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Thomas Nashe

Thomas Nashe
A crudely printed, full-length picture of a standing man. He is in Elizabethan-style clothing and chains are around his ankles
Polemical woodcut deriding Nashe as jailbird. From Richard Lichfield's The Trimming of Thomas Nashe, Gentleman (1597)
Born Baptised November 1567
Lowestoft, Suffolk
Died c. 1601
Occupation Playwright, poet, satirist
Nationality English
Alma mater St John's College, Cambridge
Period circa 1589–1599
Notable works Summer's Last Will and Testament (1592)
Relatives
  • William Nashe, father
  • Margaret Nashe (née Witchingham), mother

Thomas Nashe (baptised November 1567 – c. 1601) is considered the greatest of the English Elizabethan pamphleteers. He was a playwright, poet, and satirist. He is best known for his novel The Unfortunate Traveller.

Thomas Nashe was the son of the parson William Nashe and Margaret (née Witchingham). He was born and baptised in Lowestoft, on the coast of Suffolk, where his father, William Nashe, or Nayshe as it is recorded, was curate. Though his mother bore seven children, only two survived childhood: Israel (born in 1565) and Thomas.

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 [i.e., 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).

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. But 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.



And make me happie, stealing by degrees.
First bare hir legs, then creepe up to her knees ...
And make me happie, stealing by degrees.
First bare hir legs, then creepe up to her knees ...
"Unhappyie me," quoth she, "and wilt not stand?
Com, let me rubb and chafe it with my hand!"
"Unhappyie me," quoth she, "and wilt not stand?
Com, let me rubb and chafe it with my hand!"
My little dildo shall suplye their kind,
A knave that moves as light as leaves by winde;
That bendeth not, nor fouldeth anie deale,
But stands as stiff as he were made of steele,
And plays at peacock twixt my leggs right blythe.
My little dildo shall suplye their kind,
A knave that moves as light as leaves by winde;
That bendeth not, nor fouldeth anie deale,
But stands as stiff as he were made of steele,
And plays at peacock twixt my leggs right blythe.
It may and it may not bee so ... [but] when ... the bottom of my purse is turnd downeward, & my conduit of incke will no longer flowe for want of reparations, I am faine to let my Plow stand still in the midst of a furrow, and follow some of these new-fangled Galiardos and Senior Fantasticos, to whose amorous Villanellas and Quipassas I prostitute my pen in hope of gaine.
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.
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.
  • William Nashe, father
  • Margaret Nashe (née Witchingham), mother
  • R. B. McKerrow, ed., The Works of Thomas Nashe, 5 vols. 1904–10, repr. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958. (The standard edition.)
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