Friday, 27 May 2016

School for Scandal

Here's a question for literary scholars rather than historians, although they can chip in if they wish: what can there be in Sheridan's School for Scandal that could so have exercised the British ambassador to Italy in 1939? I don't know the work and don't have time to read it, but I would have thought it to be a finely wrought comedy of manners, very much of its time. And yet we find it proscribed from a list of plays to be performed by the Old Vic Company (and directed by John Gielgud no less) during their tour of Italy in November 1939.

So far, so obscure; how do I know this fact? Because of our old friend and constant companion in the archives, serendipity: it appears in a minute of a meeting held in Rome at the British Institute on 29 November (ref. TNA BW 40/7 for anyone interested). Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet got the nod, but SfS was on no account to be performed. Quite what this says about the play or British perceptions of Italian sensibilities I'm not sure, but wartime does strange things to people. Maybe the ambassador Sir Percy Loraine just didn't think much of Sheridan.

By the by, it seems extraordinary that with WW2 three months underway a British theatre company should have been anywhere near the Continent, but the Italians were still warming up on the touchline of course, and war or no war, life goes on.

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