Violence and Extremity: Nashe's Unfortunate Traveller as an Anatomy of Abjection

A first version of this essay, “'Impotent Speech': Transgression and Abjection in Thomas Nashe's The Unfortunate Traveller,” was presented at a Conference on English Renaissance Prose at Purdue University, 11-12 October 1991, and (with alterations), as an invited lecture at the University of Alberta (22 November 1991), the University of Oviedo, Spain (20 February 1992), and the University of Victoria (6 March 1992). A substantially revised version, “Bodies, Power, and the Gendering of Abjection in Nashe's The Unfortunate Traveller,” was presented at the Conference on Comparative Critical Approaches to English Prose Fiction 1520-1640, Carleton University, 8-11 May 1997. Rewritten once more during a period of residence in Spain, the essay was first published in Critical Approaches to English Prose Fiction 1520-1640, ed. Donald Beecher (Ottawa: Dovehouse Editions, 1998), pp. 183-218. Several typographical errors have been corrected in the present version, which except for a sentence added to note 2 and small changes in the third paragraph and in thefinal sentence is otherwise unaltered.


Labrad, amigos, 
de piedra y sueño, en el Alhambra, 
un túmulo al poeta, 
sobre une fuente donde llore et agua, 
y eternamente diga: 
el crimen fue en Granada, ¡en su Granada!1


In these famous lines Antonio Machado, denouncing the murder of Federico García Lorca by the fascist insurgents in 1936, calls upon his readers to build a tomb for the poet in the Alhambra, a tomb of stone and dreams over a fountain whose weeping waters eternally repeat: the crime was in Granada, in his Granada! (Admirers of Lorca's poetry, or, more humbly, fans of Andy Garcia, who played Lorca in the recent film Death in Granada, may be sorry to learn that while the name of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Spanish Falange, remains engraved in letters a foot high on the south wall of Granada's cathedral, after six decades the city still has no proper monument to its greatest poet, unless in dreams alone.)2 But what relevance can these lines of Machado be said to have to Thomas Nashe's The Unfortunate Traveller? Any link between one Spanish poet's lament for another and this bizarrely comic fiction written some three and a half centuries earlier must, in the nature of things, be tenuous at best—and yet I would like to suggest that The Unfortunate Traveller does have Spanish connections that are worth exploring.

My primary concern in this essay, however, will be to propose a modest re-alignment of our understanding of the generic orientation of this text; I want to argue that insofar as Nashe's best-known work is amenable to generic description of any kind, it can most conveniently be termed an anatomy. Nashe's first book, The Anatomy of Absurdity (1589), was a preliminary venture into a genre the name of which, at least, had enjoyed a vogue during the preceding decade—witness Lyly's Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578), Phillip Stubbes' Anatomy of Abuses (1583, twice reprinted by 1585), and Greene's Arbasto (1584, which is subtitled Anatomie of Fortune. Nor was The Anatomy of Absurdity Nashe's only venture in this genre: Pierce Pennilesse His Supplication to the Divell (1592) is, in his own words, “a most livelie anatomie of sinne” (Nashe i. 306).3 I would like to propose that The Unfortunate Traveller is more completely and more profoundly an anatomy than any of these.

But an anatomy of what? Since my title has already given away the answer, there is no point in withholding the word: abjection. As I intend briefly to show, the psychoanalytic theory of abjection developed by Julia Kristeva in Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection has a startling relevance to Nashe's text. My argument will then proceed to a consideration of the generic attachments of The Unfortunate Traveller, and to a demonstration of the peculiar appropriateness of the genre of the anatomy to an exploration of abjection. A rapid outline of the various forms of abjection anatomized in Nashe's fiction will lead to an analysis of the displacement and reinscription of abjection that are among the most intriguing and the most disturbing features of this text. (It is worth remembering that more than one-third of Kristeva's Powers of Horror is devoted to analyzing the anti-semitic pamphlets of Louis-Ferdinand Céline; this section of my essay will examine the displaced abjection that produces Nashe's no less pathological anti-semitism, and that is at the same time linked to what I have called the text's Spanish connections.

What primal repression can be said to bear responsibility for the violent displacements of Nashe's text? There is some reason to think that a psychoanalytic answer to this question might not be adequate. This is not just because of a certain distance between Kristeva's interpretive codes, which are semiotic, psychoanalytic and literary-critical, and Nashe's, which are rhetorical, theological and historical. It is also the case that The Unfortunate Traveller's obsessive concern with violence and abjection is exceptional in Nashe's oeuvre. “In the course of the work,” as Philip Schwyzer has observed,

human lives are disposed of wholesale by disease and warfare, and Jack Wilton's tale concludes with a sensational murder sandwiched between two graphic executions. The absence of anything even approaching this level of brutality elsewhere in Nashe's writings suggests that these recurring assaults on the body are central to what he set out to do in this particular work. (Schwyzer 588)

One may then suspect that some particular historical cause or occasion underlies Nashe's turn in this text, not just to a rhetoric of abjection and to the literary genre best fitted for such a rhetoric, but also to representations of abjection, whether direct or displaced, in historical or pseudo-historical form. In the concluding sections of this essay I will be proposing connections between Nashe's anatomizing of abjection and historical events which go unmentioned in the narrative, and yet which might be said to resonate within and through it: one of them the murder of a poet, and another a historical crime linked to Lorca's city of Granada. Behind the rhetorical aggressions, the multiple dismemberments and the fictive murders of The Unfortunate Traveller, I want to suggest, lies the altogether historical corpse of a poet who was close enough to Nashe to be almost an alter ego; and behind the text's displacements of abjection one can detect traces of the abject displacement of real people.



Let us start with a reminder of the kind of narrative with which we are dealing. It begins in the mode of the Renaissance jest-book, with a trickster-narrator who (not unlike Mateo Alemán's picaro, Guzmán de Alfarache) perpetrates a series of nasty pranks while participating in Henry VIII's sieges of Tournai and Térouanne. But The Unfortunate Traveller quickly evolves into an oddly free-floating historical romance (or should one say, anti-romance?), a text that manages to be at once carelessly impromptu and artfully self-reflexive. Describing himself at the outset as “a certain kind of appendix or page” (Nashe ii. 209) attached to the court of Henry VIII, Jack Wilton seems to be aware that as the subject of the narrative he is also a textual artefact: his “signiorie over the Pages” (ii. 227) signifies his offhand mastery of the writer's medium as much as it does his leadership of a gang of likeminded mischief-makers (see Ferguson, Suzuki, and Holbrook 81-85).

Historical romance, anti-romance, picaresque fiction, or anatomy though it may be,4 Nashe's text makes only the most casual gestures in the direction of narrative or historical continuity. Jacks early pranks at the sieges of Tournai and Térouanne (which took place in 1513) are followed by a bizarrely comical account of the sweating sickness, of which there were terrifying outbreaks in—take your pick—1518 and 1529.5 Fleeing from the epidemic with the intent of becoming “a Martialist in earnest” (ii. 231), Jack witnesses the horrible carnage of the battle of Marignano (1515), where some three-quarters of the nearly twenty thousand Swiss mercenaries were killed or wounded, and where the French army that defeated them suffered almost as severely. Then, “like a Crowe that still followes aloofe where there is carrion” (ii. 232), he moves on at once to the city of Münster, arriving in time to exercise his wit over the bloody massacre with which the siege of the Münster Anabaptists ended in 1535—an event which Jack conflates with the battle a decade earlier in which a peasant army led by the radical reformer Thomas Müntzer had been slaughtered at Frankenhausen (see Cohn 234-51, 261-80).

Falling in with the Earl of Surrey (we must now be in the late 1530s or early 1540s, since Surrey was born in 1517 and executed for treason in 1547), Jack then sets out for Venice, via Rotterdam and Wittenberg. As he readily confesses, this is scarcely the most direct route to Italy. However, it permits him in the former city to encounter Erasmus and Thomas More, who are engaged in composing the Praise of Folly and Utopia (this catapults us back some thirty years, since these books were first printed in 1511 and 1516, respectively [see Screech 2-3, and Surtz xvi]). In Wittenberg Jack is able to hear Luther debating with Carlstadt (we must therefore now be in 1522, at some time between Luther's return from the Wartburg and Carlstadt's expulsion from Wittenberg); while there Jack encounters “that abundant scholler Cornelius Agrippa” (Nashe ii. 252), a humanist and magician whom Nashe knew to have been one prototype of Wittenberg's legendary Doctor Faustus,6 and whose necromantic displays—the “shadows” that according to Marlowe's Faustus “made all Europe honor him” (Marlowe 1991, I. i. 119-20)—appear to be the most “edifiing” (Nashe ii. 255) of all Jack's experiences in Germany.

Any reader so deluded as to hope for serious insights from these encounters would be disappointed: but that is part of the game.7 Of the Wittenberg debate, Jack says that “Luther had the louder voyce; Carolostadius went beyond him in beating and bounsing with his fists. Quae supra nos, nihil ad nos: they uttered nothing to make a man laugh, therefore I will leave them” (ii. 250).

And yet the ideals with which the sixteenth century consoled itself are not altogether scanted. In Rome (which Jack visits just before its catastrophic sack in 1527 by the imperial army) he describes in lingering detail the “soul-exalting” splendours of a banqueting house which imaged “such a golden age, such a good age, such an honest age” as that it “was the mervaile of the world, & could not be matcht except God should make another paradise” (ii. 285, 282).

But in Italy the narrative also takes a darker turn: its headlong violence, though equally stylized and rhetorical, and no less grotesquely playful than before, is now no longer distanced and impersonal; Jack is increasingly a victim rather than a witness. He is perhaps more deliberately insolent than before in his challenges to and impersonations of the power of authority figures. But whereas previously he was punished for some at least of his pranks, he now becomes the object of other people's crimes, and faces consequences that seem out of all proportion to his own transgressions. He is twice imprisoned and threatened with imminent execution. On the second occasion he is accused of a hyperbolically sadistic rape that was actually committed by the demonic Esdras of Granada while Jack, locked into an adjoining room, was wringing his hands over the abduction of his own mistress by the rapist's accomplice—and over what amounts, as Margaret Ferguson has noted, to his own symbolic rape: menaced with a sword, he could only brandish an empty pistol in reply (Nashe ii. 287; Ferguson 180). Jack is subsequently enslaved, sold to a Jewish doctor for anatomical dissection, and then abducted by the Pope's mistress, for whom he becomes another kind of anatomical specimen.

Rescued from this bondage by his own mistress (just as he had previously been released from prison by the wealthy and influential writer Pietro Aretino and saved from execution by an unnamed English earl), Jack is able to witness one final scene of torture before bringing his story to a close. This consists of the execution and dismemberment of one Cutwolfe, who had himself killed Esdras of Granada by terrifying him into a formal abjuration of Christianity, and then, in his own words, shooting him “full into the throat with my pistoll ... so that he might never speake after, or repent him” (ii. 326).

Is The Unfortunate Traveller beginning to sound rather like an exemplary new historicist text? As Terry Eagleton has observed, mutilated bodies are de rigueur in new historicist interpretations; moreover, the text's uneasy relations with established authority, which it seems at once to mock and to reaffirm, may suggest that it could easily be accommodated to a new historicist master-narrative of the containment of subversion by power. It may indeed be the case that transgression is often in The Unfortunate Traveller an effect of power, and even part of a process by means of which constituted authority legitimizes and reproduces itself. It is by no means evident, however, that this kind of recursive legitimation of power by transgression manages to absorb or to confine the text's anarchic energies.

Nashe does impose upon the latter third of his narrative a complicatedly providential plot, at the end of which Jack marries his courtesan, performs many (unspecified) works of charity, and returns from the “Sodom of Italy” (ii. 327), if not to England itself, at least to the camp of Henry VIII at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. But in circling back thus to its point of origin, the narrative may remind us of an uncanny similarity between the two agents who preside over its beginning and turn it towards its close: King Henry, the ravisher of cities, to whom “Turwin lost her maidenhead and opened her gates to more than Jane Trosse did” (ii. 209), and Esdras of Granada, the demonic rapist of Heraclide and a hundred others. The reader may also quietly note the fact that King Henry, “the onely true subject of Chronicles” (ii. 209), had long since been silently dropped from this text by his ambiguously loyal subject, the “out-landish Chronicler” (ii. 328) who has made his own fragmented subjectivity the true subject of this tale.



As even such a skeletal summary as this may suffice to show, The Unfortunate Traveller is in many respects an excessive—which is also to say a transgressive—text. These qualities have been linked by some critics to issues of authority. Mihoko Suzuki, for example, relates the violence of The Unfortunate Traveller to a “preoccupation with the problem of ineffectual authority, not only in the political and hence the social realm, but in the moral and religious realms as well” (Suzuki 349); while Margaret Ferguson, in a brilliant study of Nashe's (and Jack Wilton's) counterfeiting of authority, finds in the text a powerful ambivalence “about the apparent absence of any social or religious authority strong enough to limit definitively the production of counterfeits” (Ferguson 173). Jonathan Crewe, focussing more distinctly on Nashe's subversion of literary authority, of the high conventions of Renaissance humanism, characterizes his “unredeemed rhetoric” in terms of a “simultaneous antagonism to and parasitism upon an absent deal” (Crewe 23). In a similar vein, Robert Weimann has linked The Unfortunate Traveller to a “crisis in narrative in the demarcation of discourses”: this text, “breaking down barriers between different types of discourse ... thrives upon the depleted authority of all these modes: the matière of chivalry, the mode of allegory, the manner of the jest-book, even the project of humanist poetics” (Weimann 160-61).

Kiernan Ryan believes that these features of Nashe's text make it accessible to recuperation as one of the founding texts of a liberating counter-canon. However, his argument that the narrative polyphony of this “defiantly decentred, heterogeneous and unstable” text “serves an emancipative purpose which is the reverse of sheer negation of self-cancelling nihilism” (Ryan 51) rests upon an analysis that occludes the more violent and excessive features of the narrative. Neil Rhodes, in contrast, insists that “verbal excess and rhetorical flamboyance” cannot be assumed to be “indicators of radical intention. ... For it is not just that Nashe's writing is morally indifferent to violence; it is in itself a language of violence. It travesties, yet at the same time revitalises, the humanist values of copia, 'bravery' and rhetoric as power” (Rhodes 31, 33). If, moreover, as Ann Rosalind Jones has remarked, the final emphasis of this narrative is upon fantasies “of revenge, protection by the elite, and a rise to wealth and security,” then Nashe can hardly be said “to have dissolved the hierarchies of his time into a free play of signs, a utopia of discourses from which authority has been banished” (Jones 74).

In its various disguises, then, authority is ineffectual, or equivocally absent—or present, perhaps, as a structure of constraints and limitations which the narrator (whose subjectivity emerges, as David Theo Goldberg would say, at “the point of convergence, the bodily intersection, of multiple discourses” [Goldberg 309]) at once mocks, counterfeits, insults, and yet reaffirms. Could it be described, then, as a structure which, if it does not actually provoke the challenges it would appear to foreclose, might nonetheless be understood as both constituting and threatening to dissolve that subjected subjectivity whose trajectory makes visible its own ambiguous outlines? But this is perhaps too tidy a formulation.

With its diverse narrative strategies, its wild dilations and abrupt truncations, its overflowing parodic energies, its extravagant range of vocal gestures and rhetorical supplementarity and indirection, and most of all its gloating violence (in which C.S. Lewis saw a “ludicrous and sometimes frightful incoherence boiling up from a dark void” [Lewis 416]), The Unfortunate Traveller has tended to slip through the thematizing enclosures constructed by its critics. Whether the problem is posed in terms of an “inexplicable themelessness” (Lanham 202), or in terms of a “nonsignifying excess of violence” that threatens “to constitute a universal theater of cruelty rather than a theater of God's judgments” (Crewe 75), we appear to be faced with more or less elegant ways of saying much the same thing. Perhaps Alexander Leggatt expressed the matter most clearly when he concluded, while discovering a certain connectedness in the narrator's obsession with the liquefaction and dissolution of human flesh (whether through disease, battle, torture, sexual exhaustion, or terror), that The Unfortunate Traveller “survives chiefly as a grand, grotesque entertainment, alive with comedy and horror, with the flamboyance of Hieronymus Bosch but without his concentration of purpose” (Leggatt 46).

But in speaking in such terms as these, we are entering what Julia Kristeva defines as the domain of abjection.

This is the domain neither of subject nor of object: “The abject is not an ob-ject facing me, which I name or imagine”; all that it shares with the object is the quality “of being opposed to I” (Kristeva 1). Associated in psychoanalytic terms with the fear and compulsion of defilement, with the impossibility of definitively separating that which can be cast away—excrement, bodily fluids, corpses—from that which continues to constitute the self, the abject “simultaneously beseeches and pulverizes the subject” (5). It therefore “does not radically cut off the subject from what threatens it—on the contrary, abjection acknowledges it to be in perpetual danger” (9). In contrast to the object, which Kristeva says “settles me within the fragile texture of a desire for meaning,” the abject,

the jettisoned object, is radically excluded and draws me toward the place where meaning collapses. A certain “ego” that merged with its master, a superego, has flatly driven it away. It lies outside, beyond the set, and does not seem to agree to the latter's rules of the game. And yet, from its place of banishment, the abject does not cease challenging its master. (Kristeva 1-2)

It is for this reason that “There looms, within abjection, one of those violent, dark revolts of being, directed against a threat that seems to emanate from an exorbitant outside or inside, ejected beyond the scope of the possible, the tolerable, the thinkable” (1).

Abjection arises, according to Kristeva, out of disturbances to the patterns of signification which sustain “identity, system, order” (4), and thereby contribute to the demarcation of a border between self and other. The most powerful such disturbances are prompted by corpses. For the body, once it ceases to participate in the system of exchanges that, on the most basic level, sustain the living self (inhalation, ingestion, exhalation, excretion), passes over into the category of that which it previously expelled, cast downward, or cast off (ab-jectum). In his translation, dating from 1398, of Bartholomeus de Glanville's De proprietatibus rerum, John of Trevisa wrote that “careyne” [carrion] draws its other name of “cadavare” from “cadere, to falle”—an etymology that is repeated by Kristeva (OED, “Cadaver”; Kristeva 3). Once having fallen, the cadaver itself becomes waste, joining the excrementa which, as George Starkey wrote in Natures Explication and Helmont's Vindication (1657), “are by the heat of the body cadaverated, and cast forth” (OED, “Cadaverate”).

One of the more obvious signs that The Unfortunate Traveller occupies the domain of abjection as defined by Kristeva, is its fascination with the production of cadavers—whether by warfare, disease, murder, suicide, or execution. Another might be the manner in which Nashe's text flouts narrative logic and temporal sequentiality in its movement across sixteenth-century Europe, rather as though (to quote Kristeva once more) it were traversing a terrain in which

consciousness has not assumed its rights and transformed into signifiers those fluid demarcations of yet unstable territories where an “I” that is taking shape is ceaselessly straying. We are no longer within the sphere of the unconscious but at the limit of primal repression that, nevertheless, has discovered an intrinsically corporeal and already signifying brand, symptom, and sign: repugnance, disgust, abjection. (Kristeva 11)



Let us turn to the question of genre, and backtrack to the genre of the picaresque—which would seem the obvious place to look, if one were as interested in tracing The Unfortunate Traveller's Spanish connections as I have professed to be, for picaresque fiction is a Spanish invention. The genre came into being with Lazarillo de Tormes (1554), and was memorably developed by writers such as Mateo Alemán, author of Guzmán de Alfarache, and Francesco de Quevedo, whose many works in verse and prose include La vida del Buscón llamado Don Pablos.

As it happens, there are intriguing stylistic similarities between La vida del Buscón and The Unfortunate Traveller. Here, for example, is Quevedo's description of the miserly schoolmaster Cabra:

His eyes, close neighbours in his head, seemed to be peering out through wicker baskets, and were so sunk and shady that they would have been a good place for a market stall. His nose, having been eaten by rheumy pimples, was midway in shape between Roman and French syphilitic—but not on account of vice, for that costs money. His beard was pale from terror of his mouth, which out of pure hunger seemed to be threatening to devour it; he was missing I know not how many teeth, having banished them, I suppose, as idlers and vagabonds.... Seen from below, he looked with his long spindly legs like a fork or a pair of compasses. He walked with deliberation, since if he tried to go faster his bones rattled like St. Lazarus' clappers.8

This is recognizably of the same kind as Nashe's arias of dispraise—the derisive sketches of Jack Wilton's own get-up as a page and John of Leiden's battledress, for example, or Jack's mocking portrait of the scholar whom the “burgers and dunsticall incorporationers of Wittenberg” picked out to present the Duke of Saxony with an oration:

A bursten belly inkhorn orator called Vanderhulke, ... [he] had a sulpherous big swolne large face, like a Saracen, eyes lyke two kentish oysters, a mouth that opened as wide every time he spake, as one of those old knit trap doores, a beard as though it had ben made of a birds neast pluckt in peeces, which consisteth of strawe, haire, and durt mixt together. He was apparelled in blacke leather new licourd, & a short gowne without anie gathering in the backe, faced before and behinde with a boistrous beare skin, and a red night-cap on his head. (Nashe ii. 247-48)

In both texts there is a tendency for periodic rhythms to collapse into paratactical sequences,9 and, at the other end of the stylistic register, a movement towards what one might call an anticipation of the full-blown baroque by its fly-blown comic inversion. But beyond the probability that Nashe was in some way acquainted with Spanish writings in a picaresque mode, there can be no question here of a closer intertextuality: Quevedo's Vida del Buscón was first published in 1620, and I would want long odds on a bet that he had read Thomas Nashe. Similarities in style and genre can more profitably be ascribed to a parallel experience of social superfluity on the part of a whole class of educated men (an experience masked to some degree by Nashe's upscale placing of his traveller, but massively evident throughout his oeuvre). One might note, as well, a parallel ambivalence with respect to the relations between authorial subjectivity and the forms of power (including the seedy authority of a decayed humanist tradition) by which that subjectivity has been shaped, but subjection to which it refuses, at least in passages such as these.

There is, however, one very clear difference between Nashe's text and picaresque narratives like those of Quevedo: Jack Wilton is as much a Forrest Gump as he is a picaro. Since he supposedly witnesses many of the key events of the early sixteenth century and meets some of its major cultural figures, his narrative amounts to a strangely distorted tour through the cultural tensions and historical terrors of the age. Here we encounter one of the senses in which The Unfortunate Traveller can be said to belong more distinctly to the genre of the anatomy than to that of the picaresque. For in setting out to anatomize abjection, Nashe is also committing himself to anatomizing, in however disjointed a manner, what Shakespeare's Hamlet would soon be calling the “very age and body of the time” (Hamlet III. ii. 23-24).

Does this mean we should take seriously Nashe's promise, in his dedication of this “phantasticall Treatise” to the Earl of Southampton, of “some reasonable conveyance of history” (ii. 201)? Clearly not, if chronological sequence bulks larger in our sense of history than the representation of subjectivities—although the manner in which historical materials are incorporated into the text should in any case be of serious interest to us. But is there not a striking contradiction between history, which however we understand it must involve some notion of process and temporality, and the root sense of “anatomy”? This term, derived from ana temnein, “to cut up,” is evidently incompatible, on the object side at least, with the temporality of living beings. Jack Wilton must be made to “daunc[e] in a hempen circle” before his moral self-anatomy, a farewell ballad “called Wiltons wantonnes” (ii. 295), can make its point; or else he must be bled to death before Dr. Zacharie can make his body “an anatomie” (ii. 305). If history were to be anatomized in a like manner, this could only be done from a position (which some contemporary American celebrants of the triumph of neoliberalism believe themselves to have reached) at the end of history. Another name for the anatomizing of history would therefore be apocalypse—a discourse, literally, of unveiling, which reveals the structures, causality and purposes of human time in a manner analogous to that in which the anatomists's flaying of a human corpse exposes the hidden structures, organs and functioning of the human body.

But although The Unfortunate Traveller does contain travestied elements of the genre of apocalypse (most notably in connection with Esdras of Granada), history presents itself to Jack Wilton as an unintelligible sequence of violent events, as one damnable thing after another—as the means, that is to say, by which abjection is produced, in himself and in others.10 “Unsearchable is the book of our destinies,” says Jack at the end of his outlandish chronicle, after witnessing Cutwolfe's torture and execution. “One murder begetteth another: was never yet bloud-shed barren from the beginning of the world to this daie. Mortifiedly abjected and danted was I with this truculent tragedie of Cutwolfe and Esdras” (ii. 327).11

I have suggested that Nashe's anatomizing is “disjointed”: the word can remind us, not just of the text's narrative and historical discontinuities, but also of the manner in which power, whether rhetorical or material, criminal or legitimate, human or divine, so repeatedly manifests itself in The Unfortunate Traveller in terms of the disarticulation, liquefaction and disjointing of human bodies—from the act of verbal disassembly which reduces Vanderhulke's face to oysters, trap-door and a broken bird's nest (ii. 247), to the operations of the sweating sickness, which melts an old woman's three chins to water, leaving her “nothing of a mouth but an upper chap” (ii. 229), to those of the executioner whom Jack Wilton describes with such horrible flippancy as “drum[ming] on ... Cutwolfes bones” and “lingeringly splinter[ing] in shivers” all his limbs (ii. 327). There is, I think, a connection between the text's structural disjointings and its thematizing of disjointment.

In calling The Unfortunate Traveller an anatomy I do not mean to attribute to it anything resembling an underlying consistency of intention. For anatomy, or Menippean satire, is as much an anti-genre as a genre. As Hutson writes, it “was characterized from ancient times by its lack of generic integrity. ... It was a medley, an 'admixture of genres and their reciprocals' in which critical awareness of one mode of expression was encouraged by its incongruous juxtaposition with another” (Hutson 125, quoting Babcock 100). This genre, or anti-genre, is distinguished by contradictory impulses: towards, on the one hand, a totalizing desire for disclosure or unveiling, a revelation of structure and a correction of its defects; and, on the other, towards a stance of Democritean mockery, based on a conviction that the totality which is emerging into view is incorrigibly marked by folly and wrong-doing, and that laughter is a more fitting response to this situation than tears. “We had need,” Robert Burton writes in his Anatomy of Melancholy,

of some general visitor in our age, that should reform what is amiss; a just army of Rosy-Cross men, for they will amend all matters, (they say) religion, policy, manners, with arts, sciences, &c.; another Attila, Tamerlane, Hercules, to strive with Achelous, Augeae stabulum purgare, to subdue tyrants, as he did Diomedes and Busiris: to expel thieves, as he did Cacus & Lacinius: to vindicate poor captives, as he did Hesione: to pass the Torid Zone, the deserts of Libya, and purge the world of monsters and Centaurs. (Burton i. 107-08)

But these, he decides, “are vain, absurd, and ridiculous wishes not to be hoped.”

Because therefore it is a thing so difficult, impossible, and far beyond Hercules' labours to be performed; ... let them be barbarous as they are, let them tyrannize, epicurize, oppress, luxuriate, consume themselves with factions, superstitions, law-suits, wars and contentions, live in riot, poverty, want, misery; rebel, wallow as so many swine in their own dung. (Burton i. 109)

Burton thus finds himself suspended between a desire to “make an Utopia of my own, a new Atlantis, a poetical Commonwealth of mine own, in which I will freely domineer” (i. 109), and the thought that if one had

some rare perspective glass ... which would so multiply species, that a man might hear and see all at once (as Martianus Capella's Jupiter did in a spear which he held in his hand, which did present unto him all that was daily done upon the face of the earth), observe cuckolds' horns, forgeries of alchemists, the philosopher's stone, new projectors, &c., and all those works of darkness, foolish vows, hopes, fears, and wishes, what a deal of laughter it would have afforded! (i. 74)12

The commonplace of the labours of Hercules with which Burton amuses himself is explored at much greater length by an earlier Renaissance anatomist, Henricus Cornelius Agrippa, whose declamation Of the Vanitie and Uncertaintie of all Artes and Sciences (1530, English translation 1569) was, with Erasmus' Praise of Folly, one of the most widely read essays in this genre, as well as one of Thomas Nashe's most frequently pillaged sources (see Nashe v. 115, 118-26). In his prefatory address to the reader, Agrippa imagines himself, in a manner “almoste comparable to the attempts of Hercules, ... tak[ing] up weapons against all that Giaunt force of Sciences and Artes”—but then, in a breathless catalogue that continues for four pages, having to face the violence of their responses:

The obstinate Logitioners, will caste againste me infinite dartes of Sillogismes.... The wandringe Cosmographers will bannishe me beyond Moscuvie and the frosen Sea.... The Fatal Astrologers, wil threaten me to be hanged, and with the unstable turninge of the Heavens will forbidde me Paradise.... The monstrous Magitiens, wil transforme me, as it were another Apulei[us] or Lucian, into an Asse, yet not of Golde, but perchance of dyrte.... The Hooded Maskers, and spiteful Hipocrites, will rayle against me out of the Pulpit.... The perbrake Phisitians, will embrue me with Urine and Ordure.... The filthy Apothecaries, will sucke me drie with their Clisters. The geldinge Chirurgians, will lie in wayte for my teethe and stones. (Agrippa 6-9)

Like Nashe's Jack Wilton, Agrippa wants the reader to be aware of the risks he is courting.

Lorna Hutson remarks that Nashe's familiarity with this genre would have gone back to his days in school, where he and his contemporaries read Lucianic dialogues and colloquies of Erasmus (Hutson 139). This may serve as a reminder that among the discourses absorbed into The Unfortunate Traveller are elements of two of the most famous of Erasmus' Adages: Dulce bellum inexpertis, a declamation against the barbarity and degradation of war, and Spartam nactus es, hanc orna, which includes a passage that might have served as the basis for one of the longest set speeches in Nashe's text, the English earl's discourse on the evils of travel:

Is there so little business to do at home, that it must be sought abroad? Everywhere there is the filthy sludge of crime, so many acts of sacrilege, or robbery and violence, so much injury done and affronts given, so much bribery of officials, so many laws either formulated by tyrants or twisted to serve tyranny. (Phillips 308)



In what different forms does abjection appear in The Unfortunate Traveller? The first two of Jack Wilton's pranks in the army of Henry VIII involve an interplay of transgression and abjection in which Jack punishes transgressions of social class boundaries. The victims of his trickery are a “Lord of misrule” (ii. 210), an aristocrat who has debased himself by descending to the role of supplier of cider and sausages to the English army, and an “ugly mechanical Captain” (ii. 217) whose officer's rank Jack resents as being above his station. Persuaded by Jack that he has been denounced to the king as a traitor, the aristocrat seeks to prove his loyalty by giving away his supplies to the soldiers and the rest of his property to the king, before whom he grovels. The captain is lured by Jack's sophistic rhetoric into a quite different course of action. He is beguiled into thinking that the way to further advancement lies in pretending to desert to the French, and once there assassinating the French king; the plan of course backfires, resulting in scenes of abjection and torture, and Jack has the satisfaction of knowing that his gull has “rayl[ed] egregiously against the King of England” (ii. 222-23) and confessed to attempted regicide.

The sweating sickness, and the scenes of warfare to which Jack escapes from it, present a more Kristevan form of abjection, one that has more to do with threats to the boundaries of the self than with social boundaries. The disease, which Jack mockingly claims was first engendered among the “hayry excrements” of old men's beards (ii. 230), threatens to dissolve the bodies of its victims, while on the battlefield of Marignano “the half living” are “mixt with squeazed carcases long putrifide” (ii. 231). At Münster the abjection of battlefield slaughter is a consequence of presumption at once social and theological, and a reward for the Anabaptists' howling expostulations with God and “the violence of [their] long babling praiers” (ii. 234).

In Wittenberg Jack witnesses a different interplay of abjection and aggression: the Duke of Saxony is “croucht unto extreamely” by the scholars of the university, who nonetheless express their “extraordinarie good will” towards him by having him stand in the rain listening to the university orator until he is “through wet”—after which, through the efforts of “a miserable rablement of junior graduats,” the Duke has “[s]ome three halfe penyworth of Latine ... throwen at his face” like “ragges gathered up from the dunghill” (ii. 246-47).

Something rather different is involved in the episodes featuring the Earl of Surrey. One might perhaps call it the erotics of courtly abjection, as figured in the idiotically excessive significations of the allegorical armour that he and his competitors wear for the tournament in Florence—including Surrey's water-pot helmet,

Whereby he did import thus much, that the teares that issued from his braines, as those artificiall distillations issued from the well counterfeit water-pot on his head, watered and gave lyfe as to his mistres disdaine (resembled to nettles and weeds) as increase of glorie to her care-causing beauty (comprehended under the lilies and roses). (ii. 271-72)

But if abjection is displaced in this scene into a particularly silly form of play, another less amusing displacement of abjection becomes evident in the latter part of the book. Jack speaks of his “purgatorie” as beginning (ii. 295) when he is accused by Heraclide's revived husband of the rape which Jack has witnessed. He reaches a lower level of abjection, however, when in searching for his concubine (from whom he was separated by her abduction and his arrest), he passes over the unbarred cellar door “of a Jewes house caled Zadoch,” and

over head and eares I fell into it, as a man falls in a shippe from the oreloope into the hold, or as in an earth-quake the ground should open, and a blind man come feeling pad pad over the open Gulph with his staffe, should tumble on a sodaine into hell. (ii. 303)

This kind of fall may be a recurring trope in anti-semitic narratives for the entry into the society of Jews: in Gregor von Rezzori's Memoirs of an Anti-Semite, the protagonist steps backward into an open cellar trapdoor—and into a passionate affair with the Jewish woman of the “Andalusian face” in whose shop the accident occurs (von Rezzori 106-09). But Jack Wilton falls into enslavement and terror.

Shall we turn now to what I have called the “Spanish connections” of The Unfortunate Traveller? The following remarks are prompted, in the first place, by a name: that of the book's arch-villain, the rapist Esdras of Granada, who I would propose is connected to what I have called a primal repression or crime.

This name possesses a quite definite, if also paradoxical, historical specificity. The man is from “Granado”13 or Granada, a city which in 1492 was surrendered by Boabdil, its last Nasrid king, to the Reyes Católicos of Aragon and Castille, Ferdinand and Isabella. Does this make our rapist a Spaniard? Perhaps, since by the teens or twenties of the sixteenth century—the period in which, for the most part, Nashe's fiction appears to be set—anyone identified as a Granadino might well be a son of Castilians who had moved south with the reconquista. And that is what Jack Wilton calls him: “a Spaniard, ... a notable Bandetto, authorised by the pope because he had assisted him in some murthers” (ii. 287). But with a name like Esdras, he must more distinctly be a Jew.

The most celebrated bearer of the name, the prophet Ezra (or Esdras, as he is called in the Vulgate bible), was a key figure in the constitution of a Judaean theocracy in the period following the Babylonian captivity. The apocryphal Ezra Apocalypse (also known as IV Esdras—or, in Protestant editions of the Apocrypha, as 2 Esdras)14 credits him with having, under divine inspiration, restored the text of the Torah, thus making him a second Moses (see 2 Esdras 14)15 This name recurs, much later, in connection with the city of Granada—and in conjunction again with the name Moses (though the temporal sequence of the two is now reversed). One of the three great Hebrew poets of medieval Spain, along with Solomon ibn Gabirol and Judah Halevi, was Moses ibn Ezra of Granada, “a number of whose penitential prayers and hymns of deepest religious feeling and melancholy beauty have found a permanent place in the liturgy of the synagogue” (Epstein 193).

Oddly enough, this Moses ibn Ezra of Granada was himself an unfortunate traveller, who in a number of his poems expresses his weariness at “roaming about the world, measuring its expanse” (Diwan no. 175, l. 13; Baer i. 61). Forced in 1195 to flee from Granada, which had fallen five years previously to the intolerant and puritanical Almoravids, Moses ibn Ezra spent the last four decades of his life wandering among the “barbarians” of Christian Castille—a land which appears to share some of the features of Jack Wilton's Italy:

Fortune has hurled me to a land where the lights of my
          understanding dimmed
And the stars of my reason were beclouded with the murk of
          faltering knowledge and stammering speech. 
I have come to the iniquitous domain of a people scorned by
          God and accursed by man, 
Amongst savages who love corruption and set an ambush
          for the blood of the righteous and innocent. 
(Diwan no. 20, ll. 31-34; Baer i. 63)

The odds that Thomas Nashe had ever heard of this poet may seem slender. In his preface to Greene's Menaphon, however, he sang the praises of his own Cambridge college of St. John's, which before succumbing in “our idle age” to “the doting practise of our Divinitie dunces,” had been “a famous and fortunate Nurse” of scholarship (iii. 317-18). It had been, in effect, one of the places where the humanist project of a revival of learning, involving at the highest level a study of Hebrew as well as of Latin and Greek, had taken root. Thus, although Nashe's own learning is largely second- or third-hand, it is not impossible that he could have known men, even in the Cambridge whose contemporary decline he laments, whose acquaintance with Hebrew liturgy could have given them some awareness of Moses of the family of Ezra (or, in Latinized form, Esdras) of Granada. Nashe may then be playing an idly allusive trick in bestowing the family name of a devotional Hebrew poet upon the most pathological of all his villains.

While any connection between the poet of Granada and the rapist must remain mere speculation, one can propose with some confidence that Nashe made deliberate use of Esdras the prophet in his narrative of Esdras the rapist and murderer—for there are resonances between the apocalyptic prophecies of Esdras and the rape of Heraclide by Esdras of Granada that can hardly be coincidental. God declares through the prophet Esdras that

I will send plagues upon thee; widowhood, poverty, famine, sword, and pestilence, to waste thy houses with destruction and death.... 
Thou shalt be weakened as a poor woman with stripes, and as one chastised with wounds, so that the mighty and lovers shall not be able to receive thee.... 
The reward of thy whoredom shall be in thy bosom, therefore shalt thou receive recompence.   (2 Esdras 15: 49, 51, 55)

Heraclide, who has “buried fourteene children in five daies” (ii. 292), is assaulted in her plague-stricken house over the corpse (so it appears) of her husband. Shaking her by the throat “as a mastiffe would shake a yong beare,” Esdras the bandit drags her back and forth across the room by her hair, and then rapes her, leaving her to fear that her husband's “pure deceased spirit” will despise her for being “tyrannously polluted” (ii. 291-93). Believing herself to be “damned (if predestinations opinions be true) that am predestinate to this horrible abuse,” Heraclide determines that “no recompence is there for me to redeeme my compelled offence, but with a rigorous compelled death” (ii. 293). In a penitential repetition of her violation, she commits suicide, making her “sin-sowed flesh” the “sheath” for a dagger (ii. 293-95).

As Lorna Hutson has observed, this Esdras is “associated with divine power, arriving as he does in the plague, 'during this time of visitation' (ii. 287), but he is also a legal figure 'authorized by the pope' (ii. 287)” (Hutson 239). No recourse to law can touch him, since as he tells Heraclide, the pope has “countenanced and borne out” his “many execrable murthers” (ii. 288). Esdras seems equally immune both to the plague and to the law of probability: he claims to have broken into “eight score” of plague-infested houses without succumbing to the disease himself (ii. 288), and to have won more than a hundred times in a Spanish dice game, the loser of which is sent off to the galleys as a slave (ii. 290-91). Moreover, Hutson remarks, his victim's appeal to the higher authority of divine justice “ends farcically, with the menacing frown and overhanging sword of divine retribution which Heraclide desperately invokes (ii. 289) travestied in the unmoved figure of Esdras on his 'chaire of state' ... 'leaning his over-hanging gloomie ey-browes on the pommel of his unsheathed sword' (ii. 290)” (Hutson 240).

Perhaps the words of Esdras the prophet can be used to explicate this scene:

Gird yourselves up with cloths of sack and hair, bewail your children, and be sorry; for your destruction is at hand. 
A sword is sent upon you, and who may turn it back? ... 
Plagues are sent unto you, and what is he that may drive them away? ... 
The mighty Lord sendeth the plagues, and who is he that can drive them away? ... 
Even so in those days there shall be three or four left by them that search their houses with the sword.   (2 Esdras 16:2-3, 5, 8, 31)

Or should we not say, rather, that Nashe is writing a perverse midrash upon these concluding chapters of 2 Esdras—and doing so in what must seem a full awareness of the violent inversion that ensues when a rapist, bearing the same name as the deuteronomic restorer of the Law, acts out the apocryphal Esdras's violent prophecies in the displaced form of criminality?

But Heraclide's tormenter is not the only Jew among the villains of what Jack Wilton calls “the Sodom of Italy” (ii. 327). In addition to Esdras the Rapist, we have the Venetian courtesan Tabitha the Temptress (whose name is the only marker of her ethnicity),16 as well as Zadoch the Whipper and his friend Dr. Zacharie, the Pope's physician, whose intention it is to anatomize Jack in the most literal sense. Zacharie is so single-mindedly devoted to this end that he refuses to sell Jack to the Pope's courtesan (who has other equally instrumental plans for Jack's anatomy). This obstinacy leads, through her manipulations, to the Pope's edict of banishment—a commandment that, as Jack blithely puts it, “all fore-skinne clippers, whether male or female, belonging to the old Jurie [i.e. Jewrie], should depart and avoid upon pain of hanging, within twentie daies after the date thereof” (ii. 307). As a result, “al the Albumazers, Rabisacks, Gedions, Tebiths, Benhadads, Benrodans, Zedechiaes, Halies of them were banquerouts and turned out of house and home” (ii. 310).

It is important to be clear about the territory that Nashe's text is entering in this sequence. A Christian youth is held captive by a Jew, who intends to bleed him to death and then cut him up “like a French summer dublet” (ii. 305).17 Although the motivation is medical rather than religious, we are very close here to the blood libel: the legend of the Christian child who (like St. Hugh of Lincoln) is abducted by Jews and butchered in kosher fashion, and whose purported murder sparks off pogroms against the Jewish population.

In this case, although there is no direct link between Jack's near-murder and the expulsion of the Jews, the former effectively justifies the latter. A pitiless contempt for the expelled Jewish population is promptly reinforced by what we are told of Zadoch. This “diamond Delphinicall drie leachour,” who has “digested his meate” by subjecting Diamante, Jack's courtesan, to a daily ritual of stripping and whipping (ii. 309-10), now plots a hyperbolical revenge upon the whole city of Rome. In a rage that is likened to “the furie of Lucifer when he was turnde over heaven barre for a wrangler,” he vows to poison the “springs & conduit heades” from which the city draws its water; to entice as many Christian children into his house as he can, “and cutting their throates, barrell them up in poudring beefe tubbes, and so send them to victuall the Popes gallies”; and to have “scorpions oyle” kneaded into the dough used in making hosts, so that “in the zeale of their superstitious religion” the Christians will “languish and droup like carrion” (ii. 310-11). To the blood libel is added well-poisoning and murderous blasphemy, a poisoning of spiritual nourishment as well. Nashe is offering us something close to the full gamut of anti-semitic incitements to violence (see Glassman, Hsia, and Trachtenberg).

But what of Esdras of Granado? If his place of origin reminds us of the conquest of Granada in 1492 (which Federico García Lorca described as “a disastrous event,” resulting in the loss of an “admirable civilization, and a poetry, architecture and sensitivity unique in the world” [Gibson 439]),18 the man's name and Spanish origin also evoke memories of one of the other great catastrophes of the same year—not Columbus's “discovery” of the New World, but the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, and the destruction of that culture of which the poet Moses son of Esdras of Granada had been one of the finest representatives.19 No less than "the Albumazers" of Rome, the name of Nashe's arch-villain evokes the Islamic-Jewish culture of Al-Andalus that was finally shattered in 1492.

But Albumazar, as it happens, is not a Jewish name: this is the celebrated ninth-century astrologer and astronomer of Baghdad, whose “reputation as prophet of historical and religious transformations ... made him,” as Frederick de Armas writes, “into the epitome of the astrologer” (de Armas 158). (It is in this light that Nashe refers to Albumazar in Christ's Tears Over Jerusalem, attacking him for having provided a naturalistic explanation of Moses' crossing of the Red Sea [Nashe ii. 116].)

Since Nashe doesn't bother to distinguish Jews from Arabs in his fictional account of the expulsion of the Jews from Rome, should one then perhaps remember that Moors as well as Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492? As a matter of fact, the forced exodus of the Moorish population from what had been the kingdom of Granada was completed during Nashe's own lifetime, after the crushing of the desperate Moorish revolt of the Alpujarras in the late 1560s.

I am suggesting two things here. The first is that the names Albumazar and Esdras evoke a level of metahistorical reflection that is of direct relevance to the disjointed history of Nashe's narrative. Among the several works of Albumazar that were widely available in Latin translation in the sixteenth century, the most influential was De magnis coniunctionibus, which as de Armas writes “incorporates past and future in a theology of history” (de Armas 157). In direct contrast to this astrological system of historical explanation and prediction through the study of planetary conjunctions are the anxieties expressed within the Ezra Apocalypse as to the power of humans to make sense of what Jack Wilton calls “the book of our destinies.” “It were better that we were not at all,” Esdras cries out, “than that we should still live in wickedness, and to suffer, and not to know wherefore” (2 Esdras 4:12). When the angel Uriel tells him that corrupt human minds cannot be expected to comprehend heavenly matters, he declares in response that “it was not my mind to be curious of the high things, but of such as pass by us daily, namely, wherefore ... we pass away out of the world as grasshoppers, and our life is astonishment and fear, and we are not worthy to obtain mercy” (2 Esdras 4:23-24).

My second suggestion is that Nashe's text can be understood as containing displaced allusions to historical crimes of banishment and expulsion, of at least one of which we can say, in Machado's words, el crimen fue en Granada—but that Nashe has carried out what I will call a reinscription of abjection,20 in which the victims of aggression are reconfigured as the aggressors, abjection is transformed into the truculence by means of which the actual historical abjection was produced, and the victimized Jews and Moors expelled from Spain are reinscribed as the Esdras of Granada and the Zadoch and Zacharie of Rome whose murderous behaviour legitimizes the expulsion of their people from Rome. This inversion, this reinscription of abjection, is to my mind one of the most disturbing features of The Unfortunate Traveller. And if its primary occurrence is on the level of race or ethnicity, something very similar is repeated on the level of gender, where the grotesquely sadistic victimization of Heraclide is inverted in the predatory aggressions of the courtesan Juliana. In the Heraclide episode, Jack is himself a victim: his wrongful condemnation and narrowly averted execution testify to the irrationality of “justice.” But he is also voyeuristically complicit in the economy of masculine violence and symbolic exchange responsible for the crime which he narrates, and is therefore aligned with the order of demonic transgression which the order of justice seeks to revenge itself upon. In the Juliana episode, Jack is again imprisoned and again faces death, this time in a sexualized version of what Zacharie planned for him. Like the Jewish doctor, Juliana intends to drain him of his bodily fluids, though through sexual intercourse rather than bleeding. Silently complicit in the rape of Heraclide, Jack becomes unambiguously a victim of rape in the Juliana sequence.



The preceding paragraphs have sought to identify some of the more distinctive figurations of abjection in The Unfortunate Traveller. I would like now to suggest that Nashe's play with abjection can be related to more recent events, which include the murder of a poet. In this case, el crimen fue en Londres—or, more precisely, in nearby Deptford.

The Unfortunate Traveller was entered in the Stationers' Register on September 27th, 1593, and first printed in 1594; however, the text of the first edition concludes with a date, June 27, 1393, which is presumably that of its completion. The text was therefore written, or at least completed, very shortly after the violent deaths of two men with whose careers Nashe's had been closely intertwined.21

John Penry, the Welsh evangelical who had a large part in the production of the Marprelate tracts (and to whom Nashe might therefore be said to be indebted for the flexible, seemingly spontaneous rhetoric that he made his trade mark), was hanged on May 29th; in An Almond for a Parrrot (1590) Nashe had denounced Penry in these terms:

Predestination, that foresaw how crooked he should prove in his waies, enjoyned incest to spawne him splay-footed. Eternitie, that knew how aukward he shoulde looke to all honesty, consulted with Conception to make him squint-eied, & the devill, that discovered by the heavens disposition on his birth-day, how great a lim of his kingdom was comming into the world, provided a rustie superficies [a reference to Penry's red hair] wherin to wrap him as soone as ever he was separated from his mothers wombe.... (iii. 366)

Perhaps, as G.R. Hibbard suggests, the “sheer nastiness” of this passage “is palliated in some measure by the fantastic ingenuity of invention,” by the “perverted poetry” of Nashe's imagination (Hibbard 43). But let us listen, by way of contrast, to Penry himself. I quote from the drafts of his appeals to Lord Burghley, written in the spring of 1593, in which one can hear a half-strangled outcry against tyranny:

Wear it not my Lord for the hope of a better lyf, yt wear better for us to bee Queen Elizabethes beastes then hir subjectes.... For weer wee hir beastes going under hir mark the proudest prelate in the land durst not attempt to tak us into ther own handes.... 
Shall I not have justic? Will it hurt England to grant me justic? ... I ame an innocent, it profiteth mee not.... 
Are wee a free people under our naturall princ, or are we held for slaves and bond-servantes under some cruell and unjust tyrant[?]   (Penry 59, 60-61, 68)

One may well wonder how Nashe would have responded to Penry's agonized and yet stubborn pleas. In the same terms, quite possibly, in which he had taunted the fugitive Penry three years previously in An Almond for a Parrot: “Pen., J. Pen., welch Pen., Pen the protestationer, demonstrationer, supplicationer, appellationer”—the reference is to texts of the late 1580s in which Penry had pleaded for a reform of church corruption, and for religious tolerance—“Pen., the father, Pen., the son, Pen Martin Junior, Martin Martinus, Pen. the scholar of Oxford to his friend in Cambridge, Pen. totum in toto” (iii. 347).

But the other death was one that must have touched Nashe differently. On May 30th, 1593, the day after Penry's execution, Christopher Marlowe died in Deptford, on the outskirts of London, from a dagger-thrust to the eye. The fact that his ribald blasphemies had come to the ear of the Privy Council, and the fact that his three companions on the day of his death were all employed by or closely linked to the Elizabethan secret service, have raised suspicions that Marlowe's death was also an act of state—an execution. The most sinister of these three companions was Robert Poley, a confidential messenger, informer, and double agent who has been described as “the very genius of the Elizabethan underworld,” a man whose life exudes “an evil odour of fraud, crime, and double dealing” (Urry 68); his major accomplishment to date had been the entrapment and betrayal of the Babington conspirators in 1586 (see Bakeless i. 171-80). Poley had left the royal court at Croydon with letters for the Hague on May 8th, 1593; he reported back to the royal palace of Nonesuch, near London, on June 8th—and four days later received a warrant of payment, signed by the Queen's Vicechamberlain, which very conveniently specified that he had been “in her majesties service all the aforesaid tyme” (Boas 267).

Marlowe is a recurrent presence in The Unfortunate Traveller. Nashe quotes two lines from his translation of Ovid's Amores (see Nashe ii. 238); and the most celebrated conceit of Faustus's speech to Helen of Troy—“Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss; / Her lips suck forth my soul, see where it flies!” (V i. 93-94)—is weakly echoed by Nashe's Earl of Surrey: “If I must die, O, let me choose my death: / Suck out my soule with kisses, cruell maide” (Nashe ii. 262). In a similar manner, the language of Faustus's despair resonates through Esdras of Granada's desperate and cowardly apostasy (ii. 322-26).

Nashe and “Kit Marlowe” (to whose “diviner muse” Nashe pays tribute in a burlesque re-telling of Hero and Leander in his Lenten Stuff [1599]) would seem to have collaborated on at least one play: their names appear together on the title page of The Tragedie of Dido Queene of Carthage (first printed in 1594), and it has been suggested that Nashe may have been responsible for some of the comic action in Doctor Faustus (see Marlowe 1990: xviii-xxi). But they were also collaborators in a different sense—as fellow-employees of the Elizabethan state and church in their war against subversion.  

In June, 1587, the Privy Council (no less) intervened on Marlowe's behalf to quash rumours that he “was determined to have gone beyond seas to [the Catholic seminary at] Reames,” and to ensure that Cambridge granted him his M.A. degree—for “it was not her majestie's pleasure than anie one emploied as he had been in matters touching the benefitt of his Countrie should be defamed by those that are ignorant in th'affaires he went about” (Bakeless i. 77). The rumours of intended defection would suggest that Marlowe had been assigned the task of infiltrating recusant groups and spying on them. Thus, while yet a student, he had been inducted, in the service of his monarch and the defence of true religion, into a murky world of deceit, betrayal, and role-playing, where the pretence of converting to the enemy's beliefs may have taught him how easily interchangeable they were with the ones he was being paid to defend. The name of Lightborne in Marlowe's Edward II, and his dissembling expressions of concern (reminiscent, perhaps, of the handling of the Babington conspirators by Marlowe's acquaintance Robert Poley), might be taken to suggest that the poet recognized the similarly demonic character of those contemporary servants of the state whose double role it was to incite subversion and to stand as its accuser. But the experience of acting in a demonic role is scarcely conducive to faith in the benevolence of that sovereign will (whether earthly or divine) whose agent one has been.

That “wilfull striving against knowne truth” of which Robert Greene (and subsequently others) accused Marlowe was thus arguably conditioned by what he had witnessed as an agent of the state in its war against political and religious subversion. In this light it may seem significant that the key terms of Greene's charge—“pestilent Machivilian pollicy” and “Diabolicall Atheisme” (Maclure 30)—were turned in a very different direction by one Richard Chomley, who knew Marlowe and had himself been “imployed by some of her Majesties prevy Counsaile for the apprehension of Papistes, and other daungerous men”: Chomley reportedly spoke “all evill of the Counsell; saying that they are all Athiestes and Machiavillians” (Boas 253-54).

A similar judgment may be implicit in John Penry's account of the manner in which he was treated in 1587 by Archbishop Whitgift in the Court of High Commission. Penry was “threatned very bloodily, and reviled upon in a most unchristian sorte,” although he had broken no law, and indeed not even been indicted. But “ere you depart the court,” Whitgift told him, “we will finde sufficient matter to imprison you” (Penry xii-xiii).

Close encounters with the repressive apparatus of the Elizabethan state and church, whether on the part of people like Penry who found themselves from the beginning cast in an oppositional role, or on the part of those like Marlowe and Chomley whose initial experiences were as agents of repression—appear to have produced surprisingly similar responses. It seems significant that Marlowe, the agent whom the Privy Council had helped to his M.A. degree, was subsequently accused of declaring that he had “as good a right to coin as did the Queen of England,” and of disseminating the view that “St. Paul ... was a timerous fellow in bidding men to be subject to magistrates against his Conscience” (Maclure 37)—and, more spectacularly, that in March 1593 a warrant was issued for the arrest of Richard Chomley on the grounds that as the leader of a band of “sixty resolute murdering myndes” he was plotting treason against the queen (Boas 255).

I am suggesting, then, that the struggles of Christopher Marlowe, Richard Chomley, and John Penry within and against a tyrannical and murderous structure of authority provide an appropriate context in which to interpret The Unfortunate Traveller's unstable combination of transgression and abjection. In concluding this essay, I would like briefly to identify aspects of the text which simultaneously legitimize this choice of context and are illuminated by it.

Consider, first, Nashe's dedication of the first edition of The Unfortunate Traveller to the Earl of Southampton—a dedication which manages, quite in the manner of Vanderhulke, to be at once fulsome and insulting. As Louise Simons has remarked, though it is “[e]xtravagantly full of cringing praise, the dedication yet seems designed to give offence” (Simons 19). “Ingenuous honorable Lord,” Nashe begins, “I know not what blinde custome methodicall antiquity hath thrust upon us, to dedicate such books as we publish to one great man or other.” “Blinde,” “methodicall,” “thrust,” and “one great man or other”: this is scarcely flattering. In what follows, one can almost hear a nervous giggle behind Nashe's hyperboles: “Incomprehensible is the heigth of your spirit both in heroical resolution and matters of conceit. Unreprieveably perisheth that booke whatsoever to wast paper, which on the diamond rocke of your judgement disasterly chanceth to be shipwrecked” (ii. 201). It would seem that Southampton was not deaf to the mocking tones of this dedication—which does not appear in the second edition of 1594.

It is perhaps symptomatic that the writers whom Jack Wilton encounters in the course of his travels include, most prominently, the Earl of Surrey, who was executed on a charge of treason; Erasmus and More, who are described as pursuing “their discontented studies” (ii. 246); Cornelius Agrippa, the great challenger of academic, courtly, and religious authority;22 and finally, Pietro Aretino, of whom Jack says:

He was no timerous servile flatterer of the commonwealth wherein he lived. His tongue & his invention were foreborne; what they thought, they would confidently utter. Princes he spard not, that in the least point transgrest. His life he contemned in comparison of the libertie of speech. (ii. 265)23

Nashe does not dare himself to stand up in open condemnation of authority, but that part of him which lauds Agrippa and Aretino might be said to be conducting a kind of guerilla campaign within the text against the structures of authority which at the same time he has internalized and fears.

It is in such terms as these that I would interpret that unstable combination of transgressive impulses and abjection (direct and displaced, as well as what I have called reinscribed abjection) which is evident throughout Nashe's text, and which animates its scenes of voyeuristic sexual aggression and violent retribution, its rebellious insolence and submission, those features which together make up what the text itself calls “impotent speech.”

I am referring, of course, to the “orificiall rethorike” of Vanderhulke, the “bursten-belly inkhorne orator” who welcomes the Duke of Saxony to Wittenberg with a speech in which the grotesque excess, self-abasement, and teasing insult that also typify Jack Wilton's encounters with authority are conspicuously present.

welcome, sayd I? O orificiall rethorike, wipe thy everlasting mouth, and afoord me a more Indian metaphor than that, for the brave princely bloud of a Saxon. Oratory, uncaske the bard hutch of thy complements, and with the triumphantest trope in thy treasure do trewage unto him. (Nashe ii. 248)

The “triumphantest trope” turns out to be a species of occupatio, in which from behind a screen of dithering contradictions the public orator gives his prince the insult direct:

What impotent speech with his eight partes may not specifie, this unestimable gift, holding his peace, shall as it were (with teares I speak it) do wherby as it may seems or appeare to manifest or declare, and yet it is, and yet it is not, and yet it may be a diminutive oblation meritorious to your high pusillanimitie and indignitie. (ii. 248)

Why—to borrow the words of Vanderhulke himself—why should Nashe's text “goe gadding and fisgigging” in this manner “after firking flantado amfibologies” (ii. 248)? I would propose that the aggression which this impotent discourse “may not specify” can be adequately understood only through a contextualizing analysis that would seek to link the rhetorical obliquities, the narrative displacements, the anatomized abjection, and the shameful reinscriptions of abjection that stand out in The Unfortunate Traveller to Thomas Nashe's uneasy relations with the authorities which he had served—but which in the spring of 1593 had stopped the mouth of his most admired contemporary, and not many years later, would silence Nashe himself.




1  Antonio Machado, “El crimen fue en Granada,” in Flores 485-86.

2  I say “proper” to take into account the fact that there is a small park, which stands at some distance from the centre of the city, named after the poet. [The poet is also now memorialized by a small fountain, evidently inspired by Machado's lines, in one of the exterior courtyards of the Alhambra.]

3  The same generic marker recurs twice in Arthur F. Kinney's analysis of Pierce Pennilesse: it is “an anatomy of the prodigal” (309); and it is “More than an anatomy of Tudor customs ... one of the significant declarations of humanist poetics” (Kinney 309, 311). My thinking in this essay is much indebted to Kinney's exemplary analysis of the development of what he calls “the poetics of doubt and despair” in late sixteenth-century England, and of its connections both to the Second Sophistic and to the ideals of early sixteenth-century humanism.

4  Nicholl calls The Unfortunate Traveller a “romance,” and (rather strangely) “the sunniest of all [Nashe's] writings” (Nicholl 154). A description of the work as “the first of the anti-romances” was weighed and rejected by Ernest Baker, who preferred to call it “an effort to present the romance of actuality” (Baker 168; qtd. in McGinn 98); however, Jonathan Crewe has since revived the term anti-romance (Crewe 69). The most thorough account of the work's stylistic and formal resemblances to writings in the Spanish picaresque tradition remains that of Fredson Bowers, who argued that “in The Unfortunate Traveller, even in a partly imperfect shape, Nashe produced the first English picaresque novel” (Bowers 27; see the astute rhetorical analysis of Nielson 109-17). Although she does not describe The Unfortunate Traveller as an anatomy, Lorna Huston devotes a brilliant chapter to Nashe's affinities with Menippean satire (for which “anatomy” in one sense is another term), and notes the work's affiliation to the Lucianic confession or mock-testament (Hutson 127-51).

5  This disease, apparently caused by “a virus that had for centuries been prevalent on the Continent in milder form, and in England spread in an entirely susceptible community,” is described by Zinsser as “probably the most important of those severe plagues that tormented mankind in brief and terrifying visitations and then completely and inexplicably vanished” (Zinsser 73, 70). The sweating sickness struck down its victims with great rapidity, death often occurring within a day or even a few hours of the first onset of symptoms. A first outbreak, in 1485, caused the postponement of Henry VII's coronation; a second epidemic took place in 1507. The third, in 1518, was more severe, killing up to one-half of the population in some cities. The fourth, in 1529, was still more disruptive, and the epidemic this time moved from England to the continent, where it swept through Germany and into Switzerland and the Netherlands. Epidemic disease was of current concern in the early summer on 1593; according to John Stow's Annales, more than ten thousand Londoners died of bubonic plague in 1593 (Nicholl 163, 305 n.29); and Nashe himself claimed that in the spring and early summer of 1593—the period during which he wrote The Unfortunate Traveller—more than one thousand six hundred people were dying of plague every week (Nashe ii. 87).

6  Nashe's abundant use of Agrippa's two major works, De occulta philosophia and De vanitate, is documented in McKerrow's edition. For indications of Agrippa's place in the development of the legend of Faustus, see Marlowe 1991: xxxviii-xliii.

7  Nashe does interrupt Jack Wilton's account of the massacre of the Münster Anabaptists with a serious argument against “sects and schismes” which he declares more appropriate to “the decrepite Churches in contention beyond sea” than to English people(ii. 237). The insight s authorial, however, rather than arising directly out of the event, and it is prefaced by an acknowledgment that in “dilat[ing] a little more gravely than the nature of this historie requires, or wilbe expected of yong a practitioner in divinity” (ii. 234), Nashe is letting the mask of Wilton's autobiographical discourse slip.

8  Quevedo, 116-17: “... los ojos avecindados en el cogote, que pareciá que miraba par cuévanos, tan hundidos y escuros, que era buen sitio el suyo para tiendas de mercaderes; la nariz, entre Roma y Francia, porque se había comido de unas búas de resfriado, que aun no fueron de vicio porque cuestan dinero; las barbas descoloridas de miedo de la boca vecina, que, de pura hambre, parecía que amenazaba a comérselas; los dientes, le faltaban no sé cuántos, y pienso que por holgazanes y vagamundos se los habían desterrado.... Mirado de medio abajo, parecía tenedor o compás, con dos piernas largas y flacas. Su andar muy espacioso; si se descomponía algo, le sonaban los güesos como tablillas de San Lazaro.” The translation offered here is based on that of Gerald Brennan (263).

9  For an analysis of this tendency in Nashe, see Kaula.

10  This is an interest that Nashe shared with his friend Christopher Marlowe; see my essay “Producing Abjection: Subjectivity and Enslavement in Marlowe's Tamburlaine,” forthcoming in Essays in Theatre.

11  Next to deception, truculence is the most frequently encountered expression of agency in the book—and it is not just the enabling opposite of abjection, but also the most common means of its production. The presence of “tragedie” in the same phrase appears to be a happy alliteration rather than a serious generic cue: for the different forms of suffering that are the primary focus of this narrative result in abjection rather than in ennoblement or a clarified understanding; a cathartic effect is therefore as much out of the question for the reader as it is for the “abjected and da[u]nted” narrator. 

12  For the sake of clarity, it should be remarked that two distinct senses of anatomy are combined in Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy. The long address of “Democritus Junior to the Reader,” from which I have quoted, is Menippean satire, or anatomy in its topical sense. At the conclusion of this address Burton exclaims (in the manner of a Menippean trickster): “I have overshot myself, I have spoken foolishly, rashly, unadvisedly, absurdly, I have anatomized mine own folly,” and promises “a more sober discourse in my following treatise” (i. 140). What follows, with its partitions, sections, members, and subsections, is anatome in the sense used by Aristotle to speak of logical dissection or analysis. Northrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism is an anatome in this latter sense—even though in its glossary Frye defines anatomy as “a form of prose fiction, traditionally known as the Menippean or Varronian satire and represented by Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, characterized by a great variety of subject-matter and a strong interest in ideas” (Frye 365), and even though Frye's book is enlivened by flashes of Democritean laughter. A work like Henricus Cornelius Agrippa's De vanitate straddles these two senses of anatomy: it is encyclopedic, but unsystematic; it is a declamatio invectiva rather than a fiction, and yet it establishes a strong and quirky authorial voice.

13  This is the form in which the name appears in the two editions of 1594. I have assumed that “Granado” must be an error for “Granada.”

14  In the Vulgate bible, I and II Esdras (known in Protestant bibles as the books of Ezra and Nehemiah) are followed by two books defined by Protestants as apocryphal: III Esdras (known in Protestant translations of the Apocrypha as Esdras or as 1 Esdras), and IV Esdras (known to Protestants as the Ezra Apocalypse or as 2 Esdras).

15  According to the legend of 2 Esdras, the text of the Torah had been burned (2 Esdras 14:21); what we now possess is therefore not the Mosaic text, but its inspired and therefore identical Ezraic restoration. This sounds like a mythical way of stating what was no doubt the case: namely, that the text of the Torah was stabilized in something close to its present form in the early sixth century B.C.E., shortly after the end of the Babylonian captivity.

16  Tabitha is Aramaic for “gazelle”; a woman of this name is raised from the dead by St. Peter in Acts 9: 36-43. Nashe's sense of the “Jewishness” of this name is made explicit by its recurrence, in variant form (“Tebith”), among the names of Jews expelled from Rome (ii. 310).

17  The intention to bleed Jack to death is implicit both in Zacharie's administering to him “plumporredge of purgations ... one after another to clarifie my blood, that it should not lye cloddered in the flesh” (ii. 305-06), and also in Jack's frightened (but nonetheless whimsical) meditation on “what a kind of death it might be, to bee let blood till a man die” (ii. 308).

18  These words are from an interview Lorca gave to the liberal Madrid newspaper El Sol on June 10, 1936. He was deliberately contradicting the dominant interpretation of Spanish history, according to which the conquest of Granada and the expulsion of the Jews made possible the establishment of a colonial empire and the military and cultural triumphs of Spain's “Golden Age.” Lorca's declaration in this interview that the conquest of Granada had produced “an impoverished, cowed city, a 'miser's paradise' where the worst middle class in Spain today is busy stirring things up” (Gibson 439), was retrospectively verified by the events of the succeeding months. Although there was no organized resistance in Granada to the fascist seizure of power, more than 25,000 people (Lorca among them) were murdered during the ensuing terror—a level of repression unmatched elsewhere in Spain.

19 Important accounts of this catastrophe include those of Baer, Gerber, Kedourie, Neuman, Paris, and Roth.

20  I borrow the notion from Jonathan Dollimore's concept of the “reinscription of transgression” (Dollimore 33-35, 279-325). The most useful exposition of the closely related concept of displaced abjection is in Stallybrass and White 19, 53-56.

21  My comments on the deaths of Penry and Marlowe include reworked material from several paragraphs of the introduction to my edition of Doctor Faustus (see Marlowe 1991: xxvi-xxxi).

22  For a summary account of Agrippa, see my entry on him in The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, forthcoming.

23  I do not share Nicholl's opinion that Nashe's comments on Aretino may be masked allusions to Marlowe (Nashe was familiar with a number of Aretino's satiricl and devotional writings, and admired them), or his speculation that the Heraclide episode contains “fragmentary images of Marlowe's sudden end” (Nicholl 164).   




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