Bowdler’s Day is celebrated on July 11, the birthday of the physician and philanthropist who published a censored edition of Shakespeare’s works, Thomas Bowdler. Depending on whom you ask, Bowdler is either a prude or a genius. During his career, he heavily edited Shakespeare’s famous works to make them more family-friendly. He regularly censored violence and intimacy from literature, so that they could be read by more people. These versions were also cheaper than the original editions. Bowdler’s Day is celebrated by students, readers, and anti-censorship activists.
History of Bowdler's Day
Thomas Bowdler was born on July 11, 1754, in Bath, U.K. An English physician and philanthropist, Bowdler is best known for his censorship of books. Bowdler’s father would read the Bible and Shakespeare for his sisters and him, but left out what he thought was objectionable. Bowdler published a censored version of Shakespeare’s works in 1807, although many are of the opinion that this book, “The Family Shakespeare,” was edited by one of Bowdler’s sisters. Bowdler censored Shakespeare because he wanted a version that could be read by anyone in the family, including ‘virtuous females.’ Bowdler also edited parts of the Old Testament, as well as Edward Gibbon’s “History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” These versions were published in 1826, a year after Bowdler’s death. By the 1830s, the word ‘bowdlerize’ became a part of everyday language. It was a derogatory term that meant ‘censorship.’ But, more specifically, it meant censoring a written work by removing or editing passages that may be vulgar or objectionable.
On Bowdler’s Day, we should think about and reflect on censorship and the importance of free speech. Although Bowdler’s censorship irks a lot of readers, there is some reason to celebrate it. The publishing of “The Family Shakespeare” made Shakespeare accessible to a wider readership. The books became cheaper and were no longer locked up in the libraries of the rich.
Bowdler's Day timeline
Bowdler graduates with a degree in medicine from St. Andrews.
Bowdler is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS).
Bowdler marries Elizabeth Trevenen at the age of 52.
Bowdler dies at the age of 71 in Wales, the United Kingdom.
Bowdler's Day FAQs
What is Bowdler's Day?
July 11 is celebrated as Bowdler’s Day in honor of the controversial editor, Thomas Bowdler.
When was “The Family Shakespeare” published?
Thomas Bowdler’s “The Family Shakespeare” was first published in 1807.
How many plays did Shakespeare write in total?
During his career, Shakespeare wrote at least 37 plays and collaborated on several more.
How to celebrate Bowdler’s Day
Do something controversial
Read a book that is banned in your region, or watch a controversial television show or movie. Bowdler’s Day is the day to break all censorship rules!
Read Bowdler’s Shakespeare
Get a copy of Bowdler’s “The Family Shakespeare” and try to find all the changes that he made to the original. You can do this activity with your reading group.
Join groups or support activists that speak against censorship. You can also donate to anti-censorship organizations and movements.
5 Facts About Shakespeare That Will Blow Your Mind
He invented many words
Shakespeare has introduced almost 3,000 words to the English language.
His shortest play is “The Comedy of Errors”
“The Comedy of Errors” is Shakespeare's shortest play at just 1,770 lines long.
His parents were illiterate
Shakespeare's parents, John and Mary Shakespeare, were illiterate.
He never went to university
In fact, Shakespeare left formal education at the age of 14.
His wife was older than him
18-year-old Shakespeare wed 26-year-old Anne Hathaway, who was three months pregnant at the time.
Why we love Bowdler’s Day
The truth has many versions
It’s interesting to see how a literary work is interpreted by different readers. What is perfectly acceptable to you, might be terribly objectionable to someone else.
It challenges censorship.
Censorship can muffle dissent and public opinion. On Bowdler’s Day, we should challenge authorities that enforce censorship rules as a means of intimidation.
It celebrates reading
Bowdler’s Day is a big day for bookworms. If you love reading, then you’ll enjoy reading Shakespeare as well as the Bowdler editions.
Bowdler's Day dates