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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

Set II, Runes 15-28: Texts and Comments 
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 23
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Rune 22
Eighth lines, Set II (Sonnets 15-28)

                          Rune 22

     (Eighth lines, Set II: Sonnets 15-28)

     And were their brave state out of memory,
     Much liker, then, your painted counterfeit;
     Such heavenly touches ne’er touched earthly faces,
 4  By chance or nature’s changing course untrimmed.
     But I forbid thee one most heinous crime,
     Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth
     That heaven’s air in this huge rondure hems:
 8  How can I then be elder than thou art,
     O’er-charged with burthen of mine own, love’s mite
     That hath his windows glazèd with thine eyes!
     For at a frown they in their glory die.
12 In thy soul’s thought, all naked. Will, bestow it!
     Looking on darkness which the blind do see,
     How far I toil, still farther off from thee.
      Glosses: 1) their (a riddlic prepositioned pronoun) points toward heavenly touches in 3 and implies any or all of the friend’s attractive facial features; 2) liker = more probable; counterfeit = likeness; 4) untrimmed = unadorned, unattractive, unshaven, stripped of decorations; 10) hath...glazèd = has his eyes dazzled, suggesting a cathedral window, maybe a “huge rondure” (see 7); 11) they = your eyes, especially as reflected in mine (see 10), with they a routinely automatic pun on “th’ eye”; 12) Will = a self-address (to “Will”) and a reduplicative order to the muse, “Bequeath [= Bestow] it!”

    22. In This Huge Rondure Hemmed

     Now, if the world no longer remembered the fine reality of your features,
     your painted likeness would seem more realistic.
     Such heavenly touches never touched earthly faces
rendered unattractive by circumstance or natural mutability.
     But I forbid you one egregiously terrible offense,
     you who steal the men’s eyes and dazzle the very souls of the women
     hemmed in by the heavenly air of this huge sphere:
  8 Don’t accuse me of being older than you are,
     overtaxed as I am with my own problems, love’s little boy,
     already glassy-eyed over you, my eyes reflecting yours like stained-glass windows erected to your glory!
     For even now these windows go lightless the instant you frown—a sun behind the clouds.
12 In your soul is absolute meaning, naked truth. Either you or I should pass it on to the world to come as a legacy.
     Confronting such darkness as the blind (and newborn babes) see,
     I’ve made progress in this work but still find you farther away than ever.


        As elsewhere in Set II, a main subject here is the poet’s struggle to record the nature of the absent auditor. “Biblical” details invite us to read the muse as a Saint of Love in whose “soul” is “thought all naked” (12)—absolute meaning and Truth. The imagery of the poem connects eyes (a favorite Renaissance conceit) and stained-glass windows.

          As “love’s might/mite” (9), the poet is like Cupid, a naked, angelic-looking boy: “All-naked Will” (12) is as “blind” (13) as a newborn “mite.” This little angel, through whose eyes the muse’s “eyes” shine, may thus be a figure in a stained-glass window (10) in some sanctuary honoring the friend; if the muse “frowns” as the sun goes behind a cloud, then the “glory dies” (11) and the window dulls. Because the muse’s “painted counterfeit” (2) is on one level the image of that figure in the glass, the phrase “this huge rondure” (7 ) suggests a magnificent rose window in a cathedral—as well as Will’s theatre, The Globe, and the Earth itself.

          Echoes of the Bible stories of The Widow’s Mite (9) and of the healing of the blind (13) add allusive texture, as does the contradictory idea that the muse is a thief (6) “forbidden…one more heinous crime” (5)—more like a corrupt moneychanger than a saint. (“Most heinous crime” suggests “moist, anus crime” and “moist anus-rim.” Jokes about buggery recur in Q.)

          Vaguely textural, too, are such latent puns as “thin, European” (2, suggesting “Gothic”), “Rheims” (7), and “Seine” (8).

          By reading the text as a gamy joke, one may hear the poet addressing his muse pejoratively, something like this: “If you were dead so people could think of you as a saint, it would be easier to believe this image of you, but as it is, your ‘heinous’ nature makes it hard to imagine you as holy.” It helps in such a reading to remember that the auditor, just by reading the poet’s bawdry and being part of his perverse circle, is automatically partaking of a kind of “crime.” Vague hints abound in the visible sonnets that the listening friend has a “criminal” nature.

          Other comic diversions include the manly puns “awl naked Will bestowed” (12), a phallic joke, and “untrimmed” (4), suggesting a bearded face. The dispute about whether Shakespeare’s only known patron—Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton—looked better with or without a beard was a hot courtly topic at one point in the 1590s and may be behind the term, but any male auditor might smile at hearing “You need a shave.” The “n’er-touched earthly face...” (3) may pun on “Wriothe’ley,” though Southy’s family name was probably pronounced more like “Rizley” or “Roseley.” (Wit about how to pronounce such an ungodly spelling must have been routine among Southampton’s intimates. The suggestion that the Q lines pun routinely on “Southy” is my own, having no backing that I know of in prior critical discussion.)

          Much wit is expended here on another of Will’s usual topics, the toilsome writing project itself. Printing puns, e.g., include “B-row state” (in the “A-row,” line 1); “untrimmed” (4, with “reamed,” “rhymed”); “count our [her] feet” (2); and “be letter [leader]” (8, with a play on Eld, the printer who owned the shop where Q was printed). The play on “rune”—e.g., in “evince a rune t’ hiss, huge Rune D [runed, ruined] your hymn is” (7)—is a typical latent reference to the Runegame. An overlaid pun on “see air [song] in this book” depends upon a printed “h” that looks like a “b.” (My theory is that Will’s printing agent Thomas Thorpe helped effect such typographic wit.)

          Amidst the usual subliminal Anne-wit, the rhetorical question about relative age (8) reminds us that Will’s Anne is eight years his senior. The pun “In this huge rondure Ham. S. housing” (7-8) is almost certainly a joke about her girth, since Hamnet Shakespeare was the couple’s son (he died in August 1596) and since many other sly jokes in Q imply that Anne is fat (as well a mother of twins might be). Plays on “father” and estrangement in 14 also make the poem uncomfortably personal, as does the concurrent pun in 7, “...evince heir in this huge rune dour, Ham S.”

          The first line puns, poignantly, “Anne dour [I endure...], th’ heir [i.e., Hamnet] be roused, a tot of memory.”

          Such plays as “House arid I left ill, farther off from thee [...father off, roamed he]” (14) may address Susanna and John Hall, Will’s daughter and son-in-law, who jointly may be the “they” of line 1. My theory is that Will imagined his son-in-law, soon to be his daily companion in Stratford after his retirement, as one of his primary auditors—and that John and Sue Hall are in one sense the “master/mistress of my passion” whom Q, a perverse epithalamion cycle, addresses and honors. “The haughty Anne siring this huge Rune, dour hymn [...dour Ham S.], show...” illustrates further puns in the same line. John Hall would have heard all the “Anne-wit” in Q as a complex of mother-in-law jokes.

          Typically, this text is coy about the gender—and even the number—of the absent “muse” toward whom the poet toils.

          One variant pun in 13-14 is this: “...the blind do see / how fertile Shakespeare, ill father, off roamed he,” alluding to Will’s abandonment of his family in Stratford to seek his fortune elsewhere. (Here, I propose, the digraph st encodes “Shakespeare” and is Will’s recurring “name cipher”: a “long s” holding a spear-like t and “shaking” it.) Finding such letter-specific wit in the Q lines as this and the ambiguous “b/h” in line 7 is really a whole new way of reading them. Rationalizing such minuscule examinations of meaning in Q are the facts that the cycle is, at heart, Game and its author a deviously ingenious punster.

Sample Puns

          1) Endure th’ air, be roasted; dour t’ Harry B-Row is; “Anne” we writ here; fit eye doubts
          2) M’ huge “awl” (hell) I curtain; Much liquor thin Europe ended (undid); Europa; European; Ed., count her feet; Muscle I curtain—your painted cunt or feet
          2-3) dick owned [admitted] erased suck; sauces
          3) Suck (F--k) you anally, touch ass near to huge tear [rip], the lice aye seize; to you, shitter-tail sauces
          3-4) a Wriothesley (“Wrioth’ley”) face is by chance or nature’s change course untrimmed; tear th’ icy seas, bitchin’
          4) canker; see our fount (sound) rhymed; see our fiend, wry, M.D. (empty); see hanging curse (curve) untrimmed
          4-5) ornate, you, Rizzy, inching, see whores “V,” enter, amid butt’s “O” rabid (orbit)
          5) Beauty, Sue or Betty, one most heinous, see her eye me; Body’s orbit t’ Hen. must hie; the One Most High knows our hymn (serum)
          5-6) …knows wry muses’ talisman
          6) Witch Shakespeare, alas, menses; Which Shakespeare, a lass, menses? Anne dome [wisdom] ends; woman’s foul ass amazeth
          6-7) a maze, Th[omas] Th[orpe], attune (a dune), sire, in this huge rune;
          7) That Heavy Anne, Siren in this huge rune; huge rondure suggests The Globe; in this huge rondure, Ham S (is); hymned; shoo, gerund, you rhyme!
          7-8) in this huge rune, Durham shows; Rheims huge Anne eyed
          8) How sane (Seine) I then build; builder; Hawk Annie’d Hen be; Hawk-eye Nathan; Hulk Annie’d t’ Hen be elder than T[homas] Howard; Eld
          9) O, wreck her, God, with burden of mine own loo smite; he knows m’ Annie Owen loves; Love’s mite (cf. Cupid); low Semite
        10) That Hath-ass-sway endow we, ass glazed with thine “I’s”; th’ Annie use; thy naves, knaves, niece
        10-11) I neigh ewe’s fart as Rune 80 (…81)
        11) Forehead, a frowned hint here galore yet eye; For Ed. I’ve rowned handy, high regal “O” ready; gallery
        12) souls, fowls, fools; see Hall (awl) naked; Willobie, too, eyed; Will be Shakespeare [st], owe [i.e., own] it!
        12-13) John, this old, stout…Will, Best o’ Wit, Loo-king;
        13) Lo, King John, dirk in ass
        14) Hover I (Aver aye) t’ oil (However I toil,) Shakespeare [st], ill father, off from thee; House arid I left, ill is author (ills artier), off from thee; fiddles Arthur; to oil still of Arthur, offer “O” mythy.

Acrostic Wit

          The downward acrostic codeline—AMS B BWT HOT F IL H—may encode, e.g., such wit as “A miss be bawdy, hot filly,” “A ms. be bawdy ‘O’ [rune] t’ fill eye,” “A.M.’s be beau t’ hot village,” “Aye m’ ass be bawdy, hot, feel itch,” “A ms. be bodied village,” “A ms. be bawdy hoot of Ill Age,” “A ms. be beau thought of Ill Age,” “A ms. be beau, thoughtful,” “A ms. be beau, Tho. T., feel (of Hell) [i.e., the acrostic] edge,” “Amiss, baby wet hot village.” Overall, the mix-and-match pattern “A miss [Amiss] be bawdy [Beauty], hot [haut] filly” seems insistent.

          The pun miss/ms. is, I think, routine in Q (see OED: miss = a kept mistress [1667]). The letter H suggests both the “edge” and a pictographic “ladder”—and thus in two senses may refer to the up-and-down acrostic fringe of a text.

          The upward (reverse) letterstring code—HLIFTOHT WB BS MA—is crafted to encode such hidden “messages” as, e.g., “Each [H. = Hall?] lifted webs, M.A.,” “H. lifted web, Bess may (be summa),” “Hell, I’ve taught, whips M.A. (May),” “Hell, eye of toad, web, ass-hymn (…some) eye,” “Hell, life-taught, whips (webs) M.A.,” “H-life taught web’s M.A..,” “Hell of twat whips me,”and “Edge lift, oat; wipe B.S., M.A.”

Proceed to Rune 23
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