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FIVE FRIENDS (AND ONE ENEMY)


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"What is become of those true friends ... whom death itself cannot separate? Dead?"

Addressing Nashe while he was in prison, his enemy Lichfield teasingly continued: "But say, how dost thou for victuals - do not they of thine old acquaintance help thee?...Then Jove raise up some deadly tyrant to massacre that cankered brood of thy companions that leave their jester desolate in the winter of his affliction."

His portrait of Nashe as abandoned by fairweather friends can't be entirely true, though. When Nashe fled London one step ahead of the authorities later in the year after the terrible row broke about The Isle of Dogs, somebody took him in; somebody sheltered, fed and protected him. It may have been brother Israel back in Lowestoft, but Nashe seems to have been the kind of man for whom friends ultimately mattered more than family. He mentions numerous acquaintance, many of whose identities are unknown or can't be traced. Below are a few of the ones who can.


William Cotton (c.1552 - after 1615?)

b. c. 1552, a younger son of Sir Richard Cotton of Warblington, by his wife Jane.  educ. Magdalen College, Oxford 1571, BA and Fellow 1573 -79, MA 1577:  MP for Newport, I.O.W. 1593, 1597; Yarmouth, I.O.W., 1601  unm.

Nashe's sole surviving letter (1596) is addressed to "his worshipful good friend Mr. William Cotton", and sends him pungently witty London and literary gossip. It also tries to tap him for a loan.

A gentleman-servant to Sir George Carey, and evidently a bit of a black sheep, Cotton was disciplined while at Oxford university for "wandering by night in the town" (1578), and his mother said in her will (1585) she was leaving him only £200 because she'd already paid off his debts. He acted as a sort of steward for the Careys. I imagine he was rather more a favourite with Sir George than with the famously pious Lady Carey.

Cotton seems to have ended up short of money too, although Sir George left him an annuity of 20 in his will.    Another letter in the archives, dated about 1611/12, is addressed from Cotton to Carey's daughter Elizabeth, by that time no longer "lytel Bes" but a grown woman and married to Lord Berkeley. It's in two parts. The first is very sad. Cotton is at pains to assure her ladyship that he never sees any of his old friends now but lives quietly with his brother the bishop; it refers often to his misery, and piously hopes for a better world beyond the grave. The second part is even sadder. It's a postscript "according to my accustomed manner", which cracks a series of faded jokes about the decrepit old servant who's brought Cotton's letter.

Lady Berkeley apparently sent back £5.

Cotton's brother Henry, Bishop of Salisbury, asked his children in his will to make sure their uncle was never in want.


Robert Greene (1560? - 1592)

b. Norwich    educ. Cambridge ( 1579 BA St. John's; 1583 MA Clare Hall; incorporated at Oxford 1588)

A charming writer unfairly reviled because he was once rude in print about Shakespeare ("an upstart crow") - though for the time and circumstances in which it was made, that remark has always seemed perfectly fair comment to me.

An educated, talented, self-publicizing and rather boozy type, with a weakness for better clothes than he could afford and worse company than he should have kept, Greene might have been the first great gonzo journalist. Unluckily for him, newspapers had not been invented. Instead he wrote plays, romances and above all, sensational best-selling pamphlets on the kind of things the public always needs to know about - cheats, criminals, mucky women - with now and then a terrific burst of breast-beating repentance thrown in. Repentance was a Greene speciality. "Many things I have wrote to get money, which I could otherwise wish to be suppressed. Poverty is the father of innumerable infirmities," mourned Greene as he lay dying - but still writing, writing almost to his last hour.

We know about those stricken last hours because they were described by Gabriel Harvey, who actually risked plague to interview Greene's London landlady for every lip-smacking detail (he and Greene were enemies). It was Nashe's contempt for this attack on his dead friend which led to his own long feud with Harvey.


Gabriel Harvey (1545? - 1630)

b. Saffron Walden, Essex; eldest of four sons and two daughters of a respectable ropemaker, John Harvey, and his wife Alice.  educ.Walden Grammar School; Christ's College, Cambridge. BA 1570, MA 1573; Fellow of Pembroke Hall; Fellow of Trinity, 1578; junior proctor, 1583; D.C.L. Oxford, 1585

From a humble background, Harvey ambitiously tried to parlay a brilliant academic career into a place at court. He was presented to the Queen (once) and had her great favourite the Earl of Leicester as his patron, but somehow...it didn't happen. So Harvey returned to academic life, to find that career too going slowly pear-shaped. Even before Nashe trained his considerable powers of ridicule on him Harvey was becoming a university joke, though perhaps as much to those jealous of his formidable intellectual gifts as to those irritated by his massive conceit. He went on to practice in civil law but didn't do very well. Later in life he may have been a physician. There's a stale sense of exclusion, defeat and wastage about Harvey's career. It all fell apart for him after he met Nashe.

Nashe was his nemesis. After a hesitant start their paper feud flared up into something nasty. Harvey, according to Nashe, slandered him to the London authorities with the result that they jailed him for Christ's Tears. In revenge Nashe made such a sustained, savage, and to be honest unfair comic onslaught on Harvey that his reputation has never recovered. Nobody ever remembers now he was a friend of Spenser, or one of the Elizabethan intellectuals who helped develop English poetry. He is Nashe's Gamaliel Hobgoblin, Gabriel Hangtelow, Gregory Habberdine, Gilgilis Hobberdehoy, or "his Gabrielship", or even just Gabrielissime! Once he'd started on him, Nashe couldn't stop.  He seems to have needed Harvey to hate.

For more about Gabriel Harvey, see Bibliography For more about the quarrel with Nashe, click here.
For a sample of his work, select here. For the text of Harvey's sonnets in 'Foure Letters', click here.


Ben Jonson (1572 - 1637)

b. London    educ.Westminster School 1599: wrote Every Man In his Humour, a hit comedy, and followed it over the course of a long career with other successful comedies and numerous masques produced at court. Rather less successful at writing tragedy, but an outstanding composer of lyric and occasional verse.

Jonson arrived later on the literary scene than Nashe, and though his equal or superior in classical education, hadn't been to university. That's not meant as a reflection on Jonson's intelligence, abilities or social standing; it does suggest though that the relationship between Nashe and Jonson would have been slightly different from that between, say, Nashe and Marlowe, who shared more common experience.

After an excellent education at Westminster School Jonson appears to have been apprenticed to his stepfather, a builder (cue endless contemporary sniggers about "bricklayers"), but dropped out and went soldiering in the Low Countries. On his return he seems to have been getting by as an actor when he met Nashe. Jonson himself jokes about appearing in The Spanish Tragedy and someone refers to him walking alongside the cart when the players were on tour, so he was much lower in his profession than men like Shakespeare, who were "sharers" in their own acting company. But writing, not acting, was Jonson's goal.

It was Jonson who collaborated with Nashe in the disastrous Isle of Dogs, and unlike Nashe he was arrested and jailed while the authorities were investigating. Nashe, repudiating the play in Nashe's Lenten Stuffe, claimed that he had only "begun but the induction and the first act", and the players themselves did the rest, getting both him and them into hot water. Presumably he's shifting blame onto Jonson. Not very friendly, perhaps, but Jonson was big enough to forgive and forget - at any rate, his epitaph on Nashe sounds kindly enough.
There are numerous sites devoted to Jonson, but try this.


John Lyly (?1553 - 1606)

b. Kent:   educ.Magdalen College, Oxford, 1569; BA 1573, MA 1575;      m. Beatrice Brown
1579: published Euphues, a hugely influential prose romance, and followed it later with equally successful plays produced at court.

Lyly had huge success at court in the 1580s, where his graceful plays acted by the cutesy all-boy companies were the height of fashion; but somehow in the mid-90s he lost the plot. A hanger-on at court, he couldn't wangle any permanent post with regular pay. He wrote a bitter letter to Elizabeth about it, which hardly seems prudent, claiming that if he wrote his final will it would hold only three legacies - "patience to my creditors, melancholy without measure to my friends, and beggary without shame to my family".    He never did get that permanent cosy job.

Nashe always spoke of him with respect, and seems to have genuinely admired his talent; but it was a happy day when Nashe shook off Lyly's literary influence and adopted "Martin Marprelate" as a more suitable prose model for a lively realist.

Lyly shared two other interests with Nashe - smoking tobacco, and quarrelling with Gabriel Harvey.


Christopher Marlowe (1564 -1593)

b. Canterbury, Kent: sixth child but only son of a cobbler, John Marlowe, and his wife.   educ. Canterbury Grammar School, then won a scholarship to Cambridge (Christ Church)
c.1588: left to be a writer in London. Highly regarded author of tragic plays, and both narrative and lyric verse. Very unwisely involved himself in the Elizabethan secret service and died prematurely in a fight.

Marlowe was a great poet. Even in his own day his extraordinary talent was recognised. He had a huge impact on the English stage because the plays he wrote influenced other playwrights, including William Shakespeare.

He and Nashe may well have known each other at Cambridge, where they were student contemporaries. At any rate they were certainly good friends in London - Nashe called him "poore deceassed Kit Marlow", and when Marlowe's play Dido and Aeneas was published after his death it contained an elegy Nashe wrote to his dead friend. Unfortunately, the last known copies of this edition vanished in the 18th century, so we know less about the friendship between the two than we would like.

There are numerous sites on the web devoted to Marlowe. Just go back to your search engine and enter the name


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