“Accidental Nashe”

Hello again, I’m here with a monthly blog update! This time, I bring thoughts on a fun, engaging seminar that I went to. I will be discussing Thomas Nashe: a prominent writer, pamphleteer and satirist in the Elizabethan era. That being said, this was the only image I could find of him (and seemingly, the only surviving image of him, from a cursory Google search.)

Richard Lichfield, The Trimming of Thomas Nashe, Gentleman (London 1597)
Richard Lichfield, The Trimming of Thomas Nashe, Gentleman. (London 1597)

On the 8th of March, I had the pleasure of finally attending a MedRen-related seminar for the first time. Delivered by Professor Jennifer Richards, it included fascinating matter: that being Thomas Nashe, the practice of editing his work and, an inevitability when it concerns writing – the “errors” that were seen in said work. But there are thought-provoking, critical questions that Professor Richard raises that will stick with me after the seminar, namely the idea that Nashe might have purposely included these so-called “errors” in his publications. If that is so, “amending” his errors, or even the process of error-spotting and evaluating what constitutes an error has to be considered. Professor Richards, who is currently working on editing Nashe’s works, is focused on leaving certain errors in his publications “uncorrected”, so to speak; in order to preserve his authorial intention.

To contextualise why one would believe that Nashe’s errors, were, in fact, not entirely accidental, look no further than at some of Nashe’s so-called “typos” and his demonstrated knowledge of the printing process. The arguments that Professor Richard puts forth to conceptualise a “not-so-accidental Nashe” are quite compelling.

Of course, some errors could definitely be accounted for as a result of human error. Interestingly, Nashe displays a keen spacial awareness of the physicality of the book; he makes reference to the pages themselves, often referring to something he was discussing  “a few leaves back” or a “few pages before”. I was pleasantly to see textual referencing used as early as the Elizabethan period: I assumed that this was a technique used in solely modern literature – I normally think of Flesh by Irvine Welsh as an example of manipulating the textual elements of the book to its very limits, or House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. Both books were published in 1998 and 2000, respectively, so it’s interesting to see the roots of this kind of metanarrative in the early modern period. Digression aside, Nashe clearly displays an intimate knowledge of the physical space of the text and worked closely with his fellow print-makers in the publication process. Also known as a satirist and a bawdy jokester (he is the author of the poem The Choise of Valentines, known informally as Nashe’s Dildo), some of the errors that he made seemed to be rather dire and hard to overlook when considering Nashe’s hands-on approach to publishing.

Professor Richards mentions a few serious errors in his work that have landed him into trouble, notably in a text where he made the error that Christians were “disobedient” to His word rather than the intended “obedient”. As you could imagine, that is quite a serious oversight. Especially in sixteenth century England. Although he waves away these errors and blames his fellow printmakers’ poor handwriting, given what is known about Nashe and his penchant for the obscene, I find it hard to believe that this error was, indeed, an “accidental Nashe.” Although, not all of Nashe’s “errors” had the potential of having serious repercussions like the instance I referenced above. There were also “errors” corrected by future Nashe editors, ones that were interpreted to be incorrect and subsequently “fixed”. The example that I found most compelling was an instance of Nashe describing a goatee in The Unfortunate Traveller, or The Life of Jack Wilton. He compares the tip of the beard as execrement that goes up from ankle of his “shinne”, originally. The comparison makes sense: Nashe is employing the technique of paronomasia, also known as wordplay or punning. In subsequent editions of Nashe’s work, this pun is changed to “chinne”, or “chin” (14) in the modern translation I am using. Nashe’s punny nature presents a certain challenge for editors: what is considered to be an error? When trying to “fix” what is identified as such, does it remove authorial intention? These are important questions to ask – Nashe challenges the editor in this regard, leading to decisions that have to be made that could very well alter the “spirit” of the text. In editing an authors text, there is an inevitable dialectical tension between retaining the intention of the text and having to impose as an editor to make an executive decisions on whether something needs correcting, or not.

Nashe’s work is currently being edited now, which Professor Richards working as a general editor. It is scheduled be published in the next few years – with the “errors” listed above unrectified.


Nashe, Thomas. Edited by Nina Green, The Unfortunate Traveller or The Life of Jack Wilton., 2002, http://www.oxford-shakespeare.com/Nashe/Unfortunate_Traveller.pdf.

Categorized: Seminars

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