Textual Introduction

Jan van der Noot’s A theatre wherein be represented as wel the miseries and calamities that follow the voluptuous worldlings is the third component of a polyglot publishing effort. The first version to appear, in Dutch, was printed by John Day; its dedicatory letter to Roger Martin, Lord Mayor of London, is dated 18 September 1568. Day also printed a French version, dedicated to Elizabeth; its dedicatory letter is dated 28 October 1568. A translation of the dedication to Elizabeth, with the date changed to 25 May 1569, is printed near the opening of the English edition, but the printer and publisher had shifted from Day to Henry Bynneman. Despite the date of that translated dedication, the book may not have been printed until a few months later: Bynneman entered ‘a boke intituled theatrie or mirror’ in the Stationer’s Register in the latter part of the summer of 1569.

Henry Bynneman had a considerable trade in foreign books. Of the seventy-three surviving books that he printed or published between 1567 and 1571, 26 were translations; another sixteen were printed in a foreign language and two were foreign-language-to-English dictionaries. Bynneman had only recently taken on his first two Dutch books and both were translations of tart anti-Catholic polemics originally written in French, Pierre Viret’s De cautelen (dat is te segghen, de waershouwinghe ofte onderwijsinghe) met het canon ende ceremonien van der Misse (‘The cautels [that is, the warning or the instruction], with the law and ceremonies of the Mass’) and Den sack met die stucken voor den Paus van Roomen, syn cardinalen, bisschoppen, abten, monincken, en meesters vande Sorbonne (‘A purse and pence for the Pope of Rome, and for his cardinals, bishops, abbots, monks, and masters of the Sorbonne’) authored by ‘Denakol’, most likely an anagram for Magdelon de Candole.1

Day’s more substantial output comprises a smaller proportion of foreign language texts, yet that output included the earliest printings of Anglo-Saxon and perhaps the era’s most important collection of verse translations, the Sternhold and Hopkins Psalter. More pertinently, since 1561 Day had provided for the needs of the Dutch congregation in London by producing short catechisms and psalters in Dutch. Day is now most remembered as the publisher of the earliest English versions of Foxe's martyrology, the Actes and Monuments. The 1563 edition of Foxe included fifty-three newly-cut woodcuts as well as illustrations and ornaments originally used in Day's earlier books; for the forthcoming edition of 1570, he commissioned fifty-four more blocks. Day had been publishing illustrated books since the late 1540s and would crown his achievement as a producer of illustrated texts in 1569 with Christian Prayers and Meditations, otherwise known as 'Queen Elizabeth's Prayer Book' (King 2006: 166-75). The French and Dutch editions of van der Noot’s book make a small contribution to Day’s developing catalogue of illustrated books.

Day used copper engravings, probably by Marcus Gheeraerts, to illustrate the poems in both Het theatre oft Toon-neel waer in ter eender de ongelucken ende elenden die den werelts gesinden ende boosen menschen toecomen and the French version, Le theatre auquel sont exposés et monstrés les inconveniens et miseres qui suivent les mondains et vicieux. The poems that Spenser translated for Bynneman’s English version are illustrated with woodcuts of a very similar design. Most of one set of images invert the design of their correlative images in the other set left-for-right, suggesting that the basic design of one set of images was mechanically copied from the other. Because the English version was published after the Dutch and French texts, the woodcuts were long thought to be derived from the intaglio engravings, but Michael Bath has mounted a strong case for the compositional priority of the woodcuts. The use of woodcut illustrations enabled Bynneman to produce The Theatre in a single shop, for woodcuts are printed using the same platen press employed for letterpress printing, whereas intaglio prints require the greater pressures of a rolling press, almost certainly not part of Day’s physical plant. Bynneman was also no doubt hoping to take advantage of the greater durability of wood-blocks, for he could reasonably anticipate more substantial sales for an English edition than Day could have mustered for the Dutch and French versions. Perhaps regarding these volumes as something of a boutique effort, Day did not bother to secure stationer’s copyright for the Dutch or French versions; believing that the English version might prove popular probably motivated Bynneman to register the book with the Stationers' Company and so secure copyright. The entry reads

bynnyman Recevyd of henry bynnyman for his lycense for the pryntinge of a boke intituled theatrie or mirror vjd

Since this is the fourth of 295 entries in the Stationers' Register for the period spanning 22 July 1569 to 22 July 1570 (SRO1100), Bynneman probably entered the Theatre sometime before the end of August 1569.

An octavo volume in 138 leaves, the Theatre has the following collation: A-R8, S2. With the exception of the title page and the final leaf of the volume, the first five leaves of all signatures are signed with a letter and roman numerals. Foliation begins with the 'Commentary' on [D7r], with leaves numbered 2 (on D8r) to 107 (S1r) in the upper right-hand corner of each recto. G3r is incorrectly numbered '14' instead of 21 and G7r is incorrectly numbered '23' instead of 25. State 1 of S1r reads '101'; state 2 corrects to '107'.

The title page reads

wherein be repre-
ſented as wel the miſeries & ca-
lamities that follow the vo⸗
luptuous Worldlings,
As alſo the greate ioyes and
pleſures which the faith⸗
full do enioy.
An Argument both pro[fi]table and
dele[ct]able, to all that [ſi]ncerely
loue the word of God.
Deuiſed by S. Iohn van-
der Noodt.
Seene and allowed according
to the order appointed.
¶ Imprinted at London by
Henry Bynneman.
Anno Domini. 1 5 6 9.
The contents of the volume are:
Title page, in mixed fonts, [A1r];
Royal arms, woodcut, [A1v];
Commendatory poems, Latin, A2r-A2v;
Dedicatory epistle to Queen Elizabeth from 'Iean vander Noodt', A3r-B1r;
Six Epigrams on versoes, the first three in sonnet form and the second three
in the form of douzaines, each of which poems is paired with a woodcut illustration on the facing recto, B1v-[B7r]; quatrain concluding the epigrams, [B7v];
Fifteen blank-verse Sonets, the first of which is printed on [B8r], after which all
sonnets are printed on versoes, each paired with an illustrative woodcut on the facing recto, [B8r]-[D6r]
Blank page, [D6v];
A Briefe Declaration of the Authour vpon his visions, taken out of the holy
scriptures, and dyuers Orators, Poetes, Philosophers, and true histories. Translated out of French into Englishe by Theodore Roest., [D7r]-S1v;
Collophon: Imprinted at Lon- | don by Henrie Bynneman, | dwelling in Knight
riders [ſt]reat, at | the ſigne of the Marmaid. | ANNO. 1 5 6 9. | CVM PRIVILEGIO AD IMPRI- | MENDVM SOLVM. | [diamond tailpiece] [S2r];
Henry Bynneman's device, mermaid with Stationers' arms and Bynneman's
monogram, McKerrow device no. 149.

No subsequent edition of the Theatre or its poems was issued prior to Hughes’ edition of 1715. Spenser would later revise all but the final four poems translated in the Theatre; the revised versions, with a few supplementary translations, were published in his Complaints of 1591 as Bellay and Petrarch. We therefore regard the 1569 Theatre as the chief textual authority for this edition, if not the sole one. Where it is manifestly defective (and also when it is obscure) we have consulted Le théatre, which we believe to have been translated from the same Dutch version as that from which most of the Theatre was Englished. We have also consulted Het Theatre, despite the fact that the English Theatre and Le Theatre frequently differ in sense, and in shared ways, from the sense of Het Theatre, often in ways that bring them into closer conformity to the sense of de Coninck’s Den standt ende bilde der beyden ghemeynten (1555), the Dutch translation of Bale’s Image of Both Churches on which van der Noot based the bulk of the commentary on Revelation that van der Noot incorporated in the Theatre.

Seven complete copies of The Theatre have been collated for this edition: two held at the British Library, and one each in the Bodleian library, the Huntington Library, the Pforzheimer Collection of the Harry Ransom Center, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Princeton University Library. (A copy at the Newberry Library was also spot-checked, but not thoroughly collated.) Two defective copies were also collated: one held at the National Library of Scotland; the other, missing only two leaves, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As with other works in the Oxford Collected Spenser, we have created an eclectic copy text that comprises the corrected state of each of the book’s formes.

Compositors with a strongly editorial attitude to their copy might have produced a more polished text than that which Bynneman produced. In several places, Theodore Roest, the translator of the Commentary, has evidently misunderstood the Dutch source from which he was working or has rendered it quite carelessly, and his clumsy rendering has passed without correction, along with some obvious instances of compositorial misreading of copy. In a few instances, therefore, we have repaired gaps in the Commentary, some manifest (e.g. at 2137), some subtler in character (e.g. at 335 or 602), by consulting the French and Dutch versions.

That said, stop-press corrections in both the inner and outer formes of signature E suggest at least a brief period of editorial attention. While the presses were stopped in the midst of printing outer forme E (that is, E1r, E2v, E3r, E4v, E5r, E6v, E7r, and E8v), probably to correct a spelling error on E8v, the corrector made several other adjustments, including a fussy improvement to the syntax of a sentence on E4v.2 Similarly, while the printing of inner forme E (E1v, E2r, E3v, E4r, E5v, E6r, E7v, E8 ) was interrupted to make a spacing adjustment on E1v, the rendering of ‘scoone kinderen’ (Het theatre, C8v) as ‘cleane children’ – the version probably present in Theoodre Roest’s manuscript translation of the Commentary – was adjusted to ‘propre children.’ That these corrections cluster together with four stop-press corrections in outer forme F may suggest a day of especially attentive presswork. On the other hand, errors of pagination, and a pair of instances of omitted text and a pair of garbled glosses make outer forme G an unfortunately countervailing half-quire of carelessness.

The portion of the volume devoted to commentary on the poems that Spenser translated runs from D7r to S1v; from outer forme E through outer forme I, the commentary was set using a single skeleton forme. For reasons that remain unclear, this forme was rather fastidiously adjusted, so that the spelling 'worldlyngs' on the rectos of signatures 7 and 8 was replaced by ‘worldlings’. While this skeleton was adjusted, a new skeleton was also prepared, presumably to speed up production. The compositor made an error in the running title for K3r when he set the second skeleton forme, but this time the error was quickly caught and remedied, along with five other minor errors in the text proper.3 Somewhat later, the same forme was examined more closely, leading to six more corrections.4 There is a seventh variant in this third state of the forme, but it represents an inferior reading, ‘corporal ,stoales’, where the earlier copies read ‘corporals,stoales’.5 It is impossible to determine whether the ‘s’ dropped out in the course of printing the second state of the forme, thus instigating the interruption of the press-work and a careful review of the forme, or the interruption was provoked by zealous proofreading, and the ‘s’ lost by subsequent carelessness in correction.

Finally, a stop-press correction in outer forme Q presents a slight difficulty. The Folger copy preserves the reading ‘ſynging with a grace’ at Q6v. The phrasing matches that of the Geneva version of Colossians 3:16. That this is the only one of the collated copies that witnesses this reading suggests that the correction to ‘ſynging with grace’, which brings the passage into congruence with the text of Colloss. 3:16 in the Bishops Bible, was made rather early in the printing of this forme. Several of the other copies contain a variant in the running head on the same page, some following the Folger copy in reading ‘A Theatre’ and others reading simply ‘Theatre.’ Either the correction somehow destabilized the skeleton forme, so that the ‘A’ in the running title eventually dropped out, or the ‘A’ was somehow removed while the text was corrected, and the disruption of the running title was later caught and repaired.

The text calls for appreciable correction. Many errors shared with the printed Dutch version go uncorrected and on several occasions in which manifest difficulties in the source seem to have been noticed, his solution to the difficulty (or that of the stationers involved in rendering his translation) is ill-considered. The marginal references to authorities, which seem to have been based on the marginal glosses in Le Theatre rather than on those in Het theatre, are often misplaced or otherwise errant. Reference styling is quite irregular, and misleading biblical references abound. Masoretic numbering of the Psalms are mixed in with Vulgate numbers, with Vulgate numbering predominating in the first half of the commentary. The clumsy guesswork evidenced across the book suggests inattention either in the preparation of printer’s copy, in the presswork, or both.

It seems most likely that some of the textual difficulties with the printed book crept in as Roest's MS passed through the intermediaries of fair copy and setting of type. We emend 'wealth' to 'health' at 1448, supposing it to be such a transmissional error. The error at 890, which we emend to recover the sense of the passage in both Het theatre and Le theatre, is also likely to have been a transmissional error, a correction by copyist or compositor, one of whom resisted the use of 'chiefs' as a noun, acceptable in 1569, but rare. The error at 335, a misquotation of 1 John 2:16, is a matter of eye-skip and thus also suggests a scribal or compositorial lapse. But responsibility for the errors at 602 and 2137 – the missed details in characterizing the beast of Rev 13:1 and in specifying prelatical pressure on the Emperor Sigismond, both of which are present in the Dutch and French versions of the Theatre – is more difficult to assign, and is as likely to lie with Roest, the translator, as with those transmitting his manuscript to the printed page.

Despite these flaws, the aesthetic foundation of the book – the play of poems and illustrations – is handsome and effective, a felicitous use of the format. The text of each sonnet or epigram fills the verso of an octavo page; the images on the facing recto, each roughly 7.5 X 9 cm, occupy more or less the same portion of the page as do the poems. An enigmatic image is the first thing the reader sees as she turns the page; the facing poems, with their steady report of what “I saw,” unfold the enigma.

As per the general policy of the Oxford Collected Spenser, we silently expand abbreviations and modernize the location of punctuation in the vicinity of parentheses. We have adjusted the positions of many of the marginal glosses to bring them into closer proximity to the passages they gloss. While we have emended misleading glosses we have made no effort to regularize the use of numerals: the Theatre uses Roman and Arabic numerals miscellaneously, and makes no distinction between cardinal and ordinal forms.


1 This latter volume contains a ‘Genealogy of the Antichrist’ (Dat boeck der gheboorten, des woesten ende grouwelycken Antichrist) that van der Noot would incorporate whole in his Commentary for Theatre (2769-2811). According to Denakol’s genealogy, the mass is the tenth-generational descendant of the Devil and the anointment of the pope the eleventh.
2For the corrections, see the collation notes at Commentary 167 and 293.
3The corrections are captured in collation notes at Commentary 1290, 1350, two at 1513 (‘aforsaid, . . . persons,’), and 1514 (‘altogother that’).
4 At Commentary 1341, 1353, 1467, two at 1513 (‘acomplishe . . . behalfe’), and 1514 (‘roote out’).
5 See Commentary 1348.