Henrietta, the Woman Behind Bowdlerism

Almost a year ago, University Librarian Sarah Michalak, read from the 1818 second edition of The Family Shakespeare at the event “Banned and in the Rare Book Collection.” The Family Shakespeare exemplifies the nineteenth-century editorial phenomenon of expurgating literature on moral grounds. This came to be known eponymously as “bowdlerism,” after the Bowdler family, who proudly claimed three generations of Shakespeare expurgators.

Title page of the 1807 edition
Title page of the 1807 edition / PR2752 .B7 1807 / Whitaker Fund

Sometime after the event, the RBC acquired the first edition of The Family Shakespeare, which was issued with no named editor by a small provincial printing house in Bath, England in 1807. The first edition has been attributed historically to Dr. Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825). But in his book, Dr. Bowdler’s Legacy: A History of Expurgated Books in England and America, Noel Perrin convincingly argues that the 1807 edition was actually edited by Thomas’s sister, Henrietta Bowdler (1750-1830), whose name was omitted from the title page.  By the time the first edition of The Family Shakespeare appeared, Henrietta was already a published author and a well-known bluestocking. Perrin estimates that Henrietta excised about ten percent of Shakespeare’s words, taking special care to eliminate any hint of religious irreverence.

We can see Henrietta Bowdler’s editorial influence at work in her expurgation of Macbeth. In Act II, Scene 3, Henrietta cut the Porter’s entire opening speech and comedic exchange with Macduff, relegating the Porter to a non-speaking part in Shakespeare’s drama. The photograph below shows the beginning of Scene 2 in The Family Shakespeare, as morally conscientious readers might have encountered it.

Bowdlerized text of Macbeth
Bowdlerized text of Macbeth

Later editions of The Family Shakespeare were edited by Thomas Bowdler, who modified and in some cases reinstated many of Henrietta’s cuts. Perhaps feeling that his sister went too far in her moral zealotry, Thomas Bowdler reinstated the drunken Porter’s speech in his 1818 edition, but in a dramatically truncated form that rendered it almost unintelligible. His unintentionally comedic expurgation was brought to life by Sarah Michalak’s reading at the Banned Books Event.

UNC is one of the first libraries to acknowledge Henrietta Bowdler’s contributions in the library catalog record. How information is organized and presented to the public is far from value neutral.  When catalogers suggest changes to the authority records, they draw on documentary evidence and scholarly research to support their claims. The Rare Book Collection is grateful for the hard work and advanced research skills of our technical services staff, and we are excited that our library records reflect the contributions of previously overlooked and marginalized authors and editors, like Henrietta Bowdler.

An Evening of Enchantment

BF840 .P7 1586 Giovanni Della Porta, De humana phisiognomonia (1586) Hanes Foundation for the Study of the Origin and Development of the Book

On Thursday evening March 29th, the Rare Book Collection celebrated its new exhibition Nature and the Unnatural in Shakespeare’s Age with a reception and lecture by Prof. Mary Floyd-Wilson, “Maidens Call It Love-in-Idleness”: Potions, Passion, and Fairy Knowledge in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The exhibition, curated by RBC research assistant and UNC Ph.D. candidate Jennifer Park, is a rich exploration of early modern understandings of nature and the unnatural in Shakespeare’s time. Its fascinating selection of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English and Continental books connects astronomy, alchemy, animal husbandry, agricultural practice, and more to the language and themes of Shakespeare’s plays. Also included in the show are the RBC’s copies of the second, third, and fourth Shakespeare folios.

In her splendid lecture Prof. Floyd-Wilson conjured up a world of customs and concerns which translated into the Bard’s perennially popular play in wondrous and inventive ways. Few present will forget her discussion of the cunning woman/man, a fixture of English village life, or, for that matter, the sale of human fat by the local apothecary.

The well-attended lecture was a fine start to the graduate student conference, Shakespeare and the Natural World, jointly sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and King’s College London.

Samuel Daniel’s Civil Wars (1609)

Samuel Daniel, Civile Wares (1609).        William A. Whitaker Fund

Civil wars have served as catalysts for drastic changes in national and political identities all over the world. One of England’s major civil wars was actually a series of civil wars, known as the Wars of the Roses, during the 15th century between the houses of Lancaster and of York, both branches of the royal House of Plantagenet. The members of the House of Lancaster, represented by the red rose, and of York, represented by the white rose, were rivals for the English throne.

Here at the Rare Book Collection, we’ve acquired an exciting new (for us) copy of Samuel Daniel’s The Civile Wares Between the Howses of Lancaster and Yorke from 1609, a landmark historical account of England’s monarchs with an interesting history of revision.

Known commonly by its shortened title Civil Wars, Daniel’s principal work of poetic history has perhaps most famously been cited as one of the main sources for Shakespeare’s history plays, particularly the second tetralogy and primarily, therein, his Richard II. The 1609 edition is the final edition of a work that had been revised various times since the publication of the original text nearly fifteen years earlier in 1595. Daniel’s 1595 Civil Wars was a four-book work, which would later be extended into the eight books of the 1609 edition.

The revisions in 1609 demonstrate, as scholar Gillian Wright has suggested, a fundamental change in Daniel’s attitude toward English civil wars and what constitutes the rightful relationship between a monarch and his/her people. Whereas the 1595 edition privileges the monarch’s rights in condemning rebellion, the 1609 revisions seem to present a shift toward favoring the importance of just government, public good, and the ability of a monarch to fulfill the duties of office.

Among the more famous of the revised episodes is Daniel’s account of the Battle of Shrewsbury, which, it has been argued, was likely influenced in turn by Shakespeare’s  Henry IV Part I. Daniel’s 1609 Civil Wars thus stands not only as a remarkable achievement in English history writing but also as a fascinating example of intertextual influence in early modern England.

Our newly acquired copy has the remarkable 1609 engraved title-page, with a portrait of Daniel by Thomas Cockson. The portrait is set in the center in a large oval platter. Above the portrait, encased in a similar border, are the title of the work and Daniel’s motto which, according to scholar S. Clark Hulse, announces Daniel’s “Virgilian poetic course”: Ætas prima canat veneres postrema tumultus—“Let the first age sing of love, the latter of confusion.”

An inscription on the title-page tells us the copy belonged to one John Yorke, but it is difficult to ascertain who he may have been among the many notable John Yorkes in history. Nonetheless, that this previous owner shares his name with one of the warring houses Daniel depicts invites us to speculate what his relationship may have been with the House of York.