Thomas Bowdler bigraphy, stories - English physician and editor

Thomas Bowdler : biography

11 July 1754 - 24 February 1825

Thomas Bowdler ( 11 July 1754 – 24 February 1825) was an English physician and philanthropist, best known for publishing The Family Shakspeare, an expurgated edition of William Shakespeare's work, edited by his sister Henrietta Maria Bowdler, intended to be more appropriate for 19th century women and children than the original. Although early editions of the work were published with the spelling "Shakspeare", after Bowdler's death, later editions (from 1847) adopted the spelling "Shakespeare", reflecting changes in the standard spelling of Shakespeare's name., The British Library. Retrieved 17 December 2011; and , WorldCat. Retrieved 17 December 2011

The verb bowdlerise (or bowdlerize)The "-ise" form is more common in British English and New Zealand English, whereas "-ize" is preferred in American English. has associated his name with the censorship not only of literature but also of motion pictures and television programmes.

After several other publications, some reflecting his interest in and knowledge of continental Europe, Bowdler's last work was an expurgated version of Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, published posthumously in 1826 under the supervision of his nephew and biographer, Thomas Bowdler the Younger.

The Family Shakspeare

In Bowdler's childhood, his father had entertained his family with readings from Shakespeare. Later, Bowdler realised that his father had been omitting or altering passages he felt unsuitable for the ears of his wife and children. Bowdler felt it would be worthwhile to publish an edition which might be used in a family whose father was not a sufficiently "circumspect and judicious reader" to accomplish this expurgation himself.

In 1807 the first edition of the Bowdlers' The Family Shakspeare was published, in four duodecimo volumes, containing 24 of the plays. In 1818 the second edition was published. Each play is preceded by an introduction where Bowdler summarises and justifies his changes to the text. According to his nephew's Memoir the first edition was prepared by Bowdler's sister, Harriet, but both were published under Thomas Bowdler's name, probably because a woman could not then publicly admit that she understood Shakespeare's racy passages.Tabak, Jessica. , 2 November 2009 By 1850 eleven editions had been printed. The spelling "Shakspeare", used by Bowdler, and also by his nephew Thomas in his memoir of the older man,Bowdler, pp. 31–32 and passim was changed in later editions in the mid-19th century to "Shakespeare".

The Bowdlers were not the first to undertake such a project, but, despite being considered a negative example by some, their editions made it more acceptable to teach Shakespeare to wider and younger audiences. The poet Algernon Charles Swinburne said, "More nauseous and foolish cant was never chattered than that which would deride the memory or depreciate the merits of Bowdler. No man ever did better service to Shakespeare than the man who made it possible to put him into the hands of intelligent and imaginative children." Bowdler's commitment not to augment Shakespeare's text was in contrast with the practice of some earlier editors and performers. Nahum Tate as Poet Laureate had rewritten the tragedy of King Lear with a happy ending. In 1807 Charles Lamb and Mary Lamb published Tales from Shakespeare for children with synopses of 20 of the plays, seldom quoting the original text.

Changes to Shakespeare

Some examples of alterations made by Bowdler's edition:

  • In Hamlet, the death of Ophelia was referred to as an accidental drowning, omitting the suggestions that she may have intended suicide.
  • In Macbeth, Lady Macbeth's famous cry "Out, damned spot!" was changed to "Out, crimson spot!"
  • "God!" as an exclamation is replaced with "Heavens!"
  • In Henry IV, Part 2, the prostitute Doll Tearsheet is omitted entirely; the slightly more reputable Mistress Quickly is retained.
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