Thomas Bowdler


The BBC Animated Shakespeare, The Tempest (part 1)

Physician and self-appointed censor of Shakespeare, Thomas Bowdler, died on this date in 1825 (born 1754).

Frye makes a point at his expense in “On Value Judgments”:

Every age, left to itself, is incredibly narrow in its cultural range, and the critic, unless he is a greater genius than the world has yet seen, shares that narrowness in proportion to his confidence in his taste.  Suppose we were to read something like this in an essay published, say, in the 1820s: “In reading Shakespeare we often feel how lofty and genuine are the touches of nature by which he refines our perceptions of the heroic and virtuous, and yet how ignobly he condescends to the grovelling passions of the lowest among his audience.  We are particularly struck with this in reading the excellent edition by Doctor Bowdler, which for the first time has enabled us to distinguish what is immortal in our great poet from what the taste of his time compelled him to acquiesce in.”  End of false quote.  We should see at once that that was not a statement about Shakespeare, but a statement about the anxieties of the 1820s. (CW 27, 260-1)

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