Dr Thomas Bowdler

Born: July 11, 1754, Ashley, near Bath, Somerset, EnglandDied:  Feb. 24, 1825, Rhydding, near Swansea, Glamorganshire, Wales

English doctor of medicine, philanthropist, and man of letters, known for his Family Shakespeare (1818), in which, by expurgation and paraphrase, he aimed to provide an edition of Shakespeare’s plays that he felt was suitable for a father to read aloud to his family without fear of offending their susceptibilities or corrupting their minds. Bowdler sought to preserve all Shakespeare’s “beauties” without the “blemishes” introduced (he supposed) to please a licentious age. The first edition, the title of which was spelled The Family Shakespeare (1807), contained a selection of 20 plays that probably were expurgated by Bowdler’s sister, Harriet.

The man who “bowdlerised” Shakespeare, who took out all the rude words. “My object is to offer these plays to the public in such a state that they may be read with pleasure in all companies, and placed without danger in the hands of every person who is capable of understanding them.”

Although criticized for tampering with Shakespeare’s text, Bowdler deserves a certain amount of credit for making the plays well known to a wide audience. The word bowdlerize, current by 1838 as a synonym for expurgate and now used in a pejorative sense, remains his most lasting memorial. (Previously editions of Shakespeare which had been amended in this way – and there were many of them – were referred to as “castrated”).

Churchyard of Oystermouth Parish Church, Near Swansea, WalesThe grave slab has been re-mounted recently on a new table-style tomb, to the south-east of the Church.

to the memory of
Thomas Bowdler, Esqr.
Youngest son of Thomas Bowdler, Esqr.
of Ashley Near Bath
Born at Ashley July 11, 1754
and died at Rhyddings Near Swansea
Febry 24, 1825
He was a sincere member of
the established Church of England
Putting away lying, speak every
man truth with his neighbour for
we are members one of another
Ephes. Chap IV, Verse 25.
Above all things truth beareth
away the victory
1st Book of Esdras. Chap III, Verse 12.

For Thomas Bowdler’s family tree please see The Bath Bowdlers.