Bilingual drama & Renaissance language-learning

As some of you know, I’m crazy about books, especially old ones. I wouldn’t consider myself a serious book collector, but a couple times a year I treat myself to an early printed book of some kind. Although early editions of drama in the English language tend to be far beyond a graduate student’s budget, Continental imprints are often fairly affordable. It’s my research on Renaissance language-learning and translation that led me to my latest acquisition, a 1610 bilingual edition of Giovanni Battista Guarini’s tragicomedy Il Pastor Fido.

pastor_fido_tpGiovanni Battista Guaraini, Le Berger Fidelle / Il Pastor Fido (Paris: Matthieu Guillemot, 1610), title page. Personal collection.

Adding the French title Le Berger Fidelle to Guarini’s Italian play, the title page of this book adds that it is “Faict Italien et françois pour l’vtilité de ceux qui desirent apprandre les deux langues” [Made Italian and French for the use of those who desire to learn the two languages]. Il Pastor Fido was first published in Venice in 1590, in quarto. This stout octavo edition follows a series of  French, English, and Spanish translations of the play as well as an Italian edition issued in London by the stationer John Wolfe — and aims specifically at an audience of language-learners. In a preface, the translator asserts that the Italian language “entre les langues vulgaires a cest ho[n]neur d’auoir plus de grace & de mignardise que pas vne autre, pour exprimer vne amoureuse passion” [among the vulgar languages has this honor of having more grace and preciousness than any other, to express an amorous passion]. Il Pastor Fido, a tragicomedy featuring ancient prophecies, unrequited love, and mistaken identities, offers fertile ground for these “amorous passions.” Here, then, is a dramatic application of the language-learning techniques Joyce Boro finds in the period’s bilingual prose romances.

Like many bilingual language-learning books issued in Europe at this time, the play’s text is arranged in a facing-page layout, Italian on the verso, & French on the recto. This arrangement extends to the paratext as well. “Le persone che parlano” appears before the Italian list of characters, facing “LES PERSONNAGES” in French, while during the first act one sees “ATTO PRIMO” at the top of each verso, “ACTE I.” at the top of each corresponding recto:

pastor_fido_layout Giovanni Battista Guarini, Le Berger Fidelle / Il Pastor Fido (Paris: Matthieu Guillemot, 1610), A2v-A3r. Personal collection.

Like many bilingual or polyglot publications from the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, this book differentiates languages with its use of typefaces. Italian appears here in italic, while the stationers selected roman for the French. Altogether, this book presents an example of how dramatic publications could be designed specifically for language-learning, and — as Anne Coldiron and Guyda Armstrong have suggested — shows how the principle of translation was not only a linguistic concern, but also a typographic and paratextual concern.

Not Shakespeare’s Beehive? Doesn’t Really Matter

Like many of you, I awoke on Monday to a startling claim about “Shakespeare’s Beehive,” a copy of John Baret’s An Alvearie, or Quadruple Dictionarie (1580) covered in extensive annotations. New York booksellers George Koppelman and Daniel Wechsler  launched what is truly a beautiful website to showcase their belief that the annotations in this copy of Baret can be attributed to William Shakespeare. Coincidentally – or not – this week marks the 450th birthday of the poet from Stratford.

Of course, from the moment “Shakespeare’s Beehive” went live, it has faced healthy criticism from scholars of Shakespeare, the Renaissance, and book history. (An updated overview of the conversation can be found here.) Michael Witmore and Heather Wolfe wrote a very smart piece in The Collation about the reasonable doubts forestalling any easy attribution to Shakespeare. This book, they say, must stand thorough tests assessing paleography, rare and peculiar words, associations, and marginalia before any Shakespearean attribution can be confirmed. More recently, Aaron Pratt has examined a particular case in the annotations, the supposed word “Buck-bacqet,” which he finds not to be a word unique to Merry Wives (as Koppelman and Wechsler think), but rather a French and an English word listed beside each other: “Bucket bacquet.” As Pratt suggests, this is “what we might expect a reader to record in their multilingual dictionary.”

Like Pratt and others, I am very glad this annotated copy of Baret has come to light for the things it tells us about Renaissance dictionaries and how they were used. This issue has been a preoccupation of mine from some time, and in recent years I’ve consulted a few hundred copies of books designed for students of Renaissance language, Baret among them. My corpus includes bilingual and polyglot dictionaries, proverb collections, dialogue books, and grammars. Italian, French, and Spanish books are of particular interest to me, and the study of these books’ annotations constitutes the most recent stage in the project. So even if this “beehive” is proven definitively to not belong to Shakespeare, I am pleased to see Twitter “buzzing” (sorry) with questions about Baret’s book and the ways in which Renaissance dictionaries were used by readers and writers.

I’ll make a few remarks now about Baret’s dictionary itself, which has been somewhat obscured in all the talk about Shakespeare’s hand (or lack thereof). This lexicographical effort was first published by Henry Denham in 1574 as a “triple dictionarie” in folio. It includes entries in English, Latin, French, and a smattering of Greek (the Greek would be amplified substantially for the second edition of 1580, now a “quadruple dictionarie”). The production of this dictionary may be of special interest to Renaissance scholars for its compilatory and collaborative nature. A fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge, Baret had begun collecting material for the Alvearie nearly two decades before the volume’s publication. In fact, he recounts in a preface that the dictionary had its origins in the pedagogical practice of translation, explaining that he required his students “daily to translate some peece of English into Latin, for the more speedy, and easie attaining of the same” (*5r).

Their labors resembling those of “diligent Bees,” the students’ collaboration resulted in a sort of polyglot reference book assembled from phrases in Latin literature. Soon afterward, supplementing his knowledge from overseas travel with the aid of “M. Chaloner” and “M. Claudius,” Baret added both French entries and index tables. This “Claudius,” I should note, was probably Claudius Hollyband, perhaps the most famous instructor of French in sixteenth-century London, and who was responsible for the massively popular French Littleton and French Schoolmaster. The frontmatter of the Alvearie also contains four lines of commendatory verse by Richard Mulcaster, who taught Edmund Spenser at the Merchant Taylors’ School and who was deeply involved in debates about pedagogical reform in England. Altogether, this collaborative effort at multilingual lexicography stands at the center of debates about Renaissance language-learning and education in England, incorporating the work of Latinists, French instructors, and students at Cambridge.

So, if we stop worrying about Shakespeare, Koppelman and Wechsler’s copy of the Alvearie can tell us something useful about the relationship between language-learning and book use in the Renaissance. (Here, I join with Adam Hooks, who stated in Monday’s Shakespeare Q&A livestream at Iowa that he remains interested in the notion of a “beehive.”) As the “Shakespeare’s Beehive” website shows, the markings across the polyglot dictionary evince the annotator’s linguistic interests in English, French, and Latin, as well as the possibilities commonplacing held for the understanding of these languages. Furthermore, the “trailing blank” at the end of the volume features a number of words and phrases in these languages compiled by the annotator independent from the book’s printed matter. The annotations in this book are impressively thorough, but still merit comparison with other copies of the 1580 Baret. A copy at the University of Chicago, for instance, features the competing hands of Richard Emery (of Arlesley, Bedfordshire) and John Plomer. Although the annotations suggest that this Alvearie was given to Emery “by his Granfather,” Emery and Plomer appear to struggle for the possession of the book through their writing: “John Plomer oweth this dictionarye,” one finds, and elsewhere “But thou shallt not steale.” Another copy of the book at the Boston Athenaeum is inscribed by “Edward Lye” in the central column of E4r, and features trefoil symbols and some Latin inscriptions on Y4r. If closely examined, these copies of the Alvearie, and many others that survive – the ESTC lists 52 second-edition copies, though surely there are more out there – might give us a better picture of how Renaissance students of language used this particular book.

Of course, other polyglot dictionaries and language manuals feature far more extensive signs of use. Gabriel Harvey’s language-learning manuals, which are held by the Huntington Library today, rank among these books. The most impressive example that I have found to date, however, might be the University of Chicago’s interleaved copy of Richard Percyvall’s Bibliotheca Hispanica, a Spanish-English-Latin dictionary first published in quarto 1591. The book features an intricate array of multilingual markings in different colors throught its entirety, with 163 blank leaves bound up with the printed text to faciliate the user’s additions or workings-out of linguistic complexities. It’s fantastic. Among the very first printed efforts in Spanish-English lexicography in England, Percyvall’s dictionary occupies an important political and linguistic place in history, and this particular copy of the book tells us much about how its users could restructure it and mark upon it for their own ends.

How these practices bear upon literature would be the next step, although the answers are admittedly harder to seek out. In Astrophil and Stella, Sidney mocked “You that do Dictionaries methode bring / Into your rimes, running in ratling rowes,” although I suspect that these language-learning books were not as irrelevant or far-off from poetry as we might commonly think.

Renaissance Dictionary Technologies

After a hiatus filled with reading and research, today I’m publishing an account of the early modern lexicographer John Minsheu and the extraordinary services he rendered to language-learners in print. The value of his work was intricately related to his collaboration with his printers, his knowledge of typography and the London book trade, and his sheer persistence in the face of financial adversity. In short, much of his success was contingent upon his manipulation of the communication technologies at his disposal – the technology of the Renaissance dictionary. (I’ll actually have more to say about this in July at the 2013 SHARP convention in Philadelphia, but for now, let’s take a look in the archive.


Here, you get an idea of the typographical intricacies of Minsheu’s Spanish-English bilingual dictionary and grammar. Bracket-pieces and a variety of typefaces assist readers through the “lesson.”  The use of black-letter type was diminishing at this time in English print, but Minsheu and others in the language-learning book business found a purpose for it. Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections L 463 P428, Northwestern University.

I became acquainted with Minsheu accidentally through my research on printed dictionaries and grammars for early modern English students of foreign languages (both Italian and Spanish, and soon French). In 1599, he was responsible for A Dictionarie in Spanish and English, pictured above, which can often be found in the archive bound and cataloged with A Spanish Grammar (I list them separately because they have distinct title pages). However, Minsheu’s most monumental effort was without question his 1617 eleven-language polyglot dictionary, Ductor in Linguas, which also goes by its English title Guide into tongues. It is a truly massive – and impressive – book. If you search Minsheu’s records in the ESTC, they seem fairly messy, with a number of imprint variants and a strange “Catalogue.”

It’s important for me to say that Minsheu’s “scholarly credibility” has faced some serious criticism. In 1973, Jurgen Schäfer published an article that admits Minsheu’s contribution to language learning as a compiler, but casts him otherwise as a “scholarly poseur.” Originality is the key issue in this debate. True enough, a vast number of entries in Minsheu’s Spanish dictionary were “lifted” from Richard Percivale’s quarto dictionary Biblioteca Hispanica (1591). And interestingly, modern library catalogs often still list Minsheu’s Dictionarie under Percivale’s name (this is the case at Northwestern and the Newberry, and it bothers me). Schäfer doesn’t go as far as the playwright Ben Jonson, who declared Minsheu a “rogue,” but he ends up showing how the lexicographer’s academic rigor was at best questionable.

Jonathan Warren has studied Minsheu’s work more recently. As he investigated Minsheu’s dictionaries for the Early Modern Dictionary Project at the University of Toronto (now the exceedingly useful Lexicons of Early Modern English, or LEME), Warren uncovered some of the strange methods that this compiler used to capture and document languages in print. Some of these methods are rather unusual from a twenty-first century perspective:

Indeed, many of these entries were in Percivale’s original. What Minsheu adds is all manner of variation to these entries: big goat, little goat, place of big goats, place  of little goats, a he goat, a she goat,  a place of he goats, a place of she goats, and so on. The practice  is the same for plant names and all other words.

It seems fairly clear just how committed Minsheu was in approaching the task of collecting a language in all its forms, locking it down in print, and setting it forth on the market. These compilation methods were certainly not “original” in the Romantic or modern sense of the word, but we can be sure that intellectual property functioned differently in 1599 or 1617 than it does today. Instead, if we focus on Minsheu’s work as a compiler with great interest and faith in the potential of print, we see an individual committed to providing an useful (if absurdly complete) tool to language students with the most intricate and thorough printed apparatuses imaginable.


Minsheu’s polyglot dictionary (regular-size iPod for size contrast). Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, L 423 M666, Northwestern University.

A massive folio volume, the Ductor in Linguas was no small project for Minsheu or his printers. It consists of nearly four hundred leaves (close to two hundred sheets) printed in the normal roman, italic, and black-letter faces but also including Greek, Anglo-Saxon and Hebrew type. A two-column dictionary features the eleven-language apparatus, and the final hundred or so leaves are Minsheu’s concurrent project, Vocabvlarivm Hispanico Latinum et Anglicum copiossissimum (Most copious Spanish, Latin, and English dictionary). The copy of this volume at Northwestern measures about 24 by 38 cm, so you have an idea of how massive this book is. The printers involved on the job included Melchisidec Bradwood at the Eliot’s Court Press, who had assisted the earlier and famous lexicographical efforts of John Florio. (Bradwood’s ECP colleague Edmund Bollifant had handled the 1599 printing of Minsheu’s Spanish dictionary.) For both the Ductor in Linguas and the second edition of Florio’s Italian-English dictionary, Bradwood shared printing labor with William Stansby, who undertook the important task of printing of Jonson’s Workes in 1616.


Minsheu’s “catalogue.” Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, L 423 M666, Northwestern University.

Such bulk came at a considerable cost, and scholars have indicated the unusual publication of this polyglot dictionary as an early instance of something like modern subscription. Although the Stationers’ Company refrained from supporting Minsheu in any way, individual booksellers and benefactors provided some support. In the archives, one can find a several issues of a “catalogue” that lists Minsheu’s financial backers (431 in total throughout all variant issues) as he sought to “sell” the dictionary in advance. The catalogue could be inserted into a volume, or it could hang somewhere to advertise the dictionary. This did not totally lighten the load for the compiler, however, who entered heavy debt to afford the services of his printers, even after petitioning Inns, societies, and wealthy individuals for gifts and loans. Despite the financial chaos of the dictionary that “hath cost me the hazard of my life,” in Minsheu’s words, the Ductor in Linguas eventually saw print after a period of two years. It was a labor of love. Because Minsheu mentions no price exactly, Franklin B. Williams believes that he simply asked the greatest sum he could in any given case; surviving copies appear with the prices of 30s. and 22s., which is rather high for the time but appropriate for such a massive and remarkable effort of lexicography and a noteworthy moment in early modern printing history.


For further reading on Minsheu’s work:

Schäfer, Jurgen. “John Minsheu: Scholar or Charlatan?” Renaissance Quarterly 26.1 (1973): 23-35.

Warren, Jonathan. “Reflections of an Electronic Scribe.” Early Modern Literary Studies [Special Issue] 1 (1997).

Williams, Franklin B. “Scholarly Publication in Shakespeare’s Day: A Leading Case.” Joseph Quincy Adams Memorial Studies, ed. J. G. MacManaway et. al. Washington D.C.: Folger Shakespeare Library, 1948. 755-73.