Figaro
The Barber of Seville was written by Pierre Augustin Caron De Beaumarchais (1732-1799). Written in 1775, the play was suppressed by Louis XVI. Beaumarchais was imprisoned, with charges of treason. The Marriage of Figaro is the sequel. Both works were made into operas by Rossini and Mozart.