Birthplace: Lowestoft, Suffolk, England
Died: c. 1601
Location of death: Norfolk, England
Cause of death: unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Author, Playwright
Executive summary: The Unfortunate Traveller
English poet, playwright, and pamphleteer, born at Lowestoft in 1567. His father belonged to an old Herefordshire family, and is vaguely described as a "minister." Nashe spent nearly seven years, 1582-89, at St. John's College, Cambridge, taking his B.A. degree in 1585-86. On leaving the university he tried like Robert Greene and Christopher Marlowe, to make his living in London by literature. It is probable that his first effort was The Anatomie of Absurditie (1589) which was perhaps written at Cambridge, although he refers to it as a forthcoming publication in his preface to Greene's Menaphon (1589). In this preface, addressed to the gentlemen students of both universities, he makes boisterous ridicule of the bombast of Thomas Kyd and the English lexameters of Richard Stanihurst, but does not forget the praise of many good books. Nashe was really a journalist born out of due time; he boasts of writing "as fast as his hand could trot"; he had a brilliant and picturesque style which, he was careful to explain, was entirely original; and in addition to his keen sense of the ridiculous he had an abundance of miscellaneous learning. As there was no market for his gifts he fared no better than the other university wits who were trying to live by letters.
Nash he found an opening for his ready wit and keen sarcasm in the Martin Marprelate controversy. His share in this war of pamphlets cannot now be accurately determined, but he has, with more or less probability, been credited with the following: A Countercuffe given to Martin Junior (1589), Martins Months Minde (1589), The Returne of the renowned Cavaliero Pasquill and his Meeting with Marforius (1589), The First Parte of Pasquils Apologie (1590), and An Almond for a Parrat (1590). He edited an unauthorized edition of Sir Philip Sidney's poems with an enthusiastic preface in 1591, and A Wonderfull Astrologicall Prognostication, in ridicule of the almanac-makers, by "Adam Fouleweather", which appeared in the same year, has been attributed to him. Pierce Penilesse, His Supplication to the Divell, published in 1592, shows us his power as a humorous critic of national manners, and tells incidentally how hard he found it to live by the pen. It seems to Pierce a monstrous thing that brainless drudges wax fat while "the seven liberal sciences and a good leg will scarce get a scholar bread and cheese." In this pamphlet, too, Nashe began his attacks upon the Harveys by assailing Richard, who had written contemptuously of his preface to Greene's Menaphon. Greene died in September 1592, and Richard's brother, Gabriel Harvey, at once attacked his memory in his Foure Letters, at the same time adversely criticizing Pierce Penilesse. Nashe replied, both for Greene and for himself, in Strange Newes of the intercepting certaine Letters, better known, from the running title, as Foure Letters Confuted (1592), in which all the Harveys are violently attacked. The autumn of 1592 Nashe seems to have spent at or near Croydon, where he wrote his satirical masque of Summers Last Will and Testament at a safe distance from London and the plague. He afterwards lived for some months in the Isle of Wight under the patronage of Sir George Carey, the governor. In 1593 he wrote Christs Teares over Jerusalem, in the first edition of which he made friendly overtures to Gabriel Harvey. These were, however, in a second edition, published in the following year, replaced by a new attack, and two years later appeared the most violent of his tracts against Harvey, Have with you to Saffron-walden, or, Gabriell Harveys Hunt is up (1596). In 1599 the controversy was suppressed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. After Marlowe's death Nashe prepared his friend's unfinished tragedy of Dido (1596) for the stage. In the next year he was in trouble for a play, now lost, called The Isle of Dogs, for only part of which, however, he seems to have been responsible. The "seditious and slanderous matter" contained in this play induced the authorities to close for a time the theater at which it had been performed, and the dramatist was put in the Fleet prison.
Besides his pamphlets and his play-writing, Nashe turned his energies to novel-writing. He may be regarded as the pioneer in the English novel of adventure. He published in 1594 The Unfortunate Traveller, Or the Life of Jack Wilton, the history of an ingenious page who was present at the siege of Térouenne, and afterwards travelled in Italy with the earl of Surrey. It tells the story of the earl and Fair Geraldine, dsscribes a tournament held by Surrey at Florence, and relates the adventures of Wilton and his mistress Diamante at Rome after the earl's return to England. The detailed, realistic manner in which Nashe relates his improbable fiction resembles that of Daniel Defoe. His last work is entitled Lenten Stuffe (1599) and is nominally "in praise of the red herring", but really a description of Yarmouth, to which place he had retired after his imprisonment, written in the best style of a special correspondent. Nashe's death is referred to in Thomas Dekker's Knights Conjuring (1607), a kind of sequel to Pierce Penilesse. He is there represented as joining his boon companions in the Elysian fields "still haunted with the sharp and satirical spirit that followed him here upon earth." Had his patrons understood their duty, he would not, he said, have shortened his days by keeping company with pickled herrings. It may therefore be reasonably supposed that he died from eating bad and insufficient food. The date of his death is fixed by an elegy on him printed in Fitzgeffrey's Affaniae (1601).
Father: William Nashe (minister)
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