every type of wit imaginable can be found in Q, with what one
goes looking for being a strong determining element in what one finds.
The language code that Will uses conspires with its brilliant handler
to generate materials in cornucopic profusion.
that one primary purpose that the Runegame served was to allow in-group
male wit to thrive on “forbidden” topics with impunity from
general detection. (For who can finally “prove” the pun to
be the author’s statement, not the auditor’s “mishearing”
of it?) Since no one knows to what extent the Game of the Quarto was ever
played outside the arena of Will’s own head, it may be that the
iconoclastic subterfuges of the texts reflect more his own imaginative
engagement with himself than any actual interaction with a coterie of
readers. Likely, however, the circle of private friends known to have
been privy to at least some of his sonnets in the late 1590s were in on
his Game and knew its predictable components.
Whatever the case, examples
throughout the various components of this site illustrate varieties of
Will’s humor, and some topics are probably adequately represented
elsewhere: For example, the poet’s mental interaction with the men
whom I deduce as his principal intended auditors (such as Thomas Thorpe,
his printing agent, and Dr. John Hall, his son-in-law), along with epithet-making,
jokes about printing and textual minutiae, nautical wit implying buggery
that may have been aimed at Southampton, medical humor likely to have
had in mind Dr. Hall, jokes about the Bible and biblical translation perhaps
slanted toward those involved in the KJB project, and Will’s derogation
of Anne, his wife—the last a specific type of misogyny that most
any male reader might have responded to sympathetically.
large is humor based on fliting—verbal interchanges in
which the presumed auditor is victimized by the Runemaster/speaker, whose
role always embodied oneupmanship. (Ironically, the Sonnets profess to
honor and immortalize the unnamed Friend while concurrently—and
in fact—beating that Reader/Player over the head with more abuses
than Socrates might ever have endured from his shrewish wife, if the Bad
Wives stories are true. Denigration of auditor or subject for physical,
mental, and spiritual flaws or inadequacies seems a routine part of the
humor attacking presumed third-person “enemies” abounds.
modes, both of which rely easily on conceits suggesting siege and warfare,
involve personal targets of attack, though rooting out topical materials
at this late date is at best a hit-and-miss process.
Rhetorical labels such
as irony, sarcasm, and diatribe suggest tone but not topic.
Needless to say, many
of the detectable subtextual puns in Q are “not nice”—though
occasionally some mellow or “serious” observation on Will’s
part seems to pierce the din. Conflicting suggestions (e.g., that Anne
is at once frigid and sexually ravenous) compound much wit, generating
paradox that confounds, as do juxtapositions of figures from real and
mythic contexts and in other incongruous combinations.
the following topics, at least, might be identified in Q
and separately evaluated: heterosexual sex, homosexual sex, misogyny,
scatology, incest, bestiality, sacrilege, anti-Semitism, political
humor and sedition, humor based on classical and mythic allusions,
“black magic,” and allusive topical jokes.One might also
subdivide sexual humor along such lines as oral sex, anal sex, necrophilia,
penile measurement, exhibitionism, priapism, masturbation, excessive
appetite, and so on.
any of these topics, the index of subtextual diction
that is one link on this site may help isolate subject matter, though
the categories overlap and merge freely. Even an “analyst”
of categorical elements has to keep a flexible spirit.
A huge body of
wit seems to focus on homoerotic topics. Readers can draw their
own conclusions about what that topical focus tells us about Will himself.
Such wit persists in male groups, and the extent to which it indicates
“real” proclivities remains debatable.
While I do
not attempt here a thorough canvass of all these sorts of wit, a few examples
beyond the many I’ve offered elsehwere in other contexts may help
illustrate certain topical patterns. The parenthetical references are
to the Runes, not the visible Sonnets. An X indicates an acrostic
“So (Ewer’s ‘O’…)
strongly in, my pee your pussy bred” (111A.14).
“Shaft in daughter-end, my heavy
‘I’ I’d stow (…I’d stout hew, ‘eary,’
“In ewe unfolding his imprisoned pride, enduring (entering)
ewe wry [with Ewery a playful parallel, perhaps, for Jewry]”
pet I’d enter, morally ruined (…morally wry, in deep;…morally
wry end)” (108A.12).
wanton lion o’er m’ arse, his sword in ‘O’
roars, quick ass (quickest) arousal burned (…be ‘urned’)”
Enoch took your meated ‘awl’ t’ ewe, earl debased”
“You’re randy, muffed,
moist. Loving bare-assed ewe ended your piety” (112A.12-13).
th’ ‘I’ moist, do show, Witchlike, a canker…”
|Penis length or size:
‘awl,’ my ‘hone’ fit, is 8 in thee, 1 soft”
to ‘awl’ bonds dough, timid ‘I’ bitty”
“He of tall-built
inch, Anne-O’s goodly pride” (82.10).
“A stubby inch mine, mine
is thick, odder, poor” (98.12).
|Blacks and phallic endowment:
“Fit was 10 (…waist tan),
nigar’d inch prowing his butt-abyss you see, fainting. Despite
of wrinkles…” (12.1-3).
“Muse, lick her t’ end your pain—tight cunt or feet”
licked assy ‘V’d’ husband, foul office saucy”
ye m’ ass, eat (my seat) wet ‘O’ (…widow)”
(Sonnet 126, upward acrostic).
(A nun cold…), see-sawed Hooper when his tush is eaten”
“My misters, eye sour
no-thing [pudendal], lick this one”; “My mistress’
‘eye,’ sour no-thing, lick—’tis honey”;
“My mister’s ‘I’ [phallic] sour know—thing
licked, his honey (…high, sunny)” (127.4).
“By noon, fouled in jism, peer
is found, parading (prating, pirating), ‘doing’ you, ribald-assed
musty ‘I’ under my transgression boned thee, just to please
seated sin, furry-ass Saul saluted a rigid Amos, my ass’ll feel
tearing…” (144.7-9; and see just below).
“Wand in the butt, panting,
thee uncertain that a man dull eased in, aye, and came” (144,
“In poly-shit forms, Will refined peeing (…pain, pain
[i.e., bread])” (92.1).
hits tanned slave t’ end his entrails” (126.13-14).
“Farter may owe
his life to Howard’s furry demon” (86.8).
“In moot, sandy Pharaoh you nest and wrinkle” (92.9).
“Aye ribbed [like
Eve], Anne dined here, bidding ass reign (…rain)” (126.9).
“Dane is Isis’s
“Which is Sodom, Ed.,
which is Hall, a bawdy Hat. idle (idol), our Anne?” (115.9-10).
|Political wit, sedition:
“Habits states speckle”
and “Large Bess [Elizabeth?] ‘stated’ Ass [=S=Stuart?]
to be (…top),” “Large Bess, Stated S. [=James?]
dog errs, mocked hereon (mocked hero nigh…), peers eye James,
ditched, a sorry thief…”; “thy hero, neighbor, is
aye James…” (104A.9-10).
“Be wise, a Stuart see rule, do not [take this ms. to?] press
(…dough-knot pierce […appears])” (127.14). See 65.8-10,
where “interchange of state” makes “art…tongue-tied
“Rising [i.e., the
Essex Rebellion?] at enemy doth point out thee; Fore, I have sworn
deep oaths of thy [with Southy as auditor?] deep kindness” (149.11-
“Nature’s ass back (beck) East, Jew’s no-thing butt
doth lend” (3.4).
Jew, thistle, fetid hand kiss, aye (…eye) fought enemy”
does our Jew there up regent lady, seamy butt wide” (37.11-13).
“Sandy in midden [i.e.,
dunghill], Jews thou will till” (93.5-6).
“W., Hen, ‘awl’
th’ Hebrew, tear ass o’ fattest whore” (82.11).
“I seek a few eying Dagon evil” (126.6-7).
God most true I tease, that I half Luke taunt” (103A. 11-12).
“You see deeply, see the
sacristy is ended, doubtest thou” (41.10-11).
“The Damned Bard, he benefits