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Shakespeare’s Lost Sonnets: A Restoration of the Runes
by Roy Neil Graves, Professor of English
The University of Tennessee at Martin

The 11 Set Spreads
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved. Posted 15 May 2003

             


The hidden organization plan
in the 1609 Quarto text of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (Q) depends of a pattern of suppressed design that’s consistent with Renaissance
aesthetics—which valued sprezzatura, the art of doing hard things without showing much effort. Hidden number schemes offered one means for structuring long works including poem cycles.

To understand Will’s particular scheme in Q one first envisions the cycle as the sonnet-shaped numbers box shown just below. Each numeral in this Megasonnet box stands for one visible sonnet in Q (the 154 Sonnets as published have numeric titles), while each vertical column forms a set of 14 sonnets. If you understand this system, you’ll see that the whole system comprises eleven 14-unit sets. For convenience I use Roman numerals to designate the sets and Arabic numerals for the individual numbers in the visible cycle of sonnets. (Link: How Will Wrote the Runes)
    
Since a jam-packed sonnet—that is, one with 11 syllables per line and with “feminine” line ending—has 154 syllables, the hidden architecture of Q thus mimicks a Giant Sonnet in which each visible number is one “syllable” in its total utterance:

Shakespeare’s Lost Megasonnet:
The Organization Plan of the 1609 Quarto Texts
Copyright 1984 © Roy Neil Graves, All rights reserved.
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
VI.
VII.
VIII.
IX.
X.
XI.

1
15
29
43
57
71
85
99
113
127
141
2
16
30
44
58
72
86
100
114
128
142
3
17
31
45
59
73
87
101
115
129
143
4
18
32
46
60
74
88
102
116
130
144
5
19
33
47
61
75
89
103
117
131
145
6
20
34
48
62
76
90
104
118
132
146
7
21
35
49
63
77
91
105
119
133
147
8
22
36
50
64
78
92
106
120
134
148
9
23
37
51
65
79
93
107
121
135
149
10
24
38
52
66
80
94
108
122
136
150
11
25
39
53
67
81
95
109
123
137
151
12
26
40
54
68
82
96
110
124
138
152
13
27
41
55
69
83
97
111
125
139
153
14
28
42
56
70
84
98
112
126
140
154


To see the Runes emerge from this overall Megasonnet scheme, one first divides Q into the 11 separate sets of 14 visible sonnets each, proceeding so as to respect the division of materials that’s implicit in the diagram above. This segment of the Lost Sonnets web site reproduces these 11 set units, each one arranged on the set leaf in the hypothetical sonnet-shaped pattern that I have deduced as the one Will worked with during the composition process. The visible echo of the Sonnet form in this construct—echoing the 4-4-4-2 pattern of quatrains and couplet that the English sonnet employs—is part of its aesthetic appeal, its mathematical beauty.

By now you see that the poet’s hidden plan in Q echoes the numeric pattern of the sonnet form in two distinct ways: First, in the overall Megasonnet form (above), and second, in the quatrains/couplet arrangement of each set spread (below). In deducing the set leaf arrangement reiterated below, I was guided by what I know about the sonnet form. Will’s use of metaphoric mirrors early in Set I was also a clue that the set leaf should be symmetrical, with each page arrangement a mirror image of the other. The indention of the couplet lines in the published sonnets in Q was also a clue that the last two, “couplet” units on each leaf should be pushed to the right. I’m convinced that Will would have gone for symmetry in the set arrangements.

With the publication of his poems in the small-format Quarto edition, Will’s hidden design plan disappeared. This obfuscation was surely intentional, a part of the overall Game that allowed the poet to stay unexposed except among his coterie.
   
In the case of each individual set illustration below, you will need to imagine the 14 numbers of the set not in printed form on a small page but, rather, scripted on an oversized folio spread (approx. 22 in. wide x 17 in. high, roughly the size of the King James Bible of 1611) in a cramped hand about the size of the one textual sample that scholars have attributed to Shakespeare. The reconstructed examples here, however, use the printed texts from Q to illustrate the 11 spread arrangements. (Link: How Will Wrote the Runes.)

To generate the 154 Runes, one reads across the eleven sets, linking parallel lines up in sequence on each set—first lines with first, second with second, and so through 14.
Thus, as you see, each spread houses 28 texts, 14 visible sonnets and 14 suppressed runes.

While the Arabic numerals
in the Megasonnet design above most obviously represent the visible Sonnets, they can also represent the organization plan of the Runes, with each set housing 14 of each.
   
Below, then, are the hypothetical Ur-texts of the eleven set components in Q as they once must have existed before 1609. As we know from external evidence that editors of the Sonnets always mention, some (and perhaps all) of these sets circulated among Will’s “private friends” before 1600.

Each set unit is essentially discrete, separately worked out and potentially mobile within the whole cycle. I’m personally confident, however, that the 1609 sequence of the sets in Q is authorized, given that so many other details in the printed form of Will’s verses show his careful manipulation.

My own guess is that the two final sets, the “Perverse Mistress” groupings following Sonnet 126, may have been done earliest. Perhaps these two sets, and not the whole cycle, were the specific Sonnets that are known to have circulated privately by the late 1590s. The fact that the only two sonnets known to have been published separately before the Quarto came out in 1609 are from this two-set section of the Sonnets does not prove my conjecture, but at least that fact supports the possibility of what I propose.

Here, then, are the eleven sets, showing the 154 visible Sonnets restored to the interlinked and symbiotic arrangements in which the author originally positioned them. Almost certainly he wrote them in this set-leaf arrangement on oversized leaves, adding to the set composition line-by-line, and checking each line to see that he advanced the sense of a vertical text (i.e., a sonnet) and concurrently of a horizontal text (i.e., a rune). In this way, his concern during the composition process at any given moment could be quite narrowly focused. One method he might have used—a likely one, I think—is to have first written the first sonnet of the set, at the upper left of the leaf, and then to have added the initial lines of all the other 13 sonnets on the leaf, thereby generating the first rune of the set while effectively sketching out the dimensions of the set grouping, its height and its length. Then, working incrementally line-by-line and proceeding from the top lefthand corner of the spread rightward and downward, he could have composed the entire set spread, 28 texts in all.

My own conclusion, finally, is that Q reflects authorized details, jot-and-tittle, and that Thomas Thorpe—Will’s known printing agent and the “T.T.” who signed Q’s frontmatter—cooperated as the major complicitor in effecting the poet’s large plan and making it a practical reality, even to the point of filing typebits to generate tedious minuscule humor in the details of the Quarto forms. Toward this end, I believe, Will probably revised the Q cycle during the years before 1609, honing his magnum opus as he contemplated retirement.    RNG



Set I



Set II



Set III



Set IV



Set V



Set VI



Set VII



Set VIII



Set IX



Set X



Set XI

             
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