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Bowdler's Day

Thomas Bowdler was born on today's date in 1754. An English physician and philanthropist, he is best known for his censorship of books. As a child, Thomas and his sisters had been read the Bible and Shakespeare by their father, who left out what he found objectionable. Bowdler published a censored version of Shakespeare's works in 1807. Some believe this book, The Family Shakspeare, was edited by one of Bowdler's sisters. Bowdler put the book out because he wanted a version that fathers could read to their families, and wanted a version "fit for the perusal of our 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, which was published in 1826, the year after Bowdler's death.

By the 1830s, the word "bowdlerize" had been coined. It is a pejorative term that essentially means "censorship." More specifically, it means to expurgate a written work by removing or modifying passages that are considered vulgar or objectionable. Not only does Thomas Bowdler have a word that came from his name, but a holiday named after him as well. Bowdler Day makes us think about and reflect on censorship and the importance of free speech. Although most remember Bowdler negatively, there is some reason to celebrate. The publishing of The Family Shakspeare brought Shakespeare's work to a wider audience, changing it from being something only for the rich, to being accessible to the middle class as well.

How to Observe Bowdler's Day

Celebrate the day by reflecting on censorship. You could spend the day reading censored books, watching censored or controversial films or television shows, or listening to censored songs. You could also read Shakespeare, or Bowdler's edited version. If you are passionate about censorship issues, it may be a fitting day to support or become involved with groups that fight censorship, such as the National Coalition Against Censorship.

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