Polemical woodcut deriding Nashe as jailbird. From Richard Lichfield's The Trimming of Thomas Nashe, Gentleman (1597)
|Born||Baptised November 1567
|Died||c. 1601 (aged 33–34)|
|Occupation||Playwright, poet, satirist|
|Alma mater||St John's College, Cambridge|
|Notable work(s)||Summer's Last Will and Testament (1592)|
Little is known with certainty of Nashe's life. He was baptised in Lowestoft, Suffolk, where his father was curate. The family moved to West Harling, near Thetford in 1573 after Nashe's father was awarded the living there at the church of All Saints. Around 1581 Thomas went up to St John's College, Cambridge as a sizar, gaining his bachelor's degree in 1586. From references in his own polemics and those of others, he does not seem to have proceeded Master of Arts there. Most of his biographers agree that he left his college about summer 1588, as his name appears on a list of students due to attend philosophy lectures in that year. His reasons for leaving are unclear; his father may have died the previous year, but Richard Lichfield maliciously reported that Nashe had fled possible expulsion for his role in Terminus et non terminus, one of the raucous student theatricals popular at the time. Some years later, William Covell wrote in Polimanteia that Cambridge "has been unkind to the one [ie, Nashe] to wean him before his time." Nashe himself claimed that he could have become a fellow had he wished (in Have With You to Saffron-Walden).
In London and Marprelate controversy
Then he moved to London and started his literary career in earnest. The remaining decade of his life was dominated by two concerns: finding an adequate patron and participating in controversies, most famously with Richard and Gabriel Harvey. He arrived in London with his one exercise in euphuism, The Anatomy of Absurdity. His first appearance in print was, however, his preface to Robert Greene's Menaphon, which offers a brief definition of art and overview of contemporary literature. After this (and the publication of Anatomy) he was drawn into the Martin Marprelate controversy on the side of the bishops. As with the other writers in the controversy, his share is difficult to determine. He was formerly credited with the three "Pasquill" tracts of 1589–1590, which were included in R. B. McKerrow's standard edition of Nashe's works: however McKerrow himself later argued strongly against their being by Nashe. The anti-Martinist An Almond for a Parrot (1590), ostensibly credited to one "Cutbert Curry-knave," is now universally recognised as Nashe's work, although its author humorously claims, in its dedication to the comedian William Kempe, to have met Harlequin in Bergamo while returning from a trip to Venice in the summer of 1589. However, there is no evidence Nashe had either time or means to go abroad, and he never subsequently refers to having visited Venice elsewhere in his work.
At some time in the early 1590s Nashe produced an erotic poem, The Choice of Valentines, possibly for the private circle of Ferdinando Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby (then known as Lord Strange). This circulated only in manuscript. It describes the visit of a young man named 'Tomalin' to the brothel where his girlfriend Frances ('Frankie') is employed. Having paid ten gold pieces for her favours, Tomalin is embarrassed to find that merely lifting her skirts makes him lose his erection. She perseveres in arousing him however and they make love, but to her disappointment he has an orgasm before her. Frankie then decides to take matters into her own hands: hence the informal title by which the poem was known, Nashe's Dildo. It was sharply criticised for its obscenity by contemporary authors Joseph Hall and John Davies of Hereford, though Nashe had tried to pre-empt criticism by placing it in the tradition of classical erotica: "Yet Ovid's wanton muse did not offend".
Feud with the Harvey brothers
His friendship with Greene drew Nashe into the Harvey controversy, involving the brothers Richard and Gabriel Harvey. In 1590, Richard Harvey's The Lamb of God complained of the anti-Martinist pamphleteers in general, including a side-swipe at the Menaphon preface. Two years later, Greene's A Quip for an Upstart Courtier contained a passage on "rope makers" that clearly refers to the Harveys (whose father made ropes). The passage, which was removed from subsequent editions, may have been Nashe's. After Gabriel Harvey mocked Greene's death in Four Letters, Nashe wrote Strange News (1593). Nashe attempted to apologise in the preface to Christ's Tears Over Jerusalem (1593), but the appearance of Pierce's Supererogation shortly after offended Nashe anew. He replied with Have with You to Saffron-Walden (1596), with a possibly sardonic dedication to Richard Lichfield, a barber of Cambridge. Harvey did not publish a reply, but Lichfield answered in a tract called "The Trimming of Thomas Nash," (1597). This pamphlet also contained a crude woodcut portrait of Nashe, shown as a man disreputably dressed and in fetters.
Alongside this running dispute, Nashe produced his more famous works. While staying in the household of Archbishop John Whitgift at Croydon in October 1592 he wrote an entertainment called Summer's Last Will and Testament, a "show" with some resemblance to a masque. In brief, the plot describes the death of Summer, who, feeling himself to be dying, reviews the performance of his former servants and eventually passes the crown on to Autumn. The play was published in 1600. Nashe is widely remembered for three short poems, all drawn from this play and frequently reprinted in anthologies of Elizabethan verse: “Adieu, farewell, earth’s bliss,” “Fair summer droops” and “Autumn hath all the summer’s fruitful treasure.” Nashe may also have contributed to Henry VI, Part 1, the play later published under Shakespeare's name as the first part of the Henry VI trilogy. Many scholars believe that Shakespeare himself, who was just starting out as a writer, only contributed some scenes to the play. Gary Taylor believes that Nashe was the principal author of the first act. Nashe subsequently promoted the play in his pamphlet Pierce Penniless. In 1593 Nashe published Christ's Tears Over Jerusalem, a pamphlet dedicated to Lady Elizabeth Carey. Despite the work's apparently devotional nature it contained satirical material which gave offence to the London civic authorities and Nashe was briefly imprisoned in Newgate. The intervention of Lady Elizabeth's husband Sir George Carey gained his release.
He remained in London apart from periodic visits to the countryside to avoid the plague – a fear reflected in the play Summers last will and Testament, written in the autumn of 1592. William Sommers, whose comments frame the play, was Henry VIII's jester. It includes the famous lyric:
- Adieu, farewell earths blisse,
- This world uncertaine is,
- Fond are lifes lustful joyes,
- Death proves them all but toyes,
- None from his darts can flye;
- I am sick, I must dye:
- Lord, have mercy on us.
In 1597 Nashe co-wrote the play The Isle of Dogs with Ben Jonson. The work caused a major controversy for its "seditious" content. The play was suppressed and never published. Jonson was jailed; Nashe's house was raided and his papers seized but he had already escaped to the country. He remained for some time in Great Yarmouth before returning to London.
He was alive in 1599, when his last known work, Nashes Lenten Stuffe, was published, and dead by 1601, when he was memorialised in a Latin verse in Affaniae by Charles Fitzgeoffrey.
- Let all his faultes sleepe with his mournfull chest
- And there for ever with his ashes rest.
- His style was wittie, though it had some gall,
- Some things he might have mended, so may all.
- Yet this I say, that for a mother witt,
- Few men have ever seene the like of it.
Chronology of Nashe's works
- 1589 The Anatomy of Absurdity
- 1589 Preface to Greene's Menaphon
- 1590 An Almond for a Parrot
- 1591 Preface to Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophel and Stella
- 1592 Pierce Penniless
- 1592 Summer's Last Will and Testament (play performed 1592, published 1600)
- 1592 Strange News
- 1593 Christ's Tears over Jerusalem
- 1594 Terrors of the Night
- 1594 The Unfortunate Traveller
- 1596 Have with You to Saffron-Walden
- 1597 Isle of Dogs (Lost)
- 1599 Nashe's Lenten Stuffe
He is also credited with the erotic poem The Choice of Valentines and his name appears on the title page of Christopher Marlowe's Dido, Queen of Carthage, though there is uncertainty as to what Nashe's contribution was. Some editions of this play, still extant in the 18th century but now unfortunately lost, contained memorial verses on Marlowe by Nashe, who was his friend.
- "Nash, Thomas". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- In 1598 Hall attacked a contemporary poet, or poets, for describing in detail the activities of prostitutes ("beastly rites of hyred Venerie"). He does not name the culprit(s) but concludes "Nay, let the Divell, and Saint Valentine(sic)/ Be gossips to those ribald rymes of thine."(Virgidemiarum I, ix,35-6) Professor Arnold Davenport commented:"That there is an attack on Nashe at the end of the satire is, I think, certain..." Arnold Davenport, ed. (1969). The Poems of Joseph Hall. Liverpool University Press.
- Taylor, Gary. "Shakespeare and Others: The Authorship of Henry the Sixth, Part One", Medieval and Renaissance Drama, 7 (1995), 145–205.
- Stanley W. Wells, Gary Taylor, The complete works By William Shakespeare', Oxford University Press, 2005, p.125.
- R. B. McKerrow, ed., The Works of Thomas Nashe, 5 vols. 1904–10, repr. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958. (The standard edition.)
|Wikisource has original works written by or about:
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Thomas Nashe|
- Thomas Nashe at luminarium.org – Nashe's works; classic and recent essays on Nashe
- Works by Thomas Nashe at Project Gutenberg
- Works by Thomas Nashe at the Oxford Authorship Site, edited by Nina Green (modern spelling).
- Works by or about Thomas Nashe in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Archival material relating to Thomas Nashe listed at the UK National Archives
- A Cup of News: The Life of Thomas Nashe at Google Books.
- With reproduction of original title page: Pierce Penilesse his supplication to the deuill. Describing the ouer-spreading of Vice, and the suppression of Vertue. Pleasantly interlac'd with variable delights: and pathetically intermixt with conceipted reproofes. Written by Thomas Nash, Gentleman. London, Imprinted by Richard Ihones ... 1592