Censorship of William Shakespeare
The following is an online reference guide to the
physical exhibition of Banned Books: Shakespeare
was Thomas Bowdler?
Bowdler was an English physician who published an
expurgated edition of William Shakespeare's work with
his sister Henrietta that he considered to be more
appropriate for women and children than the original.
Calling this work, The Family Shakespeare,
Bowdler and his sister cut out all things explicitly
sexual and much that was ambiguously so.
In 1807, the first edition of The Family
Shakespeare was published, in four duodecimo
volumes, containing 24 of the plays. It was written by
his sister Henrietta, but attributed to her brother
until the 20th Century. In 1818, Bowdler published The
Family Shakespeare, in Ten Volumes; in which nothing
is added to the original text; but those words and
expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety
be read aloud in a family. Each play is preceded
by an introduction where Bowdler summarizes and
justifies his changes to the text. By 1850, eleven
editions had been printed.
Claiming not to add a “single line,” Bowdler wrote
that he merely “endeavored to removed every thing that
could give just offence to the religious and virtuous
Bowdler's commitment not to augment Shakespeare's text
was in contrast to many earlier editors and
performers, such as in 1807, when Charles Lamb and his
sister Mary published Tales from Shakespeare
specifically for children, with synopses of 20 of the
plays, but seldom quoting the original text directly.
His expurgation was the subject of some criticism and
ridicule and, through the eponym bowdlerize, his
name is now associated with prudish censorship of
literature, movies, and television.
does bowdlerize mean?
Inflected Form(s): -ized; -iz·ing
Etymology: Thomas Bowdler died 1825 English
: to expurgate (as a book) by omitting or
modifying parts considered vulgar
: to modify by abridging, simplifying, or
distorting in style or content
Webster’s Online Dictionary.
are some notable examples of bowdlerization?
"the bawdy hand of the dial is now upon
the prick of noon” – Mercutio, Act II, Scene 4, line
Bowdler's Family Shakespeare:
"the hand of the dial is now upon the
point of noon"
"Tis true, and therefore women being the
weaker vessel are ever thrust to the wall . . ." – Sampson, Act I, Scene I, line
"not ope her legs to saint-seducing
gold” – Romeo, Act I, Scene I, Line 206
Omitted from Bowdler's Family
"Hie you to church; I must another way,
To fetch a ladder, by the which your love
Must climb a bird’s nest soon when it is dark;
I am the drudge and toil in your delight," - Nurse,
Act II, Scene V, Ln 66-69.
Bowdler's Family Shakespeare:
"…I must another way,
I must go fetch a ladder for your love.
I am the drudge, and toil in your delight."
"Spread thy close curtain, love
performing night" – Juliet,
Act III, Scene II, line 5
Bowdler's Family Shakespeare:
". . . and come civil night".
"Even now, now, very now, an old
Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise!"- Iago,
Othello, Act I, Scene I, Ln 94-95
Bowdler's Family Shakespeare.
“I am one, sir, that comes to tell you,
your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast
with two backs.” - Iago, Othello,
Act I, Scene I, Ln 121
“Your daughter and the
Moor are now together,”
"Out, damned spot! out, I say!"
- Lady MacBeth, Act V, Scene I, Ln 38.
was the Merchant of Venice so
Shakespeare’s portrayal of Shylock in the Merchant
of Venice makes the character one of the most
controversial in Shakespeare’s entire body of work.
Representative of the anti-Semitic stereotypes of the
era, Shylock was depicted as a misery, Jewish
moneylender who preyed on the poor.
overshadows everyone else in the play, though he has
such a small role. When performed, the character was
often played as a comic villain with a red wig
associated with the devil, sidelocks, and a false, big
nose, lending more support to the claims of
anti-Semitism in the play. Examples of this
stereotypical portrayal are evident in printings of
the Merchant of Venice during the 18th and
19th Century as seen in Charles Lamb’s Tales from
in the play, though well known to the people of the
era, is that during Shakespeare's day, money lending
was one of the few careers open to Jews during the
16th Century, and Christians made deals with them
daily. It is this hypocrisy in Shylock’s portrayal as
a villain that has often caused critics to raise
accusations of anti-Semitism.
actors who have portrayed Shylock include Richard
Burbage and Will Kempe in the 16th century, Charles
Macklin in 1741, Edmund Kean in 1814, William Charles
Macready in 1840, Edwin Booth in 1861, Henry Irving in
1880, Lucille La Verne in 1929, John Gielgud in 1937,
Laurence Olivier in a 1973 TV movie, Al Pacino in a
2004 feature film version. and F. Murray Abraham at
the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2006. It is in the
more recent performances where Shylock has been
portrayed as a sympathetic, tragic figure rather than
the comic grotesque character of the Elizabethan era.
has the Merchant of Venice been banned?
the Merchant of Venice has raised controversy and had
been censored almost since its inception, it was not
until the 20th Century that the play was banned. Since
World War II, the Merchant of Venice has been banned
in more classrooms than any other Shakespearean play.
- In 1931,
the Merchant of Venice was eliminated from high
school curricula of Buffalo and Manchester, New
York. Jewish organizations believed that it fostered
- Then in
1953, minority groups still felt that Shylock was
depicted as an unfortunate characterization of a Jew
and sought the suppression of the play.
- And in
1980, the Merchant of Venice was also banned in
Midland, Michigan schools due to the anti-Semitic
depiction of Shylock.
Merchant of Venice is not banned in Israel. In fact,
according to Sam Schoenbaum, a leading 20th Century
Shakespearean biographer and scholar, it is one of
the country’s most popular plays.
plays in quarto : a facsimile edition of
copies primarily from the Henry E.
Edited by Michael J.B. Allen and Kenneth Muir.
Published by the University of California, Berkley
Folio of Othello was originally published in
quarto in 1622. Shakespeare’s plays began to be
printed in 1594, probably with his tragedy Titus
Andronicus. This play appeared as a small, cheap
pamphlet called a quarto because of the way it was
printed. Plays published in quarto were the size
of a modern book, and their pages are made by
folding a sheet of paper twice to form four
leaves. None of Shakespeare’s manuscripts
survived, so the printed texts of his plays are
our only source for what he originally wrote. The
quarto editions are the texts closest to
- Tales from
Shakespeare. A narrative
adaptation of the works of William Shakespeare by
Charles and Mary Lamb to a simple level that
children could read and comprehend. Published in
London by J.M. Dent & Co. and in New York by
E.P. Dutton & Co., 1909.