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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 IV, Runes 43-56: Texts and Comments 
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 44
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Rune 43
First lines, Set IV (Sonnets 43-56)

                         Rune 43

     (First lines, Set IV: Sonnets 43-56)

     When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see.
     If the dull substance of my flesh were thought,
     The other two—slight air and purging fire—
 4  Mine eye and heart, are at a mortal war:
     Betwixt mine eye and heart a league is took.
     How careful was I when I took my way;
     Against that time (if ever that time come)
 8  How heavy do I journey on the way.
     Thus can my love excuse the slow offence;
     So am I as the rich, who’s blessèd. Key,
     What is your substance? Whereof are you made?
12 Oh how much more doth beauty beauteous seem!
     Not marble nor the gilded monument,
     Sweet love, renew thy force. Be it not said.
     Glosses: 1) wink = cry, nap, ignore reality, tease; 2) flesh is a compound of earth and water; 3) The other two (amplifying 2) round out the four primal elements (earth, water, air, fire); 5) league = covenant, three-mile distance, with the pun “Betwixt...., a leg I stuck!”; 6) took my way = left you, left Stratford to come to London, started the Q cycle of Sonnets/Runes; 7) Against = Regarding, Looking toward (with Against punning, “A gay (Ache...,) Anne Shakespeare [st = the family name cipher] ”; 9) offence = stumbling, indignity; 10) Key puns on “Quay” (landing point); 11) substance echoes 2; 13) gilded puns on “guilded,” i.e., cabalistic.

  43. Be It Not Said (A Gilded Monument)

     I see things most clearly when I’m napping, playful, misty-eyed, or imaginative.
     If my listless body (all water and earth) ever becomes engaged in thought,
     that pair of “air and fire”—one given to flimsy illusions, the other one a raging passion—
  4 I mean my eye and heart, my perceptions and feelings—lock bodily in a fight to the death:
     The pact between these faculties falls apart, and the gap between them is wide.
     How cautious and full of affection I was when I first began this journey.
     Until I return to that point, if I ever do,
  8 how heavily I move along.
     Therefore my love can make allowances for my slow progress in this project, for all my stumblings, for the drawn-out indignities these poems inflict.
     Granted such forgiveness, even in my condition I’m well-off. Answer to the riddle, key for unlocking things, point where I might anchor and unload my burden—
     what are you made of?
12 Oh, how much more beautiful beauty seems at this distance from it! And how much more beautiful than I can express!
     Memorials of marble or gold, solid and beautiful structures,
     sweet love, do not recreate you in your panoply of strength. No one should say they do.


          The Set IV leaf shows how, while composing Q, Will could have penned Sonnets 43-56 on an oversized spread to create 14 visible sonnets and, concurrently, 14 hidden runes in each set. Interlocked like warp-and-woof, the sonnets “read down,” and the runes “read across.” In this layout, each of the 11 sets in the 154-sonnet cycle is a visual pun on the sonnet form itself, with the 4-4-4-2 set-up on the leaf mimicking 3 quatrains and a couplet.

          Reading across the top lines in Set IV generates Rune 43. (The other runes, 44-56, follow suit as 2nd-, 3rd-, and 4th-line groupings and so on—through 14.)

          Earlier themes persist here—the poet’s struggle, the inadequacy of his verse to capture the muse’s beauty—but the poem sounds a new beginning, too, with new quibbles about the poet’s faculties and their conflicting roles as well as a newly upbeat tone, prepared for by the two “couplet runes” in Set III.

          Rune 43 takes one thematic cue from visible Sonnets 43-47, which discuss “eyes” and thus “vision.” An on-going theme here, too, is Will’s losing struggle to catch his muse’s beauty. Interlocked metaphors suggest a pilgrimage, military expedition, and sea venture. Suggesting a trip are “careful,” “took my way” (6), “heavy...journey” (8), and “slow offense” (9)—where the image is of a stumbling walk (OED). Military phrasing includes “war” (4); “a league is took” (5); “offence” (9); and “force” (l4). Nautical terms include “league” (5) and puns on “sea” (1) and quay.” The opening pun “When most I win quay” (i.e., “...gain [the] harbor”) anticipates “key” in 10. “Quay” may also mean “to subdue” (OED), yielding “[overcome] / ...your substance” (10-11), which points back to “the...substance of my flesh” (2).

           Architectural details focus metaphorically on Q’s structure. “Quay” as “stone structure” (OED) links with the poem’s interest in building material (11), “marble” (l3), and “dull substance” (2), a foil to “gilded” (l3). The rune indirectly compares itself to “marble and gilded monuments” (13) while questioning the “substance” of such structures. (As Will constructs Q, the Sonnets are stable but the insubstantial Runes crumble.) Implicitly Will asks in 10-11 about suitable building materials for his artifice. Lines 1-2 are also about elemental materials. The military/architectural pun “this low ‘O’-fence” (9), i.e., “this ‘low’ fortification of Rounds [= Runes],” echoes Will’s famous “Wooden ‘O’” (Hen. V.13), describing a round Elizabethan theatre. (SVVON in the acrostic suggests the Swan theatre. See below)

           The pun “dual substance” (2) prepares for “the other two” (3) and points up such two-pronged topics as blindness and seeing, sleeping and waking (1), air and fire (3), eye and heart (4, 5), starting and returning (6-7), marble and gold (13), reality and art (13-14), and, of course, Sonnets and Runes.

           Since “flesh” puns on “slash,” line 2 may mean,“If only the world were conscious of the dual content of my deep division.” The “beauteous seam” in which “beauty [bawdy] does so much more [moor]” (12) also refers to Q’s doubly productive, duplicitous mine/harbor.

           A wild pun hides in line 5: “Betwixt mine eye and heart a leg I stuck!” Lines 10-11 may pun “Swami [Hindi], asterisk, whose blessed cue (queue) Hat. eyes.” (See below for other embedded puns.)

           The two lines (6, 8) that start with “How” and end with “way” (the second reading “How…the way”) embed plays on “Hathaway” that work in alliance with the initial emphatic string HAHT. Line 9 concurrently encodes the puns “vexes you, fetus” and “fetus laughing see,” while “the flow offense (offends)” suggests menstruation.

           The poem illustrates a confluence—fairly common in the Q texts—of puns on “guilds” and “oathers.” An oath-bound coterie audience would have been conscious of such plays about itself.

Sample Puns

          1) W., Hen., moist, I win—kitten, doe, m’ Annie S., beast see; moist “I” winked; domain; I inked “In Domini” aye, sub-fit see; When m’ “O” stinked; Hindu, my nice beast, see
          2) I fiddle if you, Bess, dance, some muffles you heard; Yule; Anne see, of my flesh, weird, haughty; sieve; showered; worthy “O,” you jet; fairy, thou jet; famous laugh you heard
          3) slight heir [suggesting Hamnet]; flightier Anne, pure gin [engine]; Th’ heat, hurt woeful I jet, a rune t’ purge John; here, too, sly tyrant purge I
          3-4) inches ire m’ Annie; eye our eminent (etc.) art
          4) M’ Annie, Anne here tear at a Moor; herder ate a Moor; harder at amour; aye mort Hall were; My Nine [muses] dear; Menander—t’ read—immortal were; My neighing, dirty rat a mortal were; M’ Annie and Herod are at…war; errata; erratum, whore t’ all; artery
          5) Bet wakes, m’ Annie endured; endeared; I “X” Timon aye; Betwixt mine eye and heart a leg I stuck; leggy stalk; a Jew is stuck [sacrilege]; dirty
          5-6) A Jew is t’ hook Hooker
          6) see our fool ways aye; W. H. (Hen.), I, too, came y’ way; vicar, fool, weigh (was) Sweeney, too
          6-7) my [Hatha]Way, a gay Anne Shakespeare [st]
          7) Time, severe t’ Hathamay [Q hat time] come; thyme; eye fevered Hatamay; I favored Hat.—eye me come; Tommy, Caesar t’ Hat., aye, may come; eye m’ camel; T.T., eye m’ come
          8) I earn 90; W.H., Eve eye, dour, nigh   
          8-10) eye Auntie-weigh, th’ huss, see Anne, my low excuse, see the “flow” often, see Sue, amazed
          9) my lux see          
          9-10) often see Swamis there
        10) Sue, amazed here I see you who’s plastic aye; Some aye eye Southy, rich W.H., oaf plastic; hose plastic; W.H., O see, blessed dick
        10-11) I choose Baal’s etiquette aye
        11) weighty sewer substance; If you be Shakespeare [st] and serious, are you mad? W.H. rough aye roamèd (…Rome aid)
        11-12) meadow, how mucky moor doth be; m’ Adam, you see him
        12) Homme, you see hemorrhoid of the beau to be odious, ass; Home you see, hymn oar [Homeric?]; mort, O, th’ Beau Tybalt eye
        12-13) Bawdy Jove’s semen; seaman; O, you see Amen! beauteous semen, aught, mar plan earthy; Not marble, Anne earthy [cf. acrostic wit, below]
        13) In autumn, a rebel know, wrath, Jew-led; Note m’ horrible North gelded; jewel; Jew, ill, dead; a demon you mint; you I led, Edmund
        14) Sweet lover new, this horse; Sue, eat lower, naughty (knotty) source; Sue, eat loaf, renew thy force, beet and (beaten) oats aid (ate); Betty; thy source, bitty knot, is aye hid; Swede, lower in you, Thos., our seepy “I”-tenant is aye hid; see Bede in ode fade

Acrostic Wit

          Because of Q’s system of oversized initial letters, each first-line text produces a double acrostic code. Here, the full codeline—WIT M B HAHT S VON S HFHIE O GOHOVHOH[H? wet?]—suggests “body/bawdy” (BHAHT), Hathaway (as HAHT..., intersecting “Hussy Anne, my love-ex, see...” in 9), “heavy” (HFHIE), and “Jehovah.” (Hints that Anne is fat and pious recur in Q.) The two lines (6, 8) that start with “How...” and end with “...[the] way” also suggest “Hathaway.” Line 8 puns “Ha... (heavy, doughy irony, Anne) ...thaway.” “Against...” (7) encodes “A gay Anne Shakespeare,” with Q’s st a name cipher showing the “long s” holding a spear-like t and figuratively, pictographically “shaking” it by the handle.

          The lefthand initials open with an emphatic WIT, and the visible acrostic WIT M B HAHT SWON S suggests “Wit, maybe had swans,” “Wit may bait Swan ass,” and so on. A play on The Swan (code SVON), a rival theatre, seems likely. Reading in reverse the string SNOW S THAH BM TIW seems almost to speak its scatological message but actually admits many possibilities. (“Snowy is thy B.M., too” and “Ass, nose thy B.M., too,” are two of these.)

          Full readings of this codeline include such possibilities as these: “Wit-hymn bodies Wounds [Zounds], is heavy o’ Jehovah [God],” “Why, Tom, be haughty? Is one so heavy o’ Go[d]?” “Wit may be Hath[away]’s, one ass, heavy o’ Jehovah,” “Wet may be Hat’s wan ass…,” “Wit-hymn bawdy swoons, heavy o’ God,” “Wit, hymn body swoon, Sophia o’ God,” and “Wit, m’ body’s wan [won], is heavy….” Forms of “Jove” occur, both down (GOHOV) and up (GOEIHF).

          One form of the full upward codelineHOH VOHOGOEI HFH S NOV S [=5]TH AH B M T I W—suggests a “dateline” pun, e.g., “How foggy, heavy is Nov. 5th, [16]08. Empty, eye W[ill?].” Such datelines in Q are numerous and insistently crafted as part of Will’s Runegame but are typically inconclusive. (M TIW here, e.g., suggests “1000, two” and “...7, 1, 5+5.”)

          Readings of this codeline include, e.g., “How foggy…,” “Heavy o’ hog….” “How (Ho!) vogue [a success] Eve is now, stay, help m’ two [e.g., children, sonnets and runes],” “Ho! Vague [foggy] heavy snow, stop m’ two,” “How vague, heavy is November, stop [play on pipes] hymn t’ you,” and “How vague office, NOV 5TH, 08, empty you.” (Cf. “…see me / In autumn, a rebel naughty [our plan earthy, jeweled],” pun in lines12-13.) The divided “VV” (11) manipulates the code; the string GO HOV HOH suggests “Jehovah” and encourages adding “…wet” to the code (from lines 14, 2nd vertical col., and 1-2, 3rd vertical col.) to create a strung-out “God.” The 2nd-position “w” in 14 is aberrationally lower-case. Such typographic details may be part of the game, effected with the cooperation of Will’s known printing agent, Thomas Thorpe.

Proceed to Rune 44
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