William Painter (author)

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William Painter (or Paynter; 1540? – February 1595, in London[1]) was an English author and translator.


Painter was a native of Kent. He matriculated at St John's College, Cambridge, in 1554.[2] In 1561 he became clerk of the ordnance in the Tower of London, a position in which he appears to have amassed a fortune out of the public funds. In 1586 he confessed that he owed the government a thousand pounds, and in the next year further charges of peculation (embezzlement) were brought against him. In 1591 his son Anthony owned that he and his father had abused their trust, but Painter retained his office until his death. He made an oral will dated 14 February 1594 and died between 19 and 22 February 1595.[3]

The first volume of his The Palace of Pleasure appeared in 1566, and was dedicated to the earl of Warwick. It included sixty tales, and was followed in the next year by a second volume containing thirty-four new ones. A second improved edition in 1575 contained seven new stories. Painter borrows from Herodotus, Boccaccio, Plutarch, Aulus Gellius, Aelian, Livy, Tacitus, Quintus Curtius; from Giovanni Battista Giraldi, Matteo Bandello,[4] Ser Giovanni Fiorentino, Giovanni Francesco Straparola, Queen Marguerite de Navarre and others.

To the vogue of this and similar collections we owe the Italian setting of so large a proportion of the Elizabethan drama. The early tragedies Appius and Virginia, and Tancred and Gismund were taken from The Palace of Pleasure; and among better-known plays derived from Painter's or other translations of the stories are the Shakespearean Romeo and Juliet, Timon of Athens, Edward III, All's Well That Ends Well (from Giletta of Narbonne), Beaumont and Fletcher's Triumph of Death, John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi and James Shirley's Love's Cruelty.

The Palace of Pleasure was edited by Joseph Haslewood in 1813. This edition was collated (1890) with the British Museum copy of 1575 by Mr. Joseph Jacobs, who added further prefatory matter, including an introduction dealing with the importance of Italian novella in Elizabethan drama.


  1. ^ "William Painter". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 3 March 2015. 
  2. ^ "Painter, William (PNTR554W)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  3. ^ Kelly, L. G. (2004). "Painter, William (1540?–1595)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/21135. Retrieved 2012-07-06.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  4. ^ "The Project Gutenberg eBook of A Short Biographical Dictionary Of English Literature, by John W. Cousin.". gutenberg.org. Retrieved 3 March 2015. 


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