How can we establish that Hall is referring to Shakespeare’s first two publications? Firstly, there is the number of lines beginning with ‘But’ and ‘Oh’, which Hall mocks: ‘While big But Ohs each stanza can begin’.  A search for these terms in Venus and Adonis furnishes these examples from the first six hundred lines of the poem:

  • But rather famish them amid their plenty, (40)
  • But when her lips were ready for his pay,  (109)
  • ‘O, pity,’ ‘gan she cry, ‘flint-hearted boy! (115)
  • O, be not proud, nor brag not of thy might, (133)
  • But having no defects, why dost abhor me? (158)
  • O, had thy mother borne so hard a mind, (223)
  • But, lo, from forth a copse that neighbors by, (279)
  • But when the heart’s attorney once is mute, (355)
  • O, what a sight it was, wistly to view (363)
  • But now her cheek was pale, and by and by (367)
  • O, what a war of looks was then between them! (375)
  • O, give it me, lest thy hard heart do steel it, (395)
  • But when he saw his love, his youth’s fair fee, (413)
  • But, when his glutton eye so full hath fed, (419)
  • O, learn to love; the lesson is but plain, (427)
  • O, would thou hadst not, or I had no hearing! (448)
  • ‘But, O, what banquet wert thou to the taste, (466)
  • But blessed bankrupt, that by love so thriveth! (487)
  • But hers, which through the crystal tears gave light, (512)
  • ‘O, where am I?’ quoth she, ‘in earth or heaven, (514)
  • But now I lived, and life was death’s annoy; (518)
  • But now I died, and death was lively joy. (519)
  • ‘O, thou didst kill me: kill me once again:  (520)
  • But for thy piteous lips no more had seen. (525)
  • O, never let their crimson liveries wear! (526)
  • But then woos best when most his choice is froward. (591)

The rest of Venus and Adonis continues in the same vein. The Rape of Lucrece exhibits lines beginning ‘But’ or ‘O’ with almost the same frequency.

Secondly there is Shakespeare’s fondness in these poems for hyphenated adjectives, which ‘sweet Philisides’ [Philip Sidney] introduced from France in his Arcadia. Hall mocks this practice:

In Epithets to join two words as one,
Forsooth for Adjectives cannot stand alone.

Turning to The Rape of Lucrece, here are some hyphenated adjectives from the first 600 lines.

  • Lust-breathed Tarquin (55)
  • at such high-proud rate (70)
  • silver-melting dew (75)
  • His high-pitch’d thoughts (92)
  • His all-too-timeless speed (96)
  • still-gazing eyes (135)
  • subtle-shining secrecies (152)
  • with heaved-up hand (162)
  • this poor-rich gain (191)
  • death-boding cries (216
  • brain-sick rude desire (226)
  • still-slaughter’d lust (239)
  • love’s modest snow-white weed (247)
  • an ever-during blame (275)
  • coward-like (282)
  • hot-burning will (298)
  • the self-same (340)
  • Night-wandering weasels (358)
  • fiery-pointed sun (423)
  • holy-thoughted Lucrece (435)
  • snow-white dimpled chin (471)
  • a new-kill’d bird (508)
  • Quick-shifting antics (510)
  • heart-poor citizen (516)
  • never-conquer’d fort (533)
  • dead-killing eye (591)

Again, the poem continues in the same vein. Venus and Adonis indulges in this device with an even higher frequency.

We know that the poems to which Hall is referring, like Venus and Lucrece, were written in heroic style, for he admits that ‘Labeo reaches right: (who can deny?) / The true strains of Heroic Poesy’.

But if all this were not sufficient to identify Shakespeare’s poems as Hall’s target, there are even more specific pointers.


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