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Flavours of Bacon

Who was the Labeo of Hall and Marston?

This essay provides the support for the earlier summary on this website, Who Was Hall's Labeo and Jonson's Poet-ape?.

Much has been made of the verbal interplay of 1597/8 between Joseph Hall and John Marston. In their printed exchanges these satirists quarrel about a disguised author, whom they call “Labeo”. Baconians construe these exchanges as proof that Shakespeare's authorship was challenged in his lifetime, that Labeo was Francis Bacon and that the latter wrote the works of Shakespeare. But how realistic are these interpretations?

Let us consider the evidence and a different, more straightforward construction.

Hall, a fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge who was preparing for a career in the Church, printed his first collection of Satires (Books I-III) in 1597.1 In these he starts with jibes at the works of contemporary poets in general and the fashion for lewd poetry. However, in his finale to Book I (in Satire IX) he focuses, for the first time, on a specific, unnamed target:

Envy, ye Muses, at your thriving mate,

Cupid hath crowned a new laureat:

I saw his statue gaily, tired in green,

As if he had some second Phoebus been.

His statue trimmed with the Venerean tree,

And shrined fair within your sanctuary.

What, he, that erst to gain the rhyming goal,

The worn recital-post of capitol,

Rhymed in rules of stewish ribaldry,

Teaching experimental baudery!

Whiles th'itching vulgar tickled with the song,

Hanged on their unready poet's tongue.......”

It appears that this butt of Hall's mockery is an author new to love poetry (Cupid hath crowned a new laureat); he or his poetry is associated with a statue which has been given life, much as the sun (Phoebus) gives life to greenery; however, this is a sexual form of life (trimmed with the Venerean tree); the verse is lewd, inciting depravity in the vulgar and (to Hall's taste) the poetry is unskilled.

In his prologue to Book II immediately following, Hall sets out his agenda. He is going to be the nemesis of this lewd poet, whom he is going to scourge:

Or been the manes of that Cynic spright,

Cloth'd with some stubborn clay, and led to light?

Or do the relique ashes of his grave

Revive and rise from their forsaken cave?

That so with gall-wet words and speeches rude

Controls the manners of the multitude.

Envy belike incites his pining heart,

And bids it sate itself with others' smart.

Nay, no despite : but angry Nemesis,

Whose scourge doth follow all that doon amiss:

That scourge I bear, albe in ruder fist,

And wound, and strike, and pardon whom she list.”

In the above prologue he suggests that the lewd poet represents some form of resurrection of that ancient archetype of Cynic philosophy, Diogenes of Sinope, who was renowned for his uninhibited, sometimes bestial behaviour2 and a rudeness of address which fascinated his audience. In the succeeding Satire I, Hall then commences the scourging of the poet, whom he now satirically conflates with the Cynic and whom he addresses as “Labeo”:

For shame! write better, Labeo, or write none;

Or better write, or Labeo write alone:

Nay, call the Cynic but a witty fool,

Thence to abjure his handsome drinking bowl;

Because the thirsty swain with hollow hand,

Convey'd the stream to wet his dry weasand [throat].

Write they that can, though they that cannot do:

But who knows that, but they that do not know.....

[then lines in mockery of verbosity and waste of pen and ink]

.....Then, Labeo, or write little or write none.

[more lines in mockery of verbosity]

....Little for great; and great for good; all one:

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

[more lines castigating debauched writings and practices]

...That cause men stop their noses when they read?

Both good things ill, and ill things well, all one?

For shame! Write cleanly, Labeo, or write none.”

The above references to the Cynic and his bowl suggest the tale of the afore-mentioned Diogenes, who, on seeing a boy drinking water in his cupped hands, discarded with self-castigation one of his few remaining possessions, a drinking bowl. The “thirsty swain” of Hall's verse evokes Shakespeare, whose preamble to his Venus & Adonis printed in 1593, contains two lines from Ovid's Metamorphoses:

Vilia miretur vulgus; mihi flavus Apollo

Pocula Castalia plena ministret aqua.

These lines translate roughly as “Let the common man admire base things; Apollo grant me full draughts from the Castalian waters [which provided poetic inspiration]. The ensuing lengthy poem on Venus and Adonis is based loosely on themes from Metamorphoses and contains a number of erotic passages. With these several associations it seems that Hall is elegantly admonishing Labeo, a.k.a. the Cynic, for following the worst examples of Diogenes, Ovid and Shakespeare. In particular, he appears to rebuke Labeo for copying the thirsty swain, saying, in effect: “Labeo, write alone; do your own thing – don't follow the example of Shakespeare, who drank in Cynical, rude fashion from the stream of Ovid's verse, in order to create his Venus & Adonis”. It seems also that Labeo is writing anonymously (But who knows that but they that do not know).

Is there any work which fits all these clues? Allowing the reasonable assumption that it was then circulating in manuscript, there is - to perfection - in the form of a contemporary long poem entitled The Metamorphosis of Pigmalion's Image3. At the time this poem was attributed to a pseudonymic author identified by the initials “W. K.”. Its poesic structure was identical to that of Venus & Adonis and, like its predecessor, it was based on a theme in Ovid's Metamorphoses. It describes in erotic detail how Pygmalion constructs, then lusts for, the statue of a beautiful woman. Eventually, after much lewd and loving attention, the statue is transformed into living flesh and becomes the mother to Pygmalion's offspring, their son Paphus.

Before we turn our attention more fully to this anonymous author, WK, let us consider one other passage by Hall within his Book II, Satire II:

...Have not I lands of fair inheritance,

Deriv'd by right of long continuance,

To firstborn males, so list the law to grace,

Nature's first fruits in an eternal race?

Let second brothers, and poor nestlings,

Whom more injurious nature later brings

Into the naked world; let them assaine

To get hard pennyworths with so bootless pain.

Tush! What care I to be Arcesilas,

Or some sad Solon, whose deed-furrowed face,

And sullen head, and yellow-clouded sight,

Still on the steadfast earth are musing pight;

Mutt'ring what censures their distracted mind,

Of brainsick paradoxes deeply hath defin'd:

Or of Parmenides; or of dark Heraclite,

Whether all be one, or ought be infinite?

Long would it be ere thou hast purchase bought,

Or wealthier wexen by such idle thought.

Fond fool! Six feet shall serve for all thy store;

And he that cares for most shall find no more.

We scorn that wealth should be the final end,

Whereto the heav'nly Muse her course doth bend;

And rather had be pale with learned cares,

Than paunched with thy choice of changed fares.

Or doth thy glory stand in outward glee?

A lave-ear'd ass with gold may trapped be.

Or if in pleasure? live we as we may,

Let swinish Grill delight in dunghill clay.”

In the opening lines above, Hall puts words into the mouth of an unidentified eldest son, who has inherited considerable property through his status as a firstborn male. This first heir is gloating on his position and the fact that later-born siblings have to work hard for a meagre living. With his simultaneous dismissal of the works of various famous philosophers there is a strong implication that he has at least one younger brother who is so disadvantaged and who is, himself, a philosopher. Hall then switches into his own voice and castigates the elder son as a fool: since material wealth does not last beyond the grave. He compares that son's priorities to those of Ulysses' companion, Gryllus, who had been transformed into a hog by Circe. Gryllus, later given the opportunity for restoration but opting to retain his porcine form, evidently preferred to delight in dunghills.

In 1598 the undated The Metamorphosis of Pigmalion's Image appeared in print, accompanied by a number of satires also attributed to its anonymous author “WK”4. Within an afterword (which also serves to act as an introduction to the ensuing satires) WK praises and defends the poem against – as we shall see - Hall's strictures5:

...And in the end (the end of love I wot),

Pigmalion hath a jolly boy begot.

So Labeo did complaine his love was stone,

Obdurate, flinty, so relentlesse none;

Yet Lynceus knowes, that in the end of this,

He wrought as strange a metamorphosis.

Ends not my poem then surpassing ill?

Come, come, Augustus crowne my laureat quill.

Now, by the whips of epigramatists,

Ile not be lasht for my dissembling shifts;

And therefore I use Popelings discipline,

Lay ope my faults to Mastigophoros eyne;

Censure my selfe, fore others me deride

And scoffe at me, as if I had deni'd

Or thought my poem good, when that I see

My lines are froth, my stanzaes saplesse be.

Thus having rail'd against my selfe a while,

Ile snarle at those which doe the world beguile

With masked showes. Ye changing Proteans, list,

And tremble at a barking Satyrist.”

Here WK is going along with Hall's satirical style – using pseodonyms and allusions to make the debate. He accepts Hall's naming of him as Labeo and, in turn, bestows on Hall the name of Lynceus (the latter being a character of ancient myth who had penetrating sight – in this context a sharp-eyed, relentless snooper). “So what?”, WK says, if his/Labeo's poem on Pygmalion depicts its female love as made of stone: obdurate, flinty and relentless (adjectives used in verses 21 and 32 of Pigmalion's Image). Hall/Lynceus knows that in its final twist (or metamorphosis) the poem celebrates a baby begotten from human, marital love – and thereby surpasses, or is better than, the “ill” or squalid subject matter of which complains.

Further connected allusions reinforce the sense of personal rebuttal. “Come, come Augustus crowne my laureate quill” deftly links the historical Roman lawyer, Labeo, and his connections with Augustus Caesar, to Hall's opening “Cupid hath crowned a new laureat”. The “whips of epigramatists” responds to Hall's likening of himself to Nemesis with a scourge (whip) for wounding the “Cynic”. Mastigophoros means “whipbearer”, a title given to Ajax Mastigophoros in myth. WK/Labeo says he will not be lashed by Hall for “dissembling shifts” - presumably a reference to the publication of Pigmalion's Image under a pseudonym. Rather he will castigate himself (like self-scourging Catholics) for his unskilled lines before turning his attention to other anonymous dissemblers or hypocrites in his own following satires.

In those Satires, I-III, WK does indeed take other dissemblers to task. However, in Satire IV (entitled Reactio or “I respond”), with its thinly veiled allusions to Hall, he returns to his rebuttals. He refers to “Ramnusia” (another name for Nemesis, ie Hall) and to “pines of Ida” (being a clear reference, amongst others, to Hall's words in his A Defiance to Envy, included as a preamble to his satires). He turns Hall's Cynic reference back on him – comparing him to a Cynic who is drawn to all that is most base. He also turns around the Gryllus reference:

Cannot some lewd immodest beastlines[s]

Lurke and lie hid in just forgetfulness

But Grillus subtile-smelling swinish snout

Must sent and grunt, and needes will find it out?”

Then, in an intriguing passage, which accuses Hall/Ramnusia of confusing the reflector of despicable deeds with the doer of those deeds, are the following lines:

.... Fond censurer! Why should those mirrors seeme

So vile to thee, which better judgements deeme

Exquisite then, and in our polish'd times

May run for sencefull tollerable lines?

What, not mediocria firma from thy spight?

WK's reference to “mediocria firma” evokes the heraldic motto of the Bacon clan. At the time this family was headed and represented by Sir Nicholas Bacon, the eldest of five surviving sons of a deceased father of the same name (who had been Elizabeth Tudor's Lord Keeper of the Great Seal). As first heir, the second Sir Nicholas had inherited substantial properties from the landed estate built up by his father, including a mansion at Redgrave, Suffolk and at least seven other manors spread around several counties. One of his two younger half-brothers was the brilliant philosopher, Francis Bacon, not yet knighted, who was largely excluded from their father's bequests and who was constantly in financial difficulty. These circumstances match those of the property-rich eldest son of Hall's earlier satire, who rejoices in the poverty of younger brothers and who disdains the aspirations of philosophers. The allusion in that satire to the baconish Gryllus appears to clinch the identity of Hall's target, whereupon WK now rebukes him for his spite towards Sir Nicholas.

Hall continued his attacks on Labeo/WK. In his second collection of satires, (initially comprising books IV-VI, first printed in 15986), he starts with what looks like his own rebuttal of Labeo:

Who dares upbraid these open rhymes of mine?....

.....Should I endure these curses and despight

While no man's ear should glow at what I write?

Labeo is whipp'd and laughs me in the face:

Why? For I smite and hide the galled place.

Gird but the cynic's helmet on his head,

Cares he for Talus, or his flail of lead?

Long as the crafty cuttle lieth sure

In the black cloud of his thick vomiture,

Who list complain of wronged faith or fame,

When he may shift it to another's name?

Here Hall complains that he has been upbraided, despite the fact that no one has suffered from his satires. Although he – the whip-bearing Nemesis – has flogged Labeo, the latter can laugh at him because he is protected. The reference to the cynic's helmet evokes another tale of Diogenes, in which the Cynic, having just been punched on the head, marvels (ironically) that unknowingly he should have been wearing a helmet. Hall suggests that the new Cynic, Labeo, is similarly unrattled and is invulnerable to Hall, a Talus (who, according to the poet Spencer, “in his hand an iron flail did hold, with which he threshed out falsehood, and did truth unfold”). What, concludes Hall, does the crafty Labeo care for Talus/Hall's flailings, when the anonymous Cynic is cravenly writing his lewd poetry under a pseudonym (and is hidden, like an octopus within its black ink-cloud)?

Hall concludes his second collection with Book VI, consisting of one long satire. Here he makes ironic comments on the perfection of the times and his foolishness in depicting these as degenerate. And he takes a final shot at a number of previous targets, including Labeo, whose poetic skills he again derides:

...[Labeo can]... filch whole pages at a clap for need

From honest Petrarch, clad in English weed:

While big But oh's! Each stanza can begin,

Whose trunk and tail sluttish and heartless been.

He knows the grace of that new elegance,

Which sweet Philisides [Sir Philip Sydney] fetch'd of late from France....

[lines on “others” marring Sydney's Arcadias style with the joining of two words in one]

...Lastly he names the spirit of Astrophel;

Now hath not Labeo done wondrous well?”

Hall's reference to the frequency with which Labeo starts lines with “But oh!” seems rather harsh, if his only point of reference was Pigmalion's Image and the accompanying satires. Having said this, Satire I has a “But, oh!” and a “But, O” and Satire III has a “But ho!”. This frequency far exceeds that of, for example, Shakespeare's much longer works, Venus & Adonis and Lucrece, which contain only one “But O” between them. More likely though, Hall saw other poems by WK which remained only in manuscript and have not survived7.

Subsequently, and partially in response, there appeared the first edition in print of an anonymous work entitled The Scourge of Villanie, comprising three books of Satires8. Inside, at the end of a prefatory address to “judicial perusers”, the author identifies himself as “W Kinsayder”. With this work, WK – for it soon becomes apparent that it is he - resumes his exchanges with Hall. In the immediately following piece, Proemium in Librum Primium he starts with the words:

I beare the scourge of just Rhamnusia,

Lashing the lewdnesse of Britannia.

As previously noted, Rhamnusia is another name for Nemesis. With this reference Kinsayder acknowledges that he, Labeo, has been whipped by Hall. However, he goes on to defend himself. In Book I, Satire III, he admits that he has concealed his name, but claims that this in itself should not attract castigation since another author (whom he calls, satirically, Matho), has done the same without censure:

....Shall Matho raise his fame

By printing pamphlets in another's name,

And in them praise himselfe, his wit, his might,

All to be deem'd his countries lanthorne-light?

Whilst my tongues ty'de with bonds of blushing shame,

For fear of broching my concealed name? ...”

In Book II, Satire VI, Kinsayder goes on the attack and explains why he wrote Pygmalion:

Curio, know'st me? Why, thou bottle-ale,

Thou barmie froth! O stay me, least I raile

Beyond Nil ultra! To see this butterfly,

This windy bubble taske my balladry

With senseless censure. Curio, know'st my sp'rite?

Yet deem'st that in sad seriousness I write

Such nasty stuff as is Pigmalion,

Such maggot-tainted lewd corruption?

Ha, how he glavers with his fawning snout.....

...Hence, thou misjudging censor: know I wrot

Those idle rimes, to note the odious spot

And blemish, that deformes the lineaments

Of Moderne Poesie's habiliments.

O, that the beauties of invention

For want of judgement's disposition,

Should all be spoil'd! O, that such treasurie,

Such straines of well-comceited poesie,

Should moulded be in such a shapelesse forme,

That want of art should make such wit a scorne!”

In context, the above opening address of “Curio” suggests a reference to Marius Curius, a consul and plebeian hero of the Roman Republic, famed for incorruptibility and frugality. In one tale, also celebrated in painting, he refuses substantial bribes, ostentatiously preferring to continue with the cooking of his meal: a bowl of turnips. With this analogy, Kinsayder sarcastically depicts Hall as a self-righteous defender of public morality. He accuses Hall/Curio of mindless censure (and of continuing to behave like the swinish Gryllus) in his assumptions that Kinsayder intended his lewd Pygmalion as a serious exercise. In reality, so says Kinsayder, those “idle rhymes” were a parody (clearly of Shakespeare's Venus & Adonis), designed to highlight the more odious styles of poetry which currently detracted from the modern art.9

In a second edition of The Scourge of Villanie, printed in 1599, Kinsayder includes an extra Satire X, mocking what he depicts as Hall's schoolboy wit. He claims that Hall has caused an epigram to be pasted to the last page of every Pygmalion that had come to the stationers of Cambridge. In the epigram (reproduced by Kinsayder) Hall implies that the author of Pygmalion is either an ass or a mad dog, best cured by kinsing (a word for castration which puns on the name of Kinsayder - as was jeeringly noted by the latter).

However, this second edition contains a much more interesting development - the public unmasking of Kinsayder. Though retaining the pseudonym internally, The Scourge of Villanie was now printed under a title page including the author's real name - John Marston, a graduate of Brasenose College, Oxford. All subsequent editions of Pigmalion's Image were similarly amended, with the result that the significance of Marston's early disguise is often under-appreciated by modern readers.

It is unclear why Marston took this step of revelation. His original reasons for anonymity probably included a wish to conceal his literary activities from his father, who was set on the son pursuing a different path. Perhaps, with the abandonment of the career aspired for him by his father, there was no longer any need for disguise.

Perhaps, however, the pseudonym had become futile as a result of attentions focused on “Labeo” by Hall's popular satires. For the name provided a strong clue to those familiar with classical history and the social scene of London in the mid 1590s. Marcus Antistius Labeo was the son of Quintus Antistius Labeo, both prominent lawyers of Rome at the time of Caesar Augustus. John Marston's father was an eminent lawyer of Middle Temple, who in 1592 had had his son specially admitted to that institution in an ultimately vain attempt to bring him into the family business.10

Commentators on Marston's exchanges with Hall have often expressed puzzlement as to why the squabble should have arisen. They most commonly theorise that Marston resented Hall's boast of being England's first satirist (expressed at an early stage in his first collection of satires). However, once it is realised that Hall's primary target was the author of Pigmalion's Image there is little reason to be puzzled. Kinsayder/Marston was responding to Hall's stinging attacks on his motives, methods and poetic abilities.

There is no evidence of any continuation of the quarrel after 1599. The subject may have been exhausted but, in any event, Hall was turning his attentions away from satire towards the pursuit of his career in the Church of England. Around this time he was ordained; eventually, in 1627, he became a bishop.

As for Marston, he went on to become a successful playwright. However, he remained inclined to literary feuds and ribald output. Ben Jonson subsequently confided to William Drummond that "He [Jonson] had many quarrels with Marston, beat him, and took his pistol from him, wrote his Poetaster on him; the beginning of them were that Marston represented him in the stage".11 The poetaster of Jonson's eponymous play is identified within the play as the character Crispinus, portrayed as a scholar - newly turned poet and satiriser. Crispinus is depicted by Jonson as a desperately unskilled but self-important poet, with a fondness for using ugly, convoluted or contrived vocabulary. In the play he is accused of plagiarising Horace, the character who appears to represent Jonson. On the basis of this evidence (and absent any contradictory matter), Marston is most probably also the anonymous subject of Jonson's undated poem On Poet-ape, which derides a self-important poet-playwright who has plagiarised the works of others.

In due course, Marston, himself, forsook the literary world and – to the bemusement of his fellow authors – took religious orders. He was ordained a priest of the Church of England in 1609. Unfortunately, we have no record of the thoughts of his original scourge and now fellow priest, Joseph Hall, on the irony of this development - surely as worthy of satire as the construction that he, Hall, was the first Baconian.

Ian Steere,  

March 2010.

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1 The first and second editions carry attribution dates of 1597. The work was entered in the Stationer's Register on 31 March 1597, though the actual printing and publication dates within 1597 are unknown.

2 The tales of Diogenes of Sinope were recorded around 300CE by the biographer, Diogenes Laertius in his Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. In one tale, the Cynic masturbates openly in the marketplace, then wishes loudly that it were as easy to satisfy food hunger by rubbing his stomach.

3 As we shall see (footnote 5), there is subsequent strong evidence for the premise that this poem was indeed circulating in manuscript at this time.

4 It was entered in the Stationer's Register on 27 May 1598; the actual publication date within 1598 is unknown.

5 That WK felt obliged to defend his poem implies that it had been attacked, which strongly reinforces the premise that it had previously been circulating in manuscript.

6 It was entered in the Stationer's Register on 30 March 1598, though the publication date within that year is unknown. Its content appears to respond to WK's printed criticisms, which, given the dating uncertainties, supports the sequence in which these events are described herein. Nevertheless, the fundamental interpretations of this essay are not dependent on the sequence in which they are presented.

7 The works of many satirists, including Hall and Marston, were the casualties of a mass destruction order by Archbishop Whitgift and Bishop Bancroft in 1599.

8 It was entered in the Stationer's Register on 8 September 1598; the publication date within 1598 is unknown.

9 We might now ponder on why Shakespeare had escaped Hall's censures, which contain only a most oblique reference to his Venus & Adonis of 1593. First, his poetry was of superior quality; second, this lengthy poem was erotic in part only; and, third, within a year he had published another accomplished long poem, Lucrece, far more serious in theme. He was clearly neither hack nor pornographer.

10 In his will, proved in 1599, Marston Senior left his law books and business furnishings to his son, with the regret that the latter had not been willing to follow in his profession.

11 As described in Ben Jonson's Conversations with William Drummond of Hawthornden, edited by R.F. Patterson. This powerful evidence confutes the suggestion of some authorship conspiracy theorists that Jonson's poetaster was Shakespeare. The play of Marston's to which Jonson first took exception has not been identified, though some believe it to be the anonymous Histriomastix.