BBC Radio 7, 23 October 2010
Set in 1610, David Pownall's historical drama was an ambitious portrayal
of Shakespeare (Edward Petherbridge) in his later career as a confidante of King James I (Hugh Ross), the leading actor/manager
of his time, yet also something of a killjoy as he feared that no one would want to see his plays any more, now that they
could enjoy the new translation of the Bible. With this in mind, Shakespeare determines to influence King James' mind, making
him believe that the Book of Revelation will feed the popular desire for apocalyptic imagery, and hence promote sedition.
Shakespeare's role is part of a more searching analysis of the power of the
theatre to embody and influence public opinion; to create the kind of dreams on stage that can change lives. The action unfolds
on three levels: as a meditation on the King's and Shakespeare's opinions of the Bible ("All the best minds will be full of
Genesis, the Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Kings, Acts: stories of lust, murder, sacrifice, redemption,") a performance of a
play about St. John (Robert Stephens) on Patmos, and an analysis of Shakespeare's state of mind as he contemplates the subject
for his next play. At the end James gives his approval for the Bible after having witnessed a performance of
the play at Oxford. He is particularly affected by a Vestal Virgin - played by his own son - who is crucified;
the King, sitting in the audience, bursts into tears and remembers the fate of his own mother, Mary Queen of Scots.
However the play ended on a sombre note, as we understood that this power can be interpreted
negatively as well as positively. By 1642 the theatres had been closed down by the Puritans, who wanted to censor
any organization that might question their rule. King James' desire to ban the Bible (on account of its seditious
content) was taken to extremes, and thereby proving the truth of the assertion that where there are dreams - especially in the
public sphere - there must also be censorship.
Nonetheless something good does emerge from the performance, as the St. John play
encourages Shakespeare to write one play about an island full of dreams - The Tempest, which was first staged
Sometimes the action seemed unnecessarily complicated as it moved
between its three plot-levels, but Dreams and Censorship nonetheless attests to the power of the theatre to
move as well as persuade. The director of this production - first broadcast on Radio 3 in 1993 - was Eoin O'Callaghan.