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Bacchus, the "fatbacke god": "Drest in Vine leaues, and a garland of grapes on his head"

When he was staying with the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Whitgift, at Croydon in October 1592 the Elizabethan wit, pamphleteer and man of letters Thomas Nashe wrote a dramatic entertainment which was cunningly adapted both to the time of year and to the preferences of his host, who apparently kept open house during the customary festive seasons of the year. Svmmers Last Will and Testament dramatises the end of Summer, who, feeling himself to be sick, reviews the performance of his various servants, and eventually hands over his crown to Autumn.

The form of Svmmers Last Will and Testament is deliberately miscellaneous. It includes songs and visual spectacle as well as sharp comic repartee. However, a thread that links all the various elements of the play (or "shewe", as Nashe himself perhaps more accurately styled it) is lament for the transience of lovely things. The aged and sickly Summer comes on stage, attended by singing and dancing satyrs and wood-nymphs, and immediately strikes the keynote of regret for what has passed:

What pleasure alway lasts? no ioy endures:
Summer I was, I am not as I was;
Harvest and age haue whit'ned my greene head:
On Autumn now and Winter must I leane.
Needs must he fall, whom none but foes vphold.

And the theme is beautifully and famously recapitulated in the song towards the end of the play, which includes the celebrated lines:

Beauty is but a flowre,
Which wrinckles will deuoure,
Brightnesse falls from the ayre,
Queenes haue died yong and faire,
Dust hath closde Helens eye.
I am sick, I must dye:
        Lord, haue mercy on vs.

Transience is something to which we must all submit, and Nashe shows a gentle humanity in addressing this central theme. 

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