Thomas Bowdler was a physician who lived in the 18th century. He had fond memories of childhood when his father would read him works by Shakespeare. He only realised as an adult that his father had omitted or changed certain parts of stories to make it more “family friendly”. Inspired by this, he created the The Family Shakespeare – an edited version of Shakespeare’s greatest works made appropriate for even children to read.
Examples of changes made include changing exclamations that may be seen as blasphemous, such as “God”, into “heavens”. One interesting example is that the scene in Hamlet where Ophelia dies is portrayed as an accidental drowning, whereas the original alludes to her intending suicide. Some changes were even more dramatic, such as the complete cutting of story arcs involving a prostitute in Henry IV.
Since then, the act of editing something to make it more “appropriate” for a wider audience has been known as bowdlerisation. Although many may see bowdlerising as political correctness, Bowdler’s intentions were to make great works of literature such as Shakespeare more accessible to a broader audience, such as to children.