July 11 –Shakespeare Got Bowdlerized!

Posted on July 11, 2016

William Shakespeare is a little bit famous.

To say the least! He is often considered THE best – certainly one of the best – of all English-speaking writers in history.

But to Thomas Bowdler, who was born in Britain on this date in 1754, Shakespeare's words were not “fit” to be read by “our virtuous females.”

So he published a book he titled The Family Shakespeare. He had gone through Shakespeare's plays, and he'd censored anything he felt should not be read by women. He cut some stuff out, and he edited (changed) some stuff.

For example, when Lady Macbeth said, “Out, damn'd spot!” - Bowdler changed it to, “Out, crimson spot!”

Can we all say yikes-y?

Because of Bowdler's book, and his attitude, the English language gained a new word: bowdlerize, which means to change or eliminate offensive words or phrases. In other words, “to censor.”

Actually, Bowdler helped more people to enjoy Shakespeare's works. Both kids and women were allowed to read and learn about the “cleaned-up” versions of Shakespeare. And other writers of the time were presenting just summaries of the plays to students, or rewriting the tragedies to have happy endings. Some of these writers didn't even bother to use chunks of Shakespeare's words! At least Bowdler didn't alter plot lines or do without quotes from the Bard himself.

Still, Bowdler was famous for censorship, and today does not celebrate censorship, but rather encourages us all to watch for censorship, to consider and reconsider our attitudes of protecting others from certain words and ideas, to discuss swearing and standards and “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.”

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