"The Trimming of Thomas Nash Gentleman" by Richard Lichfield, 1597. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Thomas Nashe (or Nash) (November 1567 - 1601?) was an English poet and playwright, and an Elizabethan pamphleteer and satirist.



Little is known with certainty of Nashe's life. He was the son of the minister William Nashe and his wife Margaret (Witchingham). He was baptized in Lowestoft, Suffolk, where his father was curate. The family moved to West Harling, near Thetford in 1573 after Nashe's father was awarded the living there at the church of All Saints.

Around 1581 Thomas went up to St John's College, Cambridge as a sizar, earning a B.A. in 1586.[1] From references in his own polemics and those of others, he does not seem to have proceeded Master of Arts there. Most of his biographers agree that he left his college about summer 1588, as his name appears on a list of students due to attend philosophy lectures in that year. His reasons for leaving are unclear; his father may have died the previous year, but Richard Lichfield maliciously reported that Nashe had fled possible expulsion for his role in Terminus et non terminus, one of the raucous student theatricals popular at the time. Some years later, William Covell wrote in Polimanteia that Cambridge "has been unkind to the one [ie, Nashe] to wean him before his time." Nashe himself claimed that he could have become a fellow had he wished (in Have With You to Saffron-Walden).

In London and Marlprelate controversyEdit

Then he moved to London and started his literary career in earnest. The remaining decade of his life was dominated by two concerns: finding an adequate patron and participating in controversies, most famously with Richard and Gabriel Harvey. He arrived in London with his one exercise in euphuism, The Anatomy of Absurdity. His first appearance in print was, however, his preface to Robert Greene's Menaphon, which offers a brief definition of art and overview of contemporary literature.

After the publication of Anatomy, he was drawn into the Martin Marprelate controversy on the side of the bishops. As with the other writers in the controversy, his share is difficult to determine. He was formerly credited with the three "pasquil" tracts of 1589–1590, which were included in R.B. McKerrow's standard edition of Nashe's works: however McKerrow himself later argued strongly against their being by Nashe. The anti-Martinist An Almond for a Parrot (1590), ostensibly credited to one "Cutbert Curry-knave," is now universally recognized as Nashe's work, although its author humorously claims, in its dedication to the comedian William Kempe, to have met Harlequin in Bergamo while returning from a trip to Venice in the summer of 1589. However, there is no evidence Nashe had either time or means to go abroad, and he never subsequently refers to having visited Venice elsewhere in his work.

In 1590, he contributed a preface to an unlicensed edition of Philip Sidney's Astrophil and Stella, but the edition was called in, and the authorized second edition removed Nashe's work.


At some time in the early 1590s Nashe produced an erotic poem, The Choice of Valentines, possibly for the private circle of Ferdinando Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby (then known as Lord Strange). This circulated only in manuscript. It describes the visit of a young man named 'Tomalin' to the brothel where his girlfriend Frances ('Frankie') is employed. Having paid ten gold pieces for her favours, Tomalin is embarrassed to find that merely lifting her skirts makes him lose his erection. She perseveres in arousing him however and they make love, but to her disappointment he has an orgasm before her. Frankie then decides to take matters into her own hands: hence the informal title by which the poem was known, Nashe's Dildo. It was sharply criticized for its obscenity by contemporary authors Joseph Hall and John Davies of Hereford, though Nashe had tried to pre-empt criticism by placing it in the tradition of classical erotica: "Yet Ovid's wanton muse did not offend".

Feud with the Harvey brothersEdit

His friendship with Greene drew Nashe into the Harvey controversy, involving the brothers Richard and Gabriel Harvey. In 1590, Richard Harvey's The Lamb of God complained of the anti-Martinist pamphleteers in general, including a side-swipe at the Menaphon preface. Two years later, Greene's A Quip for an Upstart Courtier contained a passage on "rope makers" that clearly refers to the Harveys (whose father made ropes). The passage, which was removed from subsequent editions, may have been Nashe's. After Gabriel Harvey mocked Greene's death in Four Letters, Nashe wrote Strange News (1593). Nashe attempted to apologize in the preface to Christ's Tears Over Jerusalem (1593), but the appearance of Pierce's Supererogation shortly after offended Nashe anew. He replied with Have with You to Saffron-Walden (1596), with a possibly sardonic dedication to Richard Lichfield, a barber of Cambridge. Harvey did not publish a reply, but Lichfield answered in a tract called "The Trimming of Thomas Nash," (1597). This pamphlet also contained a crude woodcut portrait of Nashe, shown as a man disreputably dressed and in fetters.

Major worksEdit

Alongside this running dispute, Nashe produced his more famous works. While staying in the household of Archbishop John Whitgift at Croydon in October 1592 he wrote an entertainment called Summer's Last Will and Testament, a "show" with some resemblance to a masque. In brief, the plot describes the death of Summer, who, feeling himself to be dying, reviews the performance of his former servants and eventually passes the crown on to Autumn. The play was published in 1600. Nashe may also have contributed to Henry VI, Part 1, the play later published under Shakespeare's name as the first part of the Henry VI trilogy. Many scholars believe that Shakespeare himself, who was just starting out as a writer, only contributed some scenes to the play. Gary Taylor believes that Nashe was the principal author of the first act.[2] Nashe subsequently promoted the play in his pamphlet Pierce Penniless.[3] In 1593 Nashe published Christ's Tears Over Jerusalem, a pamphlet dedicated to Lady Elizabeth Carey. Despite the work's apparently devotional nature it contained satirical material which gave offence to the London civic authorities and Nashe was briefly imprisoned in Newgate. The intervention of Lady Elizabeth's husband Sir George Carey gained his release.

He remained in London apart from periodic visits to the countryside to avoid the plague – a fear reflected in the play Summers last will and Testament, written in the autumn of 1592. William Sommers, whose comments frame the play, was Henry VIII's jester. It includes the famous lyric:

Adieu, farewell earths blisse,
This world uncertaine is,
Fond are lifes lustful joyes,
Death proves them all but toyes,
None from his darts can flye;
I am sick, I must dye:
Lord, have mercy on us.

In 1597 Nashe co-wrote the play The Isle of Dogs with Ben Jonson. The work caused a major controversy for its "seditious" content. The play was suppressed and never published. Jonson was jailed, but Nashe was able to escape to the country. He remained for some time in Great Yarmouth before returning to London.

He was alive in 1599, when his last known work, Nashes Lenten Stuffe, was published, and dead by 1601, when he was memorialized in a Latin verse in Affaniae by Charles Fitzgeoffrey.

He was featured in Thomas Dekker's News from Hell and referred to in the anonymous Parnassus plays, of which the latter provides this epitaph:

Let all his faultes sleepe with his mournfull chest
And there for ever with his ashes rest.
His style was wittie, though it had some gall,
Some things he might have mended, so may all.
Yet this I say, that for a mother witt,
Few men have ever seene the like of it.


Two of his poems, "Spring" and "In Time of Pestilence, 1593", were included in the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900.[4] [5]


Poetry and playsEdit


  • "To the Gentlemen Students of Both Universities", preface to Robert Greene, Menaphon. London:T.O,. for Sampson Clarke, 1589.
    • Preface to Robert Greene's Menaphon. New York: Garland, 1973.
  • The Anatomie of Absurditie: Contayning a Breefe confutation of the slender Imputed Prayses to Feminine Perfection. London: J. Charlewood, for Thomas Hacket, 1589.
  • An Almond for a Parrat. London: 1590.
  • "Somewhat to Read for Them that List", preface to Sir Philip Sidney, Syr P.S. His Astrophel and Stella. London: J. Charlewood, for Thomas Newman, 1591.
  • Pierce Penilesse His Supplication to the Diuell. London: Richard Jones, 1592; London: Abell Jeffes for John Busbie, 1592.
  • Strange Newes, of the Intercepting Certaine Letters. London: Printed by John Danter, 1593.
  • Christs Teares ouer Ierusalem. London: James Roberts, for Andrew Wise, 1593.
  • The Vnfortunate Traueller. Or, The Life of Iacke Wilton. London: Printed by T. Scarlet for C. Burby, 1594; revised and enlarged, 1594.
    • The Unfortunate Traveller (with an essay on Nashe by Edmund Gosse). London: Charles Whittingham, 1892.
    • The Unfortunate Traveller (edited by H.F. Brett-Smith). Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1920).
    • The Unfortunate Traveller (edited by Samuel C. Chew). New York: Greenberg, 1926.
  • The Terrors of the Night or, A Discourse of Apparitions. London: Printed by John Danter for William Jones, 1594.
  • Haue with You to Saffron-Walden: or, Gabriell Harueys Hunt Is Vp. London: Printed by John Danter, 1596.
  • Nashes Lenten Stuffe, Containing, the Description of Great Yarmouth. With a New Play of the Praise of the Red Herring. London: Printed for N.L. & C B., 1599
    • (edited by Charles Hindley). London: Reeves & Turner, 1871.
  • Quaternio; or, A fourefold way to a happy life. London: Iohn Dawson, 1633.

Collected editionsEdit

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[6]

See alsoEdit


  • R. B. McKerrow, ed., The Works of Thomas Nashe, 5 vols. 1904–10, repr. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958. (The standard edition.)
  • The Classical Trivium: The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of His Time, by Marshall McLuhan


  1. Nash, Thomas in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  2. Taylor, Gary. "Shakespeare and Others: The Authorship of Henry the Sixth, Part One", Medieval and Renaissance Drama, 7 (1995), 145–205.
  3. Stanley W. Wells, Gary Taylor, The complete works By William Shakespeare, Oxford University Press, 2005, p.125.
  4. "Spring". Arthur Quiller-Couch, editor, Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900 (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919)., Web, May 12, 2012.
  5. "In Time of Pestilence". Arthur Quiller-Couch, editor, Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900 (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919)., Web, May 12, 2012.
  6. Thomas Nashe 1567-1601, Poetry Foundation, Web, Nov. 14, 2012

External linksEdit

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