Nashe as Monarch of Witt and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet
Nashe as "Monarch of Witt" and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet
Joan Ozark Holmer, Georgetown University
The general influence of Nashe on Elizabethan literature has long been recognized, but the specific influence of Nashe on Shakespeare's work still remains largely underestimated. This essay will attempt two related tasks: first, the analysis of new evidence for dating Shakespeare's composition of his first romantic tragedy, which helps us to establish Nashe's priority of influence; and second, the exploration of how and why Shakespeare uses Nashe and his work as he does. The latter also reveals new insights about Shakespeare's adaptation of sources as an imaginative act, not merely of reminiscence, but reminiscence with a difference.
The importance of Nashe for Shakespeare's composition of his play and for his creation of Mercutio demands further investigation. To Evans's succinct account of dating Nashe's composition of Have with You, several points might be added for further consideration. McKerrow suggests that Nashe's allusion to writing for the press in his important letter to William Cotton, "which was evidently written about September, 1596.… probably refers to Have with You, which cannot yet have been published" (5:28-29). In this letter to Cotton, Nashe also refers to writing for the stage, but his hopes there have been thwarted because London's mayor and aldermen persecute the players who had known better days "in there old Lords tyme." McKerrow annotates this as apparently an allusion to the death of Lord Chamberlain Henry Carey, the first Lord Hunsdon, in July 1596, and he suggests that Nashe was probably associated "with the Chamberlain's men, for these alone would be affected by Hundson's death" (5:194). If so, Nashe's association with Shakespeare's company would increase the likelihood of Shakespeare's access to Nashe's Have with You.
Although Nashe's composition cannot be precisely dated and seems to have extended over a considerable period of time,35 it appears that Nashe probably was busily at work finishing this piece in the late summer of 1596. Another overlooked allusion to Lord Hunsdon, this time not to the...
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Some known but misinterpreted facts as well as some overlooked evidence helps to establish the date of composition of Romeo and Juliet in the latter half of 1596, a later date than has been traditionally entertained.1 The evidence now in question revolves around significant verbal parallels, especially the oft-noted important "parallel" between Nashe's lines in Have with You to Saffron-Walden (1596)—"not Tibault or Isegrim, Prince of Cattes, were euer endowed with the like Title" (3.51)2—and Shakespeare's description of Tybalt as "more than Prince of Cats" (2.4.17-18). In recorded medieval-Renaissance literature, the name of "Tibault/Tybalt" as a name having feline associations seems to appear only in Nashe's and Shakespeare's passages, spelled as "Tibault" in Nashe and as both "Tibalt" and "Tybalt" in the second quarto and first folio texts of Shakespeare's play. Moreover, the precise title, "Prince of Cattes," used in the same passage with the specific name "Tibault/Tybalt" has been found only in Nashe's and Shakespeare's passages from works of theirs that are very closely related in time. As G. Blakemore Evans (105) observes, if we can reasonably determine who might be the first to use this unusual language, that would contribute significantly to solving the questions at hand. There is nothing like this "parallel" in the acknowledged literary source for Romeo and Juliet,...
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