Sunday, July 11, 2010

Born in Bath (or "sanitizing water")

Today is the birthdate of Thomas Bowdler (1754–1825), the English physician immortalized by the verb bowdlerize, which means to censor something, often in a schoolmarmish manner.

Bowdler published an expurgated edition of William Shakespeare's work, edited by his sister Harriet, intended to be more appropriate for 19th-century women and children than the original. He similarly published an edited version of Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

These were widely ridiculed, although they did have the effect of bringing Shakespeare to new audiences.The poet Algernon Charles Swinburne said, in fact: "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."

An example of Bowdler's modus operandi:  In Macbeth, Lady Macbeth's famous cry "Out, damned spot!" was changed to "Out, crimson spot!"

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