Romeo and Juliet Nashe as Monarch of Witt and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet
by William Shakespeare

Romeo and Juliet book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download Romeo and Juliet Study Guide

Subscribe Now


(Shakespearean Criticism)

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.


(Shakespearean Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 13,239 words.)