I propose a new solution to this longstanding literary problem—that “Gullio” was meant to spoof Robert Allott, a minor Elizabethan poet, as well as the organizer of a popular 1600 miscellany of contemporary English poems and plays.
Gullio has five attributes in particular that help establish his identity.
Attribute 1: Gullio is a foolish poetry-lover.
Attribute 2: Gullio is actively wooing the Lady “Lesbia” at court. He tells the witty writer Ingenioso, a petitioner for his patronage, “Among many dainty court nymphs that with petitioning looks have sued for my love, it pleased me to bestow love, this pleasing fire, upon Lady Lesbia. Many a health have I drunk to her upon my native knees, eating that happy glass in honour of my mistress.”
Attribute 3: Gullio writes original sonnets on inconsequential topics. He tells Ingenioso that he has often written sonnets for Lesbia: “for matters of wit, oft have I sonneted it in the commendations of her squirrel.” He claims to be known to the world as a poet—“I am pointed at for a poet in Paul's church yard”—and says that in former years he had “not unfitly been likened to Sir Philip Sidney, only with this difference - that I had the better leg and more amiable face. His Arcadia was pretty, so are my sonnets.”
Attribute 4: Gullio claims to have been recently praised in an epigram by John Weever, whose Epigrams were printed in 1599. “I am very lately registered in the rolls of fame in an Epigram made by a Cambridge man, one Weever-fellow, I warrant him, else could he never have had such a quick sight into my virtues. Howsoever, I merit his praise. If I meet with him I will vouchsafe to give him condign thanks.”
Attribute 5: Gullio woos Lesbia with shreds of poetry gathered from popular poems and plays, including lines borrowed from Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis and Romeo and Juliet. In a hilarious scene, he practices a romantic speech intended to impress Lesbia by using Ingenioso as a stand-in for his mistress.
Gullio. Pardon fair lady, though sick- thoughted Gullio makes amain unto thee, and like a bold-faced suitor 'gins to woo thee! (From Venus and Adonis.)
Ingenioso. We shall have nothing but pure Shakespeare, and shreds of poetry that he hath gathered at the theatres.
Gullio. Pardon mee moy mittressa, ast am a gentleman the moon in comparison of thy bright hue a mere slut, Anthony's Cleopatra a black-browed milkmaid, Helen a dowdie. (From Romeo and Juliet.)
Ingenioso. Mark—Romeo and Juliet: o monstrous theft! I think he will run through a whole book of Samuel Daniel’s.
After a bit more dialogue along these lines, Ingenioso (pretending to be Lesbia) exclaims: “Faith, gentleman, your reading is wonderful in our English poets!” Gullio proudly describes his method: “Sweet mistress, I vouchsafe to take some of their words and apply them to mine own matters by a scholastical imitation.”
CONNECTIONS BETWEEN “GULLIO” AND “LUSCUS”
The next step in establishing Gullio’s identity relies on the very close similarity between Gullio’s portrayal in The Return From Parnassus, Part One and John Marston’s satire on a foolish poetry-lover dubbed “Luscus” in The Scourge of Villainy (1598), written some two years earlier. The Latin word “Luscus” means “one-eyed,” a person who is half blind (whether in a literal or metaphorical sense). Marston’s satire on Luscus reads in full:
Luscus, what's playd to day? faith now I know
I set thy lips abroach, from whence doth flow
Naught but pure Juliet and Romeo.
Say, who acts best? Drusus, or Roscio?
Now I have him, that nere of ought did speake
But when of playes or players he did treate.
Hath made a common-place booke out of playes,
And speakes in print, at least what ere he sayes
Is warranted by Curtaine plaudities.
If ere you heard him courting Lesbias eyes
Say (Curteous Sir) speakes he not movingly,
From out some new pathetique Tragedie?
He writes, he railes, he jests, he courts, what not,
And all from out his huge long scraped stock
Of well-penn'd playes.
Three of Gullio’s most striking attributes are also held by Luscus.
Attribute 1: Luscus is a foolish poetry-lover.
Attribute 2: Luscus is courting a woman known as “Lesbia.”
Attribute 5: Luscus woos Lesbia with scraps of poetry borrowed from the popular plays of the period, especially Romeo and Juliet.
Attributes 2 and 5 are so pointed and specific that they suggest Gullio and Luscus are one and the same.
Importantly, Marston adds a new attribute not found in Gullio’s portrait in The Return From Parnassus:
Attribute 6: Luscus (Gullio?) has made a common-place book out of plays.
In the late 1590s and early 1600s, a new and popular book category emerged: the common-place book quoting from contemporary English writers, not just from the classical Greek and Roman writers. These common-place books sold well, but were despised by the university-trained poets because their compilers were merely recycling superior poets’ work, rather than displaying original poetic talent.
The university-trained poets’ contemptuous attitude towards the compilers of common-place books is on full display in the following scene from The Return from Parnassus, Part Two (Christmas, 1601/2), in which Judicio and Ingenioso discuss the recently published book Belvedere, organized by the literary patron John Bodenham and edited by Anthony Munday.
Judicio. …now the world is come to that pass, that there starts up every day an old goose that sits hatching up those eggs which have been filched from the nest[s] of Crows and Kestrels : here is a book, Ingenioso: why to condemn it to the usual Tiburne of all misliving papers, were too fair a death for so foul an offender.
Ingenioso. What's the name of it, I pray thee, Judicio?
Judicio. Look, it’s here, “Belvedere.”
Ingenioso. What a bellwether in Paules Church-yeard, so called because it keeps a bleating, or because it hath the tinckling bell of so many Poets about the neck of it?
They continue making fun of Belvedere, even mocking the compiler’s decorative device:
Judicio. But what's his device? Parnassus with the sun and the laurel : I wonder this owl dares look on the sun, and I marvel this goose flies not the laurel; his device might have been better a fool going into the market place to be seen, with this motto, scribimus indocti (a truncated version of a famous quote from Horace, scribimus indocti doctique poemata passim: “Each desperate blockhead dares to write”), or a poor beggar gleaning of ears in the end of harvest, with this word, sua cuique Gloria (“to each his own glory”).
Since the author of the Parnassus trilogy viciously mocked John Bodenham’s Belvedere in The Return from Parnassus, Part Two, it would not be surprising if he had similarly taken aim at Gullio in The Return from Parnassus, Part One, if Gullio had made a common-place book including quotations from modern English poets and plays—in other words, if he shared Attribute 6 with Luscus, his apparent double.
If “Gullio” was also lampooned as “Luscus,” then the following three attributes allow his identity to be determined.
Attribute 3: A sonnet writer who is known to the world as a poet.
Attribute 4: A man who had recently been praised in a 1599 epigram by John Weever.
Attribute 6: A man who has made a common-place book that includes brief quotations from the works of contemporary English playwrights, circa 1600.
Together, these attributes point to Robert Allott, a man whose life remains a biographical mystery. Although no definite facts concerning his life circumstances are known, Robert Allott was praised along with Christopher Middleton in a 1599 epigram by John Weever, satisfying Attribute 4:
Robert Allott and Christopher Middleton:
Quicke are your wits, sharp your conceits,
Short, and more sweete your layes:
Quicke, but no wit, sharpe, no conceit,
Short, and lesse sweete, my praise.
Satisfying Attribute 6, Allott edited a famous miscellany of Elizabethan poetry titled England's Parnassus; or the choycest Flowers of our Modern Poets, with their Poeticall comparisons, Descriptions of Bewties, Personages, Castles, Pallaces, Mountaines, Groves, Seas, Springs, Rivers, &c. (1600). The book includes 2350 quotations from modern poems and plays, including 95 quotations from Shakespeare’s works. It also includes short quotations from works by Samuel Daniel, one of the writers whom Gullio enjoyed quoting.
Significantly, Allott’s England’s Parnassus was printed in 1600, the same year when The Return from Parnassus, Part One is believed to have been written for a Christmas performance.
Although Allott’s name does not appear on the title-page of England’s Parnassus, the initials "R. A." are appended to the two preliminary sonnets. Wikipedia provides the following useful background information: “Oldys, the antiquary, in the preface to Hayward's British Muse (1738), asserted that he had seen a copy containing the signature "Robert Allott" in full; and it has been solely on Oldys's authority hitherto that the compilation of this valuable anthology has been attributed to Allott. The fact has been overlooked that Dr. Farmer, in a manuscript note in his copy of England's Parnassus, states that he, too, had seen the name "Robert Allott" printed in full.”
Robert Allott was a close friend and associate of John Bodenham, the same man who produced the 1601 Belvedere common-place book loathed by the Parnassus trilogy’s author. In 1599, the volume Wits Theater of the Little World was printed, a prose “collection of the flowers of antiquities and histories.” It appeared without a name on the title-page, but in one surviving copy the dedication reads “To my most esteemed and approved loving friend, Maister John Bodenham,” from “Robert Allott.”
Since the Parnassus trilogy’s author took square aim at Bodenham in The Return from Parnassus, Part Two for Bodenham’s Belvedere poetic miscellany, it would not be surprising if the trilogy’s author had already targeted Allott, responsible for the poetic miscellany England’s Parnassus, in The Return from Parnassus, Part One.
As a final clue, Robert Allott satisfies Attribute 3: he wrote sonnets and was (though just barely) known to the world as a poet by 1600. According to Wikipedia, two sonnets by “Robert Allott” are prefixed to Gervase Markham's Devereux (1597); a “Robert Allott” contributed a sonnet and six Latin hexameters to Christopher Middleton’s Legend of Duke Humphrey (1600), and a poet with the initials “R.A.” contributed six Latin hexameters to the prefix of Wits Commonwealth.
Although nothing is known with any certainty about Robert Allott’s biography, the following observations point strongly to Allott as “Gullio,” mocked by the Parnassus trilogy’s author around 1600, and also “Luscus,” mocked by John Marston in 1598.
Gullio has Attribute 1 (a foolish poetry-lover), Attribute 2 (a wooer of Lesbia), Attribute 3 (a sonnet writer and known poet), Attribute 4 (a man praised in a Weever epigram), and Attribute 5 (a man who wooed Lesbia using poetry and play scraps, particularly from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet).
Luscus has Attribute 1 (a foolish poetry-lover), Attribute 2 (a wooer of Lesbia), Attribute 5 (a man who wooed Lesbia using poetry and play scraps, particularly from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet), and Attribute 6 (compiler of a common-place book containing quotations from contemporary English poets and playwrights).
Allott has Attribute 3 (a sonnet writer and known poet), Attribute 4 (a man praised in a Weever epigram), and Attribute 6 (compiler of a common-place book containing quotations from contemporary English poets and playwrights).