Thomas Bowdler

Definition

Theater

  • (1754 - 1825) British physician and editor, who took itupon himself to produce an edition of Shakespeare's plays, expurgatedof all words and plots "which cannot with propriety be readaloud in a family". His 10-volume Family Shakespeare,in which all profanities and obscenities were omitted, was publishedin 1818. Bowdler believed that by such editing "the transcendantgenius of the poet would undoubtedly shine with more unclouded lustre".Some plays defied all Bowdler's attempts to make them 'decent'; inMeasure for Measure, for instance, he was obliged to printa warning about the language, whilst Othello defeated him entirely,prompting him to admit that it was "unfortunately little suitedto family reading" and best transferred "from the parlourto the cabinet". By 1838 the terms bowdlerize and bowdlerizationhad become widely used for all similar expurgations. Bowdler's ownwork was widely appreciated; in 1894 no less a poet than AlgernonSwinburne said of his efforts: "No man ever did better serviceto Shakespeare." By 1900 there were nearly 50 'gelded' versionsof Shakespeare's plays in circulation, edited by such luminaries as Lewis Carroll and Noah Webster. The motivating force behind Dr Bowdler's works is said to have been his sister, Henrietta Maria Bowdler. Reportedly, Henrietta was so modest that when she visited the opera she kept her eyes averted from the stage to avoid seeing any 'indecorous' dancing.
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