Thomas Bowdler (July 11, 1754 – February 24, 1825), an English physician, has become (in)famous as the editor of a children's edition of William Shakespeare, the Family Shakespeare, in which he "endeavoured to remove every thing that could give just offence to the religious and virtuous mind." For example, the death of Ophelia in Hamlet was euphemized into an accidental drowning rather than the deliberate suicide implied by Shakespeare.
His name lives on in the eponym bowdlerization (adjective bowdlerized), to describe the process of censorship by arbitrary deletion of "objectionable" material from a work of literature to "purify" it, rather than banning the work outright.
Bowdler was neither the first nor the last to prepare such "pure" or "school" editions of books. An early approach, beginning around the 1780s, was the production of selections from an author's work, chosen by an editor to be inoffensive.
Bowdler produced the work for which he is famous after retiring to the Isle of Wight. He later settled in south Wales where he died, and is buried at Oystermouth near Swansea.
Dr. Bowdler's Legacy: a history of expurgated books in England and America, by Noel Perrin. David R. Godine, Boston, 1969. ISBN 0-87923-861-5.
Last updated: 02-10-2005 14:17:52