Nashe

WHAT TRIGGERED THE ASPERSIONS OF NASHE, HARVEY AND THE PARNASSUS PLAYWRIGHT(S)?


There are several references to the world of theatre in the Parnassus plays, written for St John's College, Cambridge, around 1600. These imply resentment by scholars (ie university graduates) of the wealth of actors and unqualified playwrights. But references specific to Shakespeare suggest only that he was, by then, an acclaimed poet, playwright and actor.

However, in one amusing sequence he is hero-worshipped by a fatuous aristocrat named Gullio, who is the niggardly patron of Ingenioso, a poverty-stricken scholar and author. The satire becomes intriguing once it is realised that these characters are caricatures of illustrious former members of the college. The gullible aristocrat is an unflattering parody of Shakespeare's patron, Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. And the hard-up author represents the waspish Thomas Nashe, who, some years earlier, had mocked the Earl in a lampoon of Shakespeare's
Venus & Adonis dedication.

Nashe - notoriously quick to pick a fight - had also engaged in a lengthy war of words with a fellow Cambridge man, Gabriel Harvey. These exchanges, though often obscured by satirical references now opaque to us, provide much insight into the affairs of the day. In one voluminous riposte Harvey provides hints of a nobleman who is short of cash and who has been improperly insulted by Nashe.  This nobleman appears to be associated in some scandalous way with
Venus & Adonis and an actor. However, Harvey withholds his name, supposedly out of sensitivity and respect. Some Oxfordians allege Nashe's involvement in a rental dispute caused by the Earl of Oxford, and cite these suggestions by Harvey as evidence that Oxford secretly wrote Venus & Adonis (and other works of Shakespeare).

In reality, the evidence suggests that all the above aspersions and allusions arose from the strained or unusual relationships between Nashe, Southampton and Shakespeare.  Nashe had long resented unqualified playwrights, whom he saw as stealing bread from the mouths of scholars.  As I have shown (in the linked article, below, "Crossing Paths"), he attempted in vain in 1592 to extract a patron's remuneration from his fellow collegian, the Earl of Southampton.  He must have been galled to witness Shakespeare's apparent success a few months later with
Venus & Adonis.  And Harvey was quick to gloat on Nashe's outdoing by an actor writing in the "idle hours" of that poem's dedication.

Within his retaliatory lampoon of the dedication, Nashe provides an invaluable snippet of information.  He implies that the young Earl has been a lover to both an ungrammatical poet and that poet's lover.  Amazingly, the same relationship dynamics - involving Southampton and Shakespeare - can be discerned in Shakespeare's Sonnets.  Taken with other evidence, the inference is that Nashe and the Sonnets allude to the same real events, described more fully in Shakespeare: a Hidden Life Sung in a Hidden Song.

Those who are interested in detailed supporting evidence will find this in Crossing Paths with Thomas Nashe.


Subpages (1): Crossing Paths