Places: The Unfortunate Traveller

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1594

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Picaresque

Time of work: Mid-sixteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Rome

*Rome. Unfortunate Traveller, TheItaly’s chief city and the center of the Roman Catholic Church. The novel’s lengthy section on Jack Wilton’s adventures in Rome provide Nashe with ample opportunity for satire, including Jack’s comment that if he were to memorize half the miracles he has heard there about martyrs’ tombs and relics brought from Jerusalem, he would be considered the “monstrost liar that ever came in print.” Nashe’s primary target here is the Roman Catholic Church, from which the Church of England had severed its ties earlier in the sixteenth century.

Rome’s Jews do not escape Nashe’s vituperative bent in the Rome section, either. This is evident in the character of the Jewish physician who buys Jack from another Jew under whose control Jack has fallen. A Jewish doctor–who not coincidentally is also the pope’s physician–plans to dissect Jack in a public anatomy demonstration for his own pleasure and profit.


*Münster. City in western Germany that, as a center of Anabaptism in the sixteenth century, is another target of Nashe’s satire because it represents the Puritan reform movement that was beginning to threaten Anglicanism. Anabaptists–who were Puritans opposed to infant baptism–briefly controlled Münster. The novel provides a detailed description of Anabaptist soldiers, including one wearing a skullcap that had served him and his ancestors as a chamber pot for two hundred years. Nashe’s conservative fear of the changes Puritanism portended is also reflected in his derisive remarks about the Puritans’ “false glittering glass of invention.”


*Wittenberg. Another German city important in Nashe’s satire is the place where Martin Luther posted his theses that launched the Reformation movement, of which Puritanism was a significant part. Nashe describes scholars at the University of Wittenberg as representing “hooded hypocrisy.” He generally describes residents of the city as “hot-livered drunkards,” whose “boozing houses” are better constructed than their churches. Nashe’s obvious implication is that the Protestant Reformation was a result of the superficiality of the religion professed by Luther and like-minded people. Nashe generally dismisses the “learned” in Wittenberg as “gross plodders.” To Nashe, the only people who possessed any wit were those special few who completely agreed with him in all matters political, social, and religious.


*Venice and *Florence. Italian cities that Nashe focuses on to satirize the romantic love tradition generated by Petrarch and other writers of the Italian Renaissance. Venice and Florence are cities long connected to the love idealism by Dante, Boccaccio, and others. Jack’s journey to these cities with the earl of Surrey are ostensibly to celebrate Surrey’s love for Geraldine, his ideal woman–who happens to be from Florence. In Venice they encounter a beautiful young woman imprisoned by a jealous husband; Surrey recites impassioned Petrarchian love sonnets to her, despite his supposed dedication to Geraldine. As the imprisoned wife becomes Wilton’s paramour, Nashe points up the ridiculousness of the romance. Further evidence of such excessive romantic silliness is Surrey’s victory in a competition with other knightly lovers in Florence, which he achieves not by military prowess but through the outlandishness of his attire and his bribery of the judges. Clearly, to Nashe, Italy’s romantic love tradition–like Catholicism, Judaism, the Protestant Reformation, and Puritanism–was created elsewhere and imposed upon the pragmatic English to their detriment.

BibliographyBarbour, Reid. Deciphering Elizabethan Fiction. Newark, N.J.: University of Delaware Press, 1993. Barbour summarizes the narrative’s action and examines the motif of decipherment in it. Jack Wilton’s world cannot be simply explained, for chaos rules it and the past’s glosses have failed.McGinn, Donald J. Thomas Nashe. Boston: Twayne, 1981. This work is intended as an introduction to Nashe’s life and art: It includes a meaty chapter on The Unfortunate Traveller. McGinn summarizes the work’s complicated plot and then examines critics’ estimation of its place in the history of the novel.Simons, Louise. “Rerouting The Unfortunate Traveller: Strategies for Coherence and Direction.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 28, no. 1 (Winter, 1988): 17-38. Simons argues that the work has a “novelistic coherence” in its plot and rhetoric: Its plot shows us the education of Jack Wilton, and its images reinforce that theme.Stephanson, Raymond. “The Epistemological Challenge of Nashe’s The Unfortunate Traveller.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 23, no. 1 (Winter, 1983): 21-36. Stephanson examines the work’s “enigmas,” its preoccupation with ugliness and mutilation, its erratic plot line, and Nashe’s excessive prose style, noting that part of the problem lies in the modern reader’s artistic expectations.Suzuki, Mihoko. “Signiorie Ouer the Pages: The Crisis of Authority in Nashe’s The Unfortunate Traveller.” Studies in Philology 81, no. 3 (Summer, 1984): 348-371. Suzuki examines the problem of unity and violence in The Unfortunate Traveller, suggesting that Nashe is interested in ineffectual authority–whether political, social, moral, or religious–which results in a world in chaos.
Categories: Places