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Tarlton’s Jests

Cover Illustration of Tarlton’s Jests, 1613 edition

There are several extant editions of ”Tarlton’s Jests” The ESTC has entries for a 1613 and a 1620 edition at the Folger Library, a 1630 edition at the British Library and a 1638 edition with copies at the Bodleian at Oxford as well as at the Huntington Library. In the preface to his 1844 edition ”Tarlton’s Jests, and News Out of Purgatory: with Notes, and Some Account of the Life of Tarlton,” [1. James Halliwell-Phillipps.] states that his transcriptions are from a 1611 edition. The ESTC makes no reference to such an edition, so this is either a typographical error or the 1611 edition is lost to us. Halliwell’s description of this 1611 edition seems similar to the 1613 edition, with a title page featuring one woodcut portrait of Tarlton (see above). The 1638 edition offers a second woodcut that may be derivative of Scottowe’s ”Alphabet” engraving (c. 1588).

Halliwell states that the “three parts of Tarlton’s Jests were originally published separately. On 4th August, 1600, Thomas Pavier had license to print “the second parte of Tarltons Jestes;” and [...] the first part probably was not published much earlier. It appears, also, from the books of the Stationers’ Company, that on February 21st, 1608, ”Tarlton’s Jests” was assigned over to Mr. Knight from John Budge, ‘with the consente of Mr. Lownes, warden.’” This observation concurs with the General note in the ESTC entry for the 1613 edition.

The General note in the ESTC entry for the 1613 edition repeats a claim made in the Folger Shakespeare Library catalogue that the ”Jests” are “More or less fictitious anecdotes, many of them far older than Tarlton, who probably was in no way responsible for the work” (English Short Title Catalogue), ┬áIt would be helpful to discover which scholar is the author of this statement, as even a cursory reading of the Jests reveals verifiable references to Tarlton’s associations with the Queen’s Men.

A comparison between the 1613 and 1638 editions suggests that the extant copy of the 1613 edition at the Folger Library may not be complete. It has thirty-two leaves, whereas the 1638 edition has forty. After the final jest in the 1638 edition the term “FINIS” is printed. In addition to the lack of the final eighteen jests, there is no similar ending in the 1613 edition.

My transcriptions are primarily from the 1613 edition, a microfiche copy of which is available on Early English Books Online. The final eighteen jests in “Tarlton’s Prettie Countrie Iests” are transcribed from the 1638 edition, also a microfiche copy from Early English Books Online. It would appear that these eighteen jests are missing from the earlier edition. [2. I have maintained the contemporary spelling wherever possible, but have adjusted punctuation for standardization reasons.]

Seventeenth Century Printing Information:

  • London, 1613. Printed [by Thomas Snodham] for Iohn Budge, and are to be sold at his shop, at the great South doore of Paules. (with woodcut title vignette).
  • London, c. 1620.
  • London, 1630? [G. Purslowe]
  • London, 1638. Printed by I[ohn] H[aviland] for Andrew Crook, and are to be sold in Pauls Church-yard, at the signe of the Beare.

I am in the process of tagging Tarlton’s Jests in TEI-conformant XML, and have uploaded “Tarlton’s Court Wittie Iests” to Github in an experiment with crowdsourced markup. I will add the City and Country jest files to Github once I’ve done some basic formatting on them.

Work on “Tarlton’s Court Wittie Iests” – in progress at Github.