Why give Shakespeare a licence to shock?: Letter

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The Independent Online
Sir: I must take issue with Polly Toynbee ("Old enough for the bloody Bard", 30 April). Why should Shakespeare be placed in some special category over and above all other playwrights, novelists and scriptwriters whose work finds its way into film? I am quite sure that the British Board of Film Classification takes artistic merit into account and that it was borne in mind in awarding Richard III a 15 certificate. A film featuring graphic violence and explicit oral sex (even off camera) would not normally be anything other than an 18.

A director has a choice as to how he or she will portray the violence and sex that a script demands. They can be as unnecessary in an adaptation of a classic play as of a blockbuster - look at Jarman's Edward II. The name of Shakespeare or Marlowe or Ian McKellen cannot somehow magic away the harmful effects (if any) of on-screen violence.

Polly Toynbee's article does help expose the absurdities of the current system. The fact that a 16-year-old can legally have real sex yet is deemed too young to watch other people pretending to has been pointed out many times. But if we are to have silly rules, there is no reason not to apply them across the board. Is her point not really that it's all right to have the young watching violence in highbrow drama because the only ones who will want to are our own, nice, middle-class children who can be trusted to resist its baleful influence?

Christopher Camp

Amersham, Buckinghamshire