The dramatist, novelist, and pamphleteer Thomas Nashe was the son of a minister. He spent several years at St. John’s College, Cambridge, and received his degree in 1585. By 1588 he was living in London, trying to make a living with his pen as one of the so-called University Wits. Among his friends were Robert Greene, Samuel Daniel, Thomas Lodge, and Christopher Marlowe.
At this time Puritan writers, under the pseudonym of Martin Marprelate, were attacking the bishops and the government of the Church. Using the name Pasquil, Nashe joined the controversy against the Puritans, especially against Gabriel Harvey. His contributions to the “paper war” include Strange News of the Intercepting of Certain Letters, Christ’s Tears over Jerusalem, and Have with You to Saffron-Walden.
The most notable of his works was a picaresque novel of romantic adventure entitled The Unfortunate Traveller: Or, The Life of Jack Wilton, the story of a page who attends the earl of Surrey on his Grand Tour and who marries a Venetian lady. The use of realistic detail in this work set the pattern for the novels of Daniel Defoe. Nashe also wrote several plays, among them Dido, Queen of Carthage (written together with Marlowe), and Summer’s Last Will and Testament, which was originally a masque presented at the house of Sir George Carey. A lost play, The Isle of Dogs, a slanderous work of which he wrote at least a part, led to his being sentenced to the Fleet prison, a sentence he seems to have avoided somehow. He died in 1601, probably at Yarmouth.