I have recently been cataloguing examples of literary fraud during Shakespeare’s time, and have been truly surprised to learn how common authorial deceptions were. There are many instances of fraudulent poets pretending to have written another man’s works (sometimes with authorization, other times without) in the satirical literature of the period. This subject has received surprisingly little scholarly attention, probably because in accordance with the social mores of the time, the pseudo poets were always ridiculed under made-up names such as “Gullio,” “Matthew the town gull,” “Muto,” “Castilio,” and so on, and with few identifying particulars that would allow their identities to be determined. In the absence of specific information concerning the men who engaged in this practice including their names, social situation, and other details, they have been largely lost to history.
In addition to the examples mentioned in my last post, here are a few more.
In The Scourge of Villainy (1598), a collection of satires, the author John Marston accuses a braggart called “Muto” of buying a poem for ten crowns from “Roscio the tragedian,” named after the most celebrated tragic actor of ancient Rome.
Who would once dream that that same elegy,
That fair-framed piece of sweetest poesy,
Which Muto put betwixt his mistress’ paps
(When he, quick-witted, call'd her Cruel Chaps,
And told her there he might his dolours read
Which she, O she! upon his heart had spread),
Was penn’d by Roscio the tragedian?
Yet Muto like a good Vulcanian--
An honest cuckold—calls the bastard, son,
And brags of that which others for him done.
Satire, thou liest, for that same elegy
Is Muto’s own, his own dear poesy:
Why, ’tis his own, and dear, for he did pay
Ten crowns for it, as I heard Roscius say.--
Scholars tend to identify “Roscius” as either Richard Burbage or Edward Alleyn, the two most celebrated actors of the Elizabethan age. While neither man is known to have written poems, poetry writing was such a common hobby that it is conceivable that either or both men were decent poets. William Shakespeare is another candidate for Roscius, although he was not viewed by his contemporaries as an actor of the same caliber as the famous Burbage and Alleyn. Pointing somewhat away from William Shakespeare, in another satire from The Scourge of Villainy Marston asks of a foolish theatre-lover, “who acts best? Drusus or Roscio?” The form of Marston’s question suggests that Alleyn and Burbage are meant for “Drusus” and “Roscio,” the two best actors of the period.
“Muto” is not the only man whom Marston mocks for being a fake poet. In another satire he targets “Castilio,” a man who acts like the consummate courtier. (The name Castilio comes from Baldassare Castiglione, author of “The Book of the Courtier,” explaining how to model oneself after the perfect courtier.) Although Castilio is famous for his “fine set speeches, and for sonnetting,” he is “but broker of another’s wit.” A broker was a dealer in second hand goods. Indeed, “if all things were well known and view’d,” Castilio “doth but champ that which another chew’d.” This seemingly perfect courtier had been passing off another man’s literary works as his own—and getting away with it.
But oh! The absolute Castilio
He that can all the points of courtship show;
He that can trot a courser, break a rush,
And arm'd in proof, dare dure a straw's strong push;
He, who on his glorious scutcheon
Can quaintly show wit's new invention,
Advancing forth some thirsty Tantalus,
Or else the vulture on Prometheus,
With some short motto of a dozen lines;
He that can purpose it in dainty rhymes,
Can set his face, and with his eye can speak,
Can dally with his mistress' dangling feak,
And wish that he were it, to kiss her eye
And flare about her beauty's deity :--
Tut! he is famous for his revelling,
For fine set speeches, and for sonnetting;
He scorns the viol and the scraping stick,
And yet's but broker of another's wit.
Certes, if all things were well known and view'd,
He doth but champ that which another chew'd.
Come, come, Castilion, skim thy posset curd,
Show thy queer substance, worthless, most absurd.
Take ceremonious compliment from thee!
Alas! I see Castilio's beggary.
O if Democritus were now alive,
How he would laugh to see this devil thrive!
And by an holy semblance blear men's eyes,
When he intends some damned villanies.
I will post several more examples of fraudulent poets next time, including one of my favorites, “Emulo” from the play Patient Grissel. (My other favorite is Ben Jonson’s character “Matthew the town gull” from his 1598 play Every Man in His Humour.)