Thomas Nashe

A woodcut of Thomas Nashe taken from "The Trimming of Thomas Nashe" (1597)Thomas Nashe is one of the major figures in the story of late Elizabethan literature, who took English fiction in new directions with The Unfortunate Traveller. He helped to develop drama: it is thought he collaborated with Christopher Marlowe on Dido, Queen of Carthage, Ben Jonson on The Isle of Dogs (now lost) and Shakespeare on the Henry VI plays; he wrote shocking pornographic poetry; and he wrote a satire of travel writing and argued against the value of imperial expansion. ‌‌‌

Nashe was at the heart of two formative controversies in the 1590s, which developed his polemical style. He was employed by the bishops to write against the works of Martin Marprelate, a fictional character who excoriated the church hierarchy and structure for betraying the aims and ideals of the true church (Black, ed., 2008). His protracted and vicious quarrel with Gabriel Harvey helped to define English prose style in the seventeenth century and beyond, and was troubling enough to prompt the authorities to close down the printing presses and issue a life ban on writing to Harvey and Nashe (1599). At stake was not simply a dispute between two literary rivals but a war about what English was and what it could and should do. You can read Nashe's side of the argument in our online-guide

Nashe matters today for many reasons, but two stand out: he tested and expanded the English language: you can read about Nashe's unique insults here. (We will be in contact with the OED to update many of their entries.) And he worked with the new media of the age, print, experimenting with how the page might look, and even with how it might sound. Our project is investigating how Nashe's words sound out loud, as you can read about here.

Nashe’s short life was eventful. He was a university wit; he tried to make a living in print; he was imprisoned; his books were banned; and, after one scandal, he went on the run. To follow Nashe’s adventures, and discover his networks, see Kate De Rycker’s map. For more on his life see Charles Nicholl’s A Cup of News: The Life of Thomas Nashe. Charles has chosen some excerpts to share, available below:

'Summer's Last Will' PDF 1,420Kb

An excerpt from Nicholl's biography on the only single authored play by Nashe to survive: Summer's Last Will. This 'show' was first performed in Archbishop Whitgift's palace in 1592, but only published in 1600, possibly after Nashe's death.

'Strange Newes' PDF 274Kb

An excerpt from Nicholl's biography on Strange Newes (1593), Nashe's blistering response to Gabriel Harvey's take-down of the recently deceased writer, Robert Greene.

'Lenten Stuffe' PDF 425Kb

An excerpt from Nicholl's biography on Nashe's last work, Nashes Lenten Stuffe (1599) which was written after Nashe went on the run from the London authorities after the furore surrounding a performance of his and Ben Jonson's Isle of Dogs (1597).