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Saltwater Passions in Thomas Nashe’s Christs Teares Over Jerusalem
Thomas Nashe’s extraordinary prose work Christs Teares Over Jerusalem (1593) has traditionally fallen foul of contemporary critical tastes owing to its ostentatious depictions of grief and weeping. While comments concerning the work’s indecorum are not inaccurate, it is worth taking Hilliard’s observation that the work is an ‘assay’ more seriously. The work invests intensely in humorous and humoral issues, sharing motifs of passion and dissolution with scriptural precedents as well as with well-received devotional works including Robert Southwell’s Mary Magdalenes Funeral Teares (1591). In perhaps Nashe’s most sustained demonstration of his capacity to take on other voices, he figures the weeping, speaking, ‘borrowed person’ (II, p. 60) of Christ as a fundamentally bodily and humoral entity, whose fluxes and flows are subject to the perceived sins of Jerusalem and London. Famously, Christs Tears is a response to the plague that decimated the population of London in 1592 and, as such, its fevered imaginings are underwritten by the lived experience of bodily sickness, if not by Nashe himself, then by his fellow urbanites. In this paper I analyse the tenor of Nashe’s lamentation, paying attention to both the extreme forms of weeping and the other kinds of saline excess that characterise Nashe’s portrayal of Christ. Throughout, Nashe’s comic imagination probes the limits of saltwater as a devotional medium, presenting a sustained meditation on the enmeshment of bodily experience with perceived spiritual pollution and intemperate emotion.