Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Thomas Bowdler - July 11, 1754

Thomas Bowdler was an English doctor who gave his name to a form of censorship. He was born near Bath and earned his degree in Medicine by 1776, however, he didn't practice, instead working towards prison reforms. His retirement in 1818 led to the activities that made him famous, or infamous, as the case may be.

He retired to the Isle of Wight with his sister, Henrietta, who had edited some of Shakespeare's plays in a volume called Family Shakespeare in 1807. She took out any passages or words that would be considered innappropriate for children or women to say or hear. Bowdler and his sister continued the work in ten volumes - in which they "endeavoured to remove every thing that could give just offence to the religious and virtuous mind" and "in which nothing is added to the original text, but those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family." (Wikipedia)

According to Bowdler and his sister, Ohpelia from Hamlet drowned accidentaly, suicide being inappropriate subject matter. His efforts didn't end with making Shakespeare boring, he also seems to have put out a version of the Old Testament and Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Tsk. Tsk. Those Old Testament people - how dare they offend the delicate sensibilities of Regency England?

Bowdler's sanctimonious editing gave rise to the term "bowdlerize" (-ise in England), which now means "1. To expurgate (a book, for example) prudishly. 2. To modify, as by shortening or simplifying or by skewing the content in a certain manner. " - According to the American Heritage Dictionary found at Bartleby.com.

Thomas Bowdler - Wikipedia
Thomas Bowdler - Bartleby.com
Thomas Bowdler - Goatview.com

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