Updated: Feb 6, 2021
Thomas Nashe, one of the University Wits (about whom we have been discussing in this section of the blog) was born in November 1567 to a clergyman called William Nashe. He studied in St. John’s College, Cambridge (hence, University Wit) and gained his bachelor’s degree in 1586. However, he could not continue his studies further due to his father’s death and moved to London. There, he involved himself in the Martin Marprelate controversy. This was the pseudonym, under which he appeared in several Puritan pamphlets satirizing the Church of England under Archbishop John Whitgift. He involved himself in a bitter pamphlet war with Gabriel Harvey until Archbishop Whitgift and Bishop Bancroft decreed that “All Nashe’s books and Doctor Harvey’s books be taken away wherever they may be found and that none of their books be printed thereafter.” Nashe died at a young age of 34 in 1601.
Nashe was a playwright, a poet and a satirist. Satirically he wrote various pamphlets under the pseudonym of Martin Marprelate. He included various famous poems in his plays for which he is still known. Though he has written a number of works in the short span of his life, I would like to discuss, in brief, two of his significant works - “The Unfortunate Traveller” and “The Summer’s Last Will and Testament”.
The Unfortunate Traveller ‘or’ The Life of Jack Wilton, is a picaresque novel which is set during the reign of Henry VIII. It describes the travel of Jack Wilton through Germany and Italy. The protagonist lives by his wits and changes and develops through his life. The other story “Summer’s last will and testament” is a comedy notable for breaking new ground for renaissance in English drama. It was said about this play that “no earlier English comedy has anything like the intellectual content or social relevance which this play has”. It is a bridge between 16th century interlude and 17th century masques. It features personifications of four seasons. Here, summer is the king of seasons and he writes a will to autumn as he is growing old. It has well known poems like : “Adieu, farewell, earth’s bliss”, “Fair summer droops” and “Autumn hath all the summer’s fruitful treasure”.
He also collaborated with Christopher Marlowe to write “Dido : Queen of Carthage”. Also, he wrote the “Isle of Dogs” play with Ben Jonson. It was never published and his controversial papers were seized but he fled to another city. However, Ben was jailed because of it.
Hence, this was the short life of Thomas Nashe, one of the University Wits. There are more such unexplored works and writers of literature which are still to be unleashed. So, for your curiosity on the same, keep visiting !