Definition: to remove material that is considered offensive or objectionable
It was named for Thomas Bowdler. In the 1800s, he published The Family Shakespeare, which was a version of Shakespeare’s plays which he felt were more suitable for families.
Wikipedia has some examples of his changes.
- In Hamlet, the death of Ophelia was called an accidental drowning, not a possibly intended suicide.
- “God!” as an exclamation is replaced with “Heavens!”
- In Henry IV, Part 2, the prostitute Doll Tearsheet is omitted outright, the slightly more reputable Mistress Quickly retained.
Why I Looked It Up
I was reading a review of the movie A Thousand Acres, based on the book of the same name by Jane Smiley, which was itself a modern retelling of King Lear.
That Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres would become a movie was inevitable. Another virtual certainty was its bowdlerization.
Weirdly, the review leaves that unexplained. I couldn’t find any other reference to the removal of anything offensive. Additionally, I saw the movie in the theater 20 years ago, and if I remember correctly, it depicted adultery, sexual abuse, and domestic violence.