NASHE, Thomas

(1567-c. 1601)
"Young Juvenal," as Thomas Nashe's friends called him, was a satirist who shocked and delighted literary London with his polemical tracts, pamphlets, extravaganzas, comedies, literary criticism, and descriptive pieces. Born into a clerical family, Nashe graduated with a bachelor of arts from Cambridge, but withdrew before obtaining the coveted degree of master of arts. After his father's early death, he moved to London to join the lively group of Oxford and Cam­bridge graduates with literary ambitions known as the University Wits. The city welcomed Nashe kindly. Shortly after his first work, The Anatomy of Absurdity (1589), appeared, he was invited by the popular Robert Greene* to write a preface to his romance Menaphon (1589). Nashe's first public triumph was his brilliant defense (1590), solicited by the episcopacy, against the pseudonymous Puritan satirist Martin Marprelate. Yet he had little luck courting patrons and soon realized that his living depended on his popularity with the reading public. To gain it, Nashe would occasionally venture into disreputable genres, as with his pornographic poem "The Choice of Valentines."
Nashe's first popular success, Pierce Penniless His Supplication to the Devil (1592), was a controversial pamphlet that satirized England's sins and follies. Surprisingly, it won him the patronage of the archbishop of Canterbury, for whom he also wrote his one surviving comedy, Summer's Last Will and Tes­tament (1592). But Pierce Penniless also ignited Nashe's scandalous controversy with the Cambridge scholar Gabriel Harvey,* which eventually caused the bish­ops to ban both of their works.
As Nashe's productivity grew, so did his troubles with the authorities. In September 1593 his historical protonovel The Unfortunate Traveler was regis­tered. The same month saw the registration of Christ's Tears over Jerusalem. But the thinly veiled charges about the corruption of London's civic leaders in this pamphlet angered the lord mayor. The satirist only escaped prison through the intervention of the captain general of the Isle of Wight, at whose home he took shelter. Shortly after Nashe's return to London, The Isle of Dogs (1597), a comedy he coauthored, was declared seditious. Facing charges of treason, the author fled to Yarmouth. The hospitality of Yarmouth's citizens inspired his last work, Nashes Lenten Stuffe (1599), a mock praise of the city's main product, kippered herring. The circumstances of the death of this forerunner of today's journalism, who first gave the lie to the myth of the Elizabethan golden age, remain unknown.
C. Nicholl, A Cup of News: The Life of Thomas Nashe, 1984.
Kirilka Stavreva

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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