Tamburlaine the Great censored to avoid upsetting Muslims.

Christopher Marlowe is probably England's second-greatest playwright ever, after William Shakespeare. But some of the lines of one of his plays, Tamburlaine the Great, have been left out to avoid upsetting Muslims because the hero burns Korans.

The Times November 24, 2005

Christopher Marlowe - Marlowe's Koran-burning hero is censored to avoid Muslim anger
By Dalya Alberge, Arts Correspondent

IT WAS the surprise hit of the autumn season, selling out for its entire run and inspiring rave reviews. But now the producers of Tamburlaine the Great have come under fire for censoring Christopher Marlowe’s 1580s masterpiece to avoid upsetting Muslims.

Audiences at the Barbican in London did not see the Koran being burnt, as Marlowe intended, because David Farr, who directed and adapted the classic play, feared that it would inflame passions in the light of the London bombings.

Simon Reade, artistic director of the Bristol Old Vic, said that if they had not altered the original it “would have unnecessarily raised the hackles of a significant proportion of one of the world’s great religions”.

The burning of the Koran was “smoothed over”, he said, so that it became just the destruction of “a load of books” relating to any culture or religion. That made it more powerful, they claimed.

Members of the audience also reported that key references to Muhammad had been dropped, particularly in the passage where Tamburlaine says that he is “not worthy to be worshipped”. In the original Marlowe writes that Muhammad “remains in hell”.

The censorship aroused condemnation yesterday from senior figures in the theatre and scholars, as well as religious leaders. Terry Hands, who directed Tamburlaine for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1992, said: “I don’t believe you should interfere with any classic for reasons of religious or political correctness.”

Charles Nicholl, the author of The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe, said it was wrong to tamper with Marlowe because he asked “uncomfortable and confrontational questions — particularly aimed at those that held dogmatic, religious views”. He added: “Why should Islam be protected from the questioning gaze of Marlowe? Marlowe stands for provocative questions. This is a bit of an insult to him.”

Marlowe rivalled Shakespeare as the most powerful dramatist of the Elizabethan period. He died aged 29 in a brawl over a tavern bill. Tamburlaine the Great was written not later than 1587. It tells the story of a shepherd-robber who defeats the king of Persia, the emperor of Turkey and, seeing himself as the “scourge of God”, burns the Koran.

Mr Farr reworked the text after the July 7 attacks. The production closed last week. Mr Farr said in a statement: “The choices I made in the adaptation were personal about the focus I wanted to put on the main character and had nothing to do with modern politics.”

But Mr Reade said that Mr Farr felt that burning the Koran “would have been unnecessarily inflammatory”. The play needed to be seen in a 21stcentury context, he believed.He said: “Marlowe was not challenging Muslims, he was attacking theism, saying, ‘I’m God, there isn’t a God’. If he had been in a Christian country, a Judaic country or a Hindu country, it would be their gods he’d be attacking.” He said more people would be insulted by broadening the attack.

Inayat Bunglawala, the media secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, disagreed, saying: “In the context of a fictional play, I don’t think it will have offended many people.”

Park Honan, Emeritus Professor at the School of English, University of Leeds, and author of Christopher Marlowe: Poet & Spy, said: “It is wrong to tamper with the play, wrong to shorten it and wrong to leave out the burning of the Koran because that is involved with the exposition of Tamburlaine’s character. He’s a false prophet. This is meant to horrify the audience.”



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The Merchant of Venice

The latest adaptation a year ago, starring Al Pacino, re-opened the debate on whether Shakepeare’s Shylock was a deliberately racist caricature. Many claim that he reflects the anti-Semitism of the Bard’s age, an essential element of the plot. But producers still come under pressure to tone down the more disparaging traits


Tamburlaine: Now, Casane, where’s the Turkish Alcoran, And all the heaps of superstitious books Found in the temples of that Mahomet Whom I have thought a god? They shall be burnt . . .

. . . In vain, I see, men worship Mahomet.

My sword hath sent millions of Turks to hell, Slew all his priests, his kinsmen, and his friends, And yet I live untouch’d by Mahomet.

There is a God, full of revenging wrath, From whom the thunder and the lightning breaks, Whose scourge I am, and him will I obey.

So Casane; fling them in the fire.

(They burn the books.)

Now, Mahomet, if thou have any power, Come down thyself and work a miracle.

Thou art not worthy to be worshipped That suffers flames of fire to burn the writ Wherein the sum of thy religion rests . . .

. . . Well, soldiers, Mahomet remains in hell; He cannot hear the voice of Tamburlaine.

Seek out another godhead to adore:

The God that sits in heaven, if any god, For he is God alone, and none but he.

Act V, scene i Tamburlaine the Great

TAMBURLAINE: In thee, thou valiant man of Persia,
I see the folly of thy emperor.
Art thou but captain of a thousand horse,
That, by characters graven in thy brows
And by thy martial face and stout aspect,
Deserv'st to have the leading of an host?
Forsake thy king, and do but join with me,
And we will triumph over all the world.
I hold the Fates bound fast in iron chains,
And with my hand turn Fortune's wheel about;
And sooner shall the sun fall from his sphere
Than Tamburlaine be slain or overcome.
Draw forth thy sword, thou mighty man-at-arms,
Intending but to race my charméd skin,
And Jove himself will stretch his hand from heaven
To ward the blow and shield me safe from harm.
See how he rains down heaps of gold in showers,
As if he meant to give me soldiers pay!
And, as a sure and grounded argument
That I shall be the monarch of the East,
He sends this soldan's daughter, rich and brave,
To be my queen and portly emperess.
If thou wilt stay with me, renownéd man,
And lead thy thousand horse with my conduct,
Besides thy share of this Egyptian prize,
Those thousand horse shall sweat with martial spoil
Of conquered kingdoms and of cities sacked.
Both we will walk upon the lofty clifts;
And Christian merchants that with Russian stems
Plow up huge furrows in the Caspian sea
Shall vail to us as lords of all the lake.
Both we will reign as consuls of the earth,
And mighty kings shall be our senators.
Jove sometime maskéd in a shepherd's weed;
And by those steps that he hath scaled the heavens
May we become immortal like the gods!
Join with me now in this my mean estate
(I call it mean because, being yet obscure,
The nations far removed admire me not),
And, when my name and honor shall be spread
As far as Boreas claps his brazen wings,
Or fair Boötes sends his cheerful light,
Then shalt thou be competitor with me,
And sit with Tamburlaine in all his majesty.

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