Framed by opening and closing line pairs that reiterate the poet/persona’s “despair” and his longing for death (lines 1-2, 13-14), the heart of William Shakespeare’s eye-catching Sonnet 66 comprises ten lines (3-12) that begin with “And….” My proposal is that—because “And…” puns repetitively here on “Anne…”—the poem is an extended double entendre whose parallel epithets describe the poet’s estranged wife back in Stratford. Close male friends might have picked up on the joke, but the poet buried his humor deeply enough to hide it effectively from general readers until now, when we can hear his quip: “Anne’s endless, self-righteous carping makes me want to die.”
It is inarguable that Shakespeare was a hopeless punster. As Dr. Samuel Johnson observed, “A quibble [i.e., a pun], poor and barren as it is, gave him such delight that he was content to purchase it by the sacrifice of reason, propriety, and truth.” [Note 2] Among thousands of puns in the Sonnets, those on “Will” (as parallels to those on “Anne”) are most relevant here. Quite literally, every form of “will” in Q is a potential namepun. Editor Stephen Booth indexes a long list of his own line-note comments on will, willing, wilful, wilfully, wilfulness, and so on. Sonnets 135-136, with some twenty plays on “will,” are merely egregious instances of the poet’s routine practice. In Sonnet 135, seven “will” puns occur in the emphatic form “Will.” (Booth, reflecting the modern scholarly distaste for punning, edits out these capitalized italics—partly because he does not want to heighten the already “archly precious” original lines [Booth 466].)
Notably, Sonnet 66 opens with the contrived pun “TYr’d,” one that most modern readers will miss. The word means both “Fatigued” and “Clothed” (OED). The conceit that Will might be “garmented” (with “Anne’s…”) rationalizes two image-rich words: “trimd” (3) and “to dye” (14).
In sum—and especially because of the profusion of “Will’s” in the Sonnets—it would not be odd if “Will” gave “Anne” a few namepuns too (or even built a whole poem on them). In fact, the idea that “And” can pun on “Anne” is not at all new. Notably, the couplet “I hate, from hate away she threw, /And sav’d my life saying not you” (Sonnet 145.13-14) triggers Booth’s line note:
From this quite logical idea—although Booth does not pursue it—one deduces that in any (sic) context in the Sonnets, or for that matter in the whole canon, “And/and” might mean “Anne [Hathaway],” taking on the punning meaning exactly the way “will” can mean “Will.” In each case, contextual clues and aptness may suggest when the pun is operative. (The poet’s genius, his quickness of mind, assures us that any pun we plodders may detect was probably “willed.”)
The records of Will Shakespeare’s life show him living apart from Anne during much of the two decades—ca. 1589-1609—that produced the Sonnets. Thus, without reopening the knotty questions of dating the Sonnets or naming their primary auditor(s) (see Booth 545ff.), we can easily imagine the poet/persona as a man who might “leave my love alone,” as one who “would be…gone” (Sonnet 66.13) from Anne. Tensions, animosities, guilt, blame-fixing, and jokes with male cronies about the “wife back home”—all these are easy to postulate, based on what we know of human nature. And we do know that the poet did rejoin Anne in Stratford “to die” (see 66.14).
Though Shakespeare liked puns and used namepuns, and though the dramatic situation that I construe fits the long-accepted Shakespeare/Hathaway scenario, I admit that the ambiguities of Sonnet 66 make any single reading of it both arguable and hard to demonstrate. Typically in the Sonnets, one reading does not negate others—just as one meaning of a pun never disallows the alternate sense. In any case, let me try to explicate Sonnet 66 as an authorized poem about Anne.
In general, the opening and ending reveal the poet/persona as “tired with” a long list of depressing phenomena (3-12) and longing for “restful death” (1). Though line 13 seems to say that he wants to leave these troubles, the conditional “would” lets us deduce that maybe he has already deserted them. Line 2—problematic because “As” is syntactically vague and “desert” can be a substantive (“what is deserved”) or an adjective (“deserted”)—may mean, in mix-and-match fashion, “So that I look like…” / “As if I were seeing…” and “…a lonely beggar, poor from birth” / “…a poor beggar getting his [or her] deserts.” (Other lurking puns complicate the line, too: e.g., “As two [eyes? people?] behold…” and “Ass to [too] behold….”) Still, the likely point of line 2 is that a lonely “beggar born” either depicts or reinforces the speaker’s depressed state. (In a poem about Anne and Will, estranged, the image of an “orphaned” child registers automatically.)
In the ten “Anne” epithets that generate the poem’s accumulative catalog, all lines except 10—which calls her “Folly”—seem superficially complimentary, showing the good wife as somehow betrayed, controlled, or thwarted. Generally these personifications dramatize good/bad conflicts, so that anyone who hears “Anne” as “maiden virtue” will think of “Will” as “Captain ill” (12). In Q, this swaggering lower-case moniker lacks only a capital “W” to become “Captain Will.” (Naysayers will ask why there are no “Wills” here. The “lack,” I suggest, is contrived.)
Contextually, the list of pious characterizations soon reeks with mocking irony. Here is the stereotypical “Jewish mother” guilt trip, repeated from “Anne’s” own mouth: “You treat me like nothing, and I have nothing to wear, but I still wear a smile” (3). “You’ve failed to keep your vows and promises, broken faith with me” (4), “taken my honor and virtue and disgraced me” (5-7), “usurped my authority (though you’re pitifully weak)” (8), “overruled me in matters of taste” (9), and “demeaned the ‘simple Truth’ of my views” (11). “But through it all I’ve stayed by you. I have no choice” (12). Thus, in the husband’s words we hear the carping wife—unbearable up close, but ironically still “my love” (14). Her self-righteous tongue goes on and on, and we laugh at her. Her “martyrdom” may even be a topic in line 14: “Alone, my wife just keeps on dying.”
As if to make doubly sure we hear the poem’s satire, the “Folly” line (10) drops the veil of irony to label “Anne” a fool who thinks herself schooled—like Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus or Erasmus’ spokesman in The Praise of Folly. Actually, the sestet opening (9-10) makes a kind of new start on the relevant topic of “Anne-art…” or “Anne-Folly….” In this, the poet’s “apology,” one idea is that “this foolish poem about Anne” can rise no higher than its “authority” and thus is “tongue-tied” and inane. Line 11 hints, also coyly, that the “simple” wife is really conniving and manipulative.
Much wit here, further, is bawdy misogyny. Two pejorative epithets personify “Anne” with “country” conceits: “…needy Nothing [i.e., ‘no-thing,’ the pudendum] trimmed in jollity” (3), and “…Folly (Doctor-like), controlling skill” (10)—which puns “…c**t-rollings kill.” The line “Save that to die, I leave my love alone” (14) puns (in Renaissance parlance), “I avoid [Anne] except to have sex.” Even the “restful death” (1) the frustrated poet wants may be “good sex.” A further witty meaning of his closing is, “…I had to get away. / I’ll only go back to have sex, or maybe to her funeral” (13-14). Finally, the triple-threat pun “Anne/And/End…” applies: For Anne is the poet’s “end”—his “bottom,” his “Nothing,” his teleological pull back to Stratford, his doom.
Perhaps Will Shakespeare picked the (traditionally perverse) number 66 self-consciously to denigrate Anne, enumerate his husbandly gripes, and bemoan, with mock self-pity, his victimized state. His spelling TYr’d…/Tyr’d… (1, 13) suggests a sly “rubricating” pun on “tirrit” (“a fit of… temper; an ‘upset’ ” [OED 1597]). At any rate, his epithetic diatribe allows us rare entrance into a very private sphere of personal license. Grateful modern readers, doctor-like, may chalk down Will’s exercise in “And/Anne” puns as a healthy antidote to all sorts of anti-Stratfordian Folly.
Finally, Sonnet 66 lays a good base for rapprochement with all the other “Anne” puns that lurk in Q, offering a panoply of small witticisms yet to be heard in such routinely recurring forms as any (“Annie”); many (“m’ Annie”); mine eyes (“m’ Annie S.”); v∫e (i.e., use, Q’s usual form: the eyepun “wife”); make (i.e., “mate”); which (i.e., “witch”); best (i.e., “beast”); hath; and many other details and combinations of juxtaposed elements.
A very few samples of the hundreds of “Anne” puns in the Quarto comprise my own closing catalog: “For shame deny that thou bear’st love to Annie!” (10.1); “Grunt. If thou wilt [i.e., droop], thou art beloved of m’ Annie” (10.3); “Anne, threescore year, would make [i.e., ‘mate’] the world away” (11.8); “…that beast I wish [Q eyepun: ‘that beastie wife’] in thee, / This wife I have…” (37.13-14); “Anne What-is-it, but mine own…, / …let us divided live, / Anne…” (39.4-6); “That she [Th’ Hat.-she] hath thee is of my wayling cheefe” (42.3, Q’s spellings); “Sweet beauty Hath-no-name…” (127.7); “Whoever Hath-her-wife, thou hast thy Will” (135.1); and “Anne in abundance addeth to history [his story]” (135.10). Many such puns indicate that Anne—who once bore twins—was obese. My favorite is “…Anne This-by-That…” (154.13), suggesting corpulence one might measure like a room.
ROY NEIL GRAVES, The University of Tennessee at Martin
1 My edited version here of the 1609 Quarto lines changes “And…” to “Anne…” and adjusts punctuation (as modern editors always do) but maintains Q’s own capitalizations and otherwise takes no liberties. For a conventionally edited modern version—with a facing facsimile of the Q text—see Shakespeare’s Sonnets, ed. with analytic commentary by Stephen Booth (New Haven: Yale UP, 1977). Hereafter, as noted, I rely gratefully on Booth’s facsimile materials, line notes, index, and appendices. Booth’s notes on Sonnet 66 help to show how some interpretive problems are in the apparent text itself—and not just in my punning reading of it.
2 See The Preface to Shakespeare (1765), frequently reprinted, on Shakespeare’s “faults.”
3 Booth’s source is Helge Kökeritz, Shakespeare’s Pronunciation (New Haven, 1953).