Friday, July 11, 2014

The man who bowdlerized Shakespeare

It is the birthday of English philanthropist Thomas Bowdler (1754), who is best remembered for his sanitized version of William Shakespeare’s works, The Family Shakespeare (1807), in which all potentially offensive passages were removed. Subsequent editions were published in 1818 and later, and were quite popular. Eleven editions were published by 1850. Bowdler set upon the project to make the Bard more suitable for women and children after realizing his father had omitted passages for years when reading Shakespeare to the family. Bowdler’s bold action gave rise to the term bowdlerize, meaning to censor literature, movies, and TV programs. Near the end of his life, he also bowdlerized Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1826), but it wasn’t published until after Bowdler’s death.

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