The satirical writings of Joseph Hall and John Marston provide the only conclusive, truly historical evidence for supposing Bacon’s involvement in the Shakespeare writings. They are by far the most important Elizabethan documents of relevance to Shakesperean authorship studies. To reassure Stratfordians, they do not prove the wilder claims of certain Baconian theorists. Indeed, they by no means refute the Stratford actor’s involvement in the Shakespearean corpus; they merely suggest Bacon’s concealed involvement with a high degree of probability.
Both Hall and Marston were poet contemporaries of Bacon and Shakespeare, well read in contemporary literature and well positioned to know any mystery connected with the first Shakespearean publications, the poems Venus and Adonis (1593) andThe Rape of Lucrece (1596). Hall was keen to attack the contemporary fashion for love poetry, of which these two poems are notable exemplars; Marston was just as commited to its defense. They both almost certainly believed Bacon to be the sole or chief author of the above mentioned Shakespeare poems. It is surely perverse to claim that a 19th or 20th century critic with a limited knowledge of Elizabethan life and letters, is likely to know better than these two significant Elizabethan authors.
The only Stratfordian critic to study this evidence, H.N.Gibson, correctly assesses Hall and Marston as pointing to Bacon as the author of these Shakespeare poems. His retort, the only one possible, is that Hall and Marston may have been wrong. All future discussions of the authorship question must start by evaluating the likelihood of that, in the light of the above considerations.
The serious student will want to study the impressively careful treament of the evidence in Nigel Cockburn’s work. However, a brief summary of the salient points may be useful
1. In his first book of satires (1597) Hall criticises a poet he calls Labeo, a Latin word meaning thick-lipped. Labeo is demonstrated to have written erotic poetry anonymously. (His identity is further hinted at in ways openly confirmed by Marston below, but particularly important is that the best known ‘Labeo’ in Roman history was a lawyer).
2. In 1598, Marston published a love poem called Pygmalion’s Image containing the lines
So Labeo did complain his love was stone,
Obdurate, flinty, so relentless none;
These lines are almost certainly a reference to lines 199-200 of Venus and Adonis
Art thou obdurate, flinty hard as steel -
Nay more than flint, for stone at rain relenteth?
3. Conclusion of points 1. and 2. – Marston identifies Labeo with the (concealed) author of the first ‘Shakespeare’ writings.
4. Hall’s second book of satires, published in 1598, contain the following lines:
Labeo is whip’t, and laughs me in the face…
Long as the craftie Cuttle lieth sure
In the black cloud of his thick vomiture;
Who list complaine of wronged faith or fame
When he may shift it to another’s name?
In other words, Labeo is immune from the impact of Hall’s satire – his reputation will not suffer because he has disguised his responsibility for his verse by shifting it onto another’s name. Labeo has thus created an inky cloud of deception to disguise the truth.
5. Marston finally identifies Labeo, decisively, in his 1598 publication Certain SatiresBook 1, line 77, with the line
What, not mediocra firma from thy spite?
This is in a context that associates ‘mediocra firma’ with Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. Mediocra firma was well known to be Bacon’s family motto, only used by himself and his brother Anthony. Marston’s implication is that Hall is insolently ranting, putting himself morally above the prominent courtier and lawyer Francis Bacon.