The Original Labeo

A Lawyer?

Baconians argue that the model for Hall’s ‘Labeo’ was Marcus Antistius Labeo, a celebrated Roman lawyer who lost favour with the Emperor Augustine for opposing his views.  This Labeo fits nicely with their candidate because Bacon was a lawyer who lost favour with the Queen.

A Bad Poet?

But a more obvious referent was the Roman poet Attius Labeo, whose Latin translations of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey were so dreadful that his name became a by-word for bad verse.  Hall, after all, urges his Labeo to ‘write better… or write none’.

A Front?

Alexander Waugh has proposed Quintus Fabius Labeo, a Consul of the Roman Republic, who was linked to the African-slave-turned-Roman-playwright Publius Terence.  Terence was regarded, even in his lifetime, as having help from another writer or writers, or even being their ‘front’.  Terence did not deny it.  The prologue to The Adelphi says

… For this,
Which malice tells that certain noble persons
Assist the bard, and write in concert with him,
That which they deem a heavy slander, he
Esteems his greatest praise: that he can please
Those who in war, in peace, as counsellors,
Have rendered you the dearest services,
And ever borne their faculties so meekly.

Though it is often considered that Terence’s plays may have originated with Scipio or Laelius, ancient biographer Santra proposed Quintus Fabius Labeo as one of three more likely sources of Terence’s plays.  The name Labeo therefore potentially references another case of author concealment not unlike Hall’s ‘crafty cuttle’.

Which is it?

The lawyer Labeo can be reasonably discarded, as there is nothing within the text to support it (given we have established that ‘mediocria firma‘ is not a reference to the Bacon family motto). But either of the others (the bad poet, or the concealed author) fit with Hall’s attack on Labeo, and he may have known of both Labeos.  From a sample of currently digitised texts on EEBO, it seems the first (the archetypal bad poet) was better known than the second (proposed by Santra and quoted in Suetonius’s Life of Terence).  I have also seen it argued that the name Labeo is taken from the word ‘Labeon’ which means ‘argumentative’ and ‘blubber-lipped’.  But given the amount of space and energy that Hall expends on attacking Labeo’s works, my money is still with ‘bad poet’.


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Lynceus the Boar-Hunter

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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Shakespeare as Poggies Ghost

Joseph Hall’s ‘Labeo’ is a better fit for Shakespeare than any other writer of the period. Labeo’s poems as we have seen, share strong stylistic qualities with Shakespeare’s two narrative poems (the only works published as Shakespeare’s at the time Hall was writing), and Labeo, like Shakespeare, appealed to Phoebus (Apollo) to help him write, and stole whole pages of text from Petrarch.

The final identifying mark is the sexual nature of these poems: the future bishop urges the author to ‘write cleanly Labeo, or write none’.  The erotic content of Venus and Adonis is considered a key reason why it became a best-seller, and was read to disintegration (only one copy of the first edition survives).  The Rape of Lucrece, though darker and more disturbing, nevertheless has a sexual act at its core. Hall asks:

But who coniur’d this bawdy Poggies ghost,
From out the stews of his lewd home-bred coast:
Or wicked Rablais dronken revellings,
To grace the mis-rule of our Tavernings?
For shame write cleanly Labeo, or write none.

This section begins with a question about authorship: ‘But who conjured this …’? We have already noted that Hall has accused the author of publishing ‘under another’s name‘; now he is prompting the reader to question who the author might be. ‘Rablais’ is a reference to François Rabelais, a major writer of the French renaissance known for the bawdiness of his tales.  But as far as I can ascertain, there has been little discussion of the phrase ‘Poggies ghost’ in the academic literature or elsewhere.

Zw-acb-MachiavelliThe reference is somewhat obscure.  ‘Poggi’ is Italian for ‘hillock’. There was a Cardinal Giovani Poggio or Poggi, who died in the mid-sixteenth century.  A note by Alexander Groshart in The Complete Poems of Joseph Hall (1879) suggests that ‘Poggi’  refers to The Facetiae  of Poggio Bracciolini, called ‘the most famous jokebook of the Renaissance’; Poggio’s writing style has been described as ‘mildly erotic wit’.[1]  Stylistically, this is another good fit for Venus and Adonis.

A search on Early English Books Online turns up no other references to ‘Poggie’ or ‘Poggy’ but does lead us to two works by Nicholai Machiavelli, an author much read and referenced by writers of the 16th century.  One refers to the whole family Poggi who rebelled against their ruler, Castruccio Castracani.  When Stephano Poggi persuaded them to settle their differences, Castracani at first promised them pardons, saying ‘that he thank’d his stars for giving him such an opportunity of signalizing his clemency’ and then (perhaps predictably) had the whole family (including Stephano Poggi) executed. The second refers to a Giacopo di Poggio: ‘a young man well learned, but ambitious, & delighting in change’ who was  persuaded to join a conspiracy and subsequently executed for his part in it.   Machiavelli’s two examples of rebellious and (unfairly?) executed Poggies seem the most likely Poggies to generate ghosts.

drunkardsBut Hall’s Poggie’s ghost is also bawdy, linked to drunkenness, taverns and stews (neighbourhoods occupied mostly by brothels). The reference to ‘his lewd home-bred coast’ needs unpacking.  Home-bred meant native or indigenous, but around this time, it also came to mean uncultured or unsophisticated, as when Robert Carew in 1602 said ‘Not only the home bred multitude… but even persons of the better calling.’  The original meaning of ‘coast’ was ‘side’, which might refer to the side of the body as much as to the side of the land (the only meaning we still give it). Might it be used here to mean the side of a person, as in ‘his lewd uncultured side’?

ChristopherMarlowe_1856Who might Hall mean by ‘Poggies ghost’?  If we were to select a candidate from any writer of the period, the best fit is surely Christopher Marlowe.  Marlowe was a learned, ambitious and rebellious young man, who was linked by his contemporaries with taverns and unsavoury neighbourhoods.  His contemporary Robert Greene, for example, accused him of frequenting brothels; saying of Marlowe and his friend that ‘too much frequenting the hot house (to use the German proverb) hath sweat out all the greatest part of their wits’.[2]  Two ‘Poggies’ would remind the well-read Elizabethan of Machiavelli, with whom Marlowe is associated: he made Machiavelli a character in The Jew of Malta, having him deliver the prologue.

The Marlovian case for the authorship of the Shakespeare canon centres on Marlowe faking his death in order to escape being (unfairly) executed by the state (as Machiavelli’s Poggies were).  As he was supposed to have been killed in a tavern brawl some four years before the publication of Halls’ Vergidemiarum, one would be hard pressed to find a better fit for ‘this bawdy Poggies ghost’.

faustuswoodcutlargeThe earlier phrase relating to Labeo’s complaining about ‘wronged faith or fame’ is also a good fit for Marlowe who was famously outspoken and was facing charges of atheism and heresy when he was supposedly stabbed in an argument over a bill for food and drink. Hall’s use of the word ‘conjure’ (‘who conjured up this bawdy Poggies ghost’) is also fitting for a man famous for his stage-rendering of the hell-bound magician, Dr Faustus.  Is Hall saying that the author of Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece is writing like Marlowe?  If so, he is not alone, for numerous modern scholars have noted the same thing: the editors of the recent Arden edition of Shakespeare’s Poems, for example, describe ‘compelling links’ between Venus and Adonis and Marlowe’s Hero and Leander.[3]  Marlowe, who had also translated Ovid’s Amores, the source of the quote on Venus‘s title page, specialized in epic poetry of a sexual nature.


[1] Barbara C. Bowen (1988), One hundred Renaissance jokes: an anthology, p. 5.

[2] From the preface of Robert Greene’s Menaphon (1588), it is a reference to the Badestube, the German traditional bathhouse that, since the Middle Ages, was frequently combined with a brothel.  Greene’s jibe that Marlowe and his friend ‘hath sweat out all the greatest part of their wits’ suggests the mercury-vapour steam-baths used to treat syphilis.

[3] Katherine Duncan-Jones & H.R. Woudhuysen (eds), Shakespeare’s Poems (Arden 2007), p21.

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Shakespeare, Phoebus and Petrarch

Establishing that Joseph Hall was the earliest Shakespeare authorship doubter is underway. The poems he is attacking are heroic in nature, use hyphenated adjectives, and begin many lines with ‘But’ and ‘O’. There are two other distinctive characteristics referred to by Hall which are rarely if ever mentioned by commentators in this debate.

The first is his observation:

Phoebus filled him with intelligence:
He can implore the heathen deities
To guide his bold and busy enterprise.

Shakespeare is by no means alone among Renaissance writers who regularly invoked the names of Greek and Roman deities in his work, having been influenced by the ancient poets at the centre of a humanist Renaissance education. But Venus and Adonis is prominently fronted by a quote from Ovid that very specifically invokes Apollo, also known as Phoebus, asking the ancient god of music, poetry, art, sun, light and knowledge very specifically to ‘guide… his enterprise’:

Vilia miretur vulgus; mihi flavus Apollo
Pocula Castalia plena ministret aqua.

which Marlowe translated as

Let base conceited wits admire vile things.
Fair Phoebus lead me to the Muses’ springs.

The second rarely quoted quality of works by ‘Labeo’ that Hall mentions is that they owe a debt to Petrarch.  Hall observes that the author can ask for Phoebus’s guidance (as Shakespeare does in Venus and Adonis)

Or filch whole pages at a clap for need,
From honest Petrarch, clad in English weed.

Lynne Enterline notes how the post-rape scenes in Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece are essentially stolen from Petrarch’s canzone delle metamorphosi.[1]

  • After she is raped, ‘Lucrece shares with Petrarch a keen sense of her want of verbal skill.’  Both Shakespeare and Petrarch ‘represent such self-alienation in language by summoning Ovidian characters (Actaeon and Philomel)’.
  • Shakespeare mirrors Petrarch’s language exactly: where Petrarch expresses alienation from himself as ‘Non son mio, no’ — ‘I am not my own, no’, we are told of Lucrece that ‘She is not her own’.
  • A taboo against speaking provokes the poet of Petrarch’s narrative to call for pen and paper: ‘ond’io gridai con carta et con inconstro’— ‘whence I cried out for paper and ink’.  This sentiment, too, is mirrored exactly by Shakespeare: Lucrece, finding spoken language of no use to her, calls to her maid: ‘Go get me hither paper ink and pen’.

Thus Hall, in his declaration of the two alternative actions that Labeo can take to write verse that (as he admits) reaches the ‘true strains’ of heroic poetry, exactly pinpoints two actions that Shakespeare took in the only works published under that name when Hall was writing; invoking Apollo/Phoebus to guide the writing of Venus and Adonis, and ‘filch[ing] whole pages from Petrarch’ in The Rape of Lucrece.

And there is one more identifying mark from Hall.


[1] Lynne Enterline, The Rhetoric of the Body from Ovid to Shakespeare (CUP 2006), p.171-4.


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Shakespeare’s But, O, and Hyphenated Adjectives

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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Who is the ‘Crafty Cuttle’?

The argument that Joseph Hall and John Marston were the earliest (sixteenth century) doubters of Shakespeare’s authorship was first developed by the Baconians: those non-Stratfordians who favour Sir Francis Bacon as the true author, or at least the chief co-ordinator, of the works we know as Shakespeare’s. H.N. Gibson, who argued against a range of authorship candidates in his book The Shakespeare Claimants (1964), concluded that B.G.Theobald, who developed this argument, was ‘probably correct in his identification of the poems concerned’ and called the argument ‘the one piece of evidence in the whole Baconian case that demands serious consideration.’

Marston and Hall appear to believe that Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece were written under a pseudonym.  Nicknaming this author Labeo, Hall writes in the first satire of Book II of Virgidemiarum:

For shame write better, Labeo, or write none
Or better write, or Labeo write alone.

He seems to think that whatever Labeo has written, he has written it in conjunction with somebody else. He castigates Labeo as someone who ‘abjures his handsome drinking bowl’ because ‘the thirsty swain with his hollow hand’ has ‘conveyed the stream to wet his dry weasand [throat]’.  Here he is referencing the Greek philosopher Diogenes, also known as the Cynic, who had rid himself of all his possessions except his drinking bowl, but cast this off too when he saw a peasant cupping his hands to drink. This is a perfectly workable metaphor on its own for someone who has cast elements of their life aside. But in the context of a possible reference to Venus and Adonis (which will shortly be established), it may refer to the prominent quote from Ovid which fronts that work, relating to the Castalian spring, close to the Oracle at Delphi, where Roman poets went to receive inspiration. Then switching to italics for emphasis, Hall says:

Write they that can, tho they that cannot do:
But who knows that, but they that do not know?

At first sight, ‘they that cannot [write] do’  brings to mind Robert Greene’s ‘he that cannot write true English’ needing to make himself ‘the father of’ plays.  In this case, the second line of the couplet is translated as the secretive (and deniable) nature of the ‘underhand brokery’. But another interpretation is that bad writers write even though they cannot write (well), and being bad writers, don’t have sufficient judgement to know they can’t write.  Hall’s general criticism of Labeo’s poetry suggests this second interpretation is quite likely.

Yet there is a genuine accusation that Labeo is not writing under his own name, but someone else’s.  In the first satire of Book IV, Hall says:

Labeo is whipped, and laughs me in the face:
Why? for I smite and hide the gallèd place.
Gird but the Cynic’s Helmet on his head,
Cares he for Talus, or his flail of lead?
Long as the craftie Cuttle lieth sure
In the black Cloud of his thick vomiture;
Who list complain of wronged faith or fame
When he may shift it on to another’s name.

‘Hide’ in the second line doesn’t mean conceal, but ‘thrash’ – another verb to go with ‘whipped’ and ‘smite’.  The reference to the ‘Cynic’s Helmet’ is another reference to Diogenes the Cynic.  It was reported that ‘when asked what he would take to let a man give him a blow on the head, he said “A helmet”’; Labeo is protected from being whipped, and just how he is protected, Hall is about to make plain.  ‘Talus, or his flail of lead’ is a reference to the iron man in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590/1596), who, with a metal flail, ‘threshed out falsehood, and did truth unfold’.[1]  And what follows is Hall’s unfolding of truth.

The cuttlefish is known for defending itself from its enemies by squirting a cloud of black ink.  Labeo, says Hall, ‘lies sure’ in a defensive cloud of black ink.  ‘List’ is used in the archaic sense of ‘likes to, desires to or chooses to’ and Hall says that Labeo, concerned with the issues of ‘wronged faith or fame’ is protecting himself by ‘shift[ing] it on to another’s name.’  Whether or not Labeo is the author Shakespeare, this is undoubtedly another piece of fairly explicit 16th century evidence supporting the idea that using another person’s name was a known practice in this dangerous era (an era when ‘fame’, especially if linked to issues of religious faith, could be deadly).  Though Venus and Lucrece are not identified by name, references to the stylistic elements of both Shakespeare poems in other passages addressed to Labeo make them strong candidates as Hall’s target.

What are these elements? Read on.


[1] Edmund Spenser, The Fairie Queene, IV, i, 37-44.

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Concealed Poets

On 24 March 1603, Queen Elizabeth I died.  Four days later, Francis Bacon, the lawyer and philosopher (not yet a knight) wrote to John Davies, the lawyer and poet (also not yet a knight), as the latter rode north to meet the new king, King James, who was riding south to take up the throne of England.  Bacon’s letter asks Davies to speak well of him to the king and court; to use his name well, and to defend it ‘if there be any biting or nibbling at it in that place’. He signs off with the sentence ‘So desiring you to be good to concealed poets’.  James Spedding, still the accepted authority on Sir Francis Bacon, said:

The allusion to ‘concealed poets’ I cannot explain. But as Bacon occasionally wrote letters and devices, which were to be fathered by Essex, he may have written verses for a similar purpose, and Davis may have been in on the secret.[1]

Those who believe that Bacon is the author of Shakespeare’s works have seized upon this reference as evidence for their man: by his own confession, Bacon was ‘a concealed poet’.   It’s true that he appears to be referring to a specific ‘concealed poet’ or ‘concealed poets’ (the referent may be singular or plural).   It’s true that the rest of the letter is entirely about ensuring that John Davies is good to him in the king’s company, and there is therefore a strong possibility that he is referring to himself.

But he may be alluding to another ‘concealed poet’ or ‘concealed poets’ of whom he has knowledge.  The very first authorship theory to be openly espoused, by Delia Bacon in 1857, was that Francis Bacon headed up a group of writers who collectively produced the works of Shakespeare as an entertaining humanist education for the still largely illiterate population, who were unlikely to read books, but would go to plays.  We note from a letter to his brother Anthony dated 15 January 1564 that Francis Bacon retained young men at Twickenham Park for copying out works of various kinds:

I have here an idle pen or two specially one that was cozened, thinking to have got some money this term. I pray you send me some­what else for them to write out beside your Irish collection which is almost done. There is a collection of Dr James [Dean of Christchurch] of foreign states largeliest of Flanders, which though it be no great matter, yet I would be glad to have it.

We know from the testimony of Shakespeare’s fellow share-holders, Heminges and Condell, that the manuscripts they received from him were unusually free of crossings out, which they took as an indication of his genius.  But any good writer knows that genius-level writing involves a great deal of crossing out. It is therefore most likely that what Heminges and Condell received were what we call ‘fair copies’; transcriptions of the kind of thing Francis Bacon’s ‘idle pens’ would have produced.  This is not, of course, proof that Bacon was in any way involved with producing the Shakespeare canon.

In his book The Shakespeare Claimants, H.N. Gibson says that

The term ‘concealed poet’ was in general use for all courtly writers who considered it infra dig to publish their work under their own names.  Bacon may well have been a concealed poet in this sense, and was sometimes an unconcealed one, for he published a rather inferior metrical version of the Psalms under his own name.  Sir John Davies was well-known as a patron of poets, and Bacon was obviously trying ‘to get on the right side of him’ by appealing to this soft spot in his nature.[2]

I have found no evidence to support Gibson’s claim that the term ‘concealed poet’ was in general use at court, or anywhere else.  A search of Early English Books Online for the phrase ‘concealed poet’ from 1473 to 1900 gives only two hits, both being instances of this letter (published in 1648 and 1657).  Gibson’s claim that ‘Sir John Davies was well-known as a patron of poets’ is also unsupported.  In 1603 he was a lawyer and poet himself, not a knight, or a gentleman of means.  His entry in the Dictionary of National Biography does not mention patronage of other writers and I have seen no evidence anywhere else that supports this claim.

So Bacon’s ‘concealed poets’ remains unexplained. Whether or not it has any connection to the Shakespeare canon, we do not know, but it is another piece of evidence against the orthodox contention that a hidden author is implausible.   It is clear that many authors concealed their identities and so far we have two pieces of testimony supporting the idea that some even engaged fronts.  However, we have not yet examined evidence that might suggest the author of Shakespeare’s works was among them.  We will begin this process in the next chapter.


[1] Spedding, The Works of Francis Bacon Vol X, p.65.

[2] H.N. Gibson, The Shakespeare Claimants (1962), p. 57.

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Shakespeare, the Queen, and Richard II

Actually engaging another person to stand in as the author is a step beyond the simple pseudonym, but Greene is not the only person whose testimony supports the idea that it occurred.  


On 11 July 1599, historian John Hayward was brought before the Star Chamber to answer questions regarding his treatise The First Part of the Life and Raigne of King Henrie IV, which he had dedicated to the Earl of Essex.  His book covered some of the same ground as Shakespeare’s Richard II (which had been published the previous year with his name on it): the deposition of a reigning monarch by an earl. According to a contemporary account, the Queen herself ‘argued that Hayward was pretending to be the author in order to shield ‘some more mischievous’ person, and that he should be racked so that he might disclose the truth’.[1]

In other words, the person then considered the highest authority in the land clearly believed that it was likely that someone might pretend to be the author of a work in order to shield someone else.  Given the punishments she was known to mete out to writers (including the one she was threatening here) her surmise was not unreasonable.  Of course one can argue that the punishments meted out to writers in the period were a very good reason why someone would not act as a front for someone else.  Hayward was thrown into prison and remained there until 1602.  But Robert Greene has knowledge of the practice and Elizabeth I suspects it; therefore it is safe to say that it occurred.


2nd Earl of EssexThere is also a small peculiarity to note with respect to the 1599 trial and imprisonment of John Hayward.  He was prosecuted and subsequently imprisoned for writing about the Earl of Bolingbroke’s overthrow of the rightful king, Richard II, and for dedicating his book to the Earl of Essex, whom the queen was beginning to suspect intended to have her overthrown. A little over eighteen months later, in February 1601, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (Shakespeare’s company) were engaged by supporters of the Earl of Essex to perform Shakespeare’s Richard II on the eve of the Essex Rebellion.  Essex would be tried and executed for treason before the month was out. Days after the rebellion had been quashed, and Essex and his followers (including the Earl of Southampton) imprisoned, a representative of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men was called to give evidence. That representative was not Shakespeare, but Augustine Phillips.

He sayeth that on Friday last, or Thursday, Sir Charles Percy, Sir Jocelyn Percy, and the Lord Mounteagle, with some three more, spake to some of the players in the presence of this examinant to have the play of the deposing and killing of King Richard the Second to be played the Saturday next, promising to give them forty shillings more than their ordinary to play it. Where this examinant and his friends were determined to have played some other play holding that play of King Richard to be so old and so long out of use as that they should have small or no company at it But at their request this examinatant and his friends were content to play it the Saturday and had their 40 shillings more than the ordinary for it and so played it accordingly.

The prosecutor, Francis Bacon, was clear about the reason for this play being staged. Essex’s steward Sir Gilly Meyrick was ‘earnest to satisfy his eyes with the sight of that Tragedy which he thought soon his Lord should bring from the Stage to the State’.[2]

To non-Stratfordians, it seems peculiar that the author of this play, with its deposition scene, was neither questioned nor punished.  His name, after all, was on the version that had been published in 1598. Though the queen had clearly felt threatened, and even enraged, by the earlier retelling of the same story which had been linked to the Earl of Essex, and the writer of that text had been thrown into prison (was still imprisoned at this time), neither she nor her advisors punished William Shakespeare for writing a play that had been used to justify sedition and threaten her life. Nor did she seem to bear any ill-will toward his company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, for they performed for her and her Court on the eve of Essex’s execution, only 17 days after they had staged Richard II for his followers.


Yet in August of the same year, she made a statement to her archivist, William Lambard, which demonstrates very well her understanding of Shakespeare’s play and how it was used to undermine her.  The Queen had appointed Lambard in January 1600 as ‘the keeper of her records preserved in the Tower of London’.[3]  On August 4 1601, he presented her personally with a document know as the Pandecta: a catalogue of all those records covering a period of 286 years, from the reign King John to that of Richard III. Lambard subsequently recorded their conversation and the delighted manner with which she received the results of his labours, and in this document, headed That which passed from the excellent Maiestie of Queene Elizabeth in her privie chamber at Eastgreenwich 4 August 1601. 43 regni sui towardes William Lambard, the following exchange is recorded.

Her Maiesty fell upon the reigne of R.2. saying

I am R.2. know you not that.

W.L: ‘such a wicked imagination was determined, & attempted, by a most unkind gentleman, the most adorned creature that ever your Maiesty made.’

Her Majesty: ‘he that will forget God will also forget his benefactors, this tragedy was forty times played in open streets & houses.’[4]

Shakespeare Richard II 1598The reference to a tragedy ‘forty times played in open streets & houses’ must surely refer to Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Richard II. The authenticity of the Lambard conversation has been questioned, notably by Jonathan Bate, on the basis that the first record of it was printed only in 1780, and the original document has not survived.[5] But the words I have quoted above come from a far earlier transcript of the same conversation which has recently come to light, and this one has a very solid provenance.

This early transcript, whose discovery was reported by Jason Scott-Warren in 2012, was copied out in the hand of Lambard’s son-in-law, Thomas Godfrey, in 1627.[6] Godfrey had married the archivist’s only daughter, Margaret Lambard, on  5 May 1609 at the church (fittingly) of St Katherine by the Tower. His transcript of the same conversation, presumably from papers in the possession of Lambard’s daughter, suggests the archivist’s conversation with the Queen was genuine.

Bate’s other chief objection, that Elizabeth cannot have read the Pandecta’s sixty-four pages aloud, was also answered by Scott-Warren. He noted that it depends upon ‘his assumption that ‘she descended from’ can be taken to mean ‘she read aloud’ when the phrases used in Lambard’s conversation (‘Then she proceeded to further pages’, ‘Then she proceeded to the Rolls’, ‘Then she came to the whole total of all the membranes and parcels aforesaid’) speak ‘less of laborious reading aloud, more of skimming.’[7]

Queen Elizabeth I understood very well the link between Shakespeare’s Richard II and the potential threat to her life. Why she didn’t have the author of this play prosecuted in the same manner as the author of the non-fiction version of the same story is hard to fathom. She had argued that Hayward was pretending to be the author in order to shield ‘some more mischievous’ person’ and wanted him racked to discover the truth. But she made no comment upon Shakespeare.


[1] Steve Sohmer, ’12 June 1599: Opening Day at Shakespeare’s Globe’, Early Modern Literary Studies 3.1 (1997): 1.1-46.

[2] Quoted in Jonathan Bate, Soul of the Age, 253.

[3] This is from an English translation of his Latin record of their meeting.

[4] These words are from the 1627 transcript.  They differ only very slightly from the version published in 1780 e.g. ‘played 40 times’ vs ’40 times played’.

[5] Jonathan Bate, ‘Was Shakespeare an Essex Man?’, Proceedings of the British Academy, 162 (2009), 1-28, idem, Soul of the Age, 249-86.

[6] Jason Scott-Warren, ‘Was Elizabeth I Richard II?: The Authenticity of Lambarde’s ‘Conversation’’, Review of English Studies (2013) 64 (264): 208-230, first published online July 14, 2012, doi:10.1093/res/hgs062.  The early transcript was recently discovered among the papers of Kent antiquarian Sir Edward Dering (1598-1644). Thomas Godfrey writes in a letter to Dering of their attempts to track down another copy of the Pandecta, which he believes was given by his late father-in-law to a friend Sir John Tindall, who had been murdered: ‘I have give you the best [light] of it that I can, & will not fail you in my best assistance to obtain it’.

[7] Jason Scott-Warren, ‘Was Elizabeth I Richard II?: The Authenticity of Lambarde’s ‘Conversation’’,re of skimming.” (Scott Warren, p.214)

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