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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 46
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Rune 45
Third lines, Set IV (Sonnets 43-56)

                          Rune 45

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

     But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee;
     For then, despite of space, I would be brought
     Thee. First (my thought), the other (my desire)—
 4  Mine eye, my heart their pictures—sight would bar
     When that mine eye is famished for a look
     That to my use it might unusèd stay
     Whenas thy love hath cast his utmost sum.
 8  Doth teach that ease and that repose to say,
     “From where thou art, why should I haste me thence,
     The which he will not ev’ry hour survey
     Since everyone hath, every one, one shade?”
12 The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem;
     But you shall shine more bright in these contents
     Which but today by feeding is allayed.
1) But = Except, Only; they puns “th’ eye” while vaguely suggesting “other people” and pointing to thought and desire—parallels in 3-4 to eye and heart; 2) brought encodes a pun on “burrowed” and on B-row (in the 2nd row, i.e., Row B); 5) famished helps explain feeding in 14; 7) Whenas = When; 11) shade (ambig.) = complexion, shadow, bosom companion; 14) by feeding is allayed puns “...beef eating, eye salad,” where “salad,” meaning “something mixed” (OED 1601), suggests these contents (see 13)—i.e., the Q texts, and especially the Runes.     

     45. Famine and Feast

     When I sleep (and while unknown people actually have you in their sights), my thought and desire focus in a singular way on you in my dreams,
     for then, in spite of the distance between us, I want to be
     where you are. These same two faculties of mine—my thought and desire,
  4 of which my eyesight and heart are concrete emblems—conspire daily to keep you out of my sight
     when my eye is famished for a real look at you in the flesh
     so that the idealized image of you that I have stored in my mind might stay fresh,
     the image that grew when your love was at its zenith—casting its longest shadow on the sundial, giving the most it ever gave.
  8 Reverie, then, including nightime sleep, brings me to pose a rhetorical question to myself:
     “Why should I leave where I am and hurry toward you?
     If I were there, you would not stay hourly preoccupied with me—like some sundial whose fixed shadow counts off every hour mark—
     because a person has only one shadow, which goes with him and falls on a succession of companions in his circle—and never on just one man.”
12 A rose looks beautiful, but in the imagination it becomes even more so.
     Likewise, you and only you shall live in the substantive satisfactions of such a vision as this one,
     which is no longer famished, having been fed to the point of contentment, at least for now.


          Here, in another knotty poem with lost biographical meanings, Will thinks of his handsome muse and wishes for him but decides finally to accept the fixed idea of the friend in lieu of the reality. The ocular motif, strong in Set IV, dominates the phrasing, which contrasts real sight with the “vision” of dreams and the imagination.

          Like all the Runes, the text is gamy. Modern readers may find its strained plays on “eyes”—of sorts conventional in Renaissance verse—tedious. As the critic Dr. Samuel Johnson long ago observed, Shakespeare’s compulsive love of puns can take over in distracting ways.

          In Q’s coterie texts—and often in public verse of Shakespeare’s day—some puns are inescapably bawdy: “Eye” had various sexually suggestive figurative senses, as did “Rose” (3). The automatic pun on “I” delineated a suggestive pictograph, contrasted with “O,” also laden with innuendo. Paradoxically, then, an “eye” could be either round or (as “I”) elongated. The fact is that every “I” in the Q lines can be a pun on “eye.” The “I/eye” play in line 2 is typical. In line 9, Q’s typesetter (at Will’s instigation, I think) even represents “I” as “!” Phonic confusion with “aye” (and its multiple meanings) overlaid the “I/eye” puns. The last word of the text, “alaied,” and all the lines here that end in “…ay” (6, 8, 10) play on “i” and may encode more “‘i’ wit.”

          More generally, the sexual wit intertwines with the diction in complex ways. For example, the text sets up a snarled conceit in which “heart” (4) functions as an antagonist, so that 6 might mean, “My heart wants to keep my eye unpreoccupied….” Automatic “heart/art” and “hard/ ‘I’” puns add other overlays. Will teases with wit about self-release or a nocturnal emission aroused by thoughts of the friend. Both the figure of love “casting his utmost sum” followed by “ease and [‘easy hand’]… repose” (7-8) and the eyepun in “feeding” (14) on “seeding” (which curbs appetite) are bawdy. Even the initial “sleeping ‘I’” (l) is suggestive. “Everyone [punning “every wand”] hath…one shade” (11) may mean that “all” are “bright” (red?). “Awl is read” is a latent suggestion. “Eyes” and other “doublets” (cf. 3, 8) may suggest testicles, as may the pictographic OO’s in the pun “Their O, ass, awl, OO kiss, S., Harry [Sire]” (12).

           “Cast his utmost sum” (7)—the poem’s most complex phallicism—suggests gambling; adumbrates a pointer on a sundial; and links with “brought” (the poet wants the visage “brought,” but instead it is “cast” or “thrown”) and with terms about counting (2-3). Since the poet is a “summer” playing a numbers game, the phrase implies a high state of inspiration. Concurrently, “Cast(e)” means “put into hardened form” and “separation by social rank.” Q’s summe puns on “fume,” adumbrating a vaporous apparition or bad smell. And a joke in “soot-most” ties the figure (here “black”) to imagery of color and “shade.”

           The routine pun on “whore”(10) helps to sketch the friend as having licentious colleagues cut of “one shade” of cloth. Lines 11-13 joke that the friend may have no special beauty at all. Puns about runic embedding include “Rose” (cf. rows/ruse/Wriothesley) and “these contents” (13, cf. “cunt-ends”). “Contents / Which” (13-14) puns “content switch.”

            Biographical potentials lurk in “Rose” (12) because that metaphor puns on the family name of Will’s patron the Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley—pronounced, roughly, “Rosely” or “Rizzley.” In the pun “But you, S. Hall, shine more bright in these contents” (13), “S. Hall” may be Will’s daughter Susanna Hall. Everywhere in Q, “mine eye” (4, 5) puns on “M’ Annie.” Q’s letterstring “one,hath euery” (11) also puns on “Anne Hathaway.”

           Besides meanings of words, ambiguities that make the text riddle-like include odd sentence structures, vague pronouns, and shifts in number. The opening line can mean either “Except when I sleep…” or “Only when I sleep….” “They” (1) puns on “th’ eye,” while vaguely suggesting “other people” and pointing forward to the nouns“thought” and “desire”—parallels to “eye” and “heart” (3-4). “Whenas” (7) means “When,” while “shade” (11) may mean complexion, shadow, or bosom companion. “Famished” (5) helps explain the metaphor “feeding” (14).

           A pun on “B-row” occurs in line 2—i.e., “Row B”—where Q’s brought may encode “B-row jet [i.e., ‘…inky black’].” Lines 10-11 apply playfully to the Q texts, in a system where each sonnet has one “shadow,” a hidden runic counterpart. Line 14 concludes with the pun “…beef eating, eye salad,” in which “salad,” meaning “something mixed” (OED 1601), refers partly to “these contents” (13)—to the Q text and, especially, the Runes.

           The sestet seems a skeptical evaluation of Will’s current project: He “hastes” toward a friend (9) who may spend little time with his efforts (10). Even the singular/plural “problem” in 13-14 reminds us of the parallel ambiguity in Q itself. Lines 10-11 suggest that each sonnet has one shadowy runic counterpart.

Sample Puns

           1) Bawdy whinnies leaping; peeing drams; end-reams; th’ eye look; flea-pee; pee, endear a misty, low cunt
           1-2) cunt, heifer t’ Hen; loo, cunt, Farting, Dis pity us; fops [v.?]
           2) aye wood [crazy] be B-Row jet [black]; oaf be a child, baby rowdy; S. bejeweled baby wrought
           2-3) see Jew old be buried, thief
           3) heifer, (Aver) Shakespeare [st] myth, ought heat hermit’s ire; you jet heater, ’mid fire; huge titty-hater, mighty sire
           4) M’ Annie mired th’ air, pissed; Mine “I,” my hard; M’ Annie, my hearty Harry pissed t’ your ass, sight wood [crazy]
           4-5) …f--ked would be Harry, W., Hen.; Mine eye my hardy heir pictures, sight would be a rune; wood be Aaron
           5) m’ Annie is famished for a loo; ami, ass, head for a loo
           5-6) Windy Hat., m’ Annie, is famoused for a low-key thought, to my wife it might unused stay
           6) vse verse, vice, wife, use; Hat-a-may, wife, eye Tommy, eye “jet” un-wifed, fit aye; Tommy, you fight my jet, you new fit [i.e., stanza] stay; Tommy, you sate Mega-ton Wife, ed.
           7-8) W.H. a nasty loo has caused, I sued, my host fumed
           8) Hat., Easy Anne, thought repose tough aye; fiend-daughter, puffed O’s eye
           8-9) R.I.P, O fetus, eye Pharaoh, merd, Howard, W.H., yes, Hall (laddie halved), meaty Hen. see
           9) Fair homme, W., Harry, thou art W. H., yes—Hall dies t’ me thence (Hall, diced meat, Hen. see); S. Hall, Lady H., aye is t’ me thence The Witch Hall
         10) The witch you’ll note: Eve roars
         10-11) Eve, wry whore, survey, Sin see, everyone; not every whore’s very sincere, John
         11-12) Eve rune hath Eve ruin, one’s hated (one faded, one fated); Hathaway wan wants heated arousal, O, O, kiss of Harry
         12) Th’ Row is L (hell) [i.e., Row 12—if the ABCs include both I and J]; They’re awful oaks fair, but fairer weed; but fairer witty M [cf. Row-M, line 13, next]; hymn; fairy; suffer; look; rebuts Harry rude dame, beauteous Hal
         12-13) Caesar, but fairer, witty he may be
         12-14) butt fairer, witty—maybe you’d used Hall’s hiney, Moor-bright in these cunt-ends, which butt today by seeding is allayed (… “I” sullied)
         13) Butt-Y, awful, fine, Moor, buried in these contents; Moor be writing the fecund ends
         13-14) see cunt-end, switch butt, O deep, Y-seat inches allayed
         14) “beef-eating” is a lie, Ed.; toady; today busy Ed.-inch aye Sally “I’d” (eyed, …aye sallied, …sullied)

Acrostic Wit

         The downward acrostic code—BFT M WT WD FTS TBW—suggests such readings as these: “Befit m’ wit, wood fits [crazy stanzas] debut,” “Be fit mewed…,” “Befit mood, wood fits t’ bow [play on a stringed instrument],” “Be fit moot, wood, if it’s t’ bow,” “Be fit moot, wood fits tup W,” and “Eight [B=8] fit, mute words disturb you [B=8, F=S].” Since there are only “6 mute words” here, cf. “Eight fit, mute words. Tee! St. [Saint = st] be W.” Cf. also “8 of Tom, wet wood, is t’ Shakespeare eaten [VV=10].” FT suggests “F---ed.” Cf. “Eight f---ed maid wood, f---ed ass tight: W [pictographic groin].”

        The upward (reverse) codeline—WBT ST F DWT WM TF B—may be interpreted, e.g., to read, “Weighty [F=8] Saint of Duty, Wm. tough be,” “Webbed is tough dew to hymn tough bee.”

        ST always encodes “saint” and is also a conventionalized form of the Shakespeare name cipher that (I’ve deduced) was part of Will’s lettergrame; as the digraph st (with “long s”) in particular, the s appears to be holding a dagger- or spear-like t, as if by the handle, and “shaking” it. Hence (I infer), st = ST = “shake-spear.” The confluence with “saint” must have been a coincidence that Will enjoyed. Because lower-case f and “long s” look alike, the convention probably applied that F = S in Q’s acrostic game.

Proceed to Rune 46
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