|Nashe seems to leave the critics vaguely dissatisfied. Yes, he's a brilliant stylist; but under that scintillating style does he have anything to say? Do his depths ever match the promise of the glittering surface, or are there really no depths at all?
(1964): Stanley Wells"Thomas Nashe is one of the most brilliant and entertaining of English prose artists"
|Part of a twenty-page preface to Stanley Wells' edition of Thomas Nashe ... Selected Writings in which Wells reviews Nashe's work and identifies his strengths and weaknesses as a writer.
|"...whole-heartedness is one of his most attractive characteristics. Some of the things he does are misdirected, but he is never content with mediocrity. Always he seems to be striving for greater immediacy, a more heightened expression of his own peculiar way of looking at things. He was a great artist in prose; unfortunately he had more genius than talent. His vision was piercing but not comprehensive; it could flash brilliantly, but not cast a steady light. He was a miniaturist forced by the circumstances of his time to work on canvases too large for him. The result is that the parts are greater than the whole. Even his finest poem - itself part of a larger work - is usually quoted only in extract. And he was neither an original thinker nor, it would appear, capable of sustained thought. He is often classed as a satirist, but his affinities are rather with the great eccentrics of English literature, some of whom have also been satirists - with Sterne, Dickens and Joyce. Lacking the rigorous intellectual control, the high seriousness of a Swift or Pope, he offers instead richness of fantasy and a fascinatingly original outlook that is always capable of surprising. He had great intelligence, a vivid imagination, a brilliant wit, a keen eye for the absurdities of human behaviour, and a sensitive though somewhat inconsistent and imperfectly balanced response to spiritual experience. These qualities we can deduce only, of course, because he had the ability to communicate them in words. Of his contemporaries, only certain dramatists - Ben Jonson, Shakespeare and perhaps John Webster - wrote prose as hard, as luminous, and as vital as his."
(1981): Donald J. McGinn
|"..like the columnist of today he was the interpreter of his own time for the understanding and enjoyment of his reader."
|Part III ("Conclusion") of chapter 12, Nashe's Place in English Literature, in Donald J. McGinn's Thomas Nashe.
|"In the final chapter of Thomas Nashe: A Critical Introduction Hibbard confesses that he feels he has done little to solve the puzzle that is Nashe. On the contrary, merely in recognizing that Nashe's "bent was for journalism" (p. 251), Hibbard, in my opinion, has approached the solution. Just because - as he puts it - "the literary forms in which Nashe might have excelled did not yet exist" (p. 251), there is no reason for assuming that the flair for journalism is strictly a twentieth-century phenomenon. An interest in the force of gravity was revealed by thinking men - Aristotle and Galileo, for instance - before the legendary apple fell on the head of Sir Isaac Newton and caused him to formulate the laws of falling bodies. Shakespeare in his great tragedies showed himself an expert in diagnosing neuroses - by other names, of course - 300 years before Sigmund Freud developed the science of psychoanalysis. Similarly, satirical geniuses have always felt an urge to extol the virtues and scoff at the absurdities of their fellow men and women for the benefit of society in general. If we look at Thomas Nashe as a sort of sixteenth-century Henry L. Mencken with all of that American journalist's love of words, then I believe the "puzzle" is finally solved."
(1984): Charles Nicholl
|"The journalist, the satirist, the showman and the hack: all these are part of Nashe's status as 'undoubtedly the greatest of the Elizabethan pamphleteers.'"
|Taken from Chapter 1 ('The Pamphleteer') of Charles Nicholl's A Cup of News: the life of Thomas Nashe", the only full-length modern biography.
|"To 'journalist' and 'satirist' should be added a third, somewhat vaguer term like 'entertainer'. Nashe was a brilliant prose stylist, instantly recognizable: a 'swelling and boystrous' voice, a 'certayne nimble and climbinge reach of Invention'. Whatever he wrote about, it was his special 'treatment' that won the readers, those 'proper phrases of pure Nasherie' that even his enemy Harvey was forced to recognize. The energy of his writing is prodigious. In his first published piece he pronounced: "Give me the man whose extemporall veine in any humour will excell our greatest Art-maisters deliberate thoughts.' It was a manifesto he stuck to: his 'extemporall veine' - racy, colloquial, peppered with fragments of scholarship - may be more 'deliberate' than it first appears, but the whole feel of off-the-cuff spontaneity, of an almost unwholesome mental profusion and momentum, is vital to his performance. Nashe has recently been championed as the pioneer of 'Elizabethan grotesque', and this too, with its blend of obsessive physical detail and wild metaphoric excess, seems to spring from an imagination momentarily unhinged, jolted into over-reaction. There is a sense of urgency in it, as in Hamlet's 'antick disposition'. None of this should obscure the prime fact of Nashe on song - he is very, very funny."
(1989): Lorna Hutson
|"The critical orthodoxy which explains Nashe's works as the commercially motivated expedients of a penniless but satirically gifted journalist is almost entirely based on the assumption that the carnivalesque text Pierce Penilesse his Supplication to the Divell (1592) is a kind of confessional autobiography."
|Lorna Hutson's Thomas Nashe in Context cautions against approaching Nashe's work without regard to contemporary literary context, or explaining it purely as the product of personal quirks and biographical circumstance.
"A broader context for reading Nashe needs to be supplied; we need room in which to get away from the chief recourse of this biographical and stylistic criticism, the assumption that Nashe's texts give us the journalistic repertoire of a single, personal voice. If we get away from the obligation to account for Nashe's writing in personal, biographical terms, (his renowned hatred for Puritans, his 'temperamental' conservatism, for example) it becomes possible to argue that Nashe's versatile prose, with its exceptional sensitivity to the materiality of words, the plasticity of discourse, and the hazards of interpretation, is, far from being the vehicle of one histrionic personal voice, a parodic medium of dozens of public voices. Accentuating the properties and revealing the strategies of these public voices, Nashe's writing celebrates the dispersal of their discursive authority. The Elizabethan author-reader relation has its own conventional and often politically loaded voice, but it is not one to which Nashe's writing patiently conforms. His texts resist, for example, the habit of biographical and moral interpretation or the personal reference-hunting which have nevertheless persisted among his readers to the present day..."
"On the whole it seems that the context in which Nashe's writings have been criticized has been either too limited or too broad. His 'works' have been used as hunting grounds for information about the London literary scene, while his 'texts' have been used for ahistorical speculations about the nature of rhetoric itself. It is now time to place both, along with the 'literary scene', into the larger but still urgent and immediate context of sixteenth-century politics and education."