Bowdlerized

Write about a situation involving an attempt to gently or modestly explain something illegal, outrageous or lewd to someone who might find it offensive, disturbing or problematic.
Author:
Publish date:

Writing Prompt: Bowdlerized

Write about a situation involving an attempt to gently or modestly explain something illegal, outrageous or lewd to someone who might find it offensive, disturbing or problematic.

Post your response in 500 words or fewer in the comments at the end of this post. Or, keep reading to learn the history behind it.

Image placeholder title

July 11 is Bowdler’s Day, which in equal parts honors and ridicules English physician and philanthropist Thomas Bowdler for his famed prudery. He is responsible for the publication of a book called The Family Shakespeare in 1807. Finding Shakespeare’s works too bawdy and inappropriate “to be read by a gentleman in the company of ladies,” Bowdler censored Shakespeare’s works to make them less offensive for women and children, with the assistance of his sister Henrietta. (You can read the full text of The Family Shakespearehere.)

While Shakespeare’s plays are indeed brimming with naughty puns, murder, suicide, etc., Bowdler’s sanitization seemed nearly as bizarrely puritanical then as it does today. Since then, the word “bowdlerize” has been used as a word meaning “to censor or expurgate,” especially in notably absurd or destructive ways.

He not only nixed about 10% of the text, which contained 20 plays across four volumes, but also replaced some of the language and scenes within the plays for the benefit of "our virtuous females": Blasphemous declarations of God! or Jesu! became Heavens!, and in some editions he altered Lady Macbeth’s famous cry of “Out, damned spot!” to “Out, crimson spot!”

Some of the more infamously dirty jokes and double entendres were mangled or eliminated:

  • In Othello, Iago’s line “… your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs” becomes “… your daughter and the Moor are now together.”
  • In Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio’s dirty joke, “… for the bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon,” becomes “… for the hand of the dial is now upon the point of noon,” and some of the subsequent lines are eliminated.
  • Some of Hamlet’s naughtier language to Ophelia in Act III is dropped entirely.

He also deleted a prostitute character from the text of Henry IV, Part 2, and he tweaked some of the tragedies to make them less tragic or problematic: e.g., Ophelia’s drowning in Hamlet was made accidental (instead of a scandalous suicide).

Despite the rampant censorship, Bowdler noted in the introduction that Measure for MeasureHenry IV, and Othello were still too foul for some audiences—or “incapable of being completely buckled within the belt of rule.”

Therefore, this week’s prompt is dedicated to Thomas Bowdler.

Poetic Forms

Rannaigecht Mor Gairit: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the rannaigecht mor gairit, a variant form of the rannaigecht.

Weinstein_1:21

The Writer, The Inner Critic, & The Slacker

Author and writing professor Alexander Weinstein explains the three parts of a writer's psyche, how they can work against the writer, and how to utilize them for success.

Stottlemyre_1:21

Todd Stottlemyre: On Mixing and Bending Genres

Author Todd Stottlemyre explains how he combined fiction and nonfiction in his latest book and what it meant as a writer to share his personal experiences.

plot_twist_story_prompts_take_a_trip_robert_lee_brewer

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Take a Trip

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character take a trip somewhere.

Probst_1:20

Making the Switch from Romance to Women’s Fiction

In this article, author Jennifer Probst explains the differences between romance and women's fiction, the importance of both, and how you can make the genre switch.

Wrobel_1:20

Stephanie Wrobel: On Writing an Unusual Hero

Author Stephanie Wrobel explains how she came to write about mental illness and how it affects familial relationships, as well as getting inside the head of an unusual character.

who_are_the_inaugural_poets_for_united_states_presidents_robert_lee_brewer

Who Are the Inaugural Poets for United States Presidents?

Here is a list of the inaugural poets for United States Presidential Inauguration Days from Robert Frost to Amanda Gorman. This post also touches on who an inaugural poet is and which presidents have had them at their inaugurations.

precedent_vs_president_grammar_rules_robert_lee_brewer

Precedent vs. President (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use precedent vs. president with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 554

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a future poem.