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Nashe as "Monarch of Witt" and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

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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.


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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 father but to the son, may help to substantiate this view. Nashe refers to the work of "a singular Scholler, one Master Heath, (a Follower of the right Honorable and worthie Lord of Hunsdon that now is)" (3:83). McKerrow explains that Thomas Heath dedicated his work against Harvey that appeared in 1583 to Sir George Carey (Baron Hunsdon) (4:342). But Nashe's explicit phrasing for the Lord of Hunsdon "that now is" (my italics) suggests that Sir George Carey is now the new or second Lord Hunsdon. He succeeded his father, Sir Henry Carey, the first Lord Hunsdon, who died on 23 July 1596, but he did not receive the title of Lord Chamberlain until March 1597. Consequently, as E. K. Chambers explains, Shakespeare's company "was properly known as the Lord Hunsdon's men from 22 July 1596 to 17 March 1597; before and after that period it was the Lord Chamberlain's men."36 Sir George Carey was also a patron of Nashe (5:21). Nashe's reference to the present Lord Hunsdon here indicates that at least this passage was written after July 1596, and this reference would accord with the suggestion McKerrow offers from Nashe's letter to Cotton. Evans wisely cautions that the reference to performance of Romeo and Juliet by '"the L. of Hunsdon his Servants'" on the title page of the first quarto, published in 1597, might be "only a publisher's device to capitalise on the most recent performances and does not prove that the play was not acted earlier when Shakespeare's company was known as the Lord Chamberlain's Men." This reference, however, might also refer to the play's debut and its immediate popularity because the title page advertizes that the play "hath been often (with great applause) plaid publiquely."

Not only do Shakespeare's echoes from Nashe's Have with You appear scattered throughout Romeo and Juliet from its first to last scene, but also equally important to note is that Shakespeare's references from Nashe are culled from throughout the whole of his Have with You. McKerrow thinks that it is "not improbable that all the early part, as far as 33:30, was added just before it was sent to press" (4:302). If so, and if we accept Tobin's evidence from this early part of characterization hints for Shakespeare's Benvolio and Mercutio, then we must conclude that Shakespeare had access to either a nearly complete manuscript version or to its published version.

Several important points concerning Shakespeare's characterization of Mercutio might be added to Tobin's evidence taken from the supposedly latest part of Nashe's composition. Tobin stresses only Nashe's emphasis on "sportive wit" in his characterization of his interlocutor, Don Carneades, the boon companion to Domino Bentiuole, whose name probably serves for Shakespeare's Benvolio because that name appears in no other source.37 But Nashe also describes Don Carneades as a good fighter—"who likewise is none of the unworthiest retainers to Madame Bellona" (3:22)—and there is an aggressive side to Shakespeare's Mercutio. Although McKerrow does not gloss Nashe's use of "Don Carneades," Nashe probably has in mind the famous Greek philosopher, Carneades, because later in Have with You Nashe mocks the praise given by Harvey's schoolmaster to Harvey's mind: "O acumen Carneadum" (3:64). Carneades's reputation for skepticism and rhetorical skill would suit Nashe's idea of this interlocutor as well as Shakespeare's own development of Mercutio.

Shakespeare's portrait of Mercutio is not far off the mark from Nashe and his inclination to loquaciousness, his claim to "frolicke spirits" (3:77), his skill in bawdry (3:30-31), his intolerance of vain fencing boasts, his resentment of boyish accusations, and his genius for personal satire replete with inventive name-calling and mock titles, all of which resonate in Nashe's wittiest and most scornful treatment of his quarrel against Harvey, Have with You to Saffron-Walden. In his quarrel with Harvey, Nashe opposes, as does Mercutio, airs and newfangledness (3:30-31). Nashe's hatred of fads—the "new fangled Goliardos and Senior Fantasticoes" (3:31) and Harvey's looking and speaking like an Italian and affecting "Italian puntilios" (3:76)—parallels Mercutio's animadversion against the "new tuners of accent," "fashion-mongers … who stand so much on the new form, that they cannot sit at ease on the old bench" (2.4.26-30). Like Mercutio's tirade against Tybalt, Nashe denounces Harvey as "idle and new fangled" (3:26), as a "swash-buckler" (3:55) whose "horrible insulting pride" (3:56) needs someone like Nashe "to humble him" (3:69). The princely airs of Harvey and Tybalt—that "spirit of Bragganisme" (3:109)—are precisely what Nashe and Mercutio claim to eschew. Mercutio's allegiance to male camaraderie in adopting a friend's cause in a quarrel is especially noteworthy because of the absence of such a motif from Brooke's poem, Shakespeare's chief source. In Brooke the briefly introduced element of youthful male friendship drops out after the unnamed counterpart to Shakespeare's Benvolio offers to Romeus his counsel about the cure for lovesickness (lines 101-48). Yet this very motif of a friend assuming the defense of another friend in a private quarrel undergirds the Elizabethan literary altercation with Nashe defending Lyly against Harvey.

Just as some critics have thought Nashe a model for Moth in Love's Labor's Lost,38 it is tempting to suggest that Nashe, praised by Francis Meres as a "gallant young Iuuenall" (5:148), also provides some hints for Mercutio when Shakespeare seeks to enflesh a witty, aggressive, young masculine character who has a personal quarrel with another arrogant, quarrelsome enemy. Nashe's youthfulness was an issue in the quarrel, so that Harvey finds fault with Nashe's "minoritie of … beard" and calls him "Captarne of the boyes " (3:129). Nashe's reputation, as described by Izaak Walton, for "merry Wit," for being "a man of a sharp wit, and the master of a scoffing, Satyrical Pen" (5:47-48), lingers long after his premature death in 1601. Although Shakespeare inherited the name of "Mercutio" from Brooke's poem, for Shakespeare that name probably conveys nuances of ingenuity and eloquence derived from Mercury. Appropriately enough, mercurial Nashe associates himself especially with the winged Mercury, desiring "sprightly Mercury" to be his muse in Have with You (3:23-4). Nashe's nimble wit, capable of "a new kind of a quicke fight" (1:283), characterizes that of Mercutio as well, who also employs imagery of the fight in his "wild-goose chase" of matching wits with Romeo when he quips: "Come between us, good Benvolio, my wits faints" (2.4.57-60). Later in this same work, Nashe mocks Harvey's pretense to "attractive eloquence"—"the Mercurian heauenly charme of hys Rhetorique" (3:96)—and spoofs Harvey's desire to "stellifie" himself "next to Mercury" (3:107) when Nashe has invoked Mercury "to inspire [his] pen. "39

Nashe's influence on Shakespeare's characterization of Mercutio also has provocative implications for recent critical discourse on Renaissance sexuality. Using mythographic evidence, Joseph A. Porter, for example, links Mercury to Mercutio through homosexuality, emphasizing the strongly phallic character of both. Porter stresses how Mercutio speaks to affirm male bonding against the incursions of women. He speculates that in killing off Mercutio, Shakespeare stifles that spokesman against romantic love as well as overcomes his own anxiety of influence in processing some of what is most disturbing in Marlowe, who can be seen as the embodiment of the Renaissance Mercury and Shakespeare's rival in several respects. Emphasizing what he sees as Mercutio's homosexual bawdry, Porter claims one of the prime textual examples to be what he finds an image of sodomy: "O Romeo, that she were / An open-arse, and thou a popp'rin pear" (2.1.37-38).40 However, "open-arse" has been more compellingly glossed as an image of the pudendum on the basis of the known anatomical features of the medlar that cause it to be called the open-arse fruit.41 A definition from a sixteenth-century herbal suggests how this fruit could be so viewed: "the fruite … is of a browne russet colour, of a rounde proportion and some-what broade or flat … with a great broade nauel or Crowne at the toppe, or ende.… after they haue bene a while kept … they become soft and tender."42 Hence, Mercutio balances the female (medlar) and male (pear) genitalia for intercourse in his "fruitful" wordplay. However, the sense of Mercutio as the arch-advocate of male bonding does indeed pervade the play.

The topic of Mercutio's sexuality and aggression is a complex one. It can be argued that Mercutio's "phallocentrism" is not simply a "scorn of hetero-sexual love," nor is it simply "light intermittent misogyny," as Porter claims (197-98). Hatred of women is not so much at stake as is the use and abuse of women. Believing a man should "be rough with love," Mercutio advises Romeo: "You are a lover … / Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down" (1.4.17, 28), and Mercutio conjures Romeo "in his mistress' name" (2.1.28). Heterosexual activity is upheld as long as it remains at its lowest common denominator, at the brute level, the level of Sampson's and Gregory's sexual tyranny: "I will be civil with the maids; I will cut off their heads.… their maidenheads, take it in what sense thou wilt" (1.1.19-20, 22-23).43 For the audience, the prince's opening denunciation of "mistempered weapons" (1.1.78) through bestial man's misuse of them may refer to more than one kind of foining and recall the "naked weapon" (1.1.29) wordplay that just preceded. Mercutio's preference for rough love serves as a foil to Romeo's romantic love until Romeo tragically adopts Mercutio's view of such love as "effeminate" (3.1.105) and embraces Mercutio's definition of manhood in terms of violence—fight and fury.

In evoking a male-dominance ethos where women are objects for male sexual pleasure and clearly take second place to male bonding, Mercutio differentiates himself from his friends Romeo and Benvolio, both of whom share a similarly described desire for romantic privacy (1.1.110, 117-21). Mercutio is never depicted as desiring such moody solitude, but rather he is ever the hub of his social wheel, the center of male conviviality. He even defines Romeo as becoming his true self once he stops groaning for love and resumes his male sociability: "Now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo" (2.4.72-73). Mercutio's social definition of selfhood accords well with Nashe's own penchant because, as Hibbard reminds us, Nashe "lives wholly and only in society" (252). Although Porter argues that Shakespeare "conjures the god Mercury and also the raised spirit of Marlowe" (163) in Mercutio, Nashe's essential sociability complements the fraternal spirit of Mercury that Porter emphasizes (32) but that Marlowe does not typically exhibit.44 Porter also associates Mercury, the classical deliverer of dreams, with Mercutio's Queen Mab so that in this speech "what we have is a kind of possession of Mercutio by the god" (104). But a Mercury-Mercutio linkage through dreams operates not by "possession" but by detachment. Mercutio, as a foil to Romeo, mocks dreams, and as a dream scoffer Mercutio resembles not Marlowe but Nashe who wrote a very clevery jeu d'esprit on dreams, The Terrors of the Night (1594).45 Shakespeare's emphasis on Mercutio's pugnacity tends to contradict Porter's otherwise richly suggestive argument for Mercutio as an avatar of Mercury because pugnacity is not a trait typical of Mercury, despite the variety of his attributes. Mercutio's quarrelsomeness, so essential to the duels on behalf of friends at the play's tragic turning point, is not unlike Nashe's defensive posture for his friend Lyly. However, Mercutio's comic combativeness—his verbal sparring—does modulate into tragic aggression—his physical dueling—that costs his own life.

Although Nashe's own combative spirit is a quality he shares with his admired friend Marlowe, Shakespeare's particular expression of Mercutio's aggressiveness points to Nashe, who was as quarrelsome as he was witty and who itched to use a sword against Harvey (3:134). Even if we do not overrule but qualify Porter's argument for the influence of Marlowe on Mercutio, it would seem that Nashe makes an equally good, if not better, candidate for real-life influence. Porter claims that "in plot the most striking homology is between Mercutio's death and Marlowe's" (138), and he generates a Romeo-Shakespeare link from his Mercutio-Marlowe association, suggesting that Romeo's indirect responsibility for Mercutio's death presents "a trace of Shakespeare's unconscious assumption of responsibility for Marlowe's death" (141).46 Mercutio does indeed resemble Marlowe in the fact of early death resulting from a quarrel. But the manner and motive of Marlowe's quarrel is very different from Mercutio's where the language and emphases, as we have seen, indicate Nashean influence. Inside a tavern room, with three other men present, Marlowe dies from a dagger wound during a quarrel with Ingram Frizer over the supper bill. This is no outdoor rapier duel in defense of a friend's reputation against an insulting enemy.

Even Marlowe's earlier duel in Hog Lane, not considered by Porter, might seem more apropos for Mercutio's duel but that it differs from Shakespeare's characterization of an intractable Mercutio who dies as a result of his duel. In this swordfight, Marlowe neither suffers a wound nor dies because he withdraws from his combat against William Bradley after his friend Thomas Watson arrives. Responding to the clamor the people raise against the fight, Watson seeks to part the combatants to keep the queen's peace, according to the coroner's jury, but as Mark Eccles suggests, he may also have intended to aid Marlowe against Bradley with whom he already was at odds.47 Unlike the peacemaker Romeo, Watson does not raise his arm or interpose his body but rather draws his sword. When Bradley sees Watson with drawn sword, he attacks and severely wounds Watson. Defending himself, Watson retreats into a ditch whereupon he finally strikes Bradley a mortal blow. This historic duel is superficially suggestive for the duel in Romeo and Juliet, namely, the intervention of a third man to part two combatants with one being killed as a result. However, Marlowe's retirement from this skirmish, despite his bleeding friend's peaceful intervention and posture of self-defense, contrasts markedly with Mercutio's quarrelsome instigation against Tybalt as well as his refusal to withdraw. Nor does "newly entertain'd revenge" (3.1.171) motivate Watson to fight because his friend Marlowe has not been slain, unlike the much more problematic situation the avenger Romeo faces.

If we entertain the possibility that Shakespeare found Nashe suggestive for his characterization of Mercutio, what more might we glean from the Harvey-Nashe quarrel? Unlike Marlowe but like Mercutio, Nashe had a reputation for an effervescent satiric wit and for a decidedly bawdy bent reflected in his life and literature. As Bruce R. Smith has argued, what moderns term "heterosexuality" and "homosexuality" may not have been necessarily opposed categories in Renaissance England.48 Nashe, as a possible real-life model for Mercutio, would be an intriguing instance of this idea, and a consideration of him also raises provocative questions about the place of libertine sexuality in Elizabethan London.

Evidence about Nashe as a young rakehell in London who probably engaged with both sexes in wanton behavior parallels the sense of double play that Mercutio seems to convey through his heterosexual bawdry and his possibly implicit homosexual position as the keynoter for male bonds. Some of the evidence comes from Nashe's own pen, but the bulk comes from his adversary Gabriel Harvey. Concerning the latter, we must bear in mind the complex evolution of the Harvey-Nashe quarrel, traced so carefully by McKerrow (5:65-110), and the tendency in such personal satire to hyperbolic invective and fictitious embroidery of skeletal facts. It is worth observing that Harvey initially thought well enough of Nashe to describe Nashe as "a proper yong man if aduised in time" (1:170). Oddly enough in a letter directed against Nashe, Harvey evidently recognized Nashe's talents as a writer to group him with other accomplished writers, like Spenser and Daniel, for "their studious endeuours … in enriching, & polishing their natiue tongue, neuer so furnished, or embellished as of late" (1:218-19).49 Nashe originally counterattacked Richard Harvey, Gabriel's brother, and did not attack Gabriel himself until his Strange News (1592), and then he did so violently. After this attack by Nashe, Gabriel begins his leveling of specific sexual accusations against Nashe in his Pierces Supererogation (1593) and his A New Letter of Notable Contents (1593), the latter being a letter that McKerrow suggests Harvey never intended to publish (5:103-04). Even bearing in mind these provisos, the evidence is telling.

Nashe's Christ's Tears over Jerusalem (1593) precedes in print Harvey's attacks and records Nashe's religious "conversion," his turning away from his past "weake … deedes" (2:9).50 Nashe repents his vain writings, including "some spleanatiue vaines of wantonnesse" written to supply his private needs (2:13). In his treatment of London's sins of lust, Nashe laments "this City-sodoming trade" of "priuate Stewes" (2:152-53), upbraiding both woman's self-debasement and man's contribution to that defilement (2:154). In so doing, Nashe reveals his own personal knowledge of such houses, confirming Harvey's accusation (2:91):

The worlde woulde count me the most licentiate loose strayer vnder heauen, if I shoulde vnrippe but halfe so much of their veneriall machiauelisme as I haue lookt into. We haue not English words enough to vnfold it. Positions & instructions haue they, to make theyr whores a hundred times more whorish and treacherous.… I am weary of recapitulating theyr roguery. I woulde those that shoulde reforme it woulde take but halfe the paynes in supplanting it that I haue done in disclosing it. (2:153)

Likewise, Nashe's brothel poem, The Choice of Valentines (3:403-16), runs in the same vein of hetero-sexual bawdiness native to Mercutio. Nashe concludes that "Ouids wanton Muse did not offend"; in following Ovid, his own mind is "purg'd of such lasciuious witt" (3:416). But in considering the bawdry of Nashe's The Choice of Valentines, or Nashe's Dildo, as it is sometimes entitled, Hibbard is puzzled why this poem acquired so much notoriety so quickly: "Its bawdry is of the elementary, direct, indecent kind. Nashe's attitude to sexual matters is too normal and healthy to be anything but dull" (57). Although Hibbard's assessment of the poem's bawdry is accurate enough, some Elizabethan sensibilities could be aggravated by Nashe's own personal reputation for loose living and his first-person narration of his visit to a brothel on St. Valentine's Day, coupled with his almost journalistic description of detail that is not at all acceptably filtered through any classical myth, such as the stories of Hero and Leander or Venus and Adonis.51 Hibbard rightly suggests that Nashe's poverty probably constrained him to be a ghostwriter of bawdy verses for other gentlemen, and The Choice of Valentines is cited as the surviving example (55). But both Nashe (3:30-31) and Harvey imply that many such rhymes came from Nashe's impoverished pen; therefore, Harvey rails that Nashe has written "his owne vanities in a thousand sentences, and whole Volumes of ribaldry; not to be read but vpon a muck-hill, or in the priuyest priuie of the Bordello" (2:233). Nashe's attitude to sexual matters is anything but dull if we are to accept as even partially true any of Harvey's accusations and Nashe's admissions.

Harvey condemns Nashe's disorderly erotic behavior with men and women. In Pierces Supererogation, Harvey indicts Nashe's "brothell Muse" that "needes be a young Curtisan of ould knauery" in writing "bawdye, and filthy Rymes, in the nastiest kind.… to putrify gentle mindes":

Phy on impure Ganimeds, Hermaphrodits, Neronists, Messalinists, Dodecomechanists, Capricians, Inuentours of newe, or reuiuers of old leacheries, and the whole brood of venereous Libertines.… the sonnes of Adam, & the daughers of Eue, haue noe neede of the Serpentes carowse to set them agogg: Sodome still burnetii; and although fier from heauen spare Gomorra, yet Gomorra stil consumeth itselfe. (2:91-92)

Harvey even objects to the moral harm of "amorous Sonnets," observing that the devil's dam is "an old bawde" who needs not "the broccage of a young Poet" (2:92). Later in this same text, Harvey complains against "the poulkat of Pouls-churchyard" (2:273):

Agrippa detesteth his [Nashe's] monstrous veneries, and execrable Sodomies.… the most-impudent Ribald, that euer tooke penne in hand.… the Ring leader of the corruptest bawdes, and miscreantest rakehells.… His wanton disciples … in their fantasticali Letters, and Bacchanall Sonnets, extoll him monstrously, that is, absurdly: as the onely Monarch of witt. (2:271-72)

In his New Letter, Harvey questions the sincerity of Nashe's "conversion" by pitting Nashe's words against his deeds:

but still to haunt infamous, or suspected houses, tauernes, lewd company, and riotous fashions, as before, (for to this day his behauiour is no turnecoate, though his stile be a changeling).… Though Greene were a Iulian, and Marlow a Lucian: yet I would be loth, He [Nashe] should be an Aretin: that … discoursed the Capricious Dialogues of rankest Bawdry: that penned one Apology of the diuinity of Christ, and another of Pederastice, a kinde of harlatry, not to be recited. (1:288-91)52

Nashe's fantastically satiric wit and extremely bawdy lines are captured in Shakespeare's creation of Mercurio, whereas in Brooke's poem there is no satiric emphasis, and the only sexual clue is that Mercutio is bold among maids (lines 257-59). Nashe's response to Harvey is intriguing because it may also suggest something about the place of libertine sexuality in Elizabethan London. Nashe does not specifically defend his private life against Harvey's charges; perhaps he feared accusations of protesting too much.53 But what Nashe is concerned about defending is his public image as a man of letters. In the opening pages of Have with You, Nashe immediately takes up the glove to rejoice that his poverty compelled him to prostitute his pen in writing bawdry for recompense from some of the "newfangled" gentlemen (3:31). The unidentified author of The Trimming of Thomas Nashe mocks Nashe's poverty by telling a story about how Nashe and his "fellow Lusher" lay together in coleharbor and had but one pair of breeches between them so that they had to take turns, one lying in bed while the other wore the breeches, to go cony catching for victuals.54 However, the emphasis in this passage is not on sexuality but on humbling poverty. One could routinely expect charges of loose living in personal satire as vitriolic as the Harvey-Nashe quarrel becomes. But Nashe's own admissions give Harvey's charges particular heft.

However, it would be grossly misleading to intimate that these charges inform the core of Harvey's attack. As Nashe's response indicates, the main thrust of criticism always centers on the major sin of false pride; Nashe's "wild Phantasie," unschooled "in the shop of curious Imitation," needs more acquaintance "at the hand of Art" (2:277). It is "the ignorant Idiot" (2:275), far more than "the bumm of Impudency" (2:273), that galls Harvey, and this accords well with the medieval-Renaissance hierarchy of the seven deadly sins that ranks pride, the perversion of man's godlike reason, as a worse sin than lechery to which man's body so easily falls prey. Thus, of the five senses, the sense of touch is ranked the lowest, and King Lear voices this viable perspective: "Adultery? / Thou shalt not die. Die for adultery?"55 By the time of the Victorians, however, this hierarchy of vices has been turned on its head, and sins of the flesh ranked most reprehensible. No small wonder then that the rough honesty and graphic articulation of Mercutio's Elizabethan bawdry has been continually cleaned up by later editors who have a new sensibility about such matters.

As bawdy as Mercutio's lines are, and they are probably the bawdiest in all of Shakespeare, Mercutio's nimble wittiness, like Nashe's, raises him up so that he is viewed by his male companions, as Nashe is by his, as a leader, indeed "the onely Monarch of witt," as Harvey complains (2:271). Nashe, who self-consciously imitates the Italian satirist Aretino (3:152), is so outrageously witty that it is hard to out-Nashe Nashe, as Harvey's own effort reveals when he tries that approach (2:275).56 We need to understand better the emphases of a world where social privilege can out-weigh sexual indiscretion, where being poor and breechless or being born the son of a ropemaker levels more shame than being accused of lechery, where the use of one's wit overshadows the use of one's body. The dramatic history of the popular and disturbing Mercutio sheds light on real-life conditions then and now, as we seek to unravel our responses to Mercutio, whose base string of sexuality, like the Nurse's, predominately contrasts with, but also paradoxically parallels at points, the more refined love of Romeo and Juliet. Hibbard does not link Nashe to Mercutio, but his final assessment of Nashe emphasizes traits that are most appropriate to our discussion of Nashe's influence on how Shakespeare characterizes Mercutio: Nashe's impressiveness of personality on his peers; his calculated awareness of his impact on an audience; his sympathy for an audience of young men who, like Nashe, were "hostile to Puritanism and the middle-class ethos, witty, caustic, and dissatisfied"; his "biting satirical wit" in his mastery of burlesque and parody; and his playful fascination with language that renders some of his work a jeu d'esprit (250-53). Placing Shakespeare's first romantic tragedy within a historical context is a more complex business than we have usually persuaded ourselves.

It would appear that the burden of proof is rapidly shifting to those who would deny Nashe's influence on Shakespeare, particularly the influence from Have with You. The evidence presented here, like the evidence presented earlier by John Dover Wilson, J. M. M. Tobin, and G. Blakemore Evans, demonstrates Shakespeare's enduring interest in and use of Nashe's works. As a dramatist, Shakespeare would have been reasonably attracted to Nashe as "an improviser" in prose who "works in terms of what may be described as scenes" (Hibbard, 147). Nashe's Have with You, which he called a "Comedie" (3:69), is particularly attractive as a conversational script, a self-proclaimed dialogue wherein "Auditors" (3:42) are addressed and Harvey's written "Pedantisme" (3:42) is presented as the "Oration." Shakespeare had good reason to admire Nashe's style. Some of Nashe's talents as a writer include his inventiveness with the English language, his sharp rendering of London life, and his awareness of narrative voice. As a professional controversialist, Nashe cultivated a rich prose vocabulary in a style peculiar to himself—his "fantasticali Satirisme" (2:12). He scorned English affectations and used freely the vernacular for his burlesque effects. But when English monosyllables would not suffice, he compounded his words and coined words from foreign languages in order to create a style that "must bee swelling and boystrous" if it, like a strong wind, is to have "any power or force to confute or perswade" (2:183-84).

What I wish to indicate here is that Shakespeare found Nashe, the man and his work, a creative stimulus for his own artistic imagination. Shakespeare's interest in Nashe goes beyond verbal echoes to include subject matter, stylistic flair, personal attitudes, and even Nashe's self-styled literary role as a professional jester that Hibbard has so aptly analyzed (251-52). It is Nashe's professional performance as the witty jester, always keenly aware of his audience, who could stingingly satirize contemporary types, much as Mercutio depicts the fashionable Tybalt, that contributes most to influencing Shakespeare's creation of his self-conscious performer of verbal acrobatics. Mercutio entertains his audience, much like Nashe, by using his versatile wit to make much of little as he always lands on his feet. But the darker side is also there, and Hibbard rightly notes Nashe's "fascinated interest in the grotesque, not to mention the deep attraction towards violence" (250) that pervades so much of his work. This violent aggressiveness also bonds Nashe and Mercutio.

As Kenneth Muir and G. K. Hunter maintain, Shakespeare's reading is more extensive than has been formerly held, and he generally devotes more careful attention than his contemporaries to the collection of his source material.57Romeo and Juliet has long been considered one of the few plays that seem to have a single source, but given the pivotal "Prince of Cattes" passage, along with the host of other verbal echoes, the evidence cumulatively and unmistakably points to an important influence of Nashe's Have with You to Sqffron-Walden on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, helping us to date the composition of that play in the last half of 1596. It appears that Nashe also provides for Shakespeare a viable milieu for the combative and sexual male ethos that Shakespeare found especially promising for the mercurial Mercutio he was to create from the barest of hints in his literary source material. Above all, the analysis of borrowings presented here also reveals how fertile is the transformative power of Shakespeare's imagination in shaping "the airy word" (1.1.80) as he unifies disparate elements from Nashe's Have with You to Saffron-Walden to create the artistically coherent world of his first romantic tragedy.


1 All references are to Romeo and Juliet, ed. G. Blakemore Evans, New Cambridge Shakespeare edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), and are cited parenthetically in my text. Evans examines the question of chronology (4-6), and he favors the case for Nashe's influence on Shakespeare, based chiefly on J. J. M. Tobin's arguments (see Tobin, "Nashe and the Texture of Romeo and Juliet," Notes and Queries 27 [1980]: 161-62). To Tobin's list of verbal parallels, Evans adds the word "coying"; see 3 n. 7. See also I am deeply grateful to Franklin B. Williams, Jr., and Bruce R. Smith for their invaluable advice in their reading of this essay.

2 See Thomas Nashe, The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. Ronald B. McKerrow, 5 vols. (1904-10; rpt. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958), 3:51; hereafter cited in the text.

3 G. R. Hibbard, Thomas Nashe: A Critical Introduction (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962), 221; see also

4 See McKerrow, Nashe, 4:327 nn. 29-30. He implicitly entertains the possibility of "savour," but he asserts "favour" is the correct reading.

5 See McKerrow, Nashe, 4:327; Cyrus Hoy, Introductions, Notes, and Commentaries to Texts in 'The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, ' ed. Fredson Bowers, 4 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 1:300, 204. If Shakespeare editors cite Nashe's passage as illustrative evidence, they imply or explicitly state that Nashe, like Shakespeare, identifies "Tibault" as "the Prince of Cattes." See, for example, editions of Romeo and Juliet by George Lyman Kittredge, John Dover Wilson and George Ian Duthie, T. B. J. Spencer, John E. Hankins, Frank Kermode (Riverside), Brian Gibbons, and G. Blakemore Evans. Cf. also, Tobin, "Nashe and the Texture of Romeo and Juliet," 165, 167, 172; Evans, 2.4.18n.

6 I am very grateful to three experts in Reynardian literature—Kenneth Varty, Hubertus Menke, and Thomas W. Best—for confirming my findings that neither "Tibault" as a name for the cat ("Tibert") nor the title "Prince of Cats" appears in any recorded versions of the medieval beast epic. For the misleading conflation of the names "Tibert" and "Tibault" for the Reynardian cat, see Staunton, cited in Romeo and Juliet, ed. H. H. Furness, Variorum Shakespeare edition (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1899), 119 n. 18.

7 Nashe quotes extensively, but not always accurately. There is an interesting example from Have with You that illustrates this. Despite Nashe's close work with Harvey's text against him, Pierces Supererogation, Nashe refers to Harvey's fencing master as "Tom Burwell" (3:134) while Harvey calls him "Tom Burley." See Gabriel Harvey, The Works of Gabriel Harvey, ed. Alexander B. Grosart, 3 vols. (1884; rpt. New York: AMS Press, 1966), 2:327; hereafter cited in the text.

8 See William Baldwin, Beware the Cat, ed. William A. Ringler, Jr., and Michael Flachmann (San Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library, 1988); the editors note Isegrim is the wolf in Reynard the Fox, but a cat in Baldwin's text (30, 37, 46, 47, 51, 68). All references to Baldwin's pamphlet are to this edition; see "Textual Note," xxix-xxx. I am indebted to Franklin B. Williams, Jr., for bringing this text to my attention. Cf. also, William Baldwin, "Beware the Cat" and "The Funerals of King Edward the Sixth, " ed. William P. Holden, Connecticut College Monograph 8 (New London: Connecticut College, 1963), that reprints the 1584 copy at the Folger Shakespeare Library. See OED, "Isegrim."

9 The female cat Isegrim is never ranked a prince; Isegrim is an assistant to the gray cat Grisard, the counselor to Cammoloch, who is identified as "chief prince among cats." Later Glascalon is called "chief prince of the cats" (see Baldwin, 36-37, 47). Grisard, Polnoir, and Isegrim are called "the commissioners" (51); for the orderly and courtly world of these cats, see 46, 47, 51. The conversational format of Baldwin's satire also probably influences Nashe's similar framing of his Have with You as a dialogue of male friends who use the "oration" of another to mock him with his own words. Nashe admired (3:20) Baldwin's earlier and popular Treatise of Morali Phylosophye (1547); Nashe would especially appreciate the blend of fictional prose narrative and religious satire in Baldwin's Beware the Cat.

10 For example, in the lines immediately following Nashe's "Tibault" passage, Nashe cites Harvey's "Muske is a sweete curtezan, and sugar and honey daintie hipocrytes" and spoofs this by addressing Harvey's metaphors as "Madame Muske, … your worships, Master Sugar & Master Honie" (3:51).

11 For the meaning of "Tybalt" and other related issues, see my article, "'Myself Condemned and Myself Excus'd': Tragic Effects in Romeo and Juliet," Studies in Philology 88 (1991): 352-54.

12 For Nashe's playful use of "prince" and his disdain of princely language, see 3:24, 3:103; The Unfortunate Traveller, 2:209-10. Of the many times Shakespeare uses "prince," only once is it meant to be witty, in Berowne'sy'ew d'esprit on the paradoxical giantdwarf Dan Cupid, "Dread Prince of Plackets, King of Codpieces" (LLL, 3.1.184). As Evans (5) notes, this play's revised version of 1597 may be influenced by Romeo and Juliet. Moreover, Shakespeare's precise description of Cupid here may be influenced by Nashe's similar description of Harvey in Have with You as "Codpisse Kinko, and Sir Murdred of placards" (3:129), a passage to be examined later. See Richard David, ed., Love's Labor's Lost, 4th ed. New Arden Shakespeare (London: Methuen, 1951), xxix-xxx, xxxix-xliv, for how Love's Labor's Lost also might recall the Harvey-Nashe quarrel.

13 The mere appearance of the names of "Grimalkin" and "Robin Goodfellow" in Baldwin's text cannot serve as persuasive proof that Shakespeare knew this text; these names are too common by the time of Shakespeare's Macbeth (1.1.8, "grey Malkin") and A Midsummer Night's Dream (2.1.34). See Ringler and Flachmann, 11, 16, 60; Holden, 31, 35.

14 I have not been able to locate this reference in Nashe's works.

15 See Tobin, "Nashe and the Texture of Romeo and Juliet," 169. Nashe also refers to their quarrel as such "bandyings as had past bewixt vs" and his "strappadoing" and "torturing" Gabriel Harvey (3:91).

16 Nashe uses "scratching" in a general sense to signify fighting, as well as the construction "scratche with" used later in his text (3:92), but no weapons are specified in either of these passages. Shakespeare never uses the construction "scratche with." He does use, however, Nashe's general sense of scratching as fighting but embellishes it.

17 Cf. The Rape of Lucrece: "And was afeared to scratch her wicked foe" (line 1035) with her "poor hand" (line 1030), but "And with my knife scratch out the angry eyes / Of all the Greeks that are thine enemies" (lines 1469-70). See The Rape of Lucrece, in The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans et al. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974), 1733-34, 1738; all quotations from Shakespeare's works, except Romeo and Juliet, are to this edition and are cited parenthetically in the text.

18 See OED, "Fiddlestick," sb. 2.

19 See Evans, 3.1.40n., 4.5.110-11nn.

20 For the accusation Nashe is a "piperly makeplay, or makebate," see Richard Harvey's Lamb of God (1590), in McKerrow, Nashe, 5:180.

21 Baldwin might serve again as an inspiration to Nashe because in his Beware the Cat "Catch-rat" is the name of the cat who falsely accuses "Mousesleyer" (51). For a later ballad (1615?) on the foreign travels of the rat-catcher, see STC 207411. We should also note that the word "rat" comes as a surprise in Shakespeare's context because his three other rodent references in the play, both before and after this scene, are to the "mouse" (1.4.40, 3.1.100, 3.3.31). Only through Mercutio, whose satiric vocabulary has been influenced most by Nashe's, is "rat" introduced, in "rat-catcher" and in a list of the animals who fight by scratching (3.1.91). Shakespeare figuratively uses "mouse-hunt" (4.4.11) later, and he might have coined "mouse-catcher" here to serve his needs.

22 For Nashe's other uses of "princox," see 1:44, 205; 2:309.

23 Shakespeare's figurative usage of "demesnes," likening Rosaline's sexual anatomy of high and adjacent regions to geographical domains, may recall the spirit of his Venus and Adonis (lines 229-40).

24 I surmise that Nashe's figurative use of "demeanes or adiacents" in parallel construction with his quotation from Lily's grammar means that Harvey abortively imitates verses from that place or from its adjoining places or "domains." But Nashe may also intend a bawdy play on "asse" as "arse."

25 See Evans's notes on 2.4.77-82. As Evans notes, editors present different glosses for Romeo's line as well as place the stage direction for the Nurse's and Peter's entries either after Romeo's line, as Evans does, or before his line. If the latter choice is adopted, "gear" is usually taken as referring depreciatively to the Nurse's clothes or "stuff which would accord well with Mercutio's first response to the Nurse and Peter: "Two, two: a shirt and a smock" (2.4.84). Cf. LLL 5.2.303: "disguised like Muscovites, in shapeless gear."

26 See OED, "Gear," sb. 8, sb.5b.

27 See The Rape of Lucrece, "Distress likes dumps when time is kept with" (1127); Two Gentlemen of Verona, "To their instruments tune a deploring dump" (3.2.84). Even William Painter's English version of the Romeo and Juliet story from Boaistuau uses "sorrowful dumpes"; see Evans, 174 n. 104.

28 See Tobin, "Texture of Romeo and Juliet" 166-67, 174 n. 15; "Nashe," 161-62. "Roperipe" appears in Ql; McKerrow notes the possible parallel between Shakespeare's "ropery/roperipe" and Nashe's "Rupenrope" (4.334-35). Evans compares "ropery" (knavery) to "roperipe" ("ready for the hangman"), 112 n. 122. Cf. The Taming of the Shrew, 1.2.112; The Comedy of Errors, 4.4.90.

29 Cf. Nashe's use of "ropes" (3:127). Cf. Nashe's Strange News (1592) for this motif in his quarrel with Harvey: "Maister Birdes Letter shall not repriue you from the ladder.… Ergo, he is no Rope-maker" (1:274); cf. "the Ladder" (2:304).

30 I am indebted to Alan C. Dessen for the information that all the references to ladders of cords or ropes in extant English dramatic literature postdate Shakespeare's use.

31 See Olin H. Moore, The Legend of Romeo and Juliet (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1950), 77-78, 90, 135. Cf. Brooke's "corden ladder … with two strong and crooked yron hookes," in Geoffrey Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957), vol. 1, lines 775-76, 813-14, 832. Cf. the other possible English source, William Painter, trans., The Palace of Pleasure, ed. Joseph Jacobs (1890; rpt. New York: Dover Publications, 1966), "Rhomeo and Iulietta," 3:92-93, 99.

32 Shakespeare's use of the rope ladder also cultivates directional imagery (ascent/descent) native to the Elizabethan public theater. "Ascent" for the lovers understandably has life-associated connotations, even in Friar Lawrence's knowing "lamentation" for Juliet (4.5.71-74), and "descent" usually conveys death-associated nuances, as in separation and death itself (cf. 3.5.54-56, 5.1.20). Thomas Middleton reveals his understanding of Shakespeare's use of this prop in his own dramatic parody of Romeo and Juliet, his play The Familie of Love (London, 1608), sig. D3V : "a ladder of Ropes; if she would let it downe; for my life he would hang himselfe in't."

33 See William Rossky, "Imagination in the English Renaissance: Psychology and Poetic," Studies in the Renaissance 5 (1958): 49-73.

34 Sir Philip Sidney, A Defence of Poetry, ed. J. H. Van Dorsten (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966), 24, 32, 36. See Rossky, 49-53, 73. Cf. John Milton, Paradise Lost, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes (New York: Odyssey Press, 1962), 5.100-21.

35 For the complicated problem of dating the composition of Nashe's Have with You, see McKerrow, Nashe, 4:302; cf. Evans, 3. Nashe indicates that he has been gestating this text since "the hanging of Lopus [1594]," although not working on it continually (3:18). As Evans rightly notes, we cannot be certain which Candlemas Term (23 January to 12 February) of what year Nashe has in mind for the projected publication (3:133; Evans, 3 n. 5). However, two other references have gone unnoticed. Nashe declares he is half done with a comedy on Harvey, to be acted "in Candlemas Tearme" (3:114), and he concludes by promising "more battring engins" against Harvey that he will "keepe backe till the next Tearme" (3:139). Perhaps this comedy is what Nashe intends when he refers to writing for stage (and press) in his letter to Cotton, dated about September 1596 (5:28). Nashe's references, occurring at the end of his text, to anticipated publication in Candlemas Term of different works on the same satiric topic suggest that he has one specific Candlemas Term in mind, probably that of 1596/97. Perhaps Nashe's state of poverty, always a misfortune in his life but particularly acute at the time he writes Cotton, prompted an earlier than anticipated publication of Have with You, perhaps shortly after September 1596.

36 See E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, 4 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923), 2:195.

37 Tobin, "Texture of Romeo and Juliet," 167-68, 172.

38 See David, ed., Love's Labor's Lost, xxxix-xliii.

39 Nashe links himself to nimble Mercury in his critique of Gabriel Harvey's style that Nashe feels is opposite to his own: "his inuention is ouerweaponed; he hath some good words, but he cannot writhe them and tosse them to and fro nimbly, or so bring them about, that hee maye make one streight thrust at his enemies face" (1:282). Nashe's imagery of the fight is again revealed when he declares Harvey is resentful of this Aretine-like "new kind of a quicke fight" because Harvey's "decrepite slow-mouing capacitie cannot fadge with" it (1:283).

40 See Joseph A. Porter, Shakespeare's Mercutio, His History and Drama (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 143-63. For Porter's analysis of Mercury's importance for Mercutio, see pp. 11-94. We should also note that Nashe associates the planet Mercury with nimbleness, such as characterizes his own style. See Nashe, 1:268; n. 39 above.

41 See Eric Partridge, Shakespeare's Bawdy, rev. ed. (New York: Dutton, 1969), "et cetera," 101-02; Evans, 91 nn. 36, 38. Cf. OED, "Medlar," 2. Porter says Partridge avoids "mention of even heterosexual sodomy" (161), but in the revised edition of Partridge's book he explicitly analyzes and argues against that.

42 Rembert Dodoens, trans. Henry Lyte, A Niewe Herball; or Historie of Plantes (Antwerp: Henry Loë, 1578), sigs. Ppp-Pppv . Cf. John Gerard, The Herball; or Generali Historie of Plantes (London: John Norton, 1597), 1265-66.

43 Cf. Nashe's jest about Harvey's bawdy "striking" pun and truculent posture with Queen Elizabeth's "Maids of Honour" (3:75).

44 Robert E. Knoll, for example, suggests the "only love [Marlowe] knew was self-fulfillment," despite being a cynosure among his contemporaries (see Knoll, Christopher Marlowe [New York: Twayne, 1969], 23).

45 For Nashe's influence on Shakespeare's use of dreams and Queen Mab, see my essay, "No 'Vain Fantasy': Shakespeare's Refashioning of Nashe for Dreams and Queen Mab," in "Romeo and Juliet": Text, Context, Interpretation, ed. Jay L. Halio (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1995).

46 Regarding the complex issue of tragic responsibility given contemporary duello ethic, see my essay, '"Draw, If You Be Men': Saviolo's Significance for Romeo and Juliet," Shakespeare Quarterly 45 (1994): 163-89.

47 For this combat, see Mark Eccles, Christopher Marlowe in London (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1934), 9-14, 59-60, 171. Eccles suggests Marlowe was probably fighting Bradley on behalf of his friend Watson (59, 171). Despite the friendship between Marlowe and Watson, Eccles's supposition of this motive seems unlikely because Marlowe desists and does not risk coming to Watson's aid even though his friend is severely wounded because he has intervened, thereby relieving Marlowe. According to the legal proceedings, Watson fights only in self-defense, which is the reason the coroner's jury acquits Watson of murder or manslaughter.

48 See Bruce R. Smith, Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare's England: A Cultural Poetics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), esp. chap. 2, "Combatants and Comrades," 31-77.

49 Cf. McKerrow, Nashe, 5:83, 86.

50 McKerrow argues that Harvey probably knew of Christ's Tears but had not actually read it before he penned his most vicious attacks (5:98-102).

51 I think Hibbard is right to suggest that Nashe's literary model for his only verse narrative is not the Ovidian epyllion, despite his borrowing from Ovid's Ars Amatoria, but is rather the racy fabliaux in Chaucer's manner.

52 Cf. Nashe's two other references to "sodomitrie," 3:177, 278. Measuring Nashe's boast about his prolific writing against the size of his printed corpus, McKerrow suggests perhaps much of Nashe's work remained in manuscript and is now lost; see 5:136.

53 Jonathan Goldberg argues that Gabriel Harvey's homosexuality was an "open secret." See "Colin to Hobbinol: Spenser's Familiar Letters," South Atlantic Quarterly 88 (1989): 192-220. When Nashe tenders his apology to Harvey in Christ's Tears, however, he acknowledges Harvey's "courteous well gouerned behauior" (2:12). Harvey's Puritanism may have tempered his private life because in Have with You Nashe seems delighted to have occasion to twit Harvey about licentiousness by using Harvey's "gentlewoman" against him. Nashe also attempts to ridicule Harvey by claiming his motive for his English hexameters "was his falling in loue with Kate Cotton, and Widdowes his wife, the Butler of Saint Johns" so that "Gabriell was alwayes in loue.… " (3:81).

54 Grosart tries to gloss "Lusher " as if it were a word (perhaps "lasher") instead of a proper name as the context suggests (3:104). McKerrow suggests the author is not Gabriel Harvey but Richard Lichfield (5:107).

55King Lear, 4.6.111. However, the mad Lear's perspective on the penalty for adultery is counterbalanced in the play by the punishment inflicted upon his patriarchal counterpart in suffering, Gloucester: "The dark and vicious place where thee [Edmund] he got / Cost him his eyes" (5.3.173-74).

56 Cf. Nashe's ridiculously funny descriptions of Harvey's book and person (3:36-38). Nashe also accuses Harvey of stealing his railing terms and of rehearsing, but never answering, accusations (3:122-25).

57 See Kenneth Muir, The Sources of Shakespeare's Plays (London: Methuen, 1977), 1; G. K. Hunter, "Shakespeare's Reading," A New Companion to Shakespeare Studies, ed. Kenneth Muir and S. Schoenbaum (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), 60.

Source: "Nashe as 'Monarch of Witt' and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet," in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. 37, No. 3, Fall, 1995, pp. 314-43.

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5462

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, namely Arthur Brooke's The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet (1562). Nor does Brooke present any witty satire like that of Nashe, involving other significant verbal parallels, such as "fiddlestick" (3.1.42). Moreover, Nashe himself and his Have with You provide telling hints for understanding how Shakespeare developed Mercutio, one of his most memorable characters, from the minimal reference he found in Brooke.

Have with You to Sqffron-Walden is Nashe's long-awaited reply to Gabriel Harvey's attack on him in Pierce's Supererogation (1593), and as G. R. Hibbard explains, Nashe's reply is well worth the wait:

Nashe took his time in order to make something really worth while of his answer, for in its own curious way Have with You is a most accomplished piece of writing, a rich mixture of parody, literary criticism, comic biography and outrageous abuse that nevertheless hangs together by virtue of the art that is lavished on it and of the sheer joy in caricature and in linguistic extravagance and inventiveness that informs it from beginning to end.3

The quarrel with Harvey was one of the most important events in Nashe's life, and the intensity of that quarrel ultimately prompted the authorities to intervene and recall the works of both Nashe and Harvey. Harvey appears to be the first to use feline allusions, negatively for Nashe but positively for himself, and Nashe quotes Harvey to set him up for his own ridicule: "But some had rather be a Pol-cat with a stinking stirre, than a Muske-cat with gracious fauour. "4 In Nashe's satiric dialogue, Harvey is answered through a mockery of his pretentiousness: "I, but not onely no ordinarie Cat, but a Muske-cat, and not onely a Muske-cat, but a Muske-cat with gracious fauour (which sounds like a Princes stile Dei gratia): not Tibault or Isegrim, Prince of Cattes, were euer endowed with the like Title."

To begin resolving the question of influence, we must first accurately interpret to whom Nashe's "Prince of Cattes" refers. The traditional reading of the princely title as modifying "Tibault" satisfies logic because in Nashe's "catty" context "Tibault" seems intended to be the name of a cat.5 Nashe probably has the Reynardian beast epic in mind when he refers to the famous cat properly named "Tibert," despite Nashe's apparently unique use of the name "Tibault."6 Nashe's recollection of the precise name may be faulty due to witty haste.7 However, Nashe's own syntax suggests the title is not intended to modify "Tibault" because of its placement; his plural subject ("Tibault or Isegrim") takes the plural verb ("were endowed") so that the singular form for "Prince" appears to be quite intentional on Nashe's part. Nashe's title, however, could syntactically and logically modify "Isegrim" if Isegrim is the name of a cat. One of the main cat characters in William Baldwin's Beware the Cat (1570) surprisingly is named Isegrim, surprising because that name is otherwise reserved for the wolf in the Reynardian beast epic and because the paucity of references to Isegrim in English literature is striking8 Therefore, Nashe's "Isegrim" is not a reference to the Reynardian beast epic, as Ronald B. McKerrow glosses it (4:327), but an allusion to Baldwin's cat named "Isegrim." The language for the specific title, "prince of cats," also appears in Baldwin's marginalia; hence, Baldwin's fictitious prose satire proves an overlooked source for Nashe's language.9

I suggest Nashe's use of the title "Prince of Cartes" is probably an example of the vocative, not the appositive for either "Tibault" or "Isegrim." The point of his joke on Harvey is that neither of these cats ever was endowed with a princely title that Harvey, the self-styled musk cat assuming princely airs, would arrogantly appropriate to himself. This reading satisfies syntax and logic and reveals Nashe's accurate knowledge of Baldwin's use of this title. Thus, in his parody of Harvey's "flaunting phrases" (3:42), Nashe satirizes Harvey through direct address, giving him a bitter taste of his own medicine through such a mock-heroic title because Harvey had earlier called Nashe's friend, Robert Greene, "the Prince of beggars" (1:170), rallying Nashe to Greene's defense (1:299). There is internal evidence from Nashe's Have with You to Sqffron-Walden to support an argument for the vocative. Nashe uses the vocative several times, for example, "goe and prate in the yard, Don Pedant, there is no place for you here" (3:76; cf. 3:49, 118). Nashe's use of the vocative appears in the midst of the sentence, set off by commas or parentheses, as is the title "Prince of Cartes." Nashe also has a stylistic habit of entitling Harvey's metaphors to ridicule them through direct address, the very habit displayed in calling Harvey the "Prince of Cartes."10

Shakespeare's use of the princely title in connection with the name of "Tybalt" also captures the spirit of Nashe's vocative usage because Tybalt is directly addressed as "Good King of Cats" (3.1.70). Other aspects of Nashe's passage on Tibault suggest Shakespeare is inventively responding to an outside influence. The subject of cats is a given in Nashe's passage as it is not in Shakespeare's. Because Shakespeare inherits "Tybalt" as a proper name for a man as well as a name signifying manliness, what would ever prompt Shakespeare to associate that manly name with cats?11 The "foreign" nature of Shakespeare's introduction of the "Prince of Cats" title needs to be underscored. This feline satire is a staged "set up" to allow a jeu d'esprit for the wittily loquacious Mercurio of Shakespeare's creation. Consider also the "forced" introduction to this passage. It is Benvolio, playing "straight man" as it were to Mercutio, who sets up the fun for Mercutio. Benvolio asks, "What's he [Tybalt]?" (2.4.17) as if he does not know Tybalt. Yet this is the same Benvolio who was forced to fight Tybalt in the play's opening scene and who has enough first-hand knowledge of Tybalt's fencing style to satirize it to Lord Montague (1.1.99-104). Shakespeare also responds to the braggadocio spirit of Nashe's satiric one-upmanship. Shakespeare does not merely have Tybalt equated with the Prince of Cats, although later he will call him "King of Cats" and "rat-catcher." Mercutio's response to Benvolio's question is that Tybalt is "more than Prince of Cats" (my italics) which is a claim not unlike Nashe's depiction of Harvey as a musk cat pretending to be more than he is by cultivating princely airs. Moreover, the playfully satiric use of the word "prince" in titles is much more characteristic of Nashe than of Shakespeare.12

Thus, the merits of the difficult debate over influence regarding the literary use of "Prince of Cartes" as a satiric epithet for an opponent weigh more heavily in favor of Nashe's passage. If Nashe had borrowed from Shakespeare, how can we account for Nashe's knowledgeable use of Baldwin's satire in his borrowing of a name ("Isegrim") and a title ("Prince of Cattes")? On the other hand, Shakespeare's canon reveals no specific knowledge of Baldwin's text.13 It would seem likely that Shakespeare would borrow and adapt from Nashe what is useful for his own purposes. Shakespeare's conflation of "Tybalt" as "more than Prince of Cats" suggests derivation from Nashe's original rebuttal of the feline satire Harvey initiated against him. The use of animal names and misplaced titles to emphasize false pride informs the entire quarrel between Nashe and Harvey.

What is of particular interest for Romeo and Juliet is Nashe's penchant for imagery of the duel and fencing for depicting his quarrel in ink with Harvey, and Nashe's references are of two kinds, literal and figurative. Nashe evidently first accused Harvey of being an "old Fencer" (2:232), at least for to Harvey.14 Nashe later criticized Harvey for his empty boasting about being a good fencer who will defeat Nashe's sword as well as his pen: "And where he terrifies mee with insulting hee was Tom Burwels, the Fencers Scholler. … not all the fence he learnd of Tom Burwell shall keepe mee from cramming a turd in his jawes" (3:134). Nashe also satirizes the idea that Harvey has an unidentified gentlewoman whom Harvey claims has taken his side in the quarrel against Nashe and who will write against Nashe: "Tamburlain-like, hee braues it indesinently in her behalfe, setting vp bills, like a Bear-ward or Fencer, what fights we shall haue and what weapons she will meete me at" (3:121). Finally, the opening of Have with You keynotes the imagery we have discussed. Tobin has already noted the passage in which Nashe claims that Harvey and he "take upon us to bandie factions, and contend like the Vrsini and Coloni in Roome" (3:19), observing Shakespeare's echo of "bandie" in Romeo's use of "bandying" (3.1.81).15 But Nashe develops the fight imagery much more specifically and figuratively when he says his satiric dialogue involves real friends bearing pseudonyms, and their "honest conference" can supposed to be held "after the same manner that one of these Italionate conferences about a Duell is wont solemnly to be handled, which is when a man, being specially toucht in reputation … calls all his frends together, and askes their aduice how he should carrie himselfe in the action" (3:21). The satirist's metaphoric presentation of a quarrel appeals as well to Shakespeare in his creation of Mercutio's personal satire in his quarrel against Tybalt.

The ingenuity of Shakespeare's use of the feline satire found in Nashe has not been justly appreciated. The title, "Prince of Cats," captures Shakespeare's fancy, and he surpasses Nashe in his brilliant adaptation of the satiric feline title to suit Mercutio's and Tybalt's interest in fencing, a specific focus that is absent from Nashe's "Tibault" passage. Although Nashe uses several different metaphors for a quarrel, such as a cock-fight, a catfight, and a pen fight (3:30, 51, 133), he keeps them separate. Shakespeare, however, adroitly fuses the two metaphors of the catfight and the sword fight through the means of fighting, namely scratching. The rapier is like the cat's claw because it can literally scratch a man to death, as Mercutio gravely laments (3.1.92). Nashe uses "scratching" to signify "fighting," but he does not take Shakespeare's next step and compare the cat's weapon with man's weapon, claw with rapier.16

Hence, Mercutio's feline satire becomes exquisitely appropriate for the punctilious fencer Tybalt. Shakespeare seems ripe to develop such punning because in The Rape of Lucrece (1594) his readiness for this imagery is revealed in two passages. The first is typical in that the fighting is portrayed as the scratching normally associated with the human hand or nails. But his next example extends this scratching to a weapon held in the hand—a knife.17 In our play, Shakespeare develops this weapon imagery further to include the rapier, and one of his tragic points about man's innovative technology for destruction is that the new rapier, unlike the old long sword, does not use so much the edge to cut and kill but the point so that a mere "scratch" can be ironically lethal. Moreover, Shakespeare's associations here find no parallel in any of the generally acknowledged literary sources for his play, especially Brooke's poem that serves as his main source. Little notice has been taken of Shakespeare's emphasis on the duello that he adds to his literary sources. In the sources, bands of men fight, but Shakespeare not only cultivates the one-on-one nature of the duel, he also colors it with satiric taunts and name-calling that find an analogue not in Brooke's poem but in the notorious Harvey-Nashe quarrel.

How Shakespeare uses the verbal parallels that abound between Nashe's Have with You and his tragedy is revealing for Shakespeare's command of page and stage and particularly for his masterful characterization of Mercutio, who voices the most Nashean echoes in the play. Some new parallels, and the reconsideration of one previously noted, further expose how Shakespeare found Nashe's prose attractive mettle for his verse.

The most important parallel concerns "fiddlestick" and its satiric contexts in Nashe and Shakespeare that associate imagery of dueling and music, and Shakespeare's use of this once again shows how creatively he responds to the Harvey-Nashe quarrel. "Fiddlestick" appears in Shakespeare's canon for the first time in Romeo and Juliet (3.1.42) and then reappears only once again in quite a different usage: "the devil rides upon a fiddlestick" (1H4 2.4.487). "Fiddlestick" is a crucial insult in the quarrel between Nashe and Harvey. In Pierces Supererogation (1593), Harvey mocks Lyly as "the Vice master of Poules, and the Foolemaster of the Theater … sometime the fiddlesticke of Oxford, now the very bable of London" (2:212). Earlier in this same work in a remarkably similar string of epithets, he scoffs that Lyly is "a professed iester, a Hickscorner, a scoffmaister, a playmunger, an Interluder; once the foile of Oxford, now the stale of London" (2:132).

In his defense of Lyly, Nashe retorts, "With a blacke sant he [Lyly] meanes shortly to bee at his [Harvey's] chamber window for calling him the Fiddlesticke of Oxford" (2:138). Of all Harvey's slurs cited above, the epithet "the Fiddlesticke of Oxford" is the one Nashe chooses to counter Harvey's criticism of Lyly's foolish "leuitie" (2:138) by playing on the musical reference of "fiddlesticke" to forecast an ominous retort, Lyly's black sanctus. What is important to note here is that Nashe ingeniously adds the musical nuance basic to the primary meaning of "fiddlestick." Harvey uses "fiddlesticke" solely as a term of contempt in its secondary meaning to signify something insignificant,18 and his synonyms in parallel constructions indicate this meaning: "bable / foile / stale." The emphasis on music is lacking from Harvey's bashing of the playwright. Moreover, Harvey does not use metaphors of fighting here, although he does elsewhere.

However, Nashe not only adds the elements of music and fighting to his "Fiddlesticke" passage but also anticipates these elements with language that echoes in Shakespeare's scene. When Tybalt approaches Mercutio in his search for Romeo and uses the verb "consortest" (3.1.39), Mercutio takes great offense and responds aggressively to what he takes to be demeaning inferences, namely that Romeo and his friends are like common servants rather than gentlemen, a company of "minstrels" (3.1.40) at that. "Minstrel" is a term that can be used disparagingly.19 Nashe anticipates his "Fiddlesticke " allusion with musical imagery that parallels Mercutio's use of "consort." Nashe denounces "Mounsieur Fregeuile Gautius " as "one of the Pipers in this consort" who "befooles and besots " Nashe in his apology on behalf of Harvey (3:136). Seeing that Nashe has just called Fregeville "that prating weazell fae'd vermin" (3:136), the musical description of him as a piper in Harvey's "consort" strikes the same satiric discord. Indeed, Nashe often uses "piper" and "piperly" to convey the sense of "paltry" (5:320). His "consort" passage is preceded several pages earlier by his assertion: "M. Lilly & me by name he beruffianized … & termd vs piperly make-plaies" (3:130).20 These are fighting words, as Nashe explains: "[Harvey] bade vs holde our peace & not be so hardie as to answer him, for if we did, he would make a bloodie day in Poules Church-yard, & splinter our pens til they straddled again as wide a paire of Compasses" (3:130). But Nashe juxtaposes his "Fiddlesticke" counterthreat with the triumphant observation that Gabriel Harvey was not "made to hold his peace, till Master Lillie and some others with their pens drew vpon him" (3:138).

Shakespeare's response to Nashe's imagery of music and duel is once again imaginative. As with his imagistic fusion of the cat's claw and man's rapier in their lethal scratching, so also he fuses into one wholistic metaphor the music and dueling imagery when Mercutio indicates his rapier and calls it his "fiddlestick" (3.1.42), recalling his initial hostility to Tybalt's opening use of "consortest." Later in Much Ado, Shakespeare will again find attractive the imagistic union of opposites (music and sword): "I [Claudio] will bid thee [Benedick] draw, as we do the minstrels, draw to pleasure us" (5.1.128-29). Thus, the satiric use of "fiddlestick" in the Harvey-Nashe quarrel predates Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and Nashe's development of the imagery of music and duel in conjunction with this epithet provides one derogatory verbal context that Shakespeare then adroitly adapts for the fatal quarrel midpoint in his play.

At first blush "rat-catcher," noted already by J. J. M. Tobin, looks like too common a word to merit attention. But it is not, and Nashe's satirical use of the term is riveting. Contrary to our modern expectations, "rat-catcher" refers not to an animal but rather to a person who catches rats. The first recorded entry in the OED is Shakespeare's use of the term, but the earliest citation for the application of the term to animals dates from the beginning of the eighteenth century. "Rat-catcher" applied to a person, however, is native to Nashe's context, and he may have coined the word.21 Nashe's context, appearing many lines after his reference to "Tibault, " features no feline references, unlike Shakespeare's context. Instead, Nashe is at his funniest in satirizing Harvey as "a common Mountebanke Rat-catcher" because Harvey is laughed at for catching a rat, anatomizing it, and reading a lecture for three days on it, and moreover, he "hanged her ouer his head in his studie, instead of an Apothecaries Crocodile, or dride Alligatur" (3:67). Tobin has already noted that Shakespeare borrows his unique use of "alligator" from Nashe. I would add here that the fact that the words "Rat-catcher" and "Alligatur" occur so closely together in Nashe's passage is revealing for how Shakespeare remembers both words yet uses them at distantly separated points in his text, reserving the alligator reference for his own apothecary episode (5.1.43). Although "rat-catcher" (3.1.68) is unique in Shakespeare, it is ironic that the first citation in the OED is Shakespeare's because his is the most innovatively atypical. As with his fused use of cat and rapier, so also Shakespeare weds two associations here in his "rat-catcher": Mercutio's criticizing Tybalt as "a braggart, a rogue, a villain" (3.1.92; cf. Nashe's "Mountebanke") plus Mercutio's feline puns for debunking Tybalt, who as the "Prince of Cats" would catch rats. Shakespeare clearly found arresting Nashe's satiric diction for name-calling.

"Princox" is a verbal parallel that has been overlooked. The term is unique in Shakespeare's canon. Capulet, attempting to ridicule Tybalt into obedient behavior at the feast, calls him "a princox" (1.5.85). This term, however, is a favorite of Nashe's, used at least four times in works that predate Romeo and Juliet, including the use of the plural form in Have with You in telling conjuction with the verb "consorted":

Neither of these princockesses (Barnes or Chute) once cast vp their noses towards Powles Church-yard, or so much as knew how to knock at a Printing-house dore, till they consorted themselues with Haruey, who infected them within one fortnight with his owne spirit of Bragganisme. (3:109)22

In two of his publications in 1593, Harvey offensively borrows Nashe's "princock" to describe the youthful Nashe himself (1:283, 2:7). A good example from Nashe that reveals why the term would be so appropriate for Shakespeare's purposes is the following: "And you shall heare a Cavalier of the first feather, a princockes that was but a Page the other day in the Court … stand vaunting his manhood" (1:205). The use of the term is a particularly effective insult for adolescent males, for a "boy" sensitive to becoming a "man." The inflammatory rhetoric colors Capulet's denunciation of Tybalt as "a saucy boy" (1.5.82) and the "boy" insults of the duel scene (3.1.59).

Another probable verbal parallel involves the use and juxtaposition of the words "demesnes" and "adjacent." Mercutio bawdily conjures Romeo by Rosaline's "quivering thigh / And the demesnes that there adjacent lie" (2.1.19-20). "Demesnes" is rather rare in Shakespeare's canon and is used for the first time in Romeo and Juliet, once here in a figurative sense, once again in its literal sense of "estates" (3.5.180), and once later in Cymbeline (3.3.70). "Adjacent" is likewise uncommon in Shakespeare, and it also appears for the first time in Romeo and then only once again in Antony and Cleopatra (2.2.213).23 The close juxtaposition of the words "demeanes" and "adiacents," also used in an apparently figurative sense occurs in Nashe's Have with You when Nashe, as he often does, jests about Harvey's Latin verses: "The bungerliest verses … most of them … cut off by the knees out of Virgili and other Authors … and iumpe imitating a verse in As in presenti, or in the demeanes or adiacents, I am certaine" (3:78). McKerrow explains that Nashe's joke is derived from William Lily's Latin Grammar, and Nashe's earlier instance in his Strange Newes (1592) of this jest and its pun on "as" for "ass" offers a clearer context for understanding this joke: "Such is this Asse [Harvey] in presenti, this grosse painted image of pride, who would faine counterfeite a good witte" (1:282).24 The coupling of these two terms in figurative wordplay is very unusual in English literature. At any rate, Shakespeare's use of these two terms is more clearly transformed through bawdy innuendo. However, Shakespeare's use of these terms within the context of Mercutio's bawdy verbal conjuring of Romeo may owe something to Nashe's earlier work. Although the idea of conjuring is commonplace, it is not commonplace to summon up a male contemporary through a witty use of the conjuring metaphor. Nashe, a conjurer of words himself, says he would learn any barbarous language "rather than bee put downe by such a ribauldry" as Harvey is: "Heigh, drawer, fil vs a fresh quart of new-found phrases, since Gabrieli saies we borrow all our eloquence from Tauernes.… I coniure thee.… I drinke to you, M. Gabriell" (1:305). He also provides an apropos description of how to become a conjurer (1:363-67).

There are possibly several other overlooked verbal parallels that need to be considered, especially in terms of how they might shed light on Shakespeare's adaptation of his borrowings. Nashe uses "gear" twice, once straightforwardly (3:90) and once bawdily (3:129). Romeo concludes Mercutio's extraordinarily bawdy punning as Juliet's Nurse and her man, Peter, enter: "Here's goodly gear!" (2.4.82). Evans suggests the pun on "gear" revolves around its senses of "rubbish, nonsense" and "the organs of generation" that "link[s] perfectly with Mercutio's wit-play."25 We might suggest another possibility here. Regardless of whether the stage direction is placed before or after Romeo's line, his line could Janus-like refer before and after, refer back to Mercutio's speech as well as look toward the Nurse and Peter who could be seen approaching Romeo across the large stage platform. I suggest this because Romeo's use of "gear" may well convey another sense, a nautical pun that has gone unnoticed. Romeo's "Here's goodly gear!" is immediately followed by his next line, a curious description of the Nurse indeed: "A sail, a sail!" (2.4.83). "Gear" in its nautical sense refers to rigging of any spar or sail. However, the earliest citations in the OED for "gear" in its nautical sense, as well as its slang sense, significantly postdate both Shakespeare's and Nashe's works.26 Shakespeare's punning, then, is remarkable indeed. His main literary source for his play, Brooke's poem, has several passages of nautical imagery, but perhaps only Shakespeare could fuse so many meanings in one so apparently insignificant term as "gear." Although "gear" in its various senses is a common word in Shakespeare's works before and after Romeo and it even appears again at the end of this play (5.1.60), this is the only instance in which he puns on the slang sense of "gear" for genitalia.

In Have with You, Nashe has two separate uses of "gear" where he employs the same two senses of "nonsense" and "sexual organs" found in Shakespeare's line, but unlike Shakespeare, Nashe does not fuse the two meanings in one wonderful pun. Nashe's first instance almost parallels Romeo's line when Nashe ridicules Harvey's Latin language as nonsense: "here is such geere as I neuer saw" (3:90). But in a passage we have already noted in relation to Love's Labor's Lost, Nashe uses "gear" in its slang sense for his bawdy putdown of Harvey: "let her [Harvey's "gentlewoman"] bee Prick-madam, of which name there is a flower; & let him take it to himselfe; and raigne intire Cod-pisse Kinko, and Sir Murdred of placards … as long as he is able to please or giue them geare" (3:129). "Placard/ placket," used with sexual innuendo, appears in Nashe for the first time in Have with You, here and in a venereal depiction of the Harvey brothers (3:82). It is similarly used for the first time by Shakespeare in Love's Labor's Lost and Romeo but is not used again until Troilus and Cressida.

Finally, Shakespeare's oxymoron, "merry dump," may derive from the surprisingly comical context for "dump" in Have with You. Shakespeare's other earlier instances of "dump" for "a mournful tune" employ the term straightforwardly, without any hint of oxymoron.27 Near the end of Nashe's Have with You, in a particularly witty passage featuring facetious titles of works Nashe will write on Harvey, Nashe quips that he will write many comedies on Harvey and one shall be called "The Doctors dumpe": "But wee shall lenuoy him [Harvey], and trumpe and poope him well enough … and he will needes fall a Comedizing it. Comedie vpon Comedie he shall haue, a Morali, a Historie, a Tragedie, or what hee will. One shal bee called The Doctors dumpe" (3:114).

There is possibly another Nashean verbal influence for how originally Shakespeare uses the rope ladder as a symbolic prop for the stage. Tobin notes that the Nurse talks of "'ropery'/'roperipe' at II.iv.146 , and Romeo refers to a rope ladder at II.iv.189 ." Tobin juxtaposes this with the unique use of the phrase '"with an R'" in both Nashe and Shakespeare, this phrase appearing in Nashe's recurrent attack on Harvey's father for being a ropemaker, a man whose living ironically depends on death, on the gallows and the making of ropes.28 Nashe himself explains that Harvey told some of Nashe's friends that "the onely thing that most set him afire against" Nashe was Nashe's calling Harvey and his brothers "sonnes of a Rope-maker" (3:56-57).29 Nashe's emphasis on "the hempen mysterie" behind the names of the Harvey brothers (3:58) and his reiterated wordplay on "rope" cannot be missed (3:57-59). The satirical importance of this matter is highlighted in Nashe's subtitle for Have with You: "Containing a full Answere to the eldest sonne of the Halter-maker. " Even in his dedicatory epistle, Nashe refers to "the Doctors Paraclesian rope-rethorique" (3:15). Shakespeare, of course, did not need to read Nashe to know the associations between "rope" and "ladder" (the steps of the gallows) in the hangman's profession. But if he were reading Nashe's work, these very associations would be strongly underscored for him because they are so pivotal in Nashe's quarrel.

Shakespeare's "ropery" seems to recall Nashe's, but he newly integrates the verbal nuances in his symbolic use of the rope ladder. Shakespeare had earlier used the prop of a "ladder made of cords" (TGV 2.4.182) in another romantic adventure, and he may have even introduced this lover's prop to the English stage from the Italian novelle.30 The literary tradition of this "lover's ladder" is common in Italy, and the ladder of cords originates as a motif for the Romeo and Juliet story in Boccaccio's Il Decamerone, passed down through Shakespeare's possible literary sources.31 However, no one in Elizabethan literature, other than Shakespeare, forges such a startling paradoxical fusion of meanings in the use of this prop when the instrument for fuller life and love is quickly transformed within the same scene, in keeping with the play's tempo of haste, to an instrument of despair and death (3.2.132-37). As in Shakespeare's transformation of "fiddlestick" from mere word to actual rapier, his finely tuned sense of prop deployment balances Juliet's newly transformed "poor ropes" with Romeo's dagger in a similarly forestalled suicide attempt in the subsequent scene (3.3.108). Neither of these dramatic actions appear in Brooke's poem where Juliet's response to the tragic news is a passive swoon (lines 1159-92) and frantic Romeo falls down and tears his hair (lines 1291-1300); both wish for death but do not seek instruments to effect it.

Romeo initially describes his ladder as "cords made like a tackled stair / Which to the high top-gallant of my joy / Must be my convoy in the secret night" (2.4.157-59), and herein Shakespeare refashions the much more frankly sexual imagery he found in Brooke's nautical motif: the "betost" ship [Romeus] may "boldly … resort / Unto [his] wedded ladies bed, [his] long desyred port" (lines 799-808). Brooke's nautical imagery probably inspired Shakespeare's "tackled stair." However, neither Brooke nor Painter nor Shakespeare himself in The Two Gentlemen of Verona ever use the word "rope" to describe this traditional lover's ladder of cord. This is understandable because the Italian and French words for "cord" (corda, corde) closely approximate the English word. The deadly nuance of "rope" is significantly added to Juliet's perception of this prop as she recasts her epithalamium that opens this scene—"Come, Night, come, Romeo"—to its deadly opposite as the scene closes:

Take up those cords. Poor ropes…
He made you for a highway to my bed,…
Come, cords, come, Nurse, I'll to my wedding
And death, not Romeo, take my maidenhead!)

Romeo's emphasis on joyful ascent becomes tragically ironic for Juliet's intended "ascent" on these ropes by hanging that would result in a permanent and "grave" descent.32 Shakespeare once again surpasses our expectations in a stunning fusion of meanings that fuel the play's paradoxical incorporation of how "all things change them to the contrary" (4.5.90).

Perhaps some tentative conjectures about Shakespeare's literary imagination are worthwhile here. These examples of Shakespeare's borrowing from Nashe not only are helpful for establishing the direction of authorial influence and the date of composition of Romeo but also appear to be illustrative of how Shakespeare's imagination works in transforming his literary sources into his poetic drama. The common bond that unifies these examples is Shakespeare's power of fusing or unifying into a more complex whole that he finds separate or disjoined. In this respect, he is very much an artist of Renaissance temperament. In his pervasive use of sources, Shakespeare upholds the Renaissance rhetorical ideal of imitatio whereby the combination of old material with new is expressed uniquely, and he does not seem to favor imaginative creation "ex nihilo." Like one contemporary theory of creativity, namely God's creation of the universe out of the raw materials of the four contraries combined into the four elements, so also Shakespeare's creative art often evolves out of his combination of various elements in the raw materials of his literary sources.

Moreover, Shakespeare seems to adhere to Renaissance critical theory regarding the operation of the poetic imagination, theory that has been elucidated by William Rossky.33 Although Renaissance psychology views the imagination as necessary but dangerous because of its irrational power, Renaissance apologies for poetry exalt this faculty for its transforming or "feigning" power when imagination is guided by reason to create art.34 Rossky shows this cooperation between reason and imagination for art's sake is revealed in sixteenth-century descriptions of poetic feigning of images as a process of severing and joining things real to form things imagined). Shakespeare's use of his literary sources to feign his own images may be seen as some-what analogous to this poetic theory, especially in his joining together of what he often finds severed, or at best loosely associated, in his sources, or in our parlance, perhaps a literary version of fission and fusion. Impressive indeed is how Shakespeare's extraordinarily retentive memory generates his free association of images and ideas to form new combinations. On the basis of the few examples considered here, one aspect of Shakespeare's imaginative genius in his practice of imitatio seems to be his ability to forge connections where others, like Nashe, do not, or to see things "whole," resulting in a texture of images with greater verbal and ideational complexity.

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Critical Commentary


Romeo and Juliet (Vol. 33)