William Shakespeare is Bowdlerized

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Date: 1597, 1788, 1818, 1931

Region: Europe North America

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion

Medium: Literature


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Artist: William Shakespeare(1564-1616)

Confronting Bodies: English Royalty, English prudes, American school districts,

Dates of Action: 1597, 1788, 1818, 1931

Location: England

Description of Artwork: The Tragedy of King Richard the Second, 1597: the life and death of the King, Bolingbroke his adversary, is prominent in the work; the rightful king is isolated and defeated in Act III and in prison he hammers out the meaning of his life in sustained soliloquy and comes to recognize his guilt and responsibility. From this moment of truth, he rediscovers pride, trust and coverage, so that he dies with an access of strength and aspiring spirit. The Merchant of Venice, 1600: comedy, Shylock, a Jew who attempts to use justice to enforce a terrible, murderous revenge on Antonio, the Christian Merchant, but is foiled by Portia, in disguise as a lawyer, who turns the tables on the Jew by a legal quibble and has him at the mercy of the court. King Lear, 1608: For Shakespeare's contemporaries, Lear, King of Britain, was thought to have been a historical monarch. For Shakespeare, although he gave the play something of a chronicle structure, the interest lay not in political events but in the personal character of the King. The main theme is the various stage's of Lear's spiritual progress. He learns the value of patience and the worth of "unaccommodated man." He begins to realize his own faults as a King and almost understand his failure as a father.

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The Incident: 1597 England: The original edition of The Tragedie of King Richard the Second contained a scene in which the King was deposed, and it so infuriated Queen Elizabeth that she ordered it eliminated from all copies. 1788: King Lear was prohibited on the English stage until 1820, probably out of respect to King George III's acknowledged insanity, when the royal duties were transferred to a Regent.

Results of Incident: 1597 England: Queen Elizabeth complained that the play had been acted forty times in streets and houses "for the encouragement of disaffection." 1601 Sir Gilly Merrick paid players 40 shillings to revive the play on the afternoon when the Earl of Essex sought to rouse London against the Queen. 1608 England: The scene was not reinserted until after the death of Queen Elizabeth, in the edition of 1608. 1818 Thomas Bowdler, M.D., published the Family Shakespeare omitting "those words and expressions which cannot with propriety be read aloud in the family." "Bowdlerize" thereupon became synonymous with "expurgate." 1931 United States: The Merchant of Venice was eliminated from the high school curricula of Buffalo and Manchester, New York. Jewish organizations believed that it fostered intolerance. 1953: Minority groups still felt that Shylock was depicted as an unfortunate characterization of a Jew and sought the suppression of the play

Source: Banned Books 387 B.C. to 1978 A.D., by Anne Lyon Haight, and Chandler B. Grannis, R.R. Bowker Co, 1978.