Broadsides (or broadsheets) consisted of a single, often illustrated large sheet usually printed on one side and meant to be read unfolded. Their range of contents – mostly ballads, songs, proclamations and edicts, reports of trials, death sentences, news and almanacs – remained largely unvaried through the centuries. At times, broadsides would share the same content as chapbooks.
Chapbooks are traditionally defined as booklets issued unbound and without a cover. Between the sixteenth and the eighteenth century, chapbooks underwent very little formal and thematic variations. They consisted of 4, 8, 12, 16, 24 or 32 pages, some of which illustrated with rough woodcuts, including a wide range of materials such as jokes, riddles, songs, practical advice, almanacs, stories of bandits and murderers, lives of saints, moral and religious tracts, prayers, prophecies and tales inspired by medieval romances. In the nineteenth-century, ‘old-style’ chapbooks began to coexist alongside their modernised variants, designed to better reflect the rapid developments that distinguished the printing, publishing and reading scene of the period. Nineteenth-century chapbooks had more variable prices and number of pages than their precursors. Moreover, they covered a wider range of subject matters and contained illustrations produced using a broader spectrum of techniques.
Cheap Ephemeral Print
In the context of this website, ‘cheap ephemeral print’ is to be intended as the chapbook and broadside literature which flourished throughout Europe between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Inexpensively produced and sold, this literature was commonly peddled in the streets of urban and rural centres, often alongside small goods for everyday use. Chapbooks and broadsides would frequently be read aloud during public events and gatherings. As a result, they could easily be accessed by large audiences that included illiterates and people who could not afford to buy them despite their modest cost. Chapbooks and broadsides have traditionally been associated with the literature of the lowest strata of society. The histories of the book and of reading, however, are exposing that their readership was more diversified.
The concept of translation is conventionally associated with the idea of one text bound to and directly comparable with an identified or identifiable source. Such picture is not always fit to discuss the translational dimension of chapbooks and broadsides. Indeed, the often-unknown origins and ephemeral nature of these publications call for more flexible frameworks of thinking translation. Accordingly, the definition of translation adopted in this website extends to include cases of texts in two or more languages which share content presumptively as a result of a cross-cultural and cross-lingual exchange, and cases of texts which profess themselves to be translations but for which it was not possible to find a source – provided this has ever existed.