Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Mysterious Connection Between Thomas Nashe, Thomas Dekker, and T. M.: An English Renaissance Deception?

Christopher Marlowe’s friend, the brilliant humorist Thomas Nashe, often got himself into trouble with authorities. His problems worsened in the summer of 1597, when he was banished from London for co-authoring a “seditious” play. Two years later, he was banned from publishing altogether. Donna Murphy’s The Mysterious Connection Between Thomas Nashe, Thomas Dekker, and T. M.: An English Renaissance Deception? presents substantial linguistic evidence that Nashe reentered London under the name “Thomas Dekker,” that he permanently assumed the identity after he could no longer publish under his own name, and then “killed” himself off. We recently caught up with Donna Murphy to discuss her latest book.

Q: What methodology did you use?

DM: I ran word juxtapositions in the works of Nashe and Dekker through the searchable Early English Books Online database. A large pile up of uncommon juxtapositions between works by “both” authors, plus style similarities, provide reasonable grounds for suspicion. These similarities occur across such a chronologically diverse range of works as to make the explanations of imitation or parody quite unlikely. I used the same methodology to locate other works by Dekker/Nashe, including pieces attributed to T. M., Adam Evesdropper, Jocundary Merry-brains, and Jack Daw.

Q: That all sounds fascinating, but this is a blog about Christopher Marlowe. Why should Marlovians care about Thomas Nashe?

DM:  One reason is that Marlovians believe Marlowe pretended to die yet continued writing, employing William Shakespeare as his front man. My book claims that his friend Nashe did so too, with a twist. In Nashe’s case, I believe he became “Dekker,” who “came to life” in historical records January, 1598.

Q: Didn’t Marlowe and Nashe write Dido, Queen of Carthage together?

DM: So it says on the play’s title page, but there is no hint of Nashe’s style in Dido, and I concur with many others who don’t think Nashe co-authored it. Extensive research convinces me, however, that they often worked together. Although only Marlowe’s name is on the title page of Doctor Faustus, for example, for numerous reasons I view Nashe to have been responsible for much of its prose humor. With the caveat that neither of the two extant versions of Doctor Faustus contains exactly the original version, and thus could have been revised by others, in the 1604 version (Romany and Lindsey Penguin edition) I would tentatively assign to Nashe Scenes ii, iv, vi, vii.109-62, viii.50-99, ix (except for ix.36-41), and xi.1-28, 35-85, and Marlowe the remainder.

Q: What implications does a Marlowe/Nashe partnership have on the Shakespeare authorship issue?

DM: If you get to know Nashe and his writing style by reading my book, you will start to wonder whether some of the verbage in Shakespeare that doesn’t “sound” Marlovian may have been written by Nashe. That’s the topic of my next book, in which I present linguistic evidence that certain anonymous and Shakespeare works were a collaboration between Marlowe and Nashe (I’ll also discuss works I view as by Marlowe without Nashe).

Q: Thanks, Donna.  By the way, blog readers can read a PDF with the table of contents and first twenty pages of the book, as well as order it, by visiting Cambridge Scholars Publishing and entering The Mysterious Connection under “Title.”

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, November 2012

Donna N. Murphy specializes in researching the authorship of works written during the English Renaissance, and her most recent article is “‘The Life and Death of Jack Straw’ and George Peele” in the December 2012 issue of Notes and Queries. She is a co-winner of the 2010 Calvin and Rose G. Hoffman Prize.  


daver852 said...

I agree that there are stylistic similarities between Nashe and Dekker, but there are several several reasons that make it appear that it is impossible that they are the same person. It is thought that Nashe died either very late in the year 1600 or in early 1601. Dekker was already an established writer at this time. The earliest mention of him appears to be in Henslowe's diaries in January, 1598, but he must have been writing long before that date, since Meres ranks him among one of "the best for tragedy" in "Palladis Tamia." Furthermore, we have many surviving autograph writings of both Nashe and Dekker. I'm no graphologist, but their handwriting doesn't appear to be even remotely similar.

Donna Murphy said...

You raise very legitimate points, which I address in detail in Part VI of my book “Pros and Cons.” To answer briefly, it didn’t take much to make Meres’ lists, and during 1598 before publication of “Palladis Tamia,” Dekker authored/co-authored nine plays which may have included tragic elements (all we have are the titles). In particular, in Jan. 1598 Dekker wrote “Phaeton,” which was later revised for court performance. That sounds like a well-received tragedy, and it alone could have garnered Dekker a nod from Meres.

My premise is that Nashe adopted the Dekker persona in order to be able to reenter London after the summer of 1597 when he was banished from it, but that he didn't permanently become Dekker and kill himself off until after he was banned from all future publishing in the summer of 1599. Nashe "died" between then and 1601, but we don't know when his "death" occurred during that interval.

The handwriting of Nashe and Dekker does appear quite different, but there are some interesting similarities. Also, don’t forget the handwriting ruse in “Twelfth Night.” Moreover, it is now accepted that Sir Philip Francis wrote under the pseudonym “Junian” during 1769-72, but for a long time many people didn’t believe it because the handwriting of the “two” looked so different.

daver852 said...

Hi, Donna. I read the first 30 pages of your book which are available online, and I saw that you did address the handwriting issue. If you don't mind, I'd like to ask you another question. Both Nashe and Dekker are mentioned frequently in Henslowe's diaries. Now Philip Henslowe certainly knew Thomas Nashe. If Nashe assumed the persona of Dekker, why would Henslowe refer to him as such in his private diaries? Especially during the period when Nashe was still alive? And practically everyone in London knew Nashe - how would he have managed to create this new life for himself without the authorities getting wise?

I'm not trying to be difficult; it's just that if these questions occur to me, I'm sure they will to others as well. By the way, I was very impressed with your finding so many parallel passages in Nashe's and Dekker's works. I haven't read much of Dekker aside from "The Shoemaker's Holiday," "The Wonderful Year," and "News From Hell." I have to admit - he does sound a lot like Nashe! Dekker's complete works are available online at luminarium.org, so maybe I'll read some more.

Anonymous said...

I think that all this enormous amount of literary work was created by one individual. It is hard to believe, but it is true, there was no collaboration with other people, but a lot of talent and hard work.