Shakespeare's Jest Books

PDF-file by William Carew Hazlitt

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Shakespeare’s Jest Books is an anthology of humorous, often bawdy anecdotes and jokes from late medieval England. Collected in 1864 by the British bibliographer William Carew Hazlitt, the jest books are haphazard in their authorial ascriptions: they have origins in the oral tradition and anthologized the professional foolery of noted clowns Richard Tarlton and Will Kemp.

Shakespeare’s most notable direct reference to the jest books appears in Much Ado About Nothing, during one of the play’s memorable witty exchanges between Beatrice and Benedick; Beatrice complains to her gentlewoman Ursula of Benedick: “that I had my good wit out of the Hundred Merry Tales—well, this was Signior Benedick that said so.”

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