The Mysterious Connection betweeen Thomas Nashe, Thomas Dekker, and T. M.:
An English Renaissance Deception?
by Donna N. Murphy
Thomas Nashe was in a pickle. During the summer of 1597, he was banished from London for his co-authorship of the "scandalous" play The Isle of Dogs. With its publishing houses and theaters, London was the place to be for a professional humorist, pamphleteer, and playwright like Nashe. In January, 1598, humorist Thomas Dekker came to life in the London record books; curiously, he wrote just like Nashe. The Archbishop of Canterbury destroyed Nashe’s works in 1599 and banned him from future publishing, and at some point between then and 1601 Nashe died, although details of his death are lacking. Thomas Dekker took up Nashe’s banner, however, specializing in Nashe’s mediums, plays and pamphlets plus poetry within them, tackling many of the same subjects in a similar style. Coincidence or deception?
The Mysterious Connection between Thomas Nashe, Thomas Dekker, and T. M.: An English Renaissance Deception?, 2012, sets forth substantial linguistic evidence that the witty Nashe out-witted authorities by assuming the identity of Thomas Dekker and writing under that name as well as T. M., Adam Evesdropper, Jocundary Merry-brains, Jack Daw, William Fennor, Geffray Mynshul, and Anonymous, making it appear that several authors could write in Nashe’s seemingly distinctive style. Under these names, it proposes, Nashe shed light onto societal abuses, and bestowed the gift of lightheartedness to all.
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The Mysterious Connection seeks to expand the canon of Thomas Dekker in addition to supporting the theory that Thomas Nashe "became" Thomas Dekker. Dekker was a professional writer who (like Nashe) made the idealistic, fool-hardy decision to support himself by the pen without a fall-back profession, as other authors had, in an age where the publisher, not the author, retained the copyright to a work. Partly as a result, Dekker was amazingly prolific.
After Part I, which sets the stage regarding the curious coincidence between Thomas Nashe and Thomas Dekker, Part II discusses certain anonymous pamphlets as well as two pamphlets by "T. M." which have traditionally been attributed in whole or part to Thomas Middleton. Employing a methodology involving the discovery of multiple, uncommon similarities between word juxtapositions in these works and ones by Dekker, as well as style similarities, The Mysterious Connection maintains that Thomade Dekker wrote all of the pamphlets Father Hubburd's Tales and The Meeting of Gallants at an Ordinary, as well as the lion's share of The Black Book and News From Gravesend. It maintains that Father Hubburd's Tales and The Black Book were deliberately published under the initials "T. M." to make it appear that someone else besides Dekker could write like Nashe.
Part III discusses authorship of mock prognostications which made fun of almanacs professing to forecast the future. It finds that Thomas Dekker wrote other anonymous works sometimes attributed to Thomas Middleton: The Owl's Almanac, Plato's Cap, and The Penniless Parliament of Threadbare Poets, as well as Vox Graculi. It also finds Dekker to be the author of a small portion of the play No Wit, No Help Like a Woman's, previously wholely attributed to Thomas Middleton.
Dekker was in prison from 1612-1619. We know that he stealthily engaged in writing about prison (to do so openly would have caused retaliation by his jailors), and Part IV finds that Dekker wrote the prison-related The Compter's Commonwealth (except for the introduction), published under the name of William Fennor, and that he and Geffray Mynshul together penned Essays and Characters of a Prison and Prisoner, published solely as by Mynshul.
Each part also details similarities between the books under discussion and the works of Thomas Nashe. Part V lists a few hundred more uncommon linguistic and style similarities between works found to be by Dekker and the canon of Nashe.
Part VI addresses reasonable counter-arguments to the theory that Thomas Nashe and Thomas Dekker were one and the same: Nashe created new words at a faster pace than did Dekker; Dekker was listed in Francis Meres' Palladis Tamia, registered Sept. 7, 1598, as one of his "best for tragedy," seemingly at odds with the notion that Dekker "came alive" in January that year; the handwriting of Nashe and Dekker was dissimilar; and Ben Jonson wrote a eulogy for Thomas Nashe, yet sparred with Thomas Dekker in the War of the Theaters. Each argument is refuted. It then follows a clue in Dekker's play Satiro-Mastix which leads to the proposal that Dekker/Nashe made a small contribution to Jonson's comedy Every Man in his Humor.
The conclusion notes that Dekker outlived Nashe's enemies, Gabriel and Richard Harvey, as Nashe had vowed to do, and quotes E. G.'s praise for Dekker:
In an ill Time thou writ’st, when Tongues had rather
Spit venome on thy lines, then from thy labours
(As Druggists doe from poison) medicine gather…
When thou (in thy dead Sleepe) liest in thy Grave,
These Charmes to after-Ages up shall raise thee;
What heere thou leav’st, alive thy Name shall save,
And what thou now dispraisest, shall then praise thee.
Tho, Not to know ill, be wise Ignorance,
Yet thou (by Reading Evill) doest Goodnesse teach. (Lantern and Candlelight)
Want to learn more? Here are three related articles:
--Who Wrote the 1603-4 Humorous Pamphlets?
--Thomas Nashe's Writing