On July 11 of each year, we recognize the birth of the man whose name has literally become synonymous with censorship. In 1807, Thomas Bowdler, an English physician and philanthropist, published a volume titled The Family Shakespeare–essentially, a censored edition of Shakespeare’s works. It was Bowdler’s intention to make Shakespeare “fit for the perusal of our virtuous females.” Bowdler’s edition, for instance, changed Lady Macbeth’s “Out, damn’d spot!” to “Out, crimson spot!” These and other changes to Shakespeare’s original text lead to the coining of the verb “to bowdlerize,” to refer to the modification or omission of words of phrases in a text that are considered unsavory. So, censorship.
For more information on the life of Thomas Bowdler, and the birth of the verb that bears his name, I highly recommend reading “How Not to Bowdlerize” by Ross E. Davies.
Here in the library, we cannot, in good conscience, celebrate a man who was made famous for censoring literature. Still, Thomas Bowdler’s legacy can certainly serve as a benchmark in the history of free speech and censorship.
With that in mind, let’s all agree to celebrate an ironic Bowdler’s Day tomorrow by putting away our white out and permanent markers and reading some (unedited) Shakespeare.
Happy Bowdler’s Day, everyone!