The Family ShakspeareBOWDLER, Thomas
London: Longmans, Green, and Co.. .
8vo. (170 by 110mm) Six volumes. , 506; , 544; , 511; , 570; , 516; , 506. No date shown. Beautifully bound by Sotheran and Co in red morocco stamped with gilt pattern to upper and lower covers. Acanthus pattern in gilt on the inside dentelles. Spine has six compartments and five raised bands. Second compartment with authors' names (Shakspeare and Bowdler) stamped in gold. Fourth compartment with that volume's plays. Third compartment has the volume number stamped in gold on circular black morocco label. Marbled endpapers. Each play is prefaced with an engraving by John Thompson showing a scene from that drama. Near fine.
Although undated, this edition predates 1847 (the first edition dates from 1807) as it uses the incorrect spelling of “Shakspeare”. This was only changed to our more familiar spelling from 1847. Bowdler, who notoriously “bowdlerized” Shakespeare to make it “safe” for delicate nineteenth century ladies and children is, in some ways, a rather maligned figure. The idea for “The Family Shakspeare” came from his sister Henrietta and she was the first editor although the work was published in her brother’s name. The intention was not to censor Shakespeare but to broaden his readership by making the plays easier and more acceptable for children. Some writers, including Swinburne, recognised this and praised Bowdler accordingly. Given our own age’s desire for “safe spaces” and the increasing tendency to paint out what we don’t like, Bowdlerization is still with us but in more insidious form.