Shakespeare’s Narrative Sources: Italian Novellas and Their European Dissemination


Despite the high number of editions in the second half of the 16th century and early 17th century (at least twenty), the text of the Histoires tragiques mostly remained unchanged, to such an extent that even mistakes were carried over from one edition to the next. As of today, the most recent and complete overview of the first editions of Pierre Boaistuau’s Histoires tragiques can be found in an essay by Jean-Claude Arnould, “Les premières éditions des Histoires tragiques de Pierre Boaistuau” (in Les Histoires tragiques du XVIe siècle. Pierre Boaistuau et ses émules, edited by J.-C. Arnould, Paris, Classiques Garnier, 2017, p. 13-23), which expanded on previous bibliographical surveys, such as Donald Stone’s essay “Belleforest’s Bandello: A Bibliographical Study” (published in Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance, XXXIV-3, 1972, p. 490-491) and a chapter of Michel Simonin’s book Vivre de sa plume au XVIe siècle, ou La carrière de François de Belleforest (Genève, Droz, 1992).

According to Arnould, textual variants are very sparse in the history of the 16th century editions of the Histoires tragiques and, more importantly, they were introduced by printers, not by Pierre Boaistuau himself, who died in 1566 and devoted the final years of his life to other projects (in particular to the publication of the Histoires prodigieuses). Moreover, most of these variants only affected spelling and punctuation, not the actual content of the stories or their lexical quality. As a matter of fact, Boaistuau only played an active role in the very first editions of the Histoires tragiques, which were published in 1559 by several printers and librarians in Paris, i.e. Vincent Sertenas, Gilles Robinot and Benoist Prévost. Among them, Robinot and Prévost’s editions (marked as B1 and B2 in Arnould’s essay) can be considered as an improvement over the original Sertenas edition (A1), in terms of layout and punctuation, but they are less frequently found nowadays. However, all 1559 editions share the same degree of authority, since Boaistuau was actively involved in their publication, unlike later editions.