The Unfortunate Traveller

by Thomas Nashe

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Thomas Nashe's incredible episodic 1594 work The Unfortunate Traveller: or, the life of Jack Wilton follows the titular character across the European continent of the sixteenth century. From England to Germany, Italy, and beyond, Jack encounters numerous characters and narrowly escapes danger every episode. He describes how, in her rage, the Countess of Manua frightens a maid into making a fatal error.

After her fury had reasonably spent itself, her breast began to swell with the mother, caused by her former fretting & chafing, and she grew very ill at ease. Whereupon she knocked for one of her maids, and bade her run into her closet, and fetch her a little glass that stood on the upper shelf, wherein there was spiritus vini. The maid went, &, mistaking, took the glass of poison which Diamante had given her, and she kept in store for me. Coming with it as fast as her legs could carry her, her mistress at her return was in a sound, and lay for dead on the floor . . .

It is the most slapstick type of comedy imaginable, seemingly more at home in a modern sitcom. It shows the endurance of humor.

The prevalence of religion is not to be missed, either. In the sixteenth century, every published work had to go through censorship, and it would have been uncommon to have a work devoid of religion. It was illegal to publicly go against the church. Morality was heavily tied to religion at the time, and this is present in Nashe's writing.

Defer awhile thy resolution; I am not at peace with the world, for even but yesterday I fought, and in my fury threatened further vengeance; had I a face to ask forgiveness, I should think half my sins were forgiven. A hundred devils haunt me daily for my horrible murders; the devils when I die will be loath to go to hell with me, for they desired of Christ he would not send them to hell before their time; if they go not to hell, into thee they will go, and hideously vex thee for turning them out of their habitation.

In this quote, one can see how clearly morality and religion are presented in sixteenth century literature. So even though the tone and style of this work are quite ambitious and daring for the time, the content is familiarly devout for the period, as well.

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