April 23rd is traditionally given as Shakespeare’s birthday, even though the only hard date we have is his christening (he was baptized in the Church of the Holy Trinity, in Stratford, on Wednesday 26 April 1564).  In honor of this, we purchased an odd little edition of one of Shakespeare’s sources.

Le theatre du monde, ou il est fait un ample discours des miseres humaines. … Avec un petit traite d le’excellence & dignite de l’homme. Paris: Jacques Stoer, 1607.  According to the bookseller, “A rare edition of this anthology of human misfortune.  The description of a 1546 plague outbreak at Aix that appears on pages 122-24 was taken from the account of Nostradamus’ treatise on cosmetics and preserves. The first edition appeared in Paris in 1558. The “Brief discours de l’excellence & dignité de l’homme” has a separate title-page and begins on page 185.”

We acquired this work by Pierre Boaistuau, known as Pierre Launay (1500-1566) from a rare book dealer in Worcester, MA.  “Boaistuau was a French author, editor, translator. He was the first editor of the works of Marguerite de Navarre. The present work was his greatest success as an author and went through a number of editions and translations.”

Shakespeare used this work for his Timon of Athens, which is “a play of strange clamour and majesty, ” according to Peter Ackroyd in a recent biography. “It is the story of a man whose lavish generosity is not reciprocated and who, as a result, falls into a state of savage misanthropy.”  In other words, very much a play for our times.

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