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

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



Nashe was born at Lowestoft, and educated at Cambridge. A reckless life kept him in perpetual poverty, and a bitter and sarcastic tongue lost him friends and patrons. He cherished an undying hatred for the Puritans, and specially for Gabriel Harvey, with whom he maintained a lifelong controversy, and against whose attacks he defended Robert Green. Among his writings are Anatomy of Absurdities (1589), Have with you to Saffron Walden, and Pierce Pennilesse, his Supplication to the Divell (1592), all against the Puritans. In Summer's Last Will and Testament occurs the well-known song, "Spring, the sweet Spring, is the year's pleasant King." Christ's Tears over Jerusalem (1593) may have indicated some movement towards repentance. Another work in a totally different style, The Unfortunate Traveller; or, The life of Jack Wilton (1594), a wild tale, may be regarded as the pioneer of the novel of adventure. It had, however, so little success that the author never returned to this kind of fiction. A comedy, The Isle of Dogs (now lost), adverted so pointedly to abuses in the state that it led to his imprisonment. His last work was Lenten Stuffe (1599), a burlesque panegyric on Yarmouth and its red herrings. Nashe's verse is usually hard and monotonous, but he was a man of varied culture and great ability.[1]


Nashe was born at Lowestoft in 1567. His father belonged to an old Herefordshire family, and is vaguely described as a “minister.” Nashe spent nearly 7 years, 1582 to 1589, at St John's College, Cambridge earning a B.A. degree in 1585-1586.[2]


On leaving the university he tried, like Greene and Marlowe, to make his living in London by literature.[2] By 1588 he had settled in London. A fair classical scholar, and an appreciative reader of much foreign and English literature, he resolved to seek a livelihood by his pen. Robert Greene, Lodge, Daniel, and Marlowe, whose acquaintance he early made, were attracted by his sarcastic temper and his overmastering scorn of pretentious ignorance and insincerity. But with these stern characteristics he combined some generous traits.[3]

Sir George Carey, heir of the first Lord Hunsdon, recognised Nashe's promise, and to Sir George's wife and daughter respectively he dedicated in grateful language his Christes Teares and his Terrors of the Night. He seems to have resided for a time at Carey's house at Beddington, near Croydon. In 1592 he wrote that "fear of infection detained me with my lord in the country" (Pierce Pennilesse, 2nd ed. Epistle),[3]

It is probable that his 1st 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 hexameters of Richard Stanihurst, but does not forget the praise of many good books.[2]

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.[2]

But 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 Counteroufegiven 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).[2]

He edited an unauthorized edition of 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.[2]

Pierce Penilerse, 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 Faure 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.[2]

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 1st 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 2 years later appeared the most violent of his tracts against Harvey, Have with you to Sajron-walden; or, Gabriell Harveys Hunt is up (1596). In 1599 the controversy was suppressed by the archbishop of Canterbury.[2]

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.[2]

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 traveled in Italy with the earl of Surrey. It tells the story of the earl and Fair Geraldine, describes 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 Defoe.[2]

His last work is entitled Lenten Stuje (1599)[2] 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.”[4]

Nashe's death is referred to in Thomas Dekker's Knight's 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).[4]


Nash's original personality gives him a unique place in Elizabethan literature. In rough vigour and plain speaking he excelled all his contemporaries; like them, he could be mirthful, but his mirthfulness was always spiced with somewhat bitter sarcasm. He was widely read in the classics, and was well versed in the Italian satires of Pietro Aretino, whose disciple he occasionally avowed himself. Sebastian Brandt's Narren-schiff he also appreciated, and he was doubtless familiar with the work of Rabelais.[5]


His rich prose vocabulary was peculiar to himself as far as his English contemporaries were concerned, and he boasted, with some justice, that he therein imitated no man. "Is my style," he asks, "like Greene's, or my jests like Tarleton's?" On euphuism, with its "talk of counterfeit birds or herbs or stones," he poured unmeasured scorn, and he tolerated none of the current English affectations. But foreign influences — the influences of Rabelais and Aretino — are perceptible in many of the eccentricities on which he chiefly prided himself (cf. Harvey, New Letter, in Grosart's edit. i. 272–3, 289). Like Rabelais and Aretino, he depended largely on a free use of the vernacular for his burlesque effects. But when he found no word quite fitted to his purpose, he followed the example of his foreign masters in coining 1 out of Greek, Latin, Spanish, or Italian.[6]

"No speech or wordes," he wrote, "of any power or force to confute or persuade but must be swelling and boisterous," and he was compelled to resort, he explained, "to his boisterous compound words" in order to compensate for the great defect of the English tongue, which, "of all languages, most swarmeth with the single money of monosyllables." "Italianate" verbs ending in ize, such as ‘tyrannize or tympanize,’ he claims to have introduced to the language. Like Rabelais, too, Nash sought to develop emphasis by marshalling columns of synonyms and by constant reiteration of kindred phrases. His writings have at times something of the fascination of Rabelais, but, as a rule, his subjects are of too local and topical an interest to appeal to Rabelais's wide circle of readers. His romance of Jack Wilton, which inaugurated the novel of adventure in England, will best preserve his reputation.[6]


He had real sympathy at the same time with great English poetry, and he never wavered in his admiration of Surrey, Spenser, Sir Philip Sidney, and Thomas Watson. "The poets of our time … have cleansed our language from barbarism," he wrote in his Pierce Pennilesse. His own excursions into verse are few, but some of the lyrics in Summers Last Will come from a poet's pen.[6]

Critical reputationEdit

His contemporaries acknowledged the strength of his individuality. Francis Meres uncritically reckoned him among "the best poets for comedy." Lodge described him more convincingly as "true English Aretine" (Wits Miserie, 57), while Greene suggestively compared his temper with that of Juvenal. In the Returne from Pernassus (ed. Macray, p. 87), full justice is done him. "Ay, here is a fellow," one critic declares, "that carried the deadly stock [i.e. rapier] in his pen, whose muse was armed with a gag tooth [i.e. tusk], and his pen possessed with Hercules' furies." Another student answers:

    Let all his faults sleep with his mournful chest,
    And then for ever with his ashes rest.
    His style was witty, tho' he had some gall,
    Something he might have mended, so may all;
    Yet this I say, that for a mother's wit,
    Few men have ever seen the like of it.[6]

Middleton very regretfully lamented that he did not live to do his talents full justice (Ant and Nightingale, 1604). Dekker, who mildly followed in some of Nash's footsteps, strenuously defended his memory in his ‘Newes from Hell,’ 1606, which was directly inspired by Piers Penniless, and was reissued as Knights Conjuring in 1607. Into Nashe's soul (Dekker asserts) "the raptures of that fierce and unconfineable Italian spirit was bounteously and boundlessly infused." "Ingenious and ingenuous, fluent, facetious," are among the phrases that Dekker bestows on his dead friend. Later Dekker described Nash as welcomed to the Elysian fields by Marlowe, Greene, and Peele, who laughed to see him, "that was but newly come to their college, still hunted with the sharp and satirical spirit that followed him here upon earth, inveighing against dry-fisted patrons, accusing them of his untimely death."[6]

Michael Drayton is more sympathetic:

    Surely Nash, though he a proser were,
    A branch of laurel well deserved to bear;
    Sharply satiric was he.

Izaak Walton described Nashe as "a man of a sharp wit, and the master of a scoffing, satirical, and merry pen."[6]


Nash was also the author of a narrative poem of the boldest indecency, of which an imperfect manuscript copy is among the Tanner MSS. in the Bodleian Library. Oldys in his notes on Langbaine's Dramatick Poets asserts that the work was published. John Davies of Hereford, in his Paper's Complaint (Scourge of Folly) mentions the shameless performance, and declares that "good men's hate did it in pieces tear;" but whether the work met this fate in manuscript or print Davies leaves uncertain. In his New Letter of Notable Contents, Harvey had denounced Nash for emulating Aretino's licentiousness.[6]

The Choice of Valentines appears to have circulated only in manuscript. It describes the Valentine's Day visit of a young man named "Tomalin" to the brothel where his lover, "Mistris Francis", has recently become employed. Tomalin poses as a customer. [7] Tomalin is shown to Mistress Frances' room and is greeted with reciprocal passion, but before penetrating her he suffers from premature ejaculation due to his excitement. Mistress Frances lends Tomalin a helping hand to revive his erection, and the 2 have sex. During intercourse, she admonishes Tomalin to slow down and sets a rhythm more amenable to her own sexual gratification. Tomalin eventually climaxes, and his lover appears to climax as well, but soon expresses that she is not fully satisfied, and resorts to using a dildo. After a long description of the dildo, Tomalin pays for the services rendered and leaves the brothel, asking the readers, "Judge, gentlemen, if I deserue not thanks?"[8]

In his Haue with you to Saffron Walden (iii. 44) Nashe admitted that poverty had occasionally forced him to prostitute his pen "in hope of gain" by penning "amorous Villanellos and Quipassas"[6] for "new-fangled Galiardos and senior Fantasticos." These exercises are not known to be extant, but the poem in the Tanner MSS. may perhaps be reckoned among them.[9]


The works of Thomas Nashe were edited by A.B. Grosart, and later by Ronald B. McKerrow (1904).[4] All the works with certainty attributed to Nash, together with Martins Months Mind, which is in all probability from another's pen, are reprinted in Dr. Grosart's ‘Huth Library’ (6 volumes), 1883-1885). The following list supplies the titles somewhat abbreviated. All the volumes are very rare:[9]

1. ‘The Anatomie of Absurditie,’ London, by I. Charlewood for Thomas Hacket, 1589, 4to; the only perfect copy is in Mr. Christie Miller's library at Britwell; an imperfect copy, the only other known, is at the Bodleian Library; another edition, dated 1590, is in the British Museum. 2. ‘A Countercuffe giuen to Martin Iunior. … Anno Dom. 1589,’ without printer's name or place (Brit. Mus. and Huth Libr.). 3. ‘The Returne of the Renowned Caualier Pasquill of England. … Anno Dom. 1589,’ without printer's name or place (Huth Libr., Britwell, and Brit. Mus.). 4. ‘The First Parte of Pasquils Apologie.’ Anno Dom. 1590, doubtless printed by James Robert for Danter (Huth Libr., Britwell, and Brit. Mus.). 5. ‘A Wonderfull strange and miraculous Astrologicall Prognostication,’ London, by Thomas Scarlet, 1591 (Bodl.). 6. ‘Pierce Pennilesse his Supplication to the Devill,’ London, by Richard Jhones, 1592, an unauthorised edition (the only known copies are at Britwell and that formerly in the library at Rowfant); reprinted for the Shakespeare Soc. by J. P. Collier, in 1842; the authorised edition by Abel Ieffes, 1592 (Bodl., Trin. Coll. Camb., formerly at Rowfant, Brit. Mus., and Huth Libr.); 1593 and 1595 (both in Brit. Mus.). 7. ‘Strange Newes of the Intercepting certaine Letters … by Tho. Nashe, Gentleman,’ printed 1592 (Brit. Mus.); London, by John Danter, 1593, with the title ‘An Apologie for Pierce Pennilesse’ (Huth Libr.); reprinted by Collier in 1867. 8. ‘Christs Teares over Ierusalem, London, by James Roberts, and to be solde by Andrewe Wise,’ 1593 (Brit. Mus., Britwell, and Huth Libr.); 1594, with new address ‘to the Reader,’ ‘printed for Andrew Wise’ (Huth Libr.); 1613 (Bodl.), with the prefatory matter of 1593. 9. ‘The Terrors of the Night,’ London, printed by John Danter for William Jones, London, 1594, 4to (Bodl., Britwell, and Bridgwater Libr.). 10. ‘The Unfortunate Traveller, or the Life of Iacke Wilton,’ London, printed by T. Scarlet for C. Burby, 1594, 4to (Brit. Mus. and Britwell); reprinted in ‘Chiswick Press Reprints,’ 1892, edited by Mr. Edmund Gosse. 11. ‘The Tragedie of Dido … by Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Nash, Gent.’ London, by the Widdowe Orwin for Thomas Woodcocke, 1594 [see under Marlowe, Christopher]. 12. ‘Haue with you to Saffron-Walden,’ London, by John Danter, 1596 (Brit. Mus., Britwell, and Huth Libr.). 13. ‘Nashe's Lenten Stuffe,’ printed for H. L. and C. B., 1599 (Huth Libr., Bodl., Britwell, and Brit. Mus.); reprinted in ‘Harleian Miscellany.’ 14. ‘A pleasant Comedie called Summers Last Will and Testament,’ London, by Simon Stafford for Walter Burre, 1600 (Brit. Mus., Britwell, Huth Libr., formerly at Rowfant, and Duke of Devonshire's Libr.); reprinted in Dodsley's Old Plays.[9]


A caricature of Nash in irons in the Fleet is engraved in Harvey's Trimming (1597) (cf. Harvey's Works, ed. Grosart, iii. 43). Another rough portrait is on the title-page of Tom Nash his Ghost (1642).[9]

2 of Nashe's poems, "Spring" and "In Time of Pestilence, 1593", were included in the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900.[10] [11]


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.[12]

See alsoEdit


  • PD-icon.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica. 19 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 245-246. . Wikisource, Web, Feb. 16, 2018.
  • PD-icon.svg Lee, Sidney (1894) "Nash, Thomas (1567-1601)" in Lee, Sidney Dictionary of National Biography 40 London: Smith, Elder, pp. 101-109 . Wikisource, Web, Feb. 16, 2018.
  • "The Classical Trivium: The place of Thomas Nashe in the learning of His time," by Marshall McLuhan


  1. John William Cousin, "Nash, Thomas," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: Dent / New York: Dutton, 1910, 284. Wikisource, Web, Feb. 15, 2018.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 Britannica 1911, 19, 245.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Lee, 102.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Britannica 1911, 19, 246.
  5. Lee, 107.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 Lee, 108.
  7. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named tnashewp
  8. The Choice of Valentines, Wikipedia, July 3, 2017. Web, Feb. 16, 2018.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Lee, 109.
  10. "Spring," Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900 (edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch). Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919., Web, May 12, 2012.
  11. "In Time of Pestilence". Arthur Quiller-Couch, editor, Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900 (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919)., Web, May 12, 2012.
  12. Thomas Nashe 1567-1601, Poetry Foundation, Web, Nov. 14, 2012

External linksEdit