Volume 14 of the Shakespeare Yearbook published by Edwin Mellen Press features a number of impressive articles, including a remarkable study by Penny McCarthy, “Some Quises and Quems: Shakespeare’s True Debt to Nashe.” Dr. McCarthy’s article urges the need to revise longstanding beliefs that the copious intertextuality between Nashe and Shakespeare is primarily the result of Shakespeare’s spongelike absorption of Nashe. Instead, argues McCarthy, Nashe was engaged in “a surprisingly single-minded program to promote the contemporary playright and sonneteer whom he admired above all” (176).
The implications of McCarthy’s argument for Shakespearean studies are profound in at least two respects.
First, chronology: if Nashe is indeed responding to Shakespeare in his series of pamphlets, the latest of which is dated 1596, then the mid/late 1590s dates of several Shakespearean plays are too late by half a decade or more. By McCarthy’s reckoning this list would include Merry Wives of Windsor, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, I and II Henry IV, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and quite possibly many more. Striking at the foundations of the orthodox chronological house of cards, McCarthy points out that there is no reason why Shakespeare’s plays should have been originally written close to the first record of their existence (176).
Second, identity: McCarthy sees Shakespeare as the vital center of Nashe’s literary world, an object of both reverence and friendly satire. She goes so far as to argue (187) that Nashe’s Master Apis Lapis in the 1592 dedication to Strange News , whom Charles Wisner Barrell in 1944 identified convincingly was Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford, was Shakespeare.
Congratulations, Professor McCarthy: you just pinned the tail on the donkey.