US Censorship: 10 Appalling Examples of Censorship in the United States
10 Appalling Examples of Censorship in the United States

10 Appalling Examples of Censorship in the United States

Larry Holzwarth - January 31, 2018

10 Appalling Examples of Censorship in the United States
Censor’s changed the manner of Ophelia’s death, believing the suicide implied by Shakespeare to be too much for youth to deal with. Tate, London

The Works of William Shakespeare

The Bard of Avon has been a subject of censorship or editing to eliminate offensive passages several times, in many communities across the United States. Counting the number of times productions of his plays choose to simply avoid certain passages, or reword them for local consumption is virtually impossible. Often such companies choose to use a script not from the original oeuvre of Shakespeare, but from an edited edition of his works published in the early 1800s as The Family Shakespeare whose author gave a new word to the English lexicon.

Thomas Bowdler was an English physician of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century whose father had enjoyed reading Shakespeare aloud to the family when he Thomas a child. As an adult, reading the works on his own he realized that his father had omitted many passages during his reading, considering them to be too fraught for the ears of children. Bowdler undertook to edit the complete works of Shakespeare to remove the offending passages. Bowdler so changed the content that the word bowdlerize came to be considered to mean expurgate, though in a disparaging manner.

The bowdlerized Shakespeare became popular in the United States among groups who found the originals to be offensive, despite some of the changes significantly altering the story. For example, in Hamlet Ophelia’s death is an accidental drowning rather than a suicide. In other plays, characters are omitted entirely. But bowdlerization was not the only incidence of censorship regarding Shakespeare.

Buffalo and Manchester New York both removed the play The Merchant of Venice from their schools after complaints from Jewish groups that the play was supportive of antisemitism. The character Shylock was believed to be a stereotype which was representative of the prejudicial opinions of Jews.

The Merchant of Venice isn’t the only Shakespeare play to undergo censorship within the United States. Schools across the country have ceased teaching Romeo and Juliet, not because of its depiction of the young lovers and their brief but torrid relationship, but because it is believed to foster a rebellious attitude toward parental authority.


Sources and more information:

Time Magazine – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

LA Times – ‘Bad’ Books: Censorship’s Role Examined in Fullerton College Display

DW – Anne Frank’s Incomplete Novel ‘Dear Kitty’ Published

History Extra – Censoring Anne Frank: How Her Famous Diary Has Been Edited Through History

NEH – How the Grimm Brothers Saved the Fairy Tale

Ferris State University – Banning “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Smithsonian Magazine – Four Hundred Years Later, Scholars Still Debate Whether Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” Is Anti-Semitic