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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        

             

Click on a link below to see the text in paste-up, edited, and paraphrased forms, with sample puns and acrostic wit.
Rune 15
Rune 16
Rune 17
Rune 18
Rune 19
Rune 20
Rune 21
Rune 22
Rune 23
Rune 24
Rune 25
Rune 26
Rune 27
Rune 28

 
         Available here are Runes 25-28, each synoptically arranged in paste-up, edited, and paraphrased forms,
with my editorial comments and with editorial samples of puns in the lines and of gamy potential meanings that lie hidden in the emphatic acrostic codelines.

           Rune 15 emerges when you read “across” the set spread shown below so that you link up the sequence of 14 first lines. The other runes in the set emerge similarly: For example, Rune 16 is the sequence of second lines in the 14 visible sonnets shown below, Rune 17 is the sequence of third lines, and so on through Rune 28.

           Clicking on a rune number in one of the boxes above (Runes 1-14) will allow you to read and study an individual text carefully, comparing its edited form to the actual details of the Quarto lines and to my editorial paraphrase. All editorial materials represent carefully considered but necessarily incomplete approaches to the riddlic, gamelike texts hidden in Q.


Notes on Set II: Your Painted Counterfeit

         Set II houses the first famous sonnet, No. 18, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” Seeing its familiar lines sharing space with new siblings is unsettling and may even generate a sort of anger—as if a teenage daughter in some household down our street were uprooted from her home and forced against everybody’s will to take lodgings with some alien family.

          Critics have noted that the first several overt texts here segue into the theme of immortality through art and downplay the exhortation to marry, but I believe that no one has detected in Sonnets 15-28 any especial thematic consistency. I can’t say for certain that I do, either. Now that we understand how each line in Q carries a double weight of meaning, we can see that keeping topical unity or telling any progressive story would have been more than doubly hard in Q.

          Though any generalization (except about rhyme) on the absolute difference between the Sonnets and the Runes is beset with problems, the poet does seem to give each sonnet a kind of topical unity that any given rune may lack. Still, the Runes typically cohere as texts in all kinds of ways—through figures, puns, echoic language, and even in many cases by the logic of octave, quatrain, sestet, and couplet; more so than the Sonnets, the Runes seem to me to progress by add-on association, meandering through a range of ideas and holding onto logic and sense somewhat more precariously and incrementally. The missing punch of rhyme is also a part of what they “don’t have.” As riddlic texts, the runes thrive on vague and prepositioned pronouns, a shifting point of view, and strained syntax. And Q’s punctuation, already unreliable in the Sonnets, becomes mostly irrelevant in the Runes—except on special occasions, where it works.

          Particularly the materials of personal lament in Sonnets 27-28—which function like a closed couplet to Set II—color all 14 runes with “how hard this is,” so that that complaint, finally, may be what each rune seems to add up to, whatever has come earlier—a mix of material representing the muse and discussing the poet’s struggle to memorialize that figure. Whether or not Will composed Q in sequence, Set II seems, at an early stage in the cycle, to say, “What have I gotten myself into? What can I hope to get out of this hopeless undertaking?” The runes make that complaint continually clear from 15 onward, while Sonnets 15-28 do not do so.

          Whatever thematic consistency can be found in the set, the unique variations of implicit dramatic situations and conceits are what make the runes vital. Three runes that show how a strong conceit can make a text memorable are 21, where the muse is a “man of hues” hanging in the poet’s “bosom shop”; 26, where the auditor is a “babe in the dark” and the poet is his nurse; and 28, where the poet is trapped like a pregnant animal in the “lair” of his art.

          Set II has much else that is memorable: e.g., The poet’s struggle for conceits in 15; the theatrical imagery (always suggesting The Globe) in 17; and Will as “best painter” in 18 and 19. The imagined situation closing 20—where the poet envisions himself meeting the “friend” at last and being effectively dismissed, after all his efforts, with a polite handshake—evokes genuine pathos, especially after we know about the excruciating, self-isolating work he has undertaken.

          Three runes in Set II seem heavily influenced by familiarly problematic lines—all from Sonnet 20, “A Woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted”—where the first-line pun on “Onan” is just as much at work in the Sonnet 20 as in Rune 15! Offshoots of this Sonnet are Runes 16, 21, and 27, where we hear anew the famous address to “the Master Mistress of my passion” (Rune 16.6); the problematic line A man in hew all Hews in his controwling (Q Rune 21.6); and the suggestively bawdy comment “…she [Time] prickt thee out for women’s pleasure” (Rune 27.6)

          As in Set I, Runes 15-28 often call into question the “reality” of the auditor by hinting that the “increase” the poet speaks of may be that of his own poetry—with the implication that the “fairest creature” he addresses may be his own cycle or Beauty itself. Set II keeps this conundrum active by variously making us think the poet is talking to Sue and/or John Hall, to Anne, to Southampton, to the texts themselves, to Beauty, to himself, or to his own “dark ms.”

          On the leaf, Set II houses the first of several lines in Q that are long enough to require parenthetical “doubling back” to make them fit the margins of the small-format page in the 1609 book. The couplet at Sonnet 28.13-14, punning “…draw my furrows longer” (28.13) and “…make grief’s length seem stronger” (28.14) invites us to start looking for such “long-line wit.” Except for contiguous “WS” strings (Sonnets 17/21, 17/18) and “WH” strings (Sonnets 27/28), acrostic alignments of the bold, oversized letters on the leaf do not particularly strike the eye. The vertical code WDA B A M VVS LH SML suggests “Witty be aye m’ W.S. lay [poem] small.” The reverse letterstring SVVMA BAD suggests “Swami Bad.”

             

Click on a link below to see the text in paste-up, edited, and paraphrased forms, with sample puns and acrostic wit.
Rune 15
Rune 16
Rune 17
Rune 18
Rune 19
Rune 20
Rune 21
Rune 22
Rune 23
Rune 24
Rune 25
Rune 26
Rune 27
Rune 28
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