No collection of Shakespeare's editors would be complete without adding a word about perhaps his most popular nineteenth century editor, certainly the best known, Thomas Bowdler (1754 - 1825), editor of The Family Shakespeare, based on the
The Family Shakespeare was first printed in four-volumes in 1807.
It covered 20 plays (see Murphy's §422 in
Shakespeare In Print) and was edited by Thomas Bowdler's
sister Henrietta Maria Bowdler, author of
on the Doctrines and Duties of Christianity, 1803, which ran to
50 editions. It was attributed, however, silently, to Dr. Thomas Bowdler, and was thought to
be his work alone until the twentieth century.
The 1807 edition is more instructive in the plays it omits than those it
includes. Omitted are Antony and Cleopatra, All's Well,
Coriolanus, The Comedy of Errors, Love's Labour's Lost,
Measure for Measure, Romeo and Juliet, Shrew,
Two Gentlemen, Pericles, Timon, Titus,
Troilus, and The Merry Wives (Murphy,
p. 170). The first edition edited directly by Thomas Bowdler was the 1818
§453, see links below), which included all the then canonical plays except
and none of the non-dramatic poetry. Bowdler could not, however,
satisfactorily expurgate Measure for Measure as it stood based on
the Johnson-Steevens-Reed text (as the other plays in the 1818 version
were), and used instead "...an acting version prepared in 1789 b John
Philip Kemble" (Murphy,
p. 170). The Family Shakespeare was very popular, "tapped
into a growing vogue for family reading", and went through many
printings in the nineteenth century. The fourth edition appeared in 1825
(also linked in full below) and there were subsequent editions in 1831, 1853 and 1861,
not counting reprints of previous editions. It is famous
as THE "expurgated" Shakespeare, "in which nothing is added to the
original; but those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with
propriety be read in a family." The word "bowderlize" was invented
in 1836 carrying a pejorative sense, meaning to edit out offensive
content prudishly. It should be noted though that there were many
other more or less expurgated versions, and that Lewis Carroll much
later in the century contemplated a project, which never came to print,
called The Girl's Own Shakespeare: "I have a dream of
Bowdlerising Bowdler, i.e., of editing a Shakespeare which shall be
absolutely fit for girls" (quoted by Georgianna Ziegler, "Alice
Reads Shakespeare Charles Dodgson and the Girl's Shakespeare Project" in
Reimagining Shakespeare for Children and Young Adults). Bowdler,
therefore, was not the most prudish of expurgators, though he is often
maligned, and was, indeed maligned even during the Victorian era, though
one must not forget that Queen Victoria was not even born until after
the 1818 edition appeared and that the "respectability" embraced by
Henrietta and Thomas Bowdler was the product of a long strain of 18th
century conservatism and reaction to the French Enlightenment.
I have been able to locate and link the following full-view editions of The Family Shakspeare:
The Family Shakspeare: In Ten Volumes; 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 By William Shakespeare, Thomas Bowdler Published by Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1818.
It is not commonly known that Bowdler also prepared "family" editions of parts of the Old Testament and of Gibbons' Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, completing this edition just before his death in 1825.
In a foot note to page xviii of the fourth edition of The Family Shakespeare, Bowdler explains how he came upon the idea of an expurgated text:
Not everyone agrees that Bowdlerism is a bad thing, and if we are honest, we must agree that we have our own acceptable standards of censorship where pornography, hate literature, racist literature, and the sensibilities of children intersect. Surprisingly enough no less a critic than Swinburne takes up the cause of the much maligned Bowdler. In "Social Verse" (1894) he says "More nauseous and more foolish cant was never chattered than that which would deride the memory or depreciate the merits of Bowdler. No man ever did better service to Shakespeare than the man who made it possible to put him into the hands of intelligent and imaginative children ; it may well be, if we consider how dearly the creator of Mamillius must have loved them, that no man has ever done him such good service" (p. 98).
It can't be the censorship alone to which we object. Shakespeare is censored every day by the most eminent directors as they cut his lines to fit their conceptions. It is, perhaps, the sense of dishonesty. The changing of that which was intended, even though the intention does not fit our standards. It is instructional, if nothing else, to realize that some very serious, liberal minded people are not dismissive of Bowdler's edits.
Bowdler's Preface to Vol. I of the 1818 Edition [Link to GBS]
If a presumptuous artist should undertake to remove a supposed defect in the Transfiguration of Raphael1, or in the Belvidere Apollo2, and in making the attempt should injure one of those invaluable productions of art and genius, I should consider his name as deserving never to be mentioned, or mentioned only with him who set fire to the Temple of Diana3. But the works of the poet may be considered in a very different light from those of the painter and the statuary. Shakspeare4, inimitable Shakspeare, will remain the subject of admiration as long as taste and literature shall exist, and his writings will be handed down to posterity in their native beauty, although the present attempt to add to his fame should prove entirely abortive. Here, then, is the great difference. If the endeavour to improve the picture or the statue should be unsuccessful, the beauty of the original would be destroyed, and the injury be irreparable. In such a case let the artist refrain from using the chisel or the pencil: but with the works of the poet no such danger occurs, and the critic need not be afraid of employing his pen; for the original will continue unimpaired, although his own labours should immediately be consigned to oblivion. That Shakspeare is the first of dramatic writers Will be denied by few, and I doubt whether it will be denied by any who have really studied his works, and compared the beauties which they contain with the very finest productions either of our own or of former ages. It must, however, be acknowledged, by his warmest admirers, that some defects are to be found in the writings of our immortal bard. The language is not always faultless. Many words and expressions occur which are of so indecent a nature as to render it highly desirable that they should be erased. Of these the greater part were evidently introduced to gratify the bad taste of the age in which he lived, and the rest may perhaps be ascribed to his own unbridled fancy. But neither the vicious taste of the age, nor the most brilliant effusions of wit, can afford an excuse for profaneness or obscenity; and if these could be obliterated, the transcendant genius of the poet would undoubtedly shine with more unclouded lustre. To banish every thing of this nature from his writings is the object of the present undertaking. It is the wish of the editor to render the plays of Shakspeare unsullied by any scene, by any speech, or, if possible, by any word that can give pain to the most chaste, or offence to the most religious of his readers. Of the latter kind the examples are by no means numerous, for the writings of our author are for the most part favourable to religion and morality. There are, however, in some of his plays allusions to Scripture, which are introduced so unnecessarily, and on such trifling occasions, and are expressed with so much levity, as to call imperiously for their erasement. As an example of this kind I may quote a scene in the fifth act of Love's Labour Lost5, respecting one of the most serious and awful passages in the- New Testament. I flatter myself that every reader of the Family Shakspeare will be pleased at perceiving that what is so manifestly improper, is not permitted to be seen in it. The most Sacred Word in our language is omitted in a great number of instances, in which it appeared as a mere expletive; and it is changed into the word Heaven, in a still greater number, where the occasion of using it did not appear sufficiently serious to justify its employment.
In the original folio of 1623 the same alteration from the old quartos is made in a great variety of places.
I wish it were in my power to say of indecency as I have said of profaneness, that the examples of it are not very numerous. Unfortunately the reverse is the case. Those persons whose acquaintance with Shakspeare depends on theatrical representations, in which great alterations are made in the plays, can have little idea of the frequent recurrence in the original text, of expressions, which, however they might be tolerated in the sixteenth century, are by no means admissible in the nineteenth. Of these expressions no example can in this place be given. I feel it however incumbent on me to observe, in behalf of my favourite author, that in comparison with most of the contemporary poets, and with the dramatists of the seventeenth century, the plays of Shakspeare are remarkably decent; but it is not sufficient that his defects are trifling in comparison with writers who are highly defective. It certainly is my wish, and it has been my study, to exclude from this publication whatever is unfit to be read aloud by a gentleman to a company of ladies. I can hardly imagine a more pleasing occupation for a winter's evening in the country, than for a father to read one of Shakspeare's plays to his family circle. My object is to enable him to do so without incurring the danger of falling unawares among words and expressions which are of such a nature as to raise a blush on the cheek of modesty, or render it necessary for the reader to pause, and examine the sequel, before he proceeds further in the entertainment of the evening. But though many erasures have for this purpose been made in the writings of Shakspeare in the present edition, the reader may be assured that not a single line, nor even the half of a line, has in any one instance been added to the original text. I know the force of Shakspeare, and the weakness of my own pen, too well, to think of attempting the smallest interpolation.
In a few, but in very few instances, one or two words (at the most three) have been inserted to connect the sense of what follows the passage that is expunged, with that which precedes it. The few words -which are thus added, are connecting particles, words of little moment, and in no degree affecting the meaning-of the author, or the story of the play. A word that is less objectionable is sometimes substituted for a synonymous word that is improper.
In the following work I have copied the text of the last edition of the late Mr. Steevens. I do not presume to enter into any critical disputes as to certain readings of Judean, or Indian; May, or Way of Life ; or any thing of that nature, respecting which many persons of superior abilities have entertained contrary opinions.
My great objects in this undertaking are to remove from the writings of Shakspeare some defects which diminish their value, and at the same time to present to the public an edition of his plays, which the parent, the guardian, and the instructor of youth may place without fear in the hands of the pupil; and from which the pupil may derive instruction as well as pleasure; may improve his moral principles while he refines his taste; and without incurring the danger of being hurt with any indelicacy of expression, may learn in the fate of Macbeth, that even a kingdom is dearly purchased, if virtue be the price of the acquisition.
Notes to the Preface to the 1818 Edition
1. The Transfiguration is considered the last painting by the Italian High Renaissance master Raphael. It was left unfinished by Raphael, and is believed to have been completed by his pupil, Giulio Romano, shortly after Raphael's death in 1520. The picture is now housed in the Pinacoteca Vaticana of the Vatican Museum in the Vatican City. (Wikipedia).
2. Belvidere Apollo, usually spelled "Belvedere": The Apollo Belvedere or Apollo of the Belvedere, also called the Pythian Apollo, is a celebrated marble sculpture from Classical Antiquity. It was rediscovered in the late 15th century, during the Renaissance. From the mid-18th century, it was considered the greatest ancient sculpture by ardent neoclassicists and for centuries epitomized ideals of aesthetic perfection for Europeans and westernized parts of the world. (Wikipedia)
3. The Temple of Diana: The Temple of Artemis (Greek: Ἀρτεμίσιον Artemision), also known less precisely as Temple of Diana, was a Greek temple dedicated to Artemis completed— in its most famous phase— around 550 BC at Ephesus (in present-day Turkey) under the Achaemenid dynasty of the Persian Empire. Nothing remains of the temple, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. There were previous temples on its site, where evidence of a sanctuary dates as early as the Bronze Age....The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was destroyed on July 21, 356 BC in an act of arson committed by a certain Herostratus. According to the story, his motivation was fame at any cost, thus the term herostratic fame.
The Ephesians, outraged, announced that Herostratus' name never be recorded (damnatio memoriae). Strabo later noted the name, which is how we know it today. (Wikipedia)
4. Original spellings have been retained from the 1818 edition found at Google Book Search.
5. Click here for Act V of Love's Labour Lost in the Bowdler 1818 edition, and here for the same act in the 1785 Johnson-Steevens-Reed 3 edition. The 1813 Johnson-Steevens-Reed edition, vol. VII, containing Love's Labour's Lost, is available at the Internet Archive, but links within the work, to Act V specifically, are not possible.
6. The following is from A New Dictionary of Quotations from the Greek, Latin, and Modern Languages, 1869, p. 288:
Nee deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus
"Nor let a god in person stand displayed,
N.B. Horace intends this precept as a censure upon a common fault among the ancient tragic poets, that of having recourse to some deity for the unraveling of the plot, whenever they were at a loss in relation to it. He was made to descend in a species of machine; whence the expression, Deus ex machina [a god out of a machine]. The passage is often quoted in an abridged form: thus, "Nee deus intersit."
This Comedy contains scenes which are truly worthy of the first of dramatic poets. Isabella pleading with Angelo in behalf of mercy to her brother, and afterwards insisting that his life must not be purchased by the sacrifice of her chastity, is an object of such interest, us to make the reader desirous of overlooking the many great defects which are to be found in other parts of this play. The story is little suited to a comedy. The wickedness of Angelo is so atrocious, that I recollect only one instance of a similar kind being recorded in history; and that is considered by many persons as of doubtful authority.1 His crimes, indeed, are not completed, but he supposes them to be so; and his guilt is as great as it would have been, if the person of Isabella had been violated, and the head of Ragozine had been Claudio's. This monster of iniquity appears before the Duke, defending his cause with unblushing boldness; and after the detection of his crimes, he can scarcely be said to receive any punishment. A hope is even expressed that he will prove a good husband, but for no good reason — namely, because he has been a little bad. Angelo betrayed the trust reposed in him by the Duke ; he threatened Isabella that if she would not surrender her virtue, he would not merely put her brother to death, but make his death draw out to lingering sufferance ; and finally, when he thought his object accomplished, he ordered Claudio to be murdered in violation of his most solemn engagement. These are the crimes which, in the language of Mariana, are expressed by the- words a little bad; and, with a perfect knowledge- of Angelo's having committed them, she
"Craves no other nor no better man."
Claudio's life having been preserved by the Provost, it would not, perhaps, have been lawful to have put Angelo to death; but the Duke might, with great propriety, have addressed him in the words of Bolingbroke to Exton,
"Go wander through the shade of night, " And never show thy head by day nor light."
Other parts of the play are not without faults. The best characters act too much on a system of duplicity and falsehood; and the Duke, in the fifth act, trifles cruelly with the feelings of Isabella, allowing her to suppose her brother to be dead, much longer than the story of the play required. Lucio is inconsistent as well as profligate. He appears, in the first act, as the friend of Claudio, and in the fifth, he assists the cause of Angelo, whom he supposes to have been his murderer. Lastly, the indecent expressions with which many of the scenes abound, are so interwoven with the story, that it is extremely difficult to separate the one from the other.2
Feeling my own inability to render this play- sufficiently correct for family-reading, I have thought it advisable to print it (without presuming to alter a single word) from the published copy, as performed at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden.
The alterations, as I am informed, are the work of that gentleman, to whose theatrical talents and laudable exertions, united to those of his unrivalled sister, our dramatic writers in general, and Shakspeare in particular, are more indebted than to any person since the death of Mr. Garrick.
If my Readers should think (and I confess myself to be of that opinion) that "Measure for Measure" is not yet an unobjectionable play, I would request them to peruse it attentively in its original form; and I am fully persuaded that there is no person, who will not then bestow praise on the ability with which Mr. Kemble has improved it, rather than express surprise at "its not being entirely freed from those defects which are inseparably connected with the story.
1. Kirk (Bowdler's Note).
2. It is gratifying to me to perceive that Mrs. Inchbald, the respectable Editor of " the British Theatre," in her preface to this play, has expressed her sentiments respecting Angelo and the comic characters, in terms exactly corresponding with my own (Bowdler's Note).
Bowdler's Preface to the Two Parts of Henry IV in the edition of 1818 [GBS Link]
PREFACE OF THE EDITOR
My late excellent friend, Mrs. Montagu1, in her Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakspeare, has paid particular attention to Henry the IVth. In this, as in every part of her work, good principles, judicious argument, and refined taste, appear in all her observations; but I confine myself to the more immediate objects of the present publication,— purity, and decency of expression.
Every person must be sensible, that of all the historical plays, the Two Parts of Henry the IVth. are the most difficult to render fit for family reading. To clear them of all indecent, and indelicate expressions, without destroying the wit and spirit of Falstaff, and without injuring the narrative, is indeed an arduous undertaking; but I hope I may remove many objectionable passages, though I may not be able to render the work perfect. "Est quodam prodire tenus, si non datur ultra"2 Feeling the difficulty of the task, I take as a guide the following extract from the just observations of my deceased friend.
After the foregoing quotation, my readers will not be surprised, if the name of the last mentioned person is not to be found in the following plays. I hope that all obscenity is equally banished from them. I wish it were in my power in like manner to exclude every expression which approaches to vulgarity or indelicacy; but this, I fear, cannot be done, unless the whole of those scenes are omitted, in which any of the comic characters appear. The present publication may possibly be censured by two classes of readers, of very different sentiments. Those persons who are unwilling to be deprived of any part of the wit of Falstaff (whatever may be the expense of retaining it) will perhaps be displeased at the omission of the evening scene between him and Doll Tearsheet, and their followers. To them I reply, that consistently with the design of the present edition of Shakspeare, the omission was unavoidable ; but I regret it the less, because, as was suggested in my preface, those readers can gratify their taste by having recourse to former editions of the Second Part of Henry the IVth.3
Other persons may possibly complain that there still remain in this work, some expressions which are not consistent with that perfect delicacy of sentiment, with which it were desirable that every publication should be conducted. To this objection I fear that I can give no answer that will be quite satisfactory. I can only say, that I have endeavoured to render the speeches of Falstaff and his companions as correct as they could be rendered, without losing sight of their characters and dispositions. Those persons who still object to their language, cannot I believe do better, than confine their reading to the serious parts of the three following plays, which possess "such merit, as can hardly be equalled in any other dramatic poet, and is seldom exceeded by our own immortal bard.
Notes to the Preface to the Two Parts of Henry IV.
1. Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu, An Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespeare (1769). The link is to an 1810 edition of the work. This link is to the 1785 edition. I could not find links to the 1769 edition at GBS or Internet Archive. The following is a note on Elizabeth Montegu and the publication history of "An Essay" taken from Jack Lynch's extract from this essay: "Elizabeth Montagu: The Essay was published anonymously in 1769 by Elizabeth Montagu (1720-1800), known as the "Queen of Bluestockings." Editions and reprints followed in 1770, 1772, 1777, 1778, 1785, and 1810; a pirated Dublin edition appeared in 1769; and translations appeared in German (1771), French (1777), and Italian (1828)." For more on Mrs. Montagu, see this Bartleby.com article. Mrs. Montagu wrote her essay to protest the views of Voltaire on Shakespeare. An illuminating, but early (1902) guide is Shakespeare and Voltaire, by Thomas Lounsbury. Wikipedia has two relevant articles, one on Mrs. Montagu herself, and one on the Blue Stockings Society.
2. Est quodam prodire tenus, si non datur ultra. Lat. Horace.— "It is always in our power to advance to a certain point, to arrive at a certain point of wisdom, even if we are not permitted to go further:"— " Though of exact perfection you despair,/Yet every step to virtue's worth your care." from A New Dictionary of Quotations, GBS.
3. A point Bowdler makes in his Preface to the 1818 edition is that if you don't like the censorship, read one of the numerous other editions of the plays. It is not as if he has defaced the "original" of the text, assuming such a thing exists. In his Preface he explicitly exempts his own brand of censorship from the just condemnation that would be levied upon the alteration of a painting or a work of sculture.
Bowdler's Preface to Othello in the edition of 1818 [Link to GBS]
PREFACE TO OTHELLO.
This tragedy is justly considered as one of the noblest efforts of dramatic genius that has appeared in any age or in any language; but the subject is unfortunately little suited to family reading. The arguments which are urged, and the facts which are adduced as proofs of adultery, are necessarily of such a nature as cannot be expressed in terms of perfect delicacy; yet neither the arguments, nor the facts, can be omitted; for although every reader must weep
Yet I believe there is no person who would wish to' aggravate the guilt of Othello, by leaving out any of those circumstances which give an appearance of truth to the suggestions of Iago.
From the multitude of indecent expressions which abound in the speeches of the inferior characters, I have endeavoured to clear the play, but I cannot erase all the bitter terms of reproach and execration with which the transports of jealousy and revenge are expressed by the Moor, without altering his character; losing sight of the horror of those passions ; and, in fact, destroying the tragedy. I find myself, therefore, reduced to the alternative of either departing in some degree from the principle on which this publication is undertaken, or materially injuring a most invaluable exertion of the genius of Shakspeare. I have adopted the former part of the alternative, and, in making this decision, I have been much influenced by an opinion which I have long entertained, that this play, in its present form, is calculated to produce an excellent effect on the human mind; by exhibiting a most forcible and impressive warning against the admission of that baneful passion, which, when once admitted, is the inevitable destroyer of conjugal happiness.
That adultery is a crime which is deservedly placed next to murder, will be allowed, not only by the Christian, but by every being whose mind is not wholly insensible to the most obvious principles of virtue. But in proportion to the enormity of the offence, should be the caution with which the suspicion is permitted to be entertained; for, besides the injury which is thus done to the person accused, the jealous accuser will assuredly exclaim with Othello: —
Shakspeare appears to have been particularly desirous of warning mankind against the indulgence of this dreadful passion, for, independent of various observations in different parts of his works, he has made it the principal subject of no less than four of his very good plays; exerting his matchless powers in painting it with every variety of colouring that was calculated to warn the human mind against its admission. It is laughably ridiculous in Ford ; it is justly odious in Leontes; we tremble for its consequences in Posthumus; and we view them in their utmost horror in Othello.
After the foregoing observations, I shall only add, that I have endeavoured to erase the objectionable expressions which so frequently occur in the original text, whenever it could be done consistently with the character and situation of the speaker; but if, after all that I have omitted, it shall still be thought that this inimitable tragedy is not sufficiently correct for family reading, I would advise the transferring it from the parlour to the cabinet, where the perusal will not only delight the poetic taste, but convey useful and important instruction both to the heart and the understanding of the reader.
It has been observed by a learned writer in a preface to his second edition, that the feelings of an author at that time, are very different from those which he experiences, when he offers a new work at the tribunal of public opinion. The truth of this observation must of course be felt more strongly in the present instance, when a fourth edition is committed to the press. The reception which the Family Shakspeare has experienced from the Public has indeed been gratifying. It has been commended by all those who have examined it, and censured by those only who do not appear to have made any enquiry into the merits or demerits of the performance, but condemn every attempt at removing indecency from Shakspeare. It would, indeed, have given me real pleasure, if any judicious and intelligent reader had perused the work with the eye of rigid criticism, and had pointed out any improper words which were still to be found in it All observations of that nature would have been candidly and maturely considered, and if well founded, would have been followed by the erasure of what was faulty. On the other hand, I cannot but be gratified, at perceiving that no person appears to have detected any indecent expression in these volumes : but this has not made me less solicitous to direct my own attention to that object, and to endeavour to render this work as unobjectionable as possible. I have, therefore, in preparing this Edition for the press, taken great pains to discover and correct any defects which might formerly have escaped my notice, but they have appeared in this last perusal of the work to be very few in number, and not of any great importance. Such, however, as I have been able to perceive, I have carefully removed, and I hope I may venture to assure the parents and guardians of youth, that they may read the Family Shakspeake aloud in the mixed society of young persons of both sexes, sans peur et sans reproche.
My next object was to observe, whether the sense and meaning of the author were in any degree perverted or impaired by the erasures which I had made. The final decision of this question must be left to the careful and intelligent critic; but to myself it appears, that very few instances will be found in which the reader will have any cause to regret the loss of the words that have been omitted. The great objection which has been urged against the Family Shakspeare, and it has been urged with vehemence by those who have not examined the work, is the apprehension, that, with the erasure of the indecent passages, the spirit and fire of the poet would often be much injured, and sometimes be entirely destroyed. This objection arises principally from those persons who have confined their study of Shakspeare to the closet, and have not learned in the theatre, with how much safety it is possible to make the necessary alterations. They have not learned, or they have forgot, that except in one, or at most in two instances, the plays of our author are never presented to the public without being corrected, and more or less cleared of indecency; yet Macbeth and Othello, Lear, Hamlet, and As you Like it, continue still to exhibit the superior genius of the first of dramatic poets. The same may be said of his other transcendent works; but those which I have named are selected as being five of the finest plays in the world, the most frequently acted, the most universally admired; but of which, there is not one that can be read aloud by a gentleman to a lady, without undergoing some correction. I have attempted to do for the library what the manager does for the stage, and I wish that the persons who urge this objection would examine the plays with attention. I venture to assert, that in the far greater part of them, they would find that it is not difficult to separate the indecent from the decent expressions; and they would soon be convinced, that, by removing the stains, they would view the picture not only uninjured, but possessed of additional beauty. The truth of this observation has been expressed with such elegance, and in terms so honourable to Shakspeare, by a very superior judge of poetic composition, that I cannot resist the temptation of inserting the whole passage.
After censuring the indecencies of Dryden and Congreve, as being the exponents of licentious principles, the reviewer observes, in language more expressive than any which I could have employed, "that it has in general been found easy to extirpate the offensive expressions of our great poet, without any injury to the context, or any visible scar, or blank in the composition. They turn out, not to be so much cankers in the flowers, as weeds that have sprung up by their side : not flaws in the metal, but impurities that have gathered on its surface, and that, so far from being missed on their removal, the work generally appears more natural and harmonious without them."* I will not weaken the foregoing quotation by adding any less forcible language of my own, but I will endeavour to prove by examples the perfect justice of the observation. It is indeed a difficulty, and a very great one, under which I labour, that it is not possible for me to state the words which I have omitted; but I think that I may adduce one instance, which, without offending the eye or the ear of modesty, will sufficiently confirm the remarks of the judicious reviewer, and prove that a whole scene may be omitted, not only without injury, but with manifest advantage to the drama.
In the second scene of the third act of Henry V., the English monarch, after taking Harfleur, is preparing to march towards Calais. In the fourth scene of that act, we find the French king and his counsellors deliberating on the means of intercepting the English army. These scenes naturally follow each other — but what is the intermediate scene, the third of the third act? It is a dialogue between the French princess and her female attendant, of whom she is endeavouring to learn the English language. She asks her,
I will not tire my readers with a longer extract from this uninteresting dialogue; it is continued through more than twenty questions and answers of the very same nature ; and as there is not a single word on any subject but the foregoing, every person will be ready to ask, what could induce Shakspeare to insert so useless a scene ? The answer, I believe, must be, that it was written in compliance with the bad taste of the age, for the express purpose of raising a laugh at the conclusion, by introducing, through the medium of imperfect pronunciation, the two most indecent words in the French language. At the mention of those words, the princess is shocked, as every virtuous woman would be, if she were either here or elsewhere, to see them written, or hear them repeated. Is it possible that any person will feel regret at perceiving that, in the Family Shakspeare, the beautiful play of Henry V. is not interrupted in a very interesting part of the narrative, by so improper a scene — by a scene so totally unconnected with every thing which precedes or which follows after it, that if it were taken by itself, no reader would be able to discover in what act it was meant to be inserted? Let it not be said as an excuse, that it introduces to our acquaintance the princess, who is afterwards to be the wife of Henry. The excuse is too trifling to be admitted.
I may next observe, that the scene which I have here quoted, is by no means a solitary instance. Examples of a similar nature are to be found in several of the plays, comedies as well as tragedies. In most of these cases, the objectionable parts are so completely unconnected with the play, that one might almost be inclined to suppose, that Shakspeare, in the first instance, composed one of his beautiful dramas, and after it was finished, was compelled, by the wretched taste of the age, to add something of a low and ludicrous nature. The passages thus inserted, have really, in many cases, the appearance of interpolations; and adopting the expressive language of the reviewer, they are weeds which have sprung up by the side of the flowers, and the former being removed, the latter appear with additional beauty. What has been said of whole scenes in some instances, may be applied in a great many, to speeches, to parts of speeches, and to single words. From Macbeth, the noblest effort of dramatic genius that ever was exhibited in any age or in any language (I do not except the Œdipus of Sophocles), very little has been erased ; but the description of the effects of drunkenness, which is given to Macduff by the porter at the gate of the castle, is of so gross a nature, that it is impossible that any person should be sorry for its omission. The same may be said of the indecent words which are addressed by Hamlet to Ophelia, before the representation of the play. These, like most other alterations, were made without difficulty, but I confess that there are three plays, which form exceptions to what I have advanced respecting the facility of the task that I have undertaken. To Measure for Measure, Henry IV., and Othello, I have annexed particular prefaces, stating the difficulties which existed, and the method by which I should endeavour to overcome them. In the first of the three, I hope I have succeeded; and I should not be sorry if the merit of this whole work were to be decided by a comparison of this very extraordinary play, in the original, and in the Family Shakspeare. Of Falstaff and Othello, I shall only say, that I acknowledge the difficulty of my task. I have indeed endeavoured, as cautiously as possible, to remove the objectionable speeches, without injuring the characters; but wantonness of expression and action are very closely connected with Falstaff; and the infuriate passions of rage, jealousy, and revenge, which torture the breast of Othello, are like "Macbeth's 'distempered cause,' incapable of being completely buckled within the belt of rule."
* Edinburgh Review, No. lxxi. p.53 (Bowdler's Note).
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