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Committing Authorship: Thomas Nashe and the Engaged Reader

Thomas Nashe et le lecteur engagé
Per Sivefors
p. 1-13


Les critiques consacrées à Nashe se sont longtemps concentrées sur l’idée qu’il n’avait rien à dire. Pourtant, des études récentes ont montré que ses œuvres étaient en fait de précieux témoignages sur la culture littéraire de son temps, se sont penchées sur le style et la forme particuliers de l’œuvre de Nashe. Cet article s’intéresse à l’obsession de Nashe pour le style, en tant qu’il invoque un sentiment d’engagement chez son lecteur ; par leur utilisation de la personne de l’auteur et leur forme narrative surprenante, les œuvres de Nashe forcent également le lecteur à se demander ce qu’est la littérature et ce que signifie l’acte de lecture. En d’autres termes, lorsque le narrateur prétend être incompétent et se lance dans de nombreuses digressions, cela force le lecteur à s’engager, afin d’exercer son jugement et de se poser la question du style, du récit, et plus généralement, de la littérature.

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  • 1 C. S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama, Oxford, Oxford Universit (...)

1It used to be something of a critical commonplace to see Thomas Nashe as a representative of “pure”, uncommitted literature. “If asked what Nashe ‘says’, we should have to reply, Nothing”: C.S. Lewis’ now notorious statement also can be said to foreshadow later, deconstructionist readings according to which Nashe’s prose basically reveals the logocentric prejudice of the reader.1 Arguably, though, it is precisely in their obsession with literariness that Nashe’s pamphlets can be said to reflect a sense of commitment: to literary culture, to questions of style, reading and taste. In the literary culture of the 1590s, Nashe’s texts stand out not simply because they have things to say about the English language and the literary climate but because they suggest commitment in their baffling form: it can be argued that their peculiar use of the author’s persona and their narration force the reader to consider questions of what literature is, why we read it and who has control over it. In other words, the central argument of this essay will be that Nashe’s preoccupation with literary form is not a matter of lacking commitment so much as a prerequisite for it. As interventions in the literary culture of his time, then, Nashe’s works can be said to refocus the notion of what literature can or should do because they crucially engage the reader in judgement and deliberation on their style and manner of narration.

  • 2 Andrew Hadfield, Literature, Politics and National Identity: Reformation to Renaissance, Cambridge, (...)
  • 3 See, particularly, Richard Helgerson, The Elizabethan Prodigals, Berkeley, University of California (...)
  • 4 Brown, op. cit., p. 56.

2This claim, however, requires me to reflect on the term “commitment” itself. Nashe never uses the term in the sense intended here; commitment in the sense recorded by the OED as “The committing of oneself, or being committed (to a particular course of conduct, etc.)” is not used until 1793, and the more particular sense of “the state of being involved in political or social questions, or in furthering a particular doctrine or cause, esp. in one’s literary or artistic expression; moral seriousness or social responsibility in artistic productions” is from the 20th century. But even if the word did not exist in these senses in Nashe’s time, it obviously does not mean that the action or state as such did not. Indeed, if we think of early modern literature as “committed” to a cause, the idea is inherent in the Horatian standard notion of poetry that it should teach and delight, and in the subsequent humanist emphasis on poetry as a moral pursuit. Humanism certainly spells commitment to classical literature and culture, which in turn hangs together with the moral aspect. Indeed, to a renaissance humanist a separation of aesthetic and moral commitment would hardly have made much sense. At the same time this does not necessarily imply that the role of literature was clearly defined at the time. As for example Andrew Hadfield has pointed out, writers in the sixteenth century were far from certain about what literature should look like or what it should do.2 Of course, Nashe has been frequently discussed as a pioneer in the history of professional authorship, so he is part of this transitional period, even emblematic of it in many ways.3 As Brown points out, he even creates a sense of unease among critics today because of his baffling mixture of political conservatism and aesthetic radicalism, and some of the issues this paper will address could even be an illustration of that mixture.4

  • 5 Hutson, op. cit., p. 10.
  • 6 As critics have noted, “unprofitable” also registers on the level of literal “worthlessness” – Nash (...)

3In one sense, the issue of “commitment” is at the heart of what Lorna Hutson aptly terms “the Nashe problem”. In her classic study, Thomas Nashe in Context, Hutson suggests, “if we can even suspect that Nashe’s writings are not really saying anything, they clearly lack the ethical commitment, the rhetorical efficiency, of satire”.5 It is unquestionably true that Nashe’s texts often leave their readers in a quandary over ethical questions, as demonstrated by many, sometimes hostile, critical reactions to his works. His writings hardly invoke a safe ground of morally profitable humanist learning.6 At the same time, Nashe’s insistent – and consistent – manner of addressing the reader in the interpretation of his texts equals a sense of commitment to the act of interpretation itself, to the act of reading what he wrote.

  • 7 It may be instructive to compare Nashe to a writer like Montaigne in this respect. If Montaigne fam (...)

4Thus, if Nashe’s works in significant ways refute the implication that texts are ethical containers, they do not necessarily reject the notion of commitment in the reader. This is so not because of what they say or do not say about literature but because of how they say it. If we look at what Nashe actually says about literature in works such as The Anatomy of Absurditie, he tends to rehearse standard conservative arguments about the morally profitable aspects of poetry; in fact, as evident from R.B. McKerrow’s magisterial edition of Nashe’s works, Nashe often copies other writers verbatim on these matters. However, the focus here is not so much whether Nashe claims to be committed to literature and aesthetic judgement – for he obviously does so over and over again – but rather how commitment can be said to be an effect of the structural features of his texts. Arguably, the difference between Nashe and other satirical writers at the time lies in the adroitness with which Nashe explores the device of performing in front of the reader: ever ready to admit failure, but never losing the reader out of sight.7

5In other words, the question this essay addresses is whether form can be said to convey or express commitment in the sense discussed here, and what I will attempt to show in the following discussion of passages from Nashe’s works is that the self-conscious manner of narration, drawing on the device of seeming incompetence and erratic style, paves the ground for a passing of aesthetic judgement by the reader. This is not despite the repeated false starts and wrong turns that permeate Nashe’s prose but precisely because of them. They constitute, in other words, a double-coding that presupposes that the reader is in on the joke: I’m brilliant at doing things badly – or are they badly done in the first place? Such a persistent exploitation of double-coding arguably forces the reader to respond to questions of what literature is, why we read it and who has control over it. In short, it is a narrative style that invokes commitment – both in the author and in the reader, though not necessarily in the sense of furthering a cause so much as creating a space for arguing about it.

  • 8 Kiernan Ryan, ‘The Extemporal Vein: Thomas Nashe and the Invention of Modern Narrative’, in Jeremy (...)

6It is no news to suggest that Nashe’s texts rely on double-coding or that they seem to expose a multitude of often elusive and heterogeneous voices and values. As Kiernan Ryan has suggested, drawing on Bakhtinian notions of heteroglossia, Nashe’s perhaps most read work The Unfortunate Traveller explores a range of registers and styles in which “no single voice or overarching decorum unites the text”. Nashe’s text is characterized by a “polyphonic juxtaposition of rival systems of perception and value” that anticipates the non-monologic form of the novel.8 Ryan’s position has the merit of making us see how Nashe explores multiplicity as an authorial strategy, or in other words the suggestion that his narrative is but one possible version out of many, which in consequence forces the reader to consider what literature is and does. This is a powerful counterargument to the idea that Nashe’s texts do not say anything. At the same time Ryan’s position is deterministic in the sense that it reads Nashe in the rear-view mirror as a proto-novelist whose work antedates the ‘dialogic imagination’ of the modern novel. In particular, I am not convinced that the result of Nashe’s style is a multitude of positions without distinctions or hierarchies between them. As I will attempt to show, aesthetic distinctions are particularly evident in the manner in which the narrative voice in many of Nashe’s texts engages with the reader, plays around with judgements and expectations.

7In doing so, I would like to begin not with form but with content, with what views Nashe expresses on literature. In his early work The Anatomie of Absurditie, Nashe clearly takes a standpoint in defence of poetry, a rather expected position that ultimately derives from Plutarch’s De Audiendis Poetis:

  • 9 All citations to Nashe’s works are to R. B. McKerrow (ed.), The Works of Thomas Nashe, 5 vols, Oxfo (...)

I account of Poetrie, as of a more hidden & diuine kinde of Philosophy, enwrapped in blinde Fables and darke stories, wherin the principles of more excellent Arts and morrall precepts of manners, illustrated with diuers examples of other Kingdomes and Countries, are contained. (p. 1.25)9

  • 10 For Nashe and Agrippa, see McKerrow, op. cit., p. 4.118-119 (n.8).

8This is standard stuff in the discourse of the time; as McKerrow says in his commentary to the passage, there is no reason to suspect that Nashe was imitating Plutarch directly since the views were so commonplace. However, it is characteristic of Nashe that any aesthetic judgement, even of this seemingly standard kind, is also qualified, or deferred, and this is not necessarily because Nashe did not know what he was doing. Not only is the passage from The Anatomie of Absurditie borrowed, it plods on, full of material taken from others, including Agrippa’s On the Vanity of Arts and Sciences, which as McKerrow shows, was a particular favourite of Nashe’s.10 Yet the text does not tie together its borrowings from other people’s judgements into a finished conclusion. In a manner typical of Nashe, what we get out of this patchwork of references is – other references. “I know the learned wil laugh me to scorne, for setting down such Rams horne rules of direction”, he says, though he immediately enlists those icons of Elizabethan education, Richard Mulcaster and Roger Ascham:

euen now I begin to bethinke me of Mulcasters Positions, which makes my penne heere pause as it were at a full point; which pause hath changd my opinion, and makes me rather refer you to Aschame the antienter of the two. (p. 1.48)

  • 11 Hutson, op. cit., p. 67.
  • 12 Ibid., p. 67-68.

9What is interesting here is perhaps not what Nashe thinks of Mulcaster or Ascham so much as the form in which his views are expressed. Even the briefest of pauses causes a change of opinion, until the very end of the pamphlet. It may seem as if this simply reflects an inability to adhere to the rules; as Hutson suggests, “Nashe was simply incapable of carrying out the old-fashioned prescription with conviction”.11 Not commitment, then, so much as lack of persuasion or sheer inability to stick to the formula. But I would argue that Nashe’s deferral of prescription can be seen as a strategy that wilfully commits the reader to the exercise of judgement. Indeed, it can be seen as a consistently applied formula that draws the reader into the process by asking for opinion yet also asks that same reader to admire the sprezzatura of the writer. Hutson sees Nashe’s way of ending the Anatomy as basically a lame admission of inability: he invokes “learned pardon” which “may encourage me heereafter to endeuour in some other matter of more moment” (p. 1.49).12 True, if considered in isolation, this passage does not offer much by way of conventionally edifying prose. Yet, this admission of incompetence is perhaps the most characteristic of narrative devices in Nashe’s prose, a repeated and supposedly more and more expected denial of control that not only looks like an expression of sprezzatura but also calls on the reader’s opinion in (preferably) admiring it all. What may seem as nothing but an acknowledgement of failure can in the context of Nashe’s aesthetics be seen as precisely its opposite: skill.

  • 13 Neil Rhodes, Elizabethan Grotesque, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980, p. 52.

10Indeed, this is a narrative style Nashe would return to over and over again, consistently alerting the reader to his narrative ineptitude. As a rule, critics have been quick to note these peculiarities of his style but have seen it as a sign of failing grasp of the narration. Neil Rhodes, for example, dramatically claims that “like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice [Nashe] activates the world around him with a reckless energy, but cannot bring it under control. He never really learnt how to conclude a work”.13 A perhaps simple objection against this claim is that insistent denial of control can be a marvellous way of upholding control – and Nashe arguably realized as much. True, taken at face value, his pamphlets simply seem to stop rather than end. Pierce Penniless, for example, again calls upon the reader to improve his text, with a snippet from Ovid’s Amores thrown in for good measure:

And if my zeale and duty (though all to meane to please) may by any industrie be reformed to your gratious liking, I submit the simplicitie of my indeuours to your seruice, which is, all my performance may profer, or my abilitie performe.
Præbeat Alcinoi poma benignus ager,
Officium pauper numeret studiumque fidemque.
And so I breake off this endlesse argument of speech abruptlie. (p. 1.245)

  • 14 For discussion of Ovid in this work, see Per Sivefors, ‘“This Citty-Sodoming Trade”: The Ovidian Au (...)
  • 15 It seems that Nashe particularly likes to use alliteration in dedications and other similar passage (...)

11This would not be Nashe’s last instance of quoting Ovid at the end of a pamphlet; even his longest work, Christs Teares over Jerusalem, ends with a line from the Metamorphoses.14 It could be argued that Ovid had a particular artistic significance to Nashe since Ovid’s fate – the over-indulgent poet who was forced into exile – served as a point of authorial identification for Nashe the pamphleteer who also wrote erotic poetry. But in addition to the connotations of artistic significance inherent in using Ovid as an aesthetic climax, the passage expresses self-awareness in other ways. Nashe obviously admits that he closes his text “abruptlie”, but the ending also draws attention to itself precisely as performance – indeed, that very word occurs twice in one line, first as a noun and then as a verb. That the “performance” comes to a halt in this playfully anticlimactic way begs the question of what constitutes a performance in the first place. Arguably, this impression is underscored by the intrusive alliterations (simplicitie / service, performance / profer), since they accentuate the aural, theatrical dimension of the text.15 The admission of incompetence in the adverb “abruptlie” opens up for ironic sliding between positions, since we are also led to see that it is a performance – though what criteria should be adopted to judge it? Moreover, the inserted parenthesis “though all to meane to please” destabilizes the hierarchy between pleasure and usefulness since the ending as a whole cancels out any possibilities of reading the text in terms of a morally profitable message. In the world of Nashean performance, it is the “pleasing” parentheses and awkward endings that take precedence.

  • 16 For Nashe’s dream theory in The Terrors of the Night, see Sivefors, ‘All this tractate’, art. cit.

12Let me develop this point further by looking at another piece by Nashe that “ends” in much the same way as Pierce Penniless. This is Nashe’s discourse on nightmares, The Terrors of the Night (1594), which uses exactly the same adverb as Pierce Penniless in its concluding lines: “Thus I shut vp my Treatise abruptly, that hee who in the daye doth not good woorkes inough to answere the obiections of the night, will hardly aunswere at the daye of iudgement” (p. 1.386). As an ending, this is obviously part of a larger narrative structure, and that structure is upheld by repeated, insistent and comical assertions of maladroitness. Indeed, The Terrors of the Night provides a discourse on dreams and nightmares that is just as rambling as its subject matter. Setting out to prove the point that dreams are futile and incoherent, the pamphlet is not like a dream, it is, literally, a dream itself: “all this whole Tractate is but a dreame, for my wits are not halfe awaked in it” (p. 1.360), and the entire narrative is characterized by incessantly misguided movement: “I haue rid a false gallop these three or foure pages” (p. 1.368).16 It is perhaps all too easy to take this meandering at face value, as expressions of lacking conviction or uncertainty as to how the narrative should be shaped. But the consistency with which this device is applied also belies the sense of uncertainty that it ostensibly expresses. The seeming lack of commitment to the narration – “my wits are not halfe awaked” – becomes a display of seeming nonchalance that manages to engage the reader’s taste because narrative virtuosity is exerted through the very denial of it. The reader, presumably, is not only in on the paradox but is forced to pass an aesthetic judgement: what, then, is skillful narration, how is it executed, and why?

13From such a perspective, it seems only logical that other of Nashe’s endings explore the same device. His most well-known work, The Unfortunate Traveller, ends in a now familiar way:

All the conclusiue epilogue I wil make is this; that if herein I haue pleased anie, it shall animat mee to more paines in this kind. Otherwise I will sweare vpon an English Chronicle nuer to be out-landish Chronicler while I liue. Farewell as many as wish me well. (p. 2.328)

14The abruptness of such an ending can be seen as yet another example of failure. But it comes after a narrative that has been consistent in its inconsistency, keeping up its own restless jumps and cuts as a way of constantly teasing the reader. The narrator, the court page and traveller Jack Wilton who travels throughout Europe on various adventures and mishaps, never misses an opportunity for self-reflexivity. “I must not place a volume in the precincts of a pamphlet” (p. 2.227), he admonishes himself at one point and then lists a number of things he should not retell – after which he is quick to blame the reader instead: “What, will you in your indifferent opinions allow me for my trauell no more signiorie ouer the Pages than I had before?” (p. 2.227). In this passage there is almost a double exposure of writer and narrator – travel can also be understood as “travail”, or “work”, and Jack is a court page who also controls (or does not control) the pages of the text. The expression of hesitation becomes the occasion for wit, but it also asks the question of how the story might be retold and exposes the retelling as a “travail” that begs critical judgement.

  • 17 As Steve Mentz suggests, Nashe in The Unfortunate Traveller even makes fun of the literary culture (...)

15Other passages in The Unfortunate Traveller feature similar in-joking on the relation between control and the lack thereof. In one of the most well-known episodes, Jack Wilton describes the massacre of the Anabaptists in Munster, with digressions on the topic of religious hypocrisy and schisms, and then the narrative seems to come to a full halt for a moment: “This tale must at one time or other giue up the ghost, and as good now as stay longer”. The narrator pretty much stops and considers not simply what to tell, but simply how to tell it. The retelling is above all an aesthetic problem: “the mark is clean out of my Muses mouth, & I am as it were more than duncified twixt diuinity and poetry”. But once again, the reader is immediately drawn into the decision-making as the narration jump-starts and moves on: “What is there more as touching this tragedie that you would be resolued of? say quickly, for now is my pen on foote againe” (p. 2.241). Of course, the term “tragedy” could mean, in a general sense, “tragic event” in Nashe’s time, but there is also the suggestion of a meta-dimension in describing the events in terms of a classical literary pattern. The reader is invited to “resolve” issues of the tragedy, but is also – supposedly – asked to admire the author’s virtuosity in leaving him/her behind. It is arguably this awareness of the process of constructing the story that also creates a sense of commitment to questions of literary form – the author in constructing the work, the reader to discuss it in hopefully admiring terms: “Gentle Readers (looke you be gentle now since I haue cald you so)” (p. 2.217).17

16But Nashe’s narrative voice can be even more ambiguous in invoking the reader’s judgement, especially so in texts where questions of literary taste and style are explicitly at the focus. This is perhaps nowhere more true than in the extensive series of pamphlets in that most famous among Elizabethan literary quarrels, the one between Nashe and Gabriel Harvey. In Have with you to Saffron Walden, Nashe resorts to the Rabelaisian device of luring the reader into becoming a co-author. After an unusually over-the-top load of abuse against Harvey and his brothers, Nashe provides a blank space on the page for the reader to complete him- or herself. “Purposely that space I left”, Nashe says, so that the readers “may set their hands to [the Harveys’] definitiue sentence, and with the Clearke helpe to crye Amen to their eternall vnhandsomming” (pp. 3.12-13). It may be possible to construe this sort of surprise effect as evidence that Nashe has nothing to say, that it is the witty surface we should admire and nothing beyond it. However, it is equally characteristic of Nashe that this device draws the reader into the discussion, and frequently so in terms of judging his writing. For example, in one of his dismissals of Nashe Harvey scathingly refers to “thy vnprinted packet of bawdye, and filthy Rymes” – an outburst that may allude to Nashe’s ribald manuscript poem, “The Choice of Valentines”. In one of his tireless counterattacks, Nashe responds to Harvey by a hilariously elusive statement:

Are they rimes? and are they baudie? and are they mine? Well, it may be so that it is not so; or if it be, men in their youth (as in their sleep) manie times doo something that might haue been better done, & they do not wel remember. (p. 3.129)

  • 18 Ryan, art. cit., p. 52.
  • 19 It could be added that Nashe had previously used the tagline in the context of a discourse on chiva (...)

17This is a very Nashean way of showcasing exactly what is hidden, with the assumption that the reader is in on the joke – you know that I know that you know. But the joke also presents the reader with what amounts to a whole series of familiar aesthetic as well as moral issues: what is literature, what does it say (and why) and what is the responsibility of the writer? Ryan concludes that Nashe is “engaged in writing unpredictable material for an unpredictable readership” and incorporates the reader into the narrative “in order to elicit a new kind of reading”.18 However, such a view again suggests a lack of control in both the writer and the reader, which is counterintuitive to the timing and deliberate flare of Nashe’s writing: the comical effect of passages like the quoted one is based precisely on a degree of predictability in writer and reader alike. Even the very ending of the pamphlet hints at a pact between author and reader – it features Nashe’s familiar device of using Ovid, this time the Metamorphoses 15.40: “Tu mihi criminis Author”, you are the creator of my sin (p. 3.139). In Nashe’s pamphlet, the “tu” could be understood as addressing the reader directly, and the word “Author” is set off on a separate line in the pamphlet though it is not so in Ovid’s poem, where it simply ends the line. By this final quote, the roles of author and reader seem to be jokingly reversed, with the reader drawn into the text as the author of Nashe’s own “sins”. This is not unpredictability so much as recognition that the roles are there – but can be artfully manipulated.19

  • 20 J. B. Leishman (ed.), The Three Parnassus Plays, London, Ivor Nicholson and Watson, 1949, ll. 311-3 (...)

18Obviously, reader response is a notoriously slippery area to discuss in terms of evidence. It may be useful therefore to conclude this discussion by considering some actual critical judgements on Nashe in his own time. It is to some extent an open question how readers actually did react to what Nashe wrote and what judgement they passed on it. As Hutson points out, readers did not necessarily find his texts baffling or incomprehensible but rather problematic because they were prodigal, wasting their resources in a morally unprofitable way. At the same time they do not seem to have read his works in terms of failure or incompetence – rather the contrary. In the so-called Parnassus Plays from around 1600, Nashe’s faults are acknowledged though resulting only in praise: “Let all his faultes sleepe with his mournfull chest”, the character Iudicio says, acknowledging that “His stile was wittie, though it had some gall”. Indeed, “for a mother witt, / Fewe men haue euere seene the like of it”.20 “Wit” is a charged term in Elizabethan culture, for it could suggest both admirable skill and excessive, amoral verbiage. In the quoted passage, it occurs both as an adjective and as a noun – a repetition suggesting that whatever critique Nashe inspired, artistic incapability was not one of them. Coming last in a long list of references to contemporary authors, Nashe is singled out not only because his moral and aesthetic achievement are separated from each other but because his artistry somehow makes the “gall” of his style forgiveable. It can of course be objected that the responses articulated in the Parnassus plays are not necessarily the only kind of judgement readers would have thought of when reading Nashe’s pamplets. At the same time, what it suggests is that the meanderings and false starts of Nashe’s style were not perceived as failures so much as successes on their own terms.

  • 21 Laurie Ellinghausen, Labor and Writing in Early Modern England, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2008, p. 62.
  • 22 Ibid., p. 39.
  • 23 Ibid.

19Such perceptions can be contextualized from the wider perspective of patronage and professional authorship during Nashe’s time. According to Laurie Ellinghausen, the new socioeconomic reality of authorship – working for one’s outcome – was “still largely incompatible with the idea of a positive vocational identity”.21 The Parnassus Plays, in her analysis, articulate a way of overcoming this contradiction, and Nashe is described in the plays as “both typical and singular, embedded in the world and above it”.22 To Ellinghausen, the “gall” of Nashe’s style mirrors the ongoing change of authorial roles from patronage to professionalism, or “the conversion of displacement and poverty into a professional opportunity as well as a virtue”.23 Ellinghausen’s analysis has the merit of putting both Nashe’s works and the plays in the context of changing economic circumstances. At the same time Nashe is not “above” the world in a simple or straightforward sense, for as the passages discussed in the present article show, he repeatedly exposes his own writings as “below” in terms of artistic merit – the repeated admissions of failure cumulatively build up a relation with the writer in terms of engaging the reader’s judgement. The issue is not whether Nashe’s texts are exposed as “bad” or “good” – they consistently seem to expose brilliance as the product of incompetence – which, in Nashe’s own terms, becomes a paradoxical way of asserting brilliance.

20Thus, in terms of commitment, Nashe’s texts achieve something that is ultimately separate from engaging with the text in terms of specific moral standpoints. A “committed” reader is one who holds up Nashe’s pamphlets for critical scrutiny and – like the discussants of the Parnassus plays – may admit that reading them amounts to something else than profiting from them in strictly moral terms. Incessantly, the witty interplay of control and the apparent lack thereof in Nashe’s prose invite the reader to engage with the narration, to exercise judgement, to be – in short – a committed reader.

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1 C. S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1954, p. 416. For specific recent discussions of Lewis’s claim, see for example David Landreth, The Face of Mammon: The Matter of Money in English Renaissance Literature, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2012, p. 184-226, here p. 208-210; Steve Mentz, ‘Jack and the City: The Unfortunate Traveller, Tudor London, and Literary History’, in Kent Cartwright (ed.), A Companion to Tudor Literature, Chichester, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, p. 489-503, here p. 489-90.

2 Andrew Hadfield, Literature, Politics and National Identity: Reformation to Renaissance, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994, p. 19.

3 See, particularly, Richard Helgerson, The Elizabethan Prodigals, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1976; Jonathan Crewe, Unredeemed Rhetoric: Thomas Nashe and the Scandal of Authorship, Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press, 1982; Lorna Hutson, Thomas Nashe in Context, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1989; Alexandra Halasz, The Marketplace of Print, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1997; Georgia Brown, Redefining Elizabethan Literature, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004.

4 Brown, op. cit., p. 56.

5 Hutson, op. cit., p. 10.

6 As critics have noted, “unprofitable” also registers on the level of literal “worthlessness” – Nashe implies that his prose has no monetary value, generating no profit for the penniless author and being paradoxically useful only as waste. For discussion, see Brown, op. cit.; Landreth, op. cit.

7 It may be instructive to compare Nashe to a writer like Montaigne in this respect. If Montaigne famously denies any grand design or showiness in his self-portrayal and rejects the notion of moralizing because he claims to write only for himself, Nashe’s persona is all about showing off performative skills; indeed, even his frequent admissions of incompetence can be read in terms of their value as performance since they, by being repeated and highlighted, seem to affirm precisely what they deny. See Per Sivefors, ‘“All this tractate is but a dream”: The Ethics of Dream Narration in Thomas Nashe’s The Terrors of the Night’, in Georgia Brown, ed. Thomas Nashe, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2011, p. 361-374, here p. 369-371.

8 Kiernan Ryan, ‘The Extemporal Vein: Thomas Nashe and the Invention of Modern Narrative’, in Jeremy Hawthorn (ed.), Narrative from Malory to Motion Pictures, London, Edward Arnold, 1985, p. 41-54, here p. 51.

9 All citations to Nashe’s works are to R. B. McKerrow (ed.), The Works of Thomas Nashe, 5 vols, Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1966. Citations are to volume and page number and will appear parenthetically in the text.

10 For Nashe and Agrippa, see McKerrow, op. cit., p. 4.118-119 (n.8).

11 Hutson, op. cit., p. 67.

12 Ibid., p. 67-68.

13 Neil Rhodes, Elizabethan Grotesque, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980, p. 52.

14 For discussion of Ovid in this work, see Per Sivefors, ‘“This Citty-Sodoming Trade”: The Ovidian Authorial Persona in Thomas Nashe’s Christ’s Tears over Jerusalem’, in Per Sivefors (ed.), Urban Preoccupations: Mental and Material Landscapes, Pisa, Fabrizio Serra, 2007, p. 143-157.

15 It seems that Nashe particularly likes to use alliteration in dedications and other similar passages where he addresses his readers. Compare the explosive p sounds of the opening of The Terrors of the Night: “I will herafter leane harder on my penne and fetch the petegree of my praise from the vtmost of paines” (Nashe, p. 1.345).

16 For Nashe’s dream theory in The Terrors of the Night, see Sivefors, ‘All this tractate’, art. cit.

17 As Steve Mentz suggests, Nashe in The Unfortunate Traveller even makes fun of the literary culture of his day by resorting to a whole series of specific and well-established narrative models. It may seem as if such an extensive categorization of the text strains the evidence, but it amply illustrates Mentz’ claim that Nashe’s text participate in and actively engage with the literary culture of its time. See Mentz, art. cit., passim.

18 Ryan, art. cit., p. 52.

19 It could be added that Nashe had previously used the tagline in the context of a discourse on chivalry in The Unfortunate Traveller (p. 2.273). It is as if the concluding line from Have With You to Saffron-Walden aims at self-quotation and Ovidian quotation at the same time, “branding” Nashe as an author in the Ovidian vein who builds up a relation with his reader through such intertextual strategies.

20 J. B. Leishman (ed.), The Three Parnassus Plays, London, Ivor Nicholson and Watson, 1949, ll. 311-313.

21 Laurie Ellinghausen, Labor and Writing in Early Modern England, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2008, p. 62.

22 Ibid., p. 39.

23 Ibid.

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Per Sivefors, « Committing Authorship: Thomas Nashe and the Engaged Reader », Études Épistémè, 29 | 2016, 1-13.

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Per Sivefors, « Committing Authorship: Thomas Nashe and the Engaged Reader », Études Épistémè [En ligne], 29 | 2016, mis en ligne le 21 juin 2016, consulté le 20 septembre 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/episteme.1065

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Per Sivefors

Per Sivefors is Associate Professor of English Literature at Linnaeus University, Sweden. His research interests include early modern dream narratives, urban culture, authorship, satire and masculinity, and he has published on, among others, Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Nashe and John Lyly. He is a contributor to Year’s Work in English Studies. His latest book publication is the edited collection Urban Encounters: Experience and Representation in the Early Modern City (Pisa, 2013)
Contact: Per Sivefors

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