Whoever conjured up ‘this bawdy Poggies ghost’, Joseph Hall believed that works of ‘heroic poesy’ with sexual subject matter, full of hyphenated adjectives, where many lines begin with ‘But’ or ‘O’, fronted by a request for guidance from Phoebus/Apollo, and/or mirroring whole pages of Petrarch, were written by someone he calls Labeo, and published under another person’s name. If there are other works of the period that have all of these characteristics, no-one has yet named them.

But if orthodox scholars feel Hall leaves the identification open, John Marston, answering Hall in The Metamorphosis of Pigmalion’s Image and Certain Satires (1598), pinpoints Venus and Adonis as the target of Hall’s criticism, paraphrasing two lines of it in a reference to Labeo:

So Labeo did complain his love was stone,
Obdurate, flinty, so relentless none:
Yet Lynceus knows, that in the end of this,
He wrought as strange a metamorphosis.

The first two lines reference lines 200-1 of Venus and Adonis:

Art thou obdurate, flinty, hard as steel?
Nay more then flint, for stone at rain relenteth

It was common for writers of the period to near-plagiarise each other, as we have seen, so one could argue that this is all Marston is doing.  However, we should not forget Hall’s Labeo has seven points of correspondence with Shakespeare’s two published works, and Marston’s Labeo ‘did complaine his love was stone’ in exactly the same terms that Adonis does in Shakespeare’s poem.

The ‘Lynceus’ of Marston’s poem is commonly thought to be Hall. Lynceus means lynx-eyed.  The original Lynceus was an argonaut who participated in the hunt for the Caledonian boar.  Since the crests of both the Bacon family and the de Vere family contained a wild boar, supporters of the authorship of Sir Francis Bacon and the 17th Earl of Oxford suggest that the choice of the name Lynceus (boar-hunter) for Hall points towards their candidate.  But a wild boar may simply pinpoint the text under debate, since the animal is the source of the culminating tragedy of Venus and Adonis; it is a wild boar that gores Adonis to death.

Since there were other boar-hunting argonauts, why might Marston choose Lynceus in particular?  Lynceus, as well as being a boar-hunter, was the jealous murderer of Castor (twin of Pollux and the brother of Helen of Troy).  In the satirical poems in the same volume Marston says it is Hall’s ‘envious eye’ that leads to him attack other writers.  In other words, it is possible that Lynx-eyed Lynceus was selected not only for the boar-hunting which so usefully ties to the boar motif of Venus and Adonis, but for his murderous envy.


Commentators on Marston’s poem note that Marston is comparing the metamorphosis of Pygmalion to that of Adonis who, after his death, is transformed by Venus into an anemone, a flower whose beauty can be enjoyed only briefly.  I have seen suggestions that it is Labeo’s male lover (a biographical leap if ever there was one), or sharp-eyed observer Lynceus who ‘wrought as strange a metamorphosis’. However the most obvious subject of the sentence is the person first referenced, Labeo himself: it is Labeo who has metamorphosed into Shakespeare; the very thing that ‘Lynceus [Hall] knows’.

Does John Marston know who ‘Labeo’ is?


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