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

 The Unedited Paste-up Texts of the Runes
in the 1609 Quarto
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

 
       

Click on one of these links to view the 154 Runes as Unedited Texts:

Sets I-III
(Runes 1-42)

Sets X-XI
(Runes 127-154)


Background

          The 154 texts recomposed here—the artifactual Runes in their unedited state—are symstematically reassembled groupings of Will’s original lines, shown just as the individual lines occur in the printed form of the 1609 Quarto. My assumption is that the Q lines, unedited, show authorized details, and that printing agent Thomas Thorpe, whose initials occur twice in the frontmatter of Q, helped Will effect his wishes, jot-and-tittle, as Q was printed. (Incidental variants of a few lines occur in extant copies of Q, and I discuss these slight variations elsewhere on this site, in the context of the eleven individual sets. My guess is that some or perhaps all of the deviations in various copies may have been consciously manipulated at the printing stage as part of Will’s joking scheme.)
           Links to the 11 separate set groupings—which include edited texts, paraphrases, and comments—occur at intervals below for easy connections.
 
          The first recomposed rune in each set as shown below always takes up more space than the other 13 because its initial capitals in Q are bigger—a printed feature whose special fallout effects I’m sure Will—with his all-attentive mind—would have envisioned. For one thing, the visually emphatic vertical acrostics in these initial runes in the sets, once the runes are recomposed, call attention to all the other acrostic alignments in both Sonnets and Runes, especially because Rune 1 generates AVON insistently at its bottom lefthand corner. The odds are greatly against having such an alphabetic alignment happen on its own.

          
Readers here can see how each rune emerges “horizontally” by looking back at the set spread that houses and automatically generates it. The authorized system of parallelism that’s implicit in each set makes the restoration of any runic text a mechanical rather than a volitional process—even in the special case of Set VIII, with its A and B variants.
           In the paste-up process I’ve recycled the Sonnet numbers in Q as numeric rubrics for the Runes—even keeping Will’s “erroneous” number 119, a playful inversion of 116 in a text that ends, famously, “If this be error and upon me proved, / I never writ, and no man ever loved.”
          A look at the frontispiece heading that precedes Sonnet 1 reminds us that the Q punctuations are unreliable:

 

          This said, the punctuations in Q are nonetheless more likely to be functional in the apparent Sonnets than in the hidden Runes. Will, as we see now, was working—or playing—on two fronts at once: Since the lines have different meanings in the Runes from their meanings in the Sonnets, and since punctuation is an indicator of syntax (and thus of the function and meaning of composed elements), Will could not possibly have punctuated the Q lines so that the pointings would work equally well in both the overt and the hidden context. Of course, punctuation in Will’s day was not rigidly standardized, even in texts where each line had a single rather than a dual function. No editors of the Sonnets have ever regarded Q’s punctuation as restrictive.

           Before we knew of Will’s Runegame, we tended to chalk everything up to editorial carelessness, and especially to careless printing. (Sonnets 2, 16, 18, 35, 75, and 76 end with commas, not periods, and others—e.g., 43 and 108—appear to, as well; Sonnet 56 ends with a colon; and Sonnets 26 and 28 end with unpunctuated lines.) Now we may find that at least some of Q’s “errors,” in punctuation and otherwise, are in fact consciously functional: Sometimes a puzzling punctuation mark in the Q lines makes much more functional sense in the hidden Runes than in the apparent contexts.

          Readers interested in how the Runes work will need to get used to respecting the exact forms of the Quarto lines, including their punctuation and especially their spellings, because these jot-and-tittle details convey much of the flexible gaminess and functional ambiguity of the texts. Readers will also need to be ready to regard details (including punctuation) as obfuscatory, parts of the riddlic nature of the hidden poems. Any editorial tampering is apt to lose much of what the poet authorized. Thus elsewhere in this site I routinely provide an unedited line grouping along with the edited version that automatically becomes—in its punctuated and regularized form—an interpreted text in which I, as one modern reader/player, have made certain choices about meaning. (Sonnets editors, of course, also change the meanings of the overt Q texts by selection, and editors such as Stephen Booth have noted that Q’s punctuation system allows ambiguities that modern pointings always lose.)

           Trying to unsnarl a text and see its multiple potentialities for sense and wit puts every reader/player in an editor's role. The raw texts below are therefore the places to start if you want to play the game entirely on your own.

             
Click on one of these links to view the 154 Runes as Unedited Texts:

Sets I-III
(Runes 1-42)

Sets X-XI
(Runes 127-154)

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