'a scurvy prologue...in an old vein of similitudes': One of the signs which I think indicates SLW was composed as a shorter piece, and later expanded, comes in the opening scene. This has a sort of delayed Prologue. Firstly the actor who's to play Will Sommers, evidently a professional clown called William Toy, comes on as himself, grumbling about his costume and generally letting the audience know he's not too sanguine about the forthcoming play or its idiot author. Then, after some business where voices off tell him to get on with it and after pretending he's only just noticed he's in the presence of the Archbishop, Toy launches into his actual part. He explains he first has to give what he disparagingly calls 'a scurvy prologue...in an old vein of similitudes'. The tone of the writing then shifts as he delivers a speech very different from his more natural dialogue before - as of course it would need to be, for the joke's sake. The question is whether the formal Prologue Toy then gives, before he lapses into being his impish 'self' again, is a deliberate pastiche of an old-fashioned speech, replete with learned allusions and latin tags; or the genuine thing, surviving from an earlier and more academic version of the play. Naturally I think the latter.
'a thousand lines': In the Prologue Toy/Summers refers to the author's having written a 'thousand lines', but the play as we have it is of course easily double that length. It may be that Nashe, writing loosely and quickly at a time when he didn't know the full extent of the work he was about to produce, simply pulled a figure out of the air and guessed wrong. To get it wrong by such a margin though seems a little strange.
'childhood and ignorance': The Prologue also pre-empts any possible negative criticism from the audience by belittling it in advance as the mere product of 'childhood and ignorance', the judgement of those 'whose sences are not yet unswaddled'. This is most certainly not directed at Whitgift, Bancroft and their scholarly entourage. It might be that Summers should be considered as addressing himself here only to the more restless and less learned part of the audience, Whitgift's household servants. I think though that phrases such as the above would fit better if the Prologue's first intended audience had been a crowd of undergraduates.
'novices': Toy himself was apparently a well-known professional, so his reference to the play being performed by 'novices' who hadn't acted 'for a twelvemonth' is usually taken as a description of an otherwise amateur cast composed of members of Whitgift's household. (This is how Nicholl, following McKerrow, takes it: other earlier commentators have suggested it might have been played by Paul's Boys or the Children of the Chapel.) I think however, since this reference occurs within the 'scurvy prologue...in an old vein', that it may be a survival, an original description of its first actors; that they were not professionals but university men, perhaps putting on a Christmas play.
R.B.McKerrow, in his essay on Nashe's reading, observes that one of our author's favourite sources is Agrippa's De Incertitudine et Vanitate Scientiarum, 'a work of which Nashe seems to have been very fond and of which he made constant use.' (TN, v, 118). Regarding the Anatomy of Absurditie, which he considers very derivative, as is natural in a first work, McKerrow notes that though the main source Nashe plundered was the Parabolae of Erasmus he also took 6 passages from Agrippa. According to McKerrow however "there is little trace of Cornelius Agrippa in Pierce Penilesse, but in another work written almost certainly in the same year, though a few months later, namely Summer's Last Will and Testament, the borrowings from the De Incertitudine are very numerous indeed. There are in that work more than twenty passages which seem almost certainly to have been thence derived, as well as a number of others which possibly or probably came from the same source." (TN, v,121) Thereafter the De Incertitudine drops down the list of sources for Nashe's later writings until Have with you to Saffron-walden, when again he uses it "for some eleven passages".
It must have been at university that Nashe first read and enjoyed De Incertitudine, as it influenced the earliest work he registered for publication, the Anatomy of Absurditie (SR 1589). He then did not refer to it at all while writing PP. Then he suddenly has access to two copies - the original Latin and the 1569 English translation by Sanford - while writing SLW. Perhaps somebody loaned them to him at Croydon and, it being a familiar work, he eagerly plundered it for his hasty-pudding of an entertainment? That would be plausible. But there is another suggestion in McKerrow that Nashe used a source in SLW which otherwise he only used in the early AOA :
'In the Anatomy of Absurditie Nashe had made some use of Melbancke's Philotimus, and he perhaps had in his note-book a few scraps from this work left over. At any rate we find in Summer's Last Will a single passage which is almost certainly borrowed from it, and I cannot bring myself to believe that any one would read Philotimus twice for pleasure.'(TN, v, 122)To sum up, two sources used by Nashe in a work written pre-1590 are both present in SLW; but neither is in PP, which we are to suppose Nashe had composed only a month or so earlier. I think this is because large parts of SLW, like the Anatomy, were written while Nashe was still at university.
I can't express this in academic terms, but it seems to me that there is considerable difference in the way scenes are handled within SLW, considering it is all meant to be the work of one man writing within a period of weeks. For example, the speeches of Orion in defence of dogs, and that of Winter against scholars, are both undramatically long. They read more like an academic address on a topic than an interchange between characters. Winter and Orion seem to step forward, stand there and just spout. And spout. God knows what the more restless members of the audience were supposed to do with themselves during passages like this. On the other hand the Harvest and Bacchus scenes are quite fastmoving, have a lot of dialogue that chops between characters, bits of horseplay, vulgar jokes etc. They're like the writing of a man who knows a bit about keeping an audience entertained.
And the two characters I think make more demands on their actors. Harvest is meant to be funny, with his grimaces and comic threats to mow off Autumn's suit: comedy as we know is a serious business. Bacchus absolutely requires to be played by an actor of presence. He has to be a semi-scary, semi-funny bullying lush. It isn't a part for a bashful amateur, someone who can learn lines but doesn't know how to dominate an audience.