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Chris Stamatakis introduces his text for the Nashe edition: Christ's Tears over Jerusalem (1593)

“It is a common and not always unspoken feeling among writers on Nashe,” Philip Schwyzer remarks, “that Christ’s Tears should not have been written at all”. Part satire, part parable, part sermon, part commentary on sermons, Nashe’s Christs Teares – an apocalyptic, sui generis cabinet of curiosities – has bewildered modern readers yet was clearly noteworthy enough in its time to be reissued (slightly revised) a year later and to be referenced by Nashe’s contemporaries.

For all its penitential fervour as a “comparatiue admonition” lamenting the fall of Jerusalem and urging a plague-ridden London to repent to escape similar divine wrath, Christs Teares is a recognisable Nashean product. In a spirit of literary inventiveness and baroque theatricality, it freely juxtaposes voices, registers, genres, modes, and perspectives. Its pages are visually noisy: they are dotted with biblical snippets and marginal citations; filled with repeated, italicised keywords (“gather”, “desolation”, or, wonderfully, “eccho”) that tumble through successive paragraphs; and peppered with inverted commas that run down some margins. In its very appearance, Nashe’s text playfully reflects, and reflects on, what it describes as “a banquet of broken fragments of Scripture”.  

This polyvocal jeremiad forms an important part of the Nashe canon, for both biographical and literary reasons. One particularly vituperative, inflammatory passage in the first issue (1593), beginning “London, thou art the seeded Garden of sinne” (sig. X3rv), seems to have prompted Nashe’s arrest and imprisonment, and necessitated the publication in the second issue (1594) of a toned-down version (although the offending passage was reinstated in 1613!). The 1594 issue also features an additional preface “To the Reader” in which Nashe renews his attack on his long-standing antagonist Gabriel Harvey.

In this same 1594 preface, Nashe explicitly draws attention to one of his trademark stylistic features – his neologisms, “boystrous compound wordes”, and habit of “ending my Italionate coyned verbes all in Ize”. Christs Teares is a lexicographic trove of coinages and first citations, including (fittingly) the word “multifarious”. The text in many ways resembles an experiment in fusing words together to form a new polyvocal compound, a celebration of linguistic plenty, and a demonstration of Nashe’s verve for exceeding the customary borders or limits that demarcate or define a thing. The result is a compelling, multifarious hybrid that seems to announce a new type of writing.