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Donna N. Murphy
Who Wrote the 1603-4 Humorous Pamphlets?


 
 During 1603-4, several pamphelts appeared that were written in Thomas Nashe’s style. The humorist is supposed to have died between the summer of 1599 and1601, when Affaniea by Charles Fitzgeoffrey, 1601, reported that Nashe was dead. By 1603 Nashe was supposedly, as he liked to say, dead as a doornail. Thomas Dekker kept busy between 1598-1603 authoring and co-authoring over forty plays, according to Philip Henslowe’s diary. But then the plague hit and closed theaters from about March 1603 to April 1604. What was a playwright to do, especially one who seemed to have earned his living exclusively through the pen? An answer was to write pamphlets.
 
If Dekker really were Nashe, it was one thing to hide his writing style in plays that were usually co-authored, especially if any of his fellow playwrights were in on the ruse, and purposely treated Dekker as if he were an entirely different person than Nashe.
 
It was another to write pamphlets, given Nashe’s distinctive pamphlet writing style. There was a risk that some of these pieces might be read by Nashe’s enemies, and he wouldn’t have wanted them to wonder whether they had been tricked into thinking Nashe was dead. I will discuss six humorous pamphlets published in Julian calendar years 1603 and 1604: The Wonderful Year; News From Graves-end; The Black Book; Father Hubburd’s Tales: or The Ant, and the Nightingale; The Meeting of Gallants at an Ordinary; and Plato’s Cap.
 
The Wonderful Year, a pamphlet about the plague, “shares the witty eclecticism of Nashe’s satires. Like Unfortunate [Nashe’s The Unfortunate Traveler], it veers from comic to tragic, from elegaic lyricism to graveyard humour,” according to Robert Maslen. [1]  Published anonymously in 1603, four years later Dekker admitted that he wrote it.
 
Two pamphlets surfaced in 1604 by “T. M.” according to the dedication pages, The Black Book, and Father Hubburd’s Tales: or The Ant, and the Nightingale. Scholars believe “T. M.” stands for Thomas Middleton, a playwright and friend of Thomas Dekker. Yet Middleton never placed his name on any other comic pamphlet, while Dekker later often did. The Black Book was a take off on Nashe’s Pierce Penniless, and both it and Father Hubburd’s Tales are quite Nasheian in flavor, with the latter following up on Nashe’s complaints about young gallants who squandered away their forefathers’ hard-earned patrimony (in both Anatomy of Absurdity and Pierce Penniless), as did Dekker, in a similar writing style. For example:
 
T. M.’s Father Hubburd’s Tales:
 
Now was our young master with one penful of ink, doing a far greater exploit than all his forefathers: for what they were a-purchasing all their lifetime, he was now passing away in the fourth part of a minute: and that which many thousand drops of his grandfather’s brows did painfully strive for, one drop now of a scrivener’s inkhorn did easily pass over. A dash of a pen stood for a thousand acres: how quickly they were dashed in the mouth by our young landlord’s prodigal fist (C3v-C4r, spelling and orthography modernized)
 
Thomas Dekker’s The Dead Term:
 
How many thousands (with that little engine alone [a pen]) do raise up houses to their posterity, whilst the ignorant prodigal drowns all the acres of his ancestors in the bottom of a wine-seller, or buries them all in the belly of a harlot?... One dash of a pen hath often been the downfall of man and his posterity…It is a sharp goad that pricks our young gentry to beggary, for in less than a quarter of an hour, (with a pen) do they betray all the lands and livings purchased by their progenitors, into the hands of brokers, scriveners, and usurers (C3v and F1v)
 
Not only do we find similar complaints about young prodigals quickly wasting the patrimony their forefathers worked hard to accumulate, but the sentiment that a “dash of a pen” causes so much damage, doing so within “the fourth part of a minute” or “a quarter of an hour.”
 
A thorough study of both The Black Book and Father Hubburd’s Tales demonstrates they share much with Dekker and Nashe in terms of uncommon linguistic similarities, and very little with Middleton. My theory is that Dekker wrote them, and then Middleton wrote them over in his handwriting before submitting them to the publisher, accounting for a few Middletonian uncommon spellings, intentionally creating a belief that there were at least two authors who wrote like Nashe, rather than only Dekker.
 
It would have been especially important that these two works not be associated with Dekker, if he were indeed Nashe, given that both pamphlets defended Thomas Nashe. Dekker did later praise Nashe in another sequel to Pierce Penniless called News from Hell. The Devil Let Loose with his Answer to Pierce Penniless, 1606, but this was after more water had flowed under the bridge, and additional anonymous pamphlets showed that Nashe’s style was not so unique; unless, that is, a still living Nashe wrote them.
 
Thomas Middleton scholars view the anonymous, humorous pamphlet The Meeting of Gallants at an Ordinary, 1604, to have been written mainly by Middleton, with a contribution by Dekker, but they base this finding almost entirely upon parallels with The Black Book and Father Hubburd’s Tales. [2]
 
The final pamphlet from 1604 I will discuss is Plato’s Cap, an almanac parody by the pseudonynmous “Adam Evesdropper.” The only other mentions of “Plato’s Cap” in the literature of the period are in two works by Dekker, The Wonderful Year and News From Hell, and Dekker echoed the distinct association in Plato’s Cap of Sagittarius with fletchers (arrow makers) on Grub Street in his almanac parody The Raven’s Almanac. I have previously found that Thomas Nashe penned the anonymous almanac parody (by the pseudonymous “Simon Smel-knave”) Fearful and Lamentable Effects of Two Dangerous Comets. [3]

Plato’s Cap
borrows whole chunks of verbiage from Two Dangerous Comets. While this could be seen as plagiarism, another way to view it is as a sneaky way for the same author (Thomas Nashe) to receive additional money for a revised edition of his work, in an era where the publisher rather than the author held the copyright and received money for additional editions! Middleton scholars grant authorship of Plato’s Cap to Thomas Middleton due to its similarities to The Black Book. [4]
 
One may argue that I attribute too many pamphlets to Thomas Dekker over this period of time, but he was a speedy writer. He claimed to have written his pamphlet The Seven Deadly Sins in seven days. The mystery of who wrote these humorous pamphlets is discussed much more fully in The Mysterious Connection between Thomas Nashe, Thomas Dekker and T. M. I find deliberate deception to have occurred to make it appear that not only Thomas Dekker, but also T. M., Adam Evesdropper and Anonymous could write like Nashe, a deception perpetrated with the aid of Thomas Middleton and others to hide the circumstance that Thomas Dekker and Thomas Nashe were one and the same person.
 
For those who believe that Christopher Marlowe pretended to die and penned much of the work attributed to William Shakespeare, I have found another clue about Nashe, too, pretending to die in Sonnet 112. This Sonnet is quite odd, and scholars often emend it so that it “makes more sense,” but below is how it was originally printed in 1609. Marlovians draw attention to the line “vulgar scandall stampt vpon my brow,” because this was certainly true of Marlowe, but not known to have been true about William Shakspere from Stratford-upon-Avon.
 
Sonnet 112
YOur loue and pittie doth th'impression fill,
   Which vulgar scandall stampt vpon my brow,
   For what care I who calles me well or ill,
   So you ore-greene my bad,my good alow?
   You are my All the world,and I must striue,
   To know my shames and praises from your tounge,
   None else to me,nor I to none aliue,
   That my steel'd sence or changes right or wrong,
   In so profound Abisme I throw all care
   Of others voyces,that my Adders sence,
   To cryttick and to flatterer stopped are:
   Marke how with my neglect I do dispence.
     You are so strongly in my purpose bred,
     That all the world besides me thinkes y'are dead.
 
My interest is in to whom the author is speaking, and the meaning of the last line. Peter Farey found that Shakespeare did not use “besides” to mean “except for,” so we should not interpret it as “All the world except for me thinks you are dead.” Shakespeare used “besides” to mean “in addition to.” But this leads to the nonsensical interpretation “All the world, in addition to me, thinks that you are dead.” The writer obviously thinks the subject is still alive. 
 
I propose another, subtle solution to the enigma: “All the world, in addition to thinking that I am dead, thinks that you are dead, too.” According to this interpretation, in Sonnet 112 Christopher Marlowe is speaking to his friend, Thomas Nashe, whom he knew to be alive.
 


[1] Thomas Middleton, Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works, gen. ed. Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 2007), 128.
[2] Ibid, 183-5.
[3] Donna N. Murphy, “Two Dangerous Comets and Thomas Nashe,” Notes & Queries 58 (2011): 219-223.
[4] Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works, 195-7.



Marlowe, Queen Elizabeth, and the Archbishop of Canterbury
Did Marlowe go to Scotland after his "Death"?
Clue from Edmund Spenser?
Clue from Thomas Nashe?
Marlowe, Shakespeare and Religion
How Shakespeare Thought Like Marlowe
The Nature of Genius
Shakespeare's Knowledge of Italy
Shakespeare Was an Adept
Why it Probably Wasn't the Earl of Oxford
Why it Probably Wasn't Sir Francis Bacon
Why Marlowe's Death is Dubious
The Wise Man's Paradox
Christopher Marlowe's Writing
Marlowe-Shakespeare Similarities
Who Wrote the 1603-4 Humorous Pamphlets?
Methodology
Copyright 2017 by Donna N. Murphy