Thomas Nashe (1567-1600/1) was a satirical Elizabethan writer of poetry, pamphlets, and dramatic works. Nashe joined St. John’s College of Cambridge University at 14 and received his BA in 1588.
Nashe’s career would take a turn when the established church was criticized by a Puritan writer under the pseudonym Martin Marprelate. Nashe, along with Robert Greene and John Lyly, were hired by Archbishop Whitgift to dismiss the Puritan propaganda.
Nashe’s first solo published work was The Anatomie of Absurdity (1589), an essay on the contemporary state of learning and early print culture – and his problems with both. His love of rhetoric is clearly conveyed throughout the essay: “Amongst all the ornaments of arts, rhetoric is to be had in highest reputation, without the which all the rest are naked.”
Nashe found himself in trouble when he added an unauthorized epistle to Sir Phillip Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella (1591). The Countess of Pembroke took swift action to take the edition with Nashe’s prefatory epistle out of circulation, replacing it with one omitting Nashe’s contribution.
In 1592-3, Nashe published Strange Newes in response to Gabriel Harvey’s criticism of him in Foure Letters and Certain Sonnets (1592). The primary reason Nashe likely made such an aggressive reply was due to Harvey’s mean-spirited satire of Robert Greene’s death in Foure Letters.
Nashe writes in Strange Newes “Gabriel, I will bestir me, for all like an ale-house knight thou cravest of justice to do thee reason; as for impudence and calumny, I return them in thy face, that in one book of ten sheets of paper hast published above two hundred lies.”
Nashe appears to have attempted to end their public quarrel in a prefatory epistle to Christ’s Teares Over Jerusalem. But Harvey’s publication of Pierce’s Supererogation, (1593) and New Letter (1593), both insulting Nashe, prompted Nashe to re-issue Christ’s Teares with a fresh assault on Harvey.
Even of Maister Doctor Harvey, I heartily desire the like, whose fame and reputation ‘though through some precedent iniurious provocations, and fervent incitements of young heads’ I rashly assailed: yet now better advised, and of his perfections more confirmedly persuaded, unfainedly I entreat of the whole world, from my pen his worths may receive no impeachment.
In 1597, Richard Litchfield published his pamphlet The Trimming of Thomas Nashe, a close reading of Nashe’s Have With you to Saffron Walden (1596). Litchfield criticized Nashe for his writing style, and for dragging out the quarrel with Harvey.
This literary feud was finally halted in 1599 when the Archbishop of Canterbury banned Nashe and Harvey from printing anymore.
In the same year, Nashe would print what many consider to be one of the earliest examples of an English picaresque novel, The Unfortunate Traveler. This travel narrative featuring Jack Wilton remains Nashe’s most popular work to date.
Nashe was associated with Christopher Marlowe, Robert Greene, and Thomas Watson. In 1589, he wrote the prefaces to Robert Greene’s Menaphon and The Anatomie of Absurdity. Nashe co-wrote the now-lost, and likely seditious, play Isle of Dogs with Ben Johnson, for which he would be exiled. He died of unknown causes in 1600/1601.