Gratiae Ludentes,
or Jestes from the University

A Renaissance Jestbook

Prepared by a Group of Students
from the Department of English
Memorial University of Newfoundland

For George Story, in memory

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Little is known about this jest book. It is part of a long tradition of collections of jests, a tradition which found its origins in classical antiquity and which, in England, began to flourish in printed form in the 16th century; this tradition is still very much alive today in joke books (including series of Newfoundland joke books available in our local stores).

Gratiae Ludentes seems to be the only jest book still remaining from the early modern period that has not been edited or reprinted in a 19th or 20th century edition. It is however, so far as we know, the first of these jestbooks to be published electronically. Perhaps its obscurity is deserved. Most of the jokes are lame, though very much in the contemporary style; one may compare the contemporary Wit and Mirth by the well-known popular writer John Taylor the "Water-Poet," a few of whose jokes are reused in our collection. The feeble puns, obvious misreadings or mis-takings of certain phrases, all contribute to a sense of the low end of a certain kind of humour in the early 17th century, a kind of humour still familiar to modern readers.

There is an irony that this popular jest-book should have associated itself with learning. The Latin title that graces its front, and the connection with the two universities, gives no indication of the popular and quite non-academic homour contained within. The author "H.L." has not been identified. He may be, as he claims, a member of Oxford University.

Gratiae Ludentes was entered in the Stationers' Register on 19 December 1637. There are three extant copies (British Library, Bodleian Library, and Rosenbach Foundation in Philadelphia). The title pages of both the BL and Rosenbach copies read "1628" but each has been corrected by hand; the Bodleian copy correctly reads "1638" in type. This edition of Gratiae Ludentes was typed up from STC 15105 (University Microfilm reel 766, BL copy) and preliminary notes prepared in the fall of 1994 by students in English 4900 at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Later the text was read against the Rosenbach copy in Philadelphia by William Barker. The whole work was then completed, proofread and many of the notes rewritten by William Barker and by Yvonne Hann, a graduate student in the Department of English. We have prepared a simple reading edition. It retains certain features of the 17th century print including punctuation and old spelling (but not i/j, u/v), but some errors have been corrected (indicated by square brackets). This edition has no special authority, though our few short notes, indented below the jest, might be of use to some readers. We've tried to gloss the difficult words, translate all the Latin where a translation is not already given, and here and there explain references or provide parallels. Many of the jests did not seem to us to require explanatory notes. We realize that these notes may, in some places, help the reader and, in others, reveal our own ignorance or lack of wit.

When William Barker started to assemble the materials for this project, in the spring of 1994, he had intended to offer the work as a small retirement present to George Story. George died in May of 1994. So instead we dedicate this to his memory. We think he would have been suitably appalled and entertained by the absurdity of the book. After all, he owned a copy of Poggio Bracciolini's Facetiae, the grandfather of all Renaissance jestbooks.

In English 4900 we agreed there are only two ways to read these jests, sober or drunk. Sober, the book is instructive but not terribly amusing. Drunk - really drunk - the jests are hilarious.

William Barker and Yvonne Hann
with Gerard Collins, Nancy Earle, Agena Elliot, Kristina Fagan, Mark Feltham, Mike Fralic, Janet Goosney, Faye Griffin, Holly Hedd, Michelle Hobbs, Shelley Hulan, Wayne Hurley, Jodi-Anne Martin, Lara Maynard, Albert McDonald, Fergus O'Brien, Lloydetta Quaicoe, Wendy Rodgers, Nancy Russell, Charmaine Skinner, Barry Stratton, Allison Vincent, Derrick White, Donna Wong

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Last modified 28 January 1998