Thomas Nashe was an Elizabethan pamphleteer who courted controversy but, during his short life, was also one of the most prolific and influential satirists and poets of the time. He was born in Lowestoft in 1567, his father a curate who later gained a post at West Harling where the family moved when Nashe was just six years old.
At the age of 14 he was given some assistance to attend Cambridge where he earned his degree five years later but left without gaining a Master’s, as was the convention of the time, for reasons that remain unclear. He had for a long time sought to pursue a literary career and now he found himself in London, preoccupied with trying to find a patron who could support him and getting into a variety of controversies.
Although his first major work is thought to be The Anatomy of Absurdity, he is also generally thought to be the anonymous individual who wrote the inflammatory An Almond for a Parrot that appeared in 1590. He was also involved in the Marprelate controversy for which he is credited with writing three separate works.
At the same time Nashe also wrote some erotic poetry including the notable example The Choice of Valentines in the early part of the 1590s. The work was largely criticized for its obscenity at the time but was seen later as a fairly standard example of what many consider as Elizabethan pornography. He often produced these works to get some quick money when his purse was empty and made no apologies for doing so.
Nashe entered into a literary battle with the Harvey brothers who often complained about the works of the anti-Martinist pamphleteers of whom Nashe was one along with his friend Robert Greene. The four year literary feud saw Nashe write such works as Have With You To Saffron Waldon, aimed at Gabriell Harvey who had previously vilified him in another pamphlet.
Nashe’s work wasn’t all about controversy. In 1592 he wrote one of his more famous works in Summer’s Last Will and Testament, a masque that was not fully published until eight years later. Nashe often could not help satirizing in his work though and, in 1593, his poem Christ’s Tears Over Jerusalem caused more trouble and he spent a short time in jail at Newgate before a patron bailed him out.
In 1597, Nashe worked with dramatist Ben Jonson to write the play The Isle of Dogs which caused a good deal more controversy at the time. Jonson was jailed for its publication and Nashe’s house was searched though he had already managed to escape into the country. Other works included The Life of Jack Wilton and an attack on demonology in The Terrors of the Night.
The last work known to have been written by the poet was called Nashes Lenten Stuffe and was published in 1599. He is thought to have died around 1601 when he would have been about 34 years of age. Various causes of death have been given including plague, which was rife at the time, and food poisoning.