UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"Speak the speech, I pray you" : theatre, law and rights - a study Garbett, Tom


This thesis examines how English law acts on, and in, the site of conflict between protestor and artist (referring, collectively, to the artist/producer/manager) in the context of controversial (or potentially controversial) theatrical performances i.e. those which engender moral outrage, or religious or political protest. This question is used as an umbrella under which to consider: (a) the framework within which the theatre operates and to investigate the restrictions imposed or enshrined freedoms provided by English law on theatre and performance; (b) how, if at all, the law can help to ameliorate the tension identified above. The project expressly renounces any prescription that would substantially fetter the arts, or attempt to substantially limit freedom of expression. Instead, the thesis investigates why theatre is important, the many connections between law and the theatre, and the overarching link between law, theatre and culture. The thesis begins by providing several exemplars, referred to throughout the work, before recording the development of the law regulating censorship of the theatre in England, beginning with the Theatres Act of 1737 — chosen as .a starting point by virtue of it being the first time the theatre was regulated by statute (in England). The analysis reveals a (largely unsurprising) reflection of modem, liberal, Western democratic tolerance. In order to establish a framework within which the competing interests of the offended and the artist can be compared — with a view to making normative suggestions — the thesis adopts the language of rights. It notes the post-war freedoms of the second half of the twentieth century, culminating in the rights revolution of the 1 960s, and, in the 1970s, the political liberalism of John Rawis and his theory of justice as fairness. Finally, using the principles of therapeutic jurisprudence — developed out of mental health law in an attempt to analyze the fit between law and psychology — and discourse analysis, the thesis suggests that the role of law can be to act therapeutically, reducing community friction and mediating between disputing parties. Using Rawis’ theory of justice as fairness with the gloss of law’s role as therapy (and set against the background of a breakdown in communication between opposing parties in a conflict situation), the role of law, it is suggested, should be to provide a framework for dialogue. Such a dialogue could involve optional adherence to a best practice code, or simple workshops at which those who oppose and those who promote controversial plays could consider the work in question together. The thesis concludes that this would be useful for playwrights (and theatre managers/producers), who would be seen to have attempted to engage the protestors, and defend the work, hopefully limiting self-censorship. At the same time, those in moderate opposition who are willing to engage will feel that their complaints have been, at the very least, considered. It also suggests that such a dialogue might filter through the relevant community, potentially reducing the anger felt even by those in the most vehement opposition.

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