London: J. Hatchard, 1807
[S] YH 807
The four-volume Family Shakespeare first appeared in 1807, twenty plays edited by Henrietta Maria Bowdler (1750-1830). Bowdler’s concern was to provide plays appropriate for children, to which end she: “endeavoured to remove every thing that could give just offence to the religious and virtuous mind … Many vulgar, and all indecent expressions are omitted; an uninteresting or absurd scene is sometimes curtailed; and I have occasionally substituted a word which is in common use, instead of one that is obsolete”. As the text was for family reading, she eschewed notes. Most of the excisions were of sexual material or were Roman Catholic references. Her brother Thomas, in a fuller edition of 1818, restored several scenes, while censoring sexual and religious allusions more heavily.
Although the Bowdlers’ work was ridiculed from 1821 onwards, when it came into public notice, it was also exceedingly popular in the nineteenth century, such that The Family Shakespeare (or Shakspeare) ran through fifty editions by 1900. For many generations it influenced how Shakespeare was edited and read.
The first edition is shown here besides one naming Thomas, in which the underlying editorial principle is stated explicitly on the title page: “in which nothing is added to the original text; but those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family.”