Print, paratext, and a seventeenth-century Sammelband: Boccaccio's Ninfale fiesolano in English translation

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Three of Boccaccio’s vernacular works were translated into English and printed in a thirty-year period in the later sixteenth century: the 1567 Pleasaunt Disport of divers Noble Personages; the 1587 Amorous Fiammetta, and the 1597 Famous Tragicall Discourse of Two Lovers Affrican and Mensola. This discrete but coherent corpus of English translations exemplifies the way in which the works of a canonical author make their way through the European print trade, remade and reproposed for their various readerships and linguistic communities. The book-object, its editorial paratexts, and the translated text itself each reveal visible residues of the transmission history of the source texts themselves, showing that the early modern English Boccaccio is not derived from the original Italian texts and contemporary editions, as might be expected, but is instead largely a product of intermediate French editions. This essay will begin with an overview of Boccaccio’s presence in English literary culture of the sixteenth century, before moving to a detailed case-study of the last of these three books, A Famous Tragicall Discourse of Two Lovers. Via an exploration of the material book-object and its paratexts, the essay traces the translation’s source edition, production context, and those visual and textual features which reframe his works for an anglophone audience. The unusual attributes of the book-object itself will then be used to make some suggestions about the editorial positioning of this work, its generic affiliations, and its intended and historic readerships. There is only one copy of this work now extant, which survives not in a single free-standing volume (like the other English printed translations of Boccaccio) but instead in a Sammelband with six other popular romances: ‘Pheander, The Maiden Knight’, ‘Fragosa & his 3 Sons’, ‘Ornatus & Artesia’; ‘Titana & Theseus’, ‘Dorastus & Fawnia’, and ‘Cleocryton & Cloriana’. The Boccaccio text is the only work translated from another language to be included, and is the concluding work in the volume. This book, a primary artefact of early modern editorial and reading practices, raises many questions: what are the compositional criteria which govern the creation of this mid-seventeenth century collection? Is the translation valued primarily for its author, or for its genre as a pastoral romance? What does it mean for Boccaccio to be made to stand alongside these other works, and what can this tell us about his evolving status in English literary culture?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRenaissance Cultural Crossroads: Translation, Print and Culture in Britain, 1473-1640
EditorsS.K. Barker, Brenda Hosington
Place of PublicationLeiden
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)9789004242036
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Boccaccio
  • early modern translation
  • print culture
  • libraries


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