Saturday, 5 October 2013

Bowdlerize - The Bard Barred

Bowdlerize, Thomas Bowdler, Henrietta Maria Bowdler

BOWDLERIZE

Verb trans. B- and b-, also -ise. Mid-19th century.
[from Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825), English editor, who published an expurgated edition of Shakespeare.]

Expurgate (a book etc.) by removing or altering material considered improper or offensive; emasculate.

Well how times have changed! While there are now numerous publications offering Shakespeare in simplified English so that we can all understand what the [....] he's talking about, in the past publications were released with all the naughty bits taken out. Yes, that's right, porn-addled, sexting-blighted youth of today - Shakespeare has naughty bits (although in comparison to a Miley Cyrus video or your average phonecall between teenage lovers, Shakespeare's 'naughty' does seem rather Ned Flanders' 'naughty').

In the Georgian times of Thomas Bowdler, however, sensibilities were considerably more sensitive. Bowdler's father used to read him Shakespeare (good chap), but when he grew up, he realised that his pops had been slyly editing out all the racy stuff. Morally concerned that other fathers would not be capable of being similarly "circumspect or judicious", Bowdler deemed that an expurgated edition was needed, one with all sexy, profane and otherwise improper references removed. Thus, in 1807, The Family Shakespeare was published, and we have the verb bowdlerize, a rather pejorative term for such censorship.


Thomas Bowdler, Henrietta Maria Bowdler, Bowdlerize, Censorship

While my first reaction to the bowdlerizing of Shakespeare's masterpieces is utter [.......] horror at such philistine interference, my thoughts have softened considerably as I've pondered on it. After all, the work of Thomas Bowdler was not the same as, say, government censorship, in which access to certain information is explicitly forbidden or restricted. Rather, Bowdler was offering an alternative, a family friendly version, one that could be read aloud without making grandma blush. Secondly, it seems that Shakespeare's raunchy nature was a genuine barrier to people reading his work. Therefore, Bowdler and his expurgations made the Bard significantly more accessible, allowing his plays to be part of family entertainment. And they were - The Family Shakespeare was a considerable success and was reprinted numerous times. As the core text of the work was not altered (apart from the rude stuff taken out), I can't help but feel that anything that gets more people reading more Shakespeare is a [.......] good thing, and that's exactly what happened.

Perhaps more telling of the social mores of the time is that fact that it was actually Thomas Bowdler's niece, Henrietta Maria Bowdler, that did the majority of the editing for The Family Shakespeare. However, she was uncredited for her work, as it was unthinkable that a delicate and sensitive woman could be reading (let alone understanding) the various sexual puns and ribald rib-ticklers that so pepper the Bard's great plays. Now how [.......] unfair is that?


What do you think of Thomas Bowdler and his worldly-wise niece Henrietta?

Do you think the bowdlerization of Shakespeare is a jolly good show or a [......] disgrace?

Do you have any thoughts on the censorship of art generally?

Please leave your most family-friendly comments below.

15 comments:

  1. Ed, you're a naughty knave. Cover up those ankles.

    -c

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Have you been hacking my webcam again? I thought we spoke about that.

      Delete
  2. Oh gender politics through time - poor, unacknowledged Henrietta.

    What is Shakespeare without a little bawdry humour and innuendo?

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    Replies
    1. I suppose the fact that there *is* more to Shakespeare than naughty jokes and innuendo was part of why Mr Bowdler wanted to make it so accessible - so that people could enjoy the beautiful language, riveting drama ... and violence, of course ... always lots of violence in Shakespeare.

      Delete
  3. I think censorship is an outrage. If anyone was to bowdlerize my comments I'd [ be ever so sightly miffed and I would politely let my feelings on the editors choice of alterations be known in a mild and friendly manner ] and then I'd take his comments and [ place them out of sight of the general public ].

    I'm sure if Shakespeare had seen his work tampered with in the name of moral uprightness he'd tell the Bowdlers to [ perhaps take a gentle stroll elsewhere ].

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, but you're outraged at everything. You are, after all, the Angry Nerd.

      You make a good point, though, and I concede that Shakespeare would have been horrified at his eloquently penned smut being bowdlerized for the sake of Georgian sensibility.

      Delete
    2. Dear angry nerd.

      I have a briefcase and I've forgotten the 3-digit combination to the left side lock. The right side combination is 007 if that helps.

      I'm confident you have the anger needed to open my briefcase.

      There is also this phone-repair manager you might assist me with.

      Please also restore Shakespeare to the tawdry cesspool I believe it once was. Research suggests he included far more fart jokes than the modern texts acquiesce to include.

      Yours hopefully,


      clueless.

      Delete
  4. My only problem with this whole Thomas Bowdler, is that if someone does choose to bowdlerize something, they should do it themselves. I feel very sympathetic to this Henrietta, the poor underaknowledged neice that goes through life bossed about by her uncle, practically doing his literary work for him. Chlobo.

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    Replies
    1. Chlobo, I violently agree.

      -clueless' miserably oppressed neice.

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    2. Can't handle it no more!
      Nope, I can't.
      Sorry, the word is niece for gosh sakes!
      Handle it!

      Delete
    3. Well, Chlobo ... I think perhaps you're being a bit hard on Mr Bowdler. As far as I can tell, there's no evidence that he did boss around his darling neice (just kidding Jingles!) ... *niece* ... after all, perhaps it was her that approached him: "Uncle, I would like to print a clean version of Shakespeare, but Georgian sensibilities being what they are, I can't admit to getting all the willy jokes. Will you take this on for me please?"

      Delete
  5. Could someone come up with a better rule than 'i before e except after c..... except neighbor, feign, beige, seismic, and most of the other words.....' ?

    And jingles, please don't censor me - it's not very neice.

    -c

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's not a rule at all - "I before E except after C" doesn't work. We all just need to spell correctly.

      Delete
  6. I think you'll find it's 'spel corectly' ed, you umbecile.

    -c

    ReplyDelete
  7. I don't like any form of censorship and that includes having simplified versions or terms adapted in order to "help"... if you can't read or listen something move to the end of the line or never mind.
    And I know that simplifying doesn't mean people will end up reading, listening or even caring more. On the contraire... so, at least, leave the Works of Art in Peace... I went to Louvre and couldn't understand why some statues were castrated until my son explained it to me and though I appreciate the thought "thank you but no thanks" (and I bet the statues are with me on this). So many things are shocking that if we go around bowdlerizing everything...

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