The Deeds of the Romans; A Shakespeare Sourcebook The Fairfax Murray Copy
GESTA ROMANORUM. Record of Ancient Histories, Entituled in Latin, Gesta Romanorum. Discoursing of Sundry Examples, for the Advancement of Vertue, and the Abandoning of Vice. Very Pleasant in Reading, and Profitable in Practice. London: Printed by T.H. for R. Scott, T. Bassett, R. Chiswell, and J. Wright , 1681.
Early English edition. Small octavo [5 5/8 x 3 1/2 inches; 143 x 89 mm]. [236] pp. Bound without front and back blank, same as the British Library copy. Text in black letter. Besides this copy, we could only find two other copies at auction in the past 100 years.

Full contemporary sheep, rebacked to style. Board ruled in blind. Spine lettered and ruled in gilt. Spine stamped in blind with lozenges, including a crest of John Caley. All edges dyed red. A few leaves trimmed close at top edge, occasionally touching headline. Previous owner's old ink signatures on front free endpaper. Bookplate of Fairfax Murray on front pastedown. Overall very good.

"A rare edition of this classic collection of fictions, of which there were more than 20 editions in English before 1700." (Quaritch)

"An English translation, probably based directly on the manuscript Harl. 5369, was published by Wynkyn de Worde about 1510–15, the only copy of which now known to exist is preserved in the library of St John's College, Cambridge. In 1577 the London printer Richard Robinson published a revised edition of Wynkyn de Worde, as Certain Selected Histories for Christian Recreations, and the book proved highly popular. Between 1648 and 1703 at least eight impressions were issued." (Wikipedia). Present copy is one derived from the Robinson's Elizabethan translation, which itself drew on the version published by Wynkyn de Worde.

The Gesta Romanorum, 'a Latin collection of anecdotes and tales, probably compiled about the end of the 13th century or the beginning of the 14th. It still possesses a twofold literary interest, first as one of the most popular books of the time, and secondly as the source, directly or indirectly, of later literature, in Chaucer, Gower, Shakespeare and others. Of its authorship nothing certain is known; and there is little but gratuitous conjecture to associate it either with the name of Helinandus or with that of Petrus Berchorius (Pierre Bercheure). It is even a matter of debate whether it took its rise in England, Germany or France. The work was evidently intended as a manual for preachers, and was probably written by one who himself belonged to the clerical profession. The name, Deeds of the Romans, is only partially appropriate to the collection in its present form, since, besides the titles from Greek and Latin history and legend, it comprises fragments of very various origin, oriental and European. The unifying element of the book is its moral purpose. The style is barbarous, and the narrative ability of the compiler seems to vary with his source; but he has managed to bring together a considerable variety of excellent material. He gives us, for example, the germ of the romance of 'Guy of Warwick'; the story of 'Darius and his Three Sons,' versified by Occleve; part of Chaucer's 'Man of Lawes' Tale'; a tale of the emperor Theodosius, the same in its main features as that of Shakespeare's Lear; the story of the 'Three Black Crows'; the 'Hermit and the Angel,' well known from Parnell's version, and a story identical with the Fridolin of Schiller' (Encyclopædia Britannica (Eleventh Edition), XI, p. 910).

ESTC R218382.

HBS # 68715 $2,500

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