On September 7-9, Ken Gouwens (History) attended the Folger Institute’s Fall Symposium, “Thomas Nashe and His Contemporaries.” Below are his thoughts on the event:
This past weekend I was so fortunate as to participate in a symposium at the Folger on “Thomas Nashe and His Contemporaries,” a summit for scholars of the most exuberant and perversely creative of all Elizabethan wits. I was drawn to the event because my book-in-progress on monkeys and humans includes a chapter on “apes of Cicero” that closes with a discussion of the flyting (verbal jousting) between Nashe and the Ciceronian rhetorician Gabriel Harvey in the 1590s. I’ve returned home laden with useful bibliography, including a reference to Thomas Dekker’s Seven Deadly Sinnes of London, the fifth of which is “Apishnesse.” Who knew? Certainly not I, but soon I’ll see what I can glean from it!
This ranks among the most enriching symposia I have ever attended. For two days we were immersed in lively, congenial, and deeply learned conversations about a challenging author whose work has defied generic classification. Presiding over the sessions were the editors of a new critical edition of Nashe’s works, which Oxford University Press will publish as a six-volume set. We discussed subjects as diverse as editorial protocols, urban geography, the physical production and layout of pamphlets, the soundscapes of Nashe’s London, and the difficulties of interpreting a thinker equally comfortable with expressions of religious piety (in Christ’s Teares Over Jerusalem), playful eroticism (in The Choise of Valentines or the Merie Ballad of Nash His Dildo) and graphic descriptions of extreme violence (in The Unfortunate Traveller). While he consciously imitated the flamboyant Italian writer Pietro Aretino (known as “The Scourge of Princes”), in his prose Nashe can appear uncannily like Rabelais, whose works however he had not read.
How does a high-quality, inspiring symposium like this come to be? Certainly the organizers deserve great credit. The opening lecture, “Thomas Nashe’s London,” delivered jointly by Jenny Richards and Andrew Hadfield, set the stage beautifully. Participants ranged from second-year graduate students to professors who hold endowed chairs at major universities, and to the distinct credit of the latter, there was never any condescension. On the contrary, fledgling Elizabethanists (and non-Elizabethanists such as I) could float ideas knowing that they would not be shot down but instead could open up fresh lines of inquiry. Meanwhile, our gracious hosts Owen Williams and Elyse Martin did the Folger Institute proud: all ran smoothly. I’m immensely grateful for this opportunity. To anyone considering participating in the Institute’s offerings, I can only say, emphatically: Apply!