PLEASE READ THIS NOTE: This page contains my personal interpretation of Nashe's play 'Summer's Last Will and Testament'. These are the lone theories of an unqualified amateur, and should not be treated as equivalent to views given elsewhere on the site which are based on the scholarly consensus. I should also stress that most scholars are deeply sceptical of the possibility of political satire in Elizabethan drama (see below).

Does Nashe's only surviving play contain satire?

" is absurd to suppose that any Elizabethan play might contain satiric references to any aristocrats of the day."

Jonathan Bate, 'The Genius of Shakespeare'

In his statement above, Dr Bate was forcefully making the point that, judging by everything we know of Elizabethan society, openly ridiculing the great on stage was impossible. While dismissing the suggestion that a character in Hamlet is somehow a caricature of a recently-deceased Privy Councillor he points out: 'Polonius cannot be a satirical portrait of Lord Burghley for the simple reason that if he were, the author of the portrait would have found himself in prison before he could turn round.' I don't think any sensible person could disagree with that view. I certainly don't: nevertheless, I'm about to suggest that Summers Last Will and Testament, a play performed in 1592, contained nothing but satirical portraits of leading men of the day. I would however point to one major difference between this play and Hamlet: SLW was never intended to be seen on the public stage. I am arguing for the existence of clandestine Elizabethan satirical drama.

Could such a thing be? The increasing measures taken by Elizabeth's officials to prevent anything of the sort are well recorded. Still, it's a moot point whether such measures mean it simply couldn't happen, or that it was already happening and the government was determined to put a stop to it. But first let me briefly say I completely accept that political satire of any kind in an early modern state was a dangerous undertaking. In Elizabethan times there was no law to protect the satirist from the revenge of those in power, and only a limited sympathy in society at large for the concept of free speech. This was an age when Elizabeth could commit MPs to prison for discussing in parliament matters she felt were purely her concern, and this behaviour was not seen as 'tyrannical'. On the contrary, it was an accepted function of government to repress, in the name of good order, what were perceived as challenges to its authority. There were of course discontented, even subversive, voices struggling to be heard, for which we find evidence in illicitly-printed pamphlets such as Leicester's Commonwealth and the whole Martinist debate. No-one would disagree either that there was a strong literary vogue for satire in the troubled last years of the Queen's long reign, manifesting itself in verse and prose. But on the whole it was generalized, seldom straying into the danger areas of personalities and politics: and anyway, literature can circulate in manuscript and so escape the censor, while drama is above all a public art. But even within drama itself I can point to a fashion for satire of living individuals on late Elizabethan-early Jacobean stage; but in the plays that have come down to us the persons ridiculed were never men of great power and rank. It's worth remembering though that not everything written and acted at the period has come down to us; The Isle of Dogs for example has not. While it's tricky to argue much from a play suppressed so thoroughly no text now exists, the official response to it was so severe that it seems likely TIOD contained reflections on very important people indeed. The Privy Council was the body which ordered its suppression. As a leading authority on Elizabethan literature once pointed out to me, that fact speaks for itself. It strongly suggests the play was objectionable for its political content. Had it been merely scurrilous or salacious (both possible, considering the track record of the author) then the usual London authorities would have been adequate to deal with it. Its principal author was, of course, Thomas Nashe.

Apart from TIOD I admit evidence for clandestine political drama is thin - but then, in the nature of things you would expect it to be. There is however the famous case of Shakespeare's history of Richard II, which the Essex conspirators evidently believed would be understood by its audience as having contemporary political relevance. This suggests the notion of interpreting a play as political allegory was not a novelty even to the general public. (There is also Elizabeth's subsequent reported comment to Lambarde that this play had been played 'forty times in open streets and houses'. This is interesting because it is not quite clear to me which venues the Queen imagined this play had been seen in. Did she mean regular public theatres, or elsewhere? If by 'houses' Elizabeth meant playhouses, it seems odd that her authorities should have acted so promptly against TIOD while ignoring Richard II. Why quickly shut down one 'political' play at one Bankside theatre, but let another run for 'forty' performances? But if by 'houses' Elizabeth simply meant 'residences', then perhaps she suspected Richard II had received unlicensed performances at the homes of prominent men. In which case, it may also qualify as clandestine private satirical drama.) William Shakespeare came under suspicion again when he used the name of an ancestor of the Brooke family for a disreputable character in his history plays, and at that family's behest was obliged to alter it. I realise this is hardly evidence of 'political satire', but it may be evidence that in the 1590s factionalism and court rivalries were finding expression in the theatres.

There was also a case in 1609 where a private household was the scene of an interlude satirically deriding the Elizabethan religious settlement; on the other hand it did happen at the back of beyond (Cumbria), and it was punished very severely. There is Jonson and his imprisonment for the play which criticised James' favouring of Scots; and Daniel, refuting accusations of political parallelism in Philotas; and Jonson again, in trouble over allegations of something similar in Sejanus. Lastly, while we're in the area, there is an interesting quote from another Blackfriars play suppressed in 1607, one which by its title clearly hoped to trade on its notorious Nashe predecessor - The Isle of Gulls. In its opening sequence two actors are pretending to be part of the audience and discussing the forthcoming play. One hopes it will be about sex. But the other is hoping for satire: 'I love to heare vice anatomizd, & abuse let blood in the maister vaine, is there any great mans life charactred int?' he asks wistfully. If the Elizabethan government had been completely successful in its attempts to regulate the stage, why would a fictional playgoer be represented as if he had already seen plays in which the lives of 'great men' had been satirised? Had Dr. Bate's caveat been entirely true, that line would make no sense at all: though the fact that The Isle of Gulls was promptly closed down shows that his warning, in general, is fair.

So in claiming that personal, political satire of important people ever happened on the Elizabethan stage at all, I am presupposing that not only was the cultural climate ripe for it, but that drama venues existed which offered the necessary degree of privacy. This means looking away from the public stage and focusing instead on university colleges, inns of court revels, and the homes of the wealthy. This page attempts to set out an argument for interpreting one such private entertainment, Nashe's Summer's Last Will and Testament (hereafter SLW) as pure satire. In fact mega-satire, as I argue it contains critical portraits of, among others, Lord Burghley, the Earl of Oxford and James of Scotland. So exit now if you like.

Firstly, four facts about Summer's Last Will and Testament which strongly contra-indicate satire:
  • It was entered in the Stationers' Register on 28 October 1600, at a time when, by order of the Archbishop of Canterbury, all work by Nashe was officially banned from publication. Nevertheless it was approved by 'master harsnet and the Wardens', and there's no record of any negative official response to its publication.
  • Internal evidence shows it had actually been put on before Archbishop Whitgift himself in early October 1592. This is its only known performance.
  • Nashe was apparently a bona fide member of the Archbishop's household at the time the play was produced.

  • Archbishop Whitgift, an austere man, was a Privy Councillor, a loyal servant of the Queen and her personal friend. He was also her chief literary censor.

I summarize the points above so you can understand the enormous unlikelihood in arguing that this play, of all Elizabethan plays, contains any satire. If it did, then a play which openly ridiculed and attacked great men was first performed in front of a loyal Privy Councillor; and then published without any reprisal. It's hard to decide which of these events is more improbable. Regarding the first, on the face of it there was hardly anyone alive in 1592 less likely to sit down and watch a bit of cutting-edge satire than Archbishop Whitgift. Yet we know he did watch this play, and if the prelate the puritans called 'the Pope of Lambe-hythe' felt he could safely watch it, who am I to suggest it's fishy? And as to the second - if there were any satire at all in SLW then why didn't the sky fall in when it was finally published? Despite these almost insuperable objections I'm still arguing this text is the lone survivor of a genre of satirical drama that originated in Cambridge, flourished briefly and clandestinely in private performances during the 1590s, emerged once into public view with the disastrous The Isle of Dogs, and finally bequeathed a legacy to the drama of Jonson and others.

My theory in brief:

  • Summer's Last Will and Testament is topical satire and its central theme is the problem of the Succession. (See more)
  • It's the evolved form of a play Nashe part-wrote at Cambridge c. 1587, Terminus et non terminus, which gave serious offence to the University authorities when first performed.(See more)
  • After leaving Cambridge Nashe reworked this original short play - which then perhaps consisted only of the characters of the four seasons - and with additions of fresh scenes satirising contemporary great men, peddled it about as a private entertainment for various courtiers (probably Lord Strange and Sir George Carey; possibly the Earl of Essex.)(See more)
  • He was invited into the play-loving Archbishop's household c.September 1592 specifically to stage this underground hit. For this audience it had first to be overhauled completely to exclude any criticism of the Queen, and also beefed up with encomiums to her. A scene eulogising Whitgift's recently deceased friend Sir Christopher Hatton was also added.(See more)
  • Robert Greene was involved in redrafting the play over the summer of 1592. (See more)
  • Despite the careful re-write the strongly anti-Cecilian tone of the play made it unacceptable to Whitgift, who quickly distanced himself from the performance. Nashe was 'let go' from his household shortly after.(See more)
  • The embarrassing complicity of Whitgift and his chaplain Bancroft in this production however hampered their prosecution of Nashe for his part in 'The Isle of Dogs' affair.(See more)
  • Nashe referred to the scandal in 'Nashe's Lenten Stuffe': his merry tale of the Pope and the Herring from that work is a burlesque version of the whole episode.(See more)
  • The blanket ban on satires, and particularly all Nashe's and Harvey's works, which Whitgift and Bancroft imposed a month or so after Lenten Stuffe appeared, was intended to suppress any further mention of this play.(See more)
  • The play's publication c. October 1600 was part of a propaganda surge prior to Essex's rebellion. (See more)

Why do I think the play is political satire? A simple outline will probably give anyone familiar with the period an idea of the suspicions I entertain. As far as I can see the action of this play - such as it is - is in two parts:.

  1. a monarch dying without heirs of his body is trying to choose a successor.
  2. the monarch's servants are being reviewed and their faults ridiculed.
Concentrating on the first, I don't feel a need to say which contemporary Elizabethan problem it resembled. If none occurs to you, I suggest you exit now. If you're still reading, I'd like you to look at the characters of the four seasons. They are not equals. Summer is the overlord: Autumn the potential heir: Winter a cherished associate of Summer. These cardinal three are present on stage throughout, while the fourth season, 'Ver' or Spring, has a less august status. He's never mentioned as in the running for a share in power; he is called into court, reproved and then dismissed. Ver is purely Summer's servant.

Summer : Summer is a monarch who has reigned long and well but is now facing the inevitable prospect of mortality. ('Fayre Summer droops, droope men and beasts therefore : So fayre a summer looke for neuer more.') Summer's deepest concern is the problem of who shall succeed to supreme power. ('Had I some issue to sit in my throne / My griefe would die, death should not heare mee groane')
Summer:- Benevolent: well-loved: longtime ruler nearing the end: no natural heir.

The two candidates hoping to inherit Summer's authority are:

Autumn: Autumn expects to succeed, indeed can hardly wait ('Hold, take my crowne:- looke how he graspes for it!') The objections made to him are that he is unfit to rule, being poor, weak and easily pushed around ('A weather-beaten banckrout ass it is...Eche one do pluck from him without controll.') although intellectuals apparently admire him ('He and the spring are schollers fauourites.') He is treated with scant respect by Summer's established servants, especially the hectoring drunk Bacchus, who calls him 'dough-belly' and 'micher' and at one point threatens to urinate on his back. Nevertheless, for want of a better candidate Autumn gets Summer's vote in the end. ('Autumne, be thou successor of my seat')
Autumn:- Impoverished: desperate to inherit: doubts about his ability to rule: admired by intellectuals.

Winter: Surprisingly, Winter is Summer's valued associate (his son is told 'we love thy father well') and he believes himself better qualified to rule than Autumn ('I am more worthy of it [the crown] far than he; he hath no skill nor courage for to rule'). Summer appears to agree, at least in part: Winter may not directly inherit the crown, but is to be given power to moderate and guide Autumn ('I grant his overseer thou shalt be'). In appearance Winter is dignified ('a jolly, mild, quiet old man'). Well-educated himself, he nevertheless gives a very long speech expressing utter contempt for scholars. He is personally austere, but criticised for keeping too much in his own hands and excluding others from a share in Summer's bounty ('He overbars the crystal streams with ice,/That none but he and his may drink of them'). He does this for the sake of his beloved younger son, Back-winter. And here I have to mention a peculiarity of Winter. Unlike Summer, who has no natural heir, Winter has been blessed with two.

  • Son #1:His elder son Christmas is a stupid churl, unworthy of the position he holds, and little more than a joke. Despite his seniority, no-one mentions the possibility he might inherit power.

  • Son #2: His younger son Back-winter however is a small, power-crazed psychopath ('an elf it is compact of envious spite') who for reasons not given appears to have some insane grudge against the world. He too stands to inherit power, and is feared as potentially much more tyrannical than his father ('Back-winter comes but seldome foorth abroad, / But when he comes, he pincheth to the proofe; / Winter is mild, his sonne is rough and sterne.')

Nevertheless his father dotes on his younger son, even when forced to acknowledge his real nature. When Back-winter's true character is revealed, instead of being punished as he surely deserves he is condemned to - help his father rule. ('Winter, imprison him in thy dark cell.../Ne'er to peep forth but when thou, faint and weak, /Want'st him to aid thee in thy regiment.')
Winter:- austere: mild in appearance: enjoys Summer's confidence: capable of rule, if harsh: resented as over-dominant: has two sons, the younger dreaded as a worse version of his old man.

Finally we have the last of the seasons, Spring. He is not a potential heir at all but merely Summer's servant.
Ver: Spring, or 'Ver' as he is called throughout, is, like Autumn, apparently a favourite with scholars. Certainly his speeches, with their lavish use of Latin tags, suggest he is something of a scholar himself. Unfortunately his scholarship only allows him to present a specious argument in favour of being a sponging wastrel ('I will prove it that an unthrift, of any, comes nearest a happy man...'). He's essentially trivial-minded, indeed 'silly' would hardly be too strong a word. Having received enormous revenues from Summer he's squandered them all on sexual self-indulgence ('giving of green gowns') and arty-farty entertainments. He is abandoned to the beggary his behaviour has deserved .('Riot may flourish, but finds want at last')
Ver:- Heavy spender: self-indulgent and sexually loose: frothy intellectual: now broke.

I think the original show Terminus et non terminus went no further than this. I also think Winter's sons are a later addition.

If the situation and characters outlined above don't strike you particularly as having parallels in the Elizabethan political world c. 1586-1592, then again there is little point in reading on. If they do so strike you, you can check your guess against my suspicions below.

Ostensibly SLW appears to be a reflection on the changing year, in which the seasons are personified and amusingly differentiated. While I admit there's no single detail in the depiction of the four seasons strong enough in itself to support the parallel I am suggesting, I think even the summary above shows a significant accumulation of small ones. There are also discrepancies in the basic idea. The mainspring of the play is a 'succession crisis' caused by Summer having no natural heir. This notion seems fair enough: the seasons do alternate, they are never followed by their like. But then if Summer cannot have heirs, why has Winter been given two? (And why such an interestingly-contrasted two?) And if Autumn and Winter are shown as vying for power because each season inevitably 'rules' in turn, why is Spring never a potential heir, merely Summer's servant? If the whole plot reflects the yearly cycle, why does Summer say that he has given Spring revenues - when in the course of nature it's surely the other way around? And why is Spring, alone of the seasons, repeatedly addressed by his Latin name 'Ver'? These small inconsistencies may be a product of Nashe writing at speed and not thinking through his basic concept. I suggest they are a result of his tweaking a traditional theme to make it resemble a current topic which was both absolutely verboten and quite impossible not to think about - the Elizabethan succession.

With the exception of the above and Will Summers, all the other characters appearing in the play are Summer's 'servants'. In my interpretation of the play these would be later additions, and would be portraits of noted courtiers. I intend to deal with their identities elsewhere.

In The Trimming of Thomas Nash Gentleman [1] we're told by Lichfield [2] that around 1586/7 Nashe got into serious trouble with the university authorities because of a 'show' he helped put on and perhaps part-wrote.

'...being Bachelor of Arte(i.e. c. 1587)... to shew afterward that he was not vnworthie of it, had a hand in a Show called Terminus & non terminus : for which his partner in it was expelled the Colledge: but this foresaid Nashe played in it (as I suppose) the Varlet of Clubs ; which he acted with such natural affection, that all the spectators tooke him to be the verie same.'

And here I'd like to draw your attention to Lichfield's identification of Terminus et non terminus as a 'show', because the word had a special significance in Cambridge university drama. To quote C. G. Moore Smith[3] , at Cambridge a 'show' "relied for its success largely on its topical allusions and satire". Nashe himself uses the word in its particular Cambridge sense in Have With You to Saffron-walden when he speaks of the personal satirical attacks made on the Harveys:

'Let him denie there was a Shewe made at Clare-hall of him and his two Brothers...Let him denie that there was another Shewe made of the little Minnow his brother...whereupon Dick came and broke the Colledge glasse windowes; and Doctor Perne (being then either for himselfe or Deputie Vice-chancellour) caused him to be fetcht in and set in the Stockes till the Shew was ended...' (TN,
So Lichfield's repeated use of the term 'show' above to describe T&NT is significant. It suggests, as we would rather expect considering Nashe, that the lost play was a satire. Produced c.1587, it caught the university authorities on the raw. That may have been because it satirized either important people within the University or leading citizens of the town.[4] But if it was something reflecting on national politics I think 1587, the likely date of production, would be significant for two reasons. Firstly, at this time the recent execution of Mary Queen of Scots had dragged the problem of the Succession to the forefront of every thinking man's mind. It was at this identical period that Wentworth[5] began his campaign to pressure Elizabeth into naming her heir, a campaign she so fiercely resented it led to his imprisonment and eventual (natural) death in the Tower. I find it hard to believe that the more intellectually-lively students at Cambridge never discussed this vital question among themselves. I also think it's safe to say that in 1587 hardly any topic would have been less welcome to the University authorities as a subject for college drama than a satirical speculation on the Succession. Any student involved in such a show - even if he claimed, as I think Nashe did, that he was merely an actor and not a writer - could expect trouble. And if someone did come up with a clever skit which, under guise of a meditation on the changing seasons, actually examined the Succession, then Terminus et non terminus would be a really good title for it.

The second significance of the period 1587, from the viewpoint of my theory, is that at that time the Earl of Oxford wound up a profligate career by coming to spectacular grief. Edward de Vere must have been well-remembered in Cambridge, where he had dazzled ten years earlier 'in the prime of his gallantest youth',[6] a glittering figure fresh from Italy, attended by perfumed pages, sprinkling hopeful scholars like Gabriel Harvey with gold angels. Now he began selling off his estates and retiring to obscurity. How could poor young students - endlessly picked on for the least sexual misconduct, trudging to lectures in their dowdy regulation gowns, living on the 'scholarly diet' enjoined them - how could they possibly not thrill at the downfall of the playboy earl? Could flesh and blood not rejoice at the thought of this noble highroller now adapting to a life of privation?

And, at the risk of making anyone familiar with the Google group 'HLAS' fall about laughing, I also think Lichfield's references to 'varlet(of clubs)' and 'verie (same)' are intentional too. So, no prizes for guessing which real-life nobleman I think the 'vncivill nurturde boy' Ver was meant to represent, nor which part I think Lichfield is hinting that Nashe - boyish, beardless Nashe - played in that scandalous production.

Thus I think that if we accept that the nucleus of SLW, the play of the Four Seasons, represents both the succession crisis and the fall of Oxford, then we have two topics which would have been of peculiar interest to young men at Cambridge in 1587.

There are other reasons why I think SLW may have begun life at university, but which I will leave aside for the moment, though I hope you will come back to them before making up your mind on this issue.

Lastly, I'd like to point out that '..nay, 'tis no Play neyther, but a shewe' is how Will Summer introduces 'Summer's Last Will and Testament' to its audience. Nor am I the first person to notice the significance of the word, for Hibbard pointed it out long before me:

'The very use of the word 'Show' proves that the writer of The Trimming knew what he was talking about, for, according to Moore Smith, there was a distinction made at Cambridge between a show and a play in that ' "a show" represented the mediaeval tradition of a disguising...and probably relied for its success largely on its topical allusions and satire'. A show is, in fact exactly the kind of dramatic production that Nashe might be expected to have had a hand in; and we know that he was well aware of the distinction between it and a play proper, because in his own Summer's Last Will and Testament he gives the clown, Will Summers, the comment 'nay, 'tis no Play neyther, but a shewe'.' (Hibbard, p. 85)
I should quickly add in fairness to Hibbard that he, of course, doesn't go on to attach the same significance to Nashe's use of the word in Summer's Last Will and Testament as I do - or at least I don't remember his going on to suggest that Summers' remark should be taken at face value, and the ensuing scenes examined for satirical content, which is basically what I'm arguing we should do.


We know Nashe had decided to leave Cambridge and survive by writing c. late midsummer 1589. [1] We also know he had early contacts with actors, since he refers in Strange Newes to having known Tarleton.[2] At this period even the government itself was involved with dramatic satire, since as part of the campaign against 'Martin Marprelate' it briefly encouraged anti-Martinist dramas - then, typically, because of the feverish public interest aroused by them it tightened stage controls.[3] I believe in this climate Nashe would naturally have taken the text of any 'shew' he had been involved in with him and, exploiting his theatrical contacts, offered it in clandestine performance to those younger members of the court elite who might be expected to relish disrespectful treatment of the elder generation's great and good. (I feel sure Lord Strange was one. We know Nashe produced under-the-counter erotica for him, he was an enthusiast for plays and, best of all, he had northern retreats that even Lord Burghley's intelligence-gatherers would have found hard to penetrate.) How Nashe made enough money to get by during his first writing days is, as Nicholl says, 'something of a mystery' [4] , and while I don't suggest putting on private 'shews' would be his only source of income, I don't see why it wouldn't have been one of them. If Nashe could supply one forbidden item to the nobility - porn - why not also satire, a genre we know from Lichfield's testimony he'd already experimented with at university, and which was to feature sensationally in his later play-writing career? It's not as if households like Lord Strange's couldn't provide the acting talent and the private venue. And T&NT (if indeed it followed the lines I suppose) could very easily be recycled. The central succession theme would remain relevant, while the idea of hauling Summer's 'servants' into court was capable of endless development. Nashe could presumably add bolt-on scenes to suit the taste, and probably mock the enemies, of whichever nobleman was paying him for a clandestine performance. Performances had to be clandestine, because it was a play which by virtue of its subject-matter could never be acted in the public theatres. Only at great houses in the depths of the country, or in private rooms in London where the audience consisted of the patron and his trusted friends, could this dangerous satire be seen.


In due course though rumours of the play leaked out and came to the ears of two particularly well-informed playlovers [1] : Whitgift and his chaplain, Richard Bancroft. That it should come to their ears would be unsurprising. They were in charge of suppressing this kind of thing. But why would they not simply move in and squash it, and its author, as thoroughly as they had 'Martin Marprelate' earlier? Why would I imagine that instead they made delicate enquiries with a furtive view to seeing a performance themselves? Well, I would suggest Whitgift's motive would be a mixture of pride of place and intellectual curiosity. Regarding the latter, Whitgift had after all been Master of Trinity for twelve years: the tradition of Cambridge 'shewes' wasn't new to him. His biographer Sir George Paule describes the arciepiscopal household as still like a college:

'his home, for the lectures and scolastic exercise therein performed, might justly be accounted a little academy, and in some respects superior and more profitable.'

(Paule, quoted in Nicholl, p.140)

How learned a man Whitgift truly was I can't pretend to judge. I have seen it suggested that he knew no Greek, and that by the standards of the day this made him only an indifferent scholar: I can't say, as I don't know enough about Whitgift or Elizabethan education. But in a sense it wouldn't matter whether Whitgift was truly part of the intelligentsia or only thought he was. Either way, if he heard there was a university satire which was considered a work of rare wit, though perhaps a little rash and near the knuckle in parts, his curiosity might be sufficiently piqued for him to drop a hint to his right-hand man Bancroft to instigate enquiries, to put out feelers and see whether this 'shew' - suitably tidied up and cleansed, above all, of any taint of contempt towards the Queen herself - might not do for him. A second reason I think he might wish to see it would be if performances had, until then, been confined to a noble elite. Whitgift's ideas of the role of Archbishop seem to have derived more from the past, with its princes of the church, than the puritanical future.[2] If a play was extant which only the highest in the land might see, he would consider himself its rightful audience.

Picture Whitgift giving the nod to Bancroft, and Bancroft perhaps making enquiries through a humbler intermediary still, sending him along for an off-the-record conversation with the hard-up author. (And Nashe after all was not a completely unknown quantity: he had already served his Archbishop and country in the campaign against 'Martin'.[3]) It would immediately be obvious that it would be better all round if the play was put on, not at Lambeth, but at Croydon, and not during term but while the court and its prying entourage were safely off on progress. And Bancroft would have stressed, and re-stressed, and written up in letters of fire that this play should contain nothing that would offend Whitgift's deep loyalty to the Queen. The Archbishop might be tempted at the thought of a topical satire on the follies of certain members of the court whose lewd behaviour he deprecated (Ralegh, Oxford), or with whom he had clashed (Burghley): he would not have countenanced any affront to Elizabeth. In fact the play would need to be completely overhauled and updated to bring it into conformity with the Archbishop's worldview, as I think the only political opinions it would ever really be safe to show to Whitgift, were Whitgift's.

I believe the 'Solstitium' scene was added at this time, and that its central character was intended as a portrait of Sir Christopher Hatton, who had died in November 1591. Hatton had been Whitgift's closest political ally.[4] He was also a personal friend, and Whitgift's chaplain, Bancroft, had once been Hatton's chaplain.[5] (See here for more about this.)


Among the murk of inadequate and missing documentation that makes up our picture of Nashe's life at this period we can be sure of one thing - he was in London during the first week of August 1592. That was when he met Robert Greene for the 'fatal banquet' of booze and pickled herring which was allegedly Greene's final debauch. But by September 8th, when PP came out, he was already in Croydon. [1] SLW appears to have been played there around the first week in October. [2] That only leaves Nashe about six or seven weeks to write and rehearse his play. Given the pace of writing admired in the Elizabethan age I suppose this might be possible, but only if SLW is indeed the one-off extravaganza that it's often represented as being. If Nashe was just bashing something out, he had time. But surely it isn't time enough to write, or even re-write, a complex satire? Yet Nashe's great success Pierce Penilesse was published September 8th, which means he must have been occupied with that over the summer. When do I suppose he found time to do all the refurbishment required to make his old warhorse of a satire suitable for the archbishop? I can't believe Nashe could complete a major rewrite in the time between leaving London (second week in August at the earliest) and the most probable date of performance at Croydon, which is c. October 7/10th; especially if, as seems likely, he had to rehearse a partly-amateur cast. Seven weeks would perhaps be enough to scribble SLW if it's really the simplehearted morality it's always assumed to be, but bringing daring satire into line with the tastes of a very particular patron needs more careful thought. So although Nashe could have been contacted and begun the re-write earlier, could he really have rewritten and expanded SLW unaided? I don't think so. I think he turned for help to an old friend, a former colleague with more experience in the playwriting line, and asked him to share the load. Three candidates spring to mind, all known associates and ex-university men - Lyly, Greene and Marlowe. But only one of them claimed to have written something with Nashe over the summer of 1592.

'...With thee I ioyne young Iuvenall, that byting Satyrist, that lastlie with mee together writ a Comedie...'
The quote above is from the famous passage in Greenes Groatsworth of Wit where Greene addresses his playwriting university friends. There have been several suggestions as to which work Greene and 'young Iuvenall' - Nashe - produced together. It's been suggested they collaborated on A Knack to Know a Knave; McGinn thought it might be not a play but a pamphlet, the Quip for an Upstart Courtier; Nicholl too thought it might be a pamphlet, but perhaps the anonymous The Defence of Conny-Catching.[3] Well, I suggest SLW. I think this was the 'comedy' Robert Greene claimed to have recently written with Nashe in that famous passage quoted above. [4]

I also think it's worth noting that when in Have With You to Saffron-walden Nashe indignantly rebuts Harvey's charge that he imitated Greene, he claims to have excelled the latter in every branch of literature, except one:

'...none that euer had but one eye, with a pearl in it, but could discerne the difference twixt him (Greene) and me; while hee liu'd (as some Stationers can witnes with me) hee subscribing to me in any thing but plotting Plaies, wherein he was his crafts master.'[5]

And here I have to mention another possibility, though I may be unduly suspicious. I have to say, from my amateur viewpoint, I think this single play contains the only real poetry Nashe ever wrote. Otherwise, you're looking at stuff like A Choise of Valentines, or the sonnet in Pierce Penilesse or the even worse one in The Unfortunate Traveller.[6] While these non-SLW poems may have technical merit, and I think perhaps Choise has a pace and vigour that's appropriate to its unusual subject, to me it seems that to one degree or another they all read like pastiche. What Nashe never seems to achieve, other than in this solitary play, is unaffectedly touching verse. Yet here he strikes gold time and again. The poetry here has certain notes - tender, nostalgic, poignant - that he never sounds elsewhere. But Greene had quite a lyric gift, and if he proved to be associated with this play then I think it would be right to consider whether he wrote its songs. Certainly I can believe that the man who wrote

Weep not, wanton, smile upon my knee
When th'art old, there's grief enough for thee [7]

may also have written

Goe not yet away, bright soul of the sad yeare
The earth is hell, when thou leau'st to appeare. [8]
But equally, for Nashe's sake this is one bit of the theory I wouldn't mind seeing discredited.
  • Despite the re-write the strongly anti-Cecilian tone of the play made it unacceptable to Whitgift, who quickly distanced himself from the performance. Nashe was 'let go' from his household shortly after.

    Nashe's association with Whitgift was apparently over by early 1593. In fact, Whitgift left Croydon shortly after SLW was allegedly produced, as on October 11th he had to attend a Privy Council meeting at Hampton Court. He was back there however by October 30th.

    In late 1592 Nashe wrote his reply to Harvey, Strange Newes, in which he refers to being in a house "where there bee more rare quallified men and selected good Schollers than in any Noblemans house that I knowe in England", and mocks that Harvey's own writings are 'cleane cast away on the rocks called the Bishop & his Clarks'. This clearly implies he was still with Whitgift while writing Strange Newes, which came out in early 1593. In The Terrors of the Night however Nashe says 'It was my chance in Februarie last to be in the Countrey some threescore myle off from London', which suggests that by February 1593 he was neither at Lambeth nor Croydon but (most probably) visiting Robert Cotton in Huntingdonshire. There is no reference to Nashe's ever being connected with the archbishop again, although there is also no explanation of why they parted company. So while I can't claim the historical record supports my scenario, it doesn't damn it either.

    Whitgift's attitude to the Cecils: Like any canny politician Whitgift initially tried to hold himself apart from the developing rivalry between the Cecils and Essex, which at this point of course had not reached the toxic levels of the later '90s. Strype claims he originally had a soft spot for the earl: 'The archbishop remained the friend of the unfortunate Earl of Essex so long as he could have confidence in his loyalty; but as soon as that confidence was lost, he took an active part in defending the queen against the insane manouevres of her ungrateful protégé...' - (Strype, Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury). I can believe that Whitgift's natural preference would be for an ardent, martial, high-spirited young nobleman, which is how the young Essex would have appeared in 1592. Moreover, in the spring of 1591 the archbishop had clashed seriously with Burghley over a matter of church/state jurisdiction involving the universities. He may have shared the opinion of many that the Cecils took too much upon themselves. He may also have warily noted the steady rise of the younger man: by 1592 Robert Cecil was secretary of state in deed even though his rivals prevented him being so in name, and Elizabeth had just knighted him.

    But whatever frictions existed between the archbishop and the Cecils, in justice Whitgift must have recognised the enormous contribution Lord Burghley had made to the stability and success of the regime they both served. I suggest the sharp criticism of 'Winter' in the play - that he despises scholars and monopolizes power for the sake of his own dynasty - is balanced by the overall respect shown to him. He is especially validated by Summer's declaration that he 'loves' Winter well, and the dying monarch's evident willingness to allow him to continue to wield power as Autumn's 'treasurer, protector, and his staff'.

    If I am correct that Winter is a portrait of Burghley, however, then little 'Backwinter' must represent his stoop-shouldered son Robert. The satirical onslaught on Back-winter is not balanced, but sweeping, personal and vicious. This scene alone would make it deeply compromising for Whitgift to have countenanced such a play. I would expect him to have judged so at the time, and the folly of it would have impressed itself deeper as the decade passed and Sir Robert became steadily more powerful. Certainly Richard Bancroft, who in 1597 became Bishop of London and who by 1600 could subscribe a letter to Cecil as 'your own for ever', must have wished that night in autumn 1592 had never happened.


  • The embarrassing complicity of Whitgift and his chaplain Bancroft in this production however hampered their prosecution of Nashe for his part in 'The Isle of Dogs' affair.

    Lichfield, writing while the terrible TIOD scandal was still enveloping Nashe, gloated over the possible punishments he might face: losing his ears was the least he could expect, according to Lichfield. Even allowing for the exaggerations of a professed enemy it is a little odd that there is no record, or even report, of Nashe being formally punished. There's no evidence of his being taken into custody (though that doesn't mean of course that he wasn't, merely that no record has survived or yet been found). It is on record however that Jonson and other adult actors were committed to prison, and it's also on record that Nashe's lodgings were searched and his papers confiscated. After that, we're left to wonder what further consequences, if any, he faced. We know of course he felt it best to flee homewards, ending up at Yarmouth where he had kin (and from whence he could, as David Butcher pointed out, easily catch a fast boat to somewhere safer). If Meres' comment in Palladis Tamia is taken at face value, Nashe was warned off his usual London haunts. This seems to be the only evil consequence of his involvement with TIOD.

    This seems to me mildly surprising, though I can't claim it's suspicious. Nashe after all had once belonged to Whitgift's household, so I can easily imagine a plausible sequence of events in which an old friend there tips him off about the PC's planned action, so when the officers arrive Nashe is hastily gone to ground, leaving them nothing to arrest but his papers. He then makes himself scarce while official anger cools: and of course it might cool the quicker if the same friend pleaded his cause along the self-exculpatory line Nashe himself used in NLS, i.e. 'He only wrote a bit of it and the actors made up the rest.' I think this is perfectly possible. But I can also picture an alternative scenario in which it does not suit either Whitgift or Bancroft to have Nashe interrogated about dodgy plays he's written, because he might talk about more plays than one. So Jonson et al are hauled in and grilled about their involvement while the chief offender is simply told, vehemently but off the record, that if he knows what's good for him he'll get out of London, and stay out.


  • Nashe referred to the scandal in 'Nashe's Lenten Stuffe': his merry tale of the Pope and the Herring is a burlesque version of the whole episode.

    The tale of the Pope and the Herring reads like a typically cheerful Nashe detour from the professed subject of Nashes Lenten Stuffe', which is the town of Yarmouth and its herring industry. Although apparently a random offshoot of the main text - though not unconnected, as it is after all still about a fisherman, and a herring - it is so complete, so self-enclosed that Stanley Wells, in his selection of Nashe's works, could cookie-cutter it out of its surrounding pamphlet and present it alone without damaging it at all. Nashe quite often writes such long side-narratives into his pamphlets, and sometimes at the end of them he tuts at himself and apologises to his readers for his slack meandering away from the main thrust of the work. And whenever this happens I want to leap for my Concise DNB, because I always suspect he's doing what he did in PP with the tale of the Bear - writing satire disguised as a 'merry tale'.


  • The blanket ban on satires, and particularly all Nashe's and Harvey's works, which Whitgift and Bancroft imposed a month or so after Lenten Stuffe appeared, was to suppress any further mention of this play.

    In June 1599 all of Nashe's work was banned outright. Why did this happen? There are various explanantions:

    'On Friday 1st June 1599, from the familiar precincts of Croydon Palace, Archbishop Whitgift issued a series of 'commaundments' in his capacity as chief censor. He ordered the immediate calling in of various 'unsemely Satyres and Epigrams', including Hall's Virgidemiarum, Marston's Scourge of Villany, Guiplin's Skialetheia, Middleton's Microcynicon, Cutwode's Caltha Poetarum, Sir John Davies' Epigrams and Marlowe's Elegies. And to make a clean sweep of it, he commanded

    that all Nasshes bookes and Doctor Harveyes bookes be taken wheresoever they maye be founde, and that none of their bookes bee ever printed hereafter.
    There is a sidelong tribute in this attempt to erase Nashe totally from the record, an acknowledgement of him as the fons et origo of this dissident satirical hubbub.' (Nicholl, p.264)


  • The play's publication c. October 1600 was part of a propaganda surge prior to Essex's rebellion.

    The most difficult thing to explain away, if SLW is indeed the satire I suggest, is not that it was ever performed but that it was ever published. The second most difficult thing to explain is why there was no response to such a provocative publication. There certainly ought to have been. If SLW is really the piece of pointed political satire I claim, it should have caused a scandal to make The Isle of Dogs affair look paltry in comparison; whereas in fact it passed in and out of print without a flicker of response. (It's true SLW never achieved a second edition but then Nashe's two preceding publications, Have with you to Saffron-walden and Nashes Lenten Stuffe had none either. He was, after all, technically a proscribed author.)

    I can only explain such implausible official tolerance by suggesting the tense political situation at the time the play appeared was the reason both for its publication and the subsequent lack of response. I certainly think there would have to be some very compelling motive for publishing SLW, if it is the satire I suppose. I can't see that Nashe would have been foolish enough to print it merely to further exasperate Bancroft and Whitgift. His was certainly a combative character but, given the dire straits he was already in, that tactic would have been merely foolish. On the other hand, October 1600 would be a very good time for Essex supporters to release some anti-Cecil propaganda. It was a crucial month for the Earl and his followers. Ignoring the Essex's appeal on the 22nd September the Queen had failed to renew the farm of sweet wines, the only source of income that could stave off his creditors. His debts were 16,000, a quarter of them pressing. On 18 October he wrote to the Queen again, begging for audience, and was again met by silence. A Star Chamber order of November 1599 already forbade the publication of pamphlets in Essex's defence. What was left for his supporters at this impasse but to continue the propaganda war by other means? When desperation was the order of the day why not risk publication, in an effort to promote yet more hatred of Cecil? In this case SLW's release would be part of a pattern with Hayward's 'Henry IIII', with the performance of Shakespeare's play of Richard II in February 1601, with the . It would be an attempt to communicate to gentlemen about London that Robert Cecil was ignoble and malign, and the Succession open to every dangerous doubt.

    If it were indeed a pro-Essex move I would argue that those who should have acted against it, at this time conceivably would not have done so. Clearly the usual authorities who should have stamped on such a monstrous affront - Whitgift and Bancroft - would have a reason of their own for not prosecuting. Robert Cecil, if he were aware of it, might well do nothing. He would hardly fall out with two such useful potential supporters as Whitgift and Bancroft over an eight-year-old insult, not at this particular juncture. He was too good a politician. Essex was increasingly erratic, the countdown to crisis had begun and Cecil needed all his friends in place to manage the denouement. It was certainly not the moment for a sensible man to be drawing attention to past errors of judgement in his allies. That would make enemies, not friends. Whether Whitgift could be counted on as a friend till the final chips were down I'm not sure, but according to Handover Bancroft was wholly on side, having owed his promotion to Bishop of London (1597) to Cecil. Interestingly, Dr. P.E.J. Hamer however disagrees,

    That said, in the normal course of things though you would suppose some reference, in a letter or a subsequent pamphlet, would have alluded to Nashe's last published work had it been uniquely memorable in the way I suppose. But perhaps, after the Essex coup had failed and the earl had been executed, people preferred to let the dead bury the dead? It's hard to see what purpose would have been served on either side by making waves. The Essex faction was in pieces, and Cecil's instinct seems to have been to try to maintain whatever precarious surface of public calm remained since, once he had achieved his aim of (literally) beheading the rival faction, he seems not to have pursued a witch hunt. Most of the prosecutions that followed were the result of recriminations among the Earl and his erstwhile supporters: '...Cecil allowed the Essex rebellion to choke itself by giving publicity to the freedom with which the Earl's followers denounced one another...' Too many really powerful people had been on the edge of the Essex circle, would perhaps have preferred to have seen the Earl and not Cecil triumph. It wouldn't be wise to look under too many stones. A further reason for not bothering to do anything about SLW once the Essex crisis was over would be if the author was dead. We don't know he was, but Nashe died sometime over 1600/1601. (Personally I think he was dead before October 1600. If he wasn't, and if SLW is the work I suspect it is, then he was suicidally brave.) Once Nashe was dead there was no purpose to be served by going public, and much to be gained by letting things lie. His publisher could hardly be called to account: Burby would merely say something to the effect that it was found among Nashe's papers after his death, published to settle his debts, nothing wrong with it as far as they knew, my lord of Canterbury himself had watched it etc etc etc. How could anyone reveal in court why the text was objectionable without embroiling Whitgift and Bancroft? The only person whose actions I can't explain away is the man who licensed the play for publication, Dr. Samuel Harsnett.

    Harsnett was Bancroft's chaplain and the bishop's censor deputatus. He has a rather peculiar record in censorship. He was the man who allowed Dr Hayward's 'Henry IIII' to come out. This was licensed by him on 9 January 1599. On the 11th of the same month Harsnett also licensed Nashes Lenten Stuffe.

    When the trouble over Hayward's book finally broke over a year later in July 1600 and Harsnett was called to account, he successfully excused himself by claiming the published work contained material he had never seen. If he's telling the truth it suggests he was not habitually rigorous in carrying out his duties as examiner. I quote from an article in the Camden series:

    "He said he had been informed 'by a gentleman in my Lord of London his house' that the book was only 'a cantel of our Englishe chronicles phrased and flourished over onlie to shewe the Author his pretie witt.': Harsnett also claimed that when approved, the book 'was hedlesse without an epistle, preface or dedication at all which moved me to thinke it was a meer rhetorical exornation of a part of our Englishe history to shewe the foyle of the Author his witt.' He had therefore not read more than 'one page of the hedlesse pamphlett,' before granting it his signature for printing. Hindsight encouraged him to add that 'the Author foysted in an Epistle dedicatorie to the Earle of Essex which I neither allowed nor saw, and which if I had seen I protest I shold never have allowed the rest of the Pamphlett.'"

    This sounded great for my theory. Previously when wondering by what legerdemain Nashe evaded the censors I couldn't imagine how he could have got even NLS past Bancroft - a man who would certainly have understood any allegorical meaning in 'the Pope and the Herring', even if he hadn't spotted the snide allusion on the title page: 'Fitte of all Clearkes of Noblemens Kitchins to be read: and not unnecessary by all Serving men that have short boord-wages, to be remembered'; or the glancing aside in the opening paragraph to 'the silliest millers thombe or contemptible stickle-bancke (my emphasis) of my enemies'. But if Bancroft was no longer personally acting as censor, and his deputy Harsnett was a man who let work through on the nod, on someone else's say so, after a quick glance at page one, then was Harsnett the window of opportunity Nashe exploited to have NLS passed? Had Nashe, like Hayward's publisher John Wolfe, produced one text to fool Harsnett (minus of course the insolent title-page and the 'Pope and the Herring') and another for the printer, with the extracts reinstated? The deliberate prolixity of his style, the winning modesty of his opening dedication and gratitude to Great Yarmouth, and the apparent innocuousness of much of the matter would have lulled Harsnett's suspicions - even if he bothered to read this one. Then of course after NLS came out, with the nose-thumbing effrontery of 'the Pope and the Herring' in place, a savage response from Bancroft and Whitgift naturally followed, the 'Bishops' Ban', which specifically stipulated that no work by Nashe was to be printed hereafter and his existing work called in. This all seemed to fit beautifully. It explained how NLS could have sneaked into print. What it didn't explain was why in October 1600, three bare months after facing one frightening charge of licensing subversive literature, Harsnett would allow another piece by Nashe to go through. Surely he would have learned his lesson? Surely Bancroft would have made it abundantly plain that NOTHING by Thomas Nashe was to be allowed for publication, even if he did not go into detail as to exactly what it was in NLS that had been so objectionable? However, the Stationers Register entry for SLW as given by McKerrow reads:

    '28 octobris [1600] /master burby Walter burre / Entred for their copie vnder th[e] handes of master harsnet and the Wardens. A booke called Sommers last Will and testament presented by William Sommers..vjd'
    So is it conceivable that at the time he granted permission Harsnett simply didn't know SLW was by Nashe, - that the disingenuous phrase 'presented by William Sommers' was intended to convince him it was the product of some author of that name?

    Worth bearing in mind too, while chewing over Harsnett's role, is his possible previous knowledge of Nashe. Harsnett was a former fellow of Pembroke Hall in Cambridge. After a brief and disagreeable period as Master of the Grammar School in his native Colchester he came back to Pembroke Hall in autumn 1588 and resumed his studies. Thus it seems likely that though he would not have been at Cambridge when T&NT was played, he would have been there within a year or so after: his time would have overlapped with Nashe's last months. Surely Harsnett would have heard some reference to the scandalous play, and perhaps have known of Nashe's involvement? As he wasn't appointed Bancroft's chaplain until c.1596, there is no reason to think Harsnett knew of the 1592 production of SLW; so if I'm correct in supposing SLW is an elaboration of T&NT, Harsnett might not be expected to know this.

    I know it would help here if I could suggest Harsnett was criminally sloppy about his work, even a bit of a fool. Unfortunately the little I know about him suggests he was intelligent, committed and painstaking. The only work of Harsnett's I have seen myself is A Discovery of Fraudulent Practices. Published in 1599, it is a telling exposure of the exorcisms carried out in Lancashire by a puritan gentleman called John Darrel. I confess I didn't get through the whole of it because it is a long, learned and very thorough work, but what I read was well-written and persuasive. (Much better-known of course is Harsnett's later work on a similar theme, A Declaration of egregious Popish Impostures' this time attacking the exorcist activities of Catholic priests in 1585. This latter was evidently a source Shakespeare read while writing King Lear.) Harsnett, a committed anti-puritan who later went on to a notable career in the church, did have his own problems to distract him during the period in question. On 6 July 1600 his daughter Thomasine was baptised at Chigwell, where Harsnett was vicar. But in the all-too-familiar way, in February 1601 Harsnett's wife is buried, and in the same year the little daughter dies too, whether before or after her mother my source doesn't make clear. So I do not yet know at what times during late 1600 Harsnett was in London, deputizing for Bancroft as examiner, or in Chigwell with his unhappy family.

    A last possibility is that Bancroft was playing a rather deep game, and was not as solidly pro-Cecil as his surviving letters seem to attest. Bancroft was a man eager for preferment, and it may have occurred to him early on that he would be best to have a foot in both camps as the Cecil/Essex rivalry developed. He and Harsnett seem to have thought alike on church policy - both men were High Church protestants who wished the Settlement to hold, the Romanists to be kept in check and the puritans kept down. In this scenario, I would have to suppose they were working in tandem and that Bancroft was conniving at Harsnett's deliberate promotion of anti-Cecilian literature.