Academic journal article Marlowe Studies

The "Hyperbolical Blasphemies" of Nashe and Marlowe in Late Tudor England

Academic journal article Marlowe Studies

The "Hyperbolical Blasphemies" of Nashe and Marlowe in Late Tudor England

Article excerpt

On the final two leaves of his copy of John Leland's Principum, ac illustrium aliquot <& eruditorum in Anglia virorum Encomia (1589), Thomas Nashe wrote, "Faustus: Che sara sara devinytie adieu." His name is penned inside the front cover, and some markings and notes on several pages have been identified as matching his handwriting.1 It may have been simply doodling, but there is a case for the import of the particular words quoted. In addition to supporting the theory of an earlier date for Doctor Eaustus, the annotations are also evidence of his interest in Christopher Marlowe, his former fellow at Cambridge. That Nashe recalled this famous line of the play suggests the importance of his engagement with the subversive tendency of Marlowe's ideas.2

We cannot precisely know when Nashe acquired his copy of Leland's Encomia nor can we say for certain when he made the annotations. What we can say is that by 1592, when he published Pierce Penilesse, His Supplication to the Devil., he had been exposed to Faustus either in manuscript or on stage. Even if the lines he copied are simply offhand notations, this recollection signifies a broad philosophical interest in the dogmatic principles behind Faustus rather than a straightforward textual parallel.3 This raises the important question of what relation these two men had to each other. Was this a friendship that extended into their professional writing careers, and did they collaborate on works such as Faustus or Dido, Queen of Carthage (1594)? While Charles Nicholl links Nashe to Marlowe and others via the speculative assessment of Nashe as a possible government operative, Pierce Penilesse suggests that it was Marlowe's interest in the powers that the devil, or the infernal, can be said to exercise in this world that made an impression on Nashe in this period.4 The lines he quotes from Faustus certainly inform Pierce Penilesse and other works from 1590 onward, as part of an intertextual dialogue that continues in Famhurlaine and The Unfortunate Traveller; or, The Ufe of Jack Wilton (1593). Nashe also seems to have been familiar with Lucan's First Book, Marlowe's translation of The Civil War, about which I include a brief discussion near the end of this essay. That Nashe wrote "devinyte adieu" twice in his copy of Encomia implies that he internalized Marlowe's attitude toward existing hegemonic views about God and religion.

There is clear evidence that Nashe was attracted to Marlowe's work throughout his career, even if he did not necessarily empathize with his contemporary's views, and was interested in the type of religious skepticism that is evident in some of his works. Their names appeared together on the title page of Dido. This does not necessarily indicate that they collaborated on it, but more likely signals editorial work prior to publication.5 The year before Dido was published, Thomas Kyd and Marlowe were both arrested for heresy and atheism, concepts that inform Pierce Penilesse as well as Faustus. Marlowe's life and work were very much on his mind. Nashe incorporates ideas from Faustus into Pierce Penilesse's exploration of the role of the infernal in earthly success.

The annotations in Nashe's copy of Encomia probably date from before the earliest recorded performance of Faustus on September 30, 1594, the year after Marlowe's death, perhaps as early as 1588 or 1589. It is in the second part of the book, among the collection of poems by Thomas Newton, that we find Nashe copied Faustus's famous daring rejection of divinity: "Faustus: Che sera sera deivinyte adieu," and "devinynt, adieu" and what looks like the words "Faustus: Studie in Indian Silke."6 This was perhaps a vague recollection of Faustus's desire for goods from around the world, "I'll have them fly to India for gold" (1.1.84), and his rejection of the Cambridge dress code: "I'll have them fill the public schools with silk, / Wherewith the students shall be bravely clad" (1.1.92-93).7 It is not difficult to imagine the possibility that Nashe remembered the line incorrectly from either an early performance or from his reading of the text-or that Marlowe and Nashe collaborated on the play together, and as Nashe recalled lines from what Marlowe wrote, he penned some key ideas on his copy of the Leland text. …

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