In a long and extraordinary career as captain, courier, privateer, real-estate agent, author, and informer, Barnaby Rich's principal achievement was the present volume—a collection of Elizabethan short stories despite its military title.
Unquestionably best sellers in Rich's own time, these tales continue to delight scholars, critics, and even casual readers today. One twentieth-century critic pronounces the Farewell "a landmark in Elizabethan short-story writing" and cites Rich's "romantic charm, gaiety and lightness of touch, good vivid dialogue, directness and ease." According to Henry Seidel Canby, Rich's "humor is of the gayest. . . . There is a suggestion of Chaucer about him, and not a little of the poet's merry humor." Yet the "stories themselves are diverse."
Certainly their charm and humor fetched Rich's contemporaries, who read out of existence all but one copy of the first edition and all but five of the subsequent three editions. Eight dramatists—including Shakespeare, Middleton, Shirley, and Marmion—immortalized several of the stories, however, by turning them into plays.
The present edition affords an opportunity to read Rich's tales in the form in which Elizabethans knew them. The text reproduced is that of the unique copy of the first edition, which appeared in 1581. The editor's scholarly, illuminating introduction and commentary display much of the liveliness, charm, and humor for which his subject was praised and in addition tell a great deal about the life and literature of that most fascinating of periods, the Age of Elizabeth I. Scholars will be especially interested in Cranfill's revelations of how an Elizabethan story maker operated, in the complex, checkered bibliographical history of the Farewell, and above all in the considerable use Shakespeare seems to have made of Rich's tales.