Thomas Nashe Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Thomas Nashe was born in November, 1567, the second son of William Nashe, a minister in Lowestoft, moving in 1573 to West Harling in Norfolk, where his father took up the duties of rector. There Nashe likely remained until he left for Cambridge in 1581 or 1582.

R. B. McKerrow and others have suggested that young Nashe’s early education was probably accomplished at home with his father as tutor, a likely suggestion because no suitable school existed in West Harling. Wherever he acquired his schooling, it was of such quality as to allow young Nashe to enter St. John’s College, Cambridge, where, as Nashe himself later wrote in Nashe’s Lenten Stuffe (1599), Have with You to Saffron-Walden (1596), and the preface to Robert Greene’s Menaphon (1589), he did well in his studies and enjoyed the academic life. Although he complained that the curriculum at Cambridge was weighted too heavily toward vague theology and too little toward the ancient philosophers, he nevertheless praised St. John’s and was proud of his college’s reputation for sound scholarship. The Puritan influence at Cambridge, with its emphasis on utilitarian training rather than on Humanistic inquiry, did not please the inquisitive Nashe.

Nashe received his bachelor’s degree from Cambridge in 1586 and left school in 1588 without taking his master’s degree. Whether he ended his education because he lacked funds to continue (his father had died in 1587) or because he did not fit well into the Puritan narrowness at the school is not clear, but it is clear from his comments in The Anatomie of Absurditie (1589) that he thought Cambridge had failed him.

Leaving Cambridge with no resources but a ready wit, Nashe followed the lead of fellow University Wits Robert Greene and Christopher Marlowe by moving to London to attempt to support himself as a professional writer. Nashe may have been acquainted with both Greene and Marlowe at Cambridge; it is certain that he knew both in London. Like Nashe, both loved poetry and detested Puritans. In the same year that he left Cambridge, Nashe published The Anatomie of Absurditie, a dull, preachy work reflecting his inexperience and brashness. Nashe’s intent was to use the satiric pamphlet form against the satiric pamphlets of the Puritans, chiefly against Philip Stubbs’s The Anatomie of Abuses (1583), but his fervor to condemn the lack of learning and discrimination shown in the narrow Puritan tracts blossomed into a general diatribe against bad books, bad science,...

(The entire section is 1046 words.)


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Thomas Nashe was born in November, 1567, the son of William Nashe, a minister in Lowestoft, Suffolk. Because no record exists of William’s being a university graduate, it can be assumed that he was probably a stipendiary curate in Lowestoft, not a vicar. Although the title pages of Pierce Penilesse, His Supplication to the Divell and of Strange News of the Intercepting of Certain Letters refer to “Thomas Nashe, Gentleman,” Nashe himself denied that he was of gentle birth. From his earliest years, indeed, he disliked the propensity he found in middle-class Englishmen to pretend to be something other than what they were.

In 1573, Nashe’s father was granted the living in West Harling, Norfolk, where young Thomas probably spent his early years. Nothing is known of Nashe’s basic education except that it was sufficient to allow him to enter St. John’s College, Cambridge, in October, 1582. In March, 1586, he received his bachelor of arts degree and enrolled immediately to work toward the master of arts degree. In 1588, however, he left Cambridge without the degree. Perhaps financial difficulties forced him to leave the university, for his father had died the year before, in 1587. Without financial support from home, Nashe most likely would not have been able to continue his education; probably his college, dominated as it was by Puritans, would not look with favor in the form of financial assistance on the satirical young Nashe, who supported the pursuit of humanistic studies over the more narrow Puritan theology then in vogue at Cambridge.

Whatever his reasons for leaving Cambridge, Nashe certainly did not have the economic means to remain idle long. He followed the lead of two other Cambridge graduates who, armed with no wealth but their wits, turned to literature as a means of earning a livelihood. Both Robert Greene and Christopher Marlowe had gone to London to write, and both had found moderate success. Nashe may have been acquainted with both men at Cambridge, but he certainly knew them both in London. Like Nashe, both loved poetry and detested Puritans. In the same year that he left Cambridge, Nashe...

(The entire section is 879 words.)