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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 VII, Runes 85-98: Texts and Comments
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 88
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Rune 87
Third lines, Sonnets 85-98 (Set VII)

                          Rune 87

      (Third lines, Set VII: Sonnets 85-98)

     Reserve their character with golden quill.
     That did my ripe thoughts in my brain inhearse.
     The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing;
 4  Upon thy side, against myself, I’ll fight:
     Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt.
     Join with the spite of fortune, make me bow,
     Some in their garments, though new-fangled. Ill,
 8  And life no longer, then thy love will stay.
     May still seem low to me (though altered new)
     Who moving others are themselves as stone:
     Doth spot the beauty of thy budding name
12 Both grace and faults, are loved of more and less.
     What freezings have I felt, what dark day’s seen,
     Hath put a spirit of youth in everything.
1) their = my...thoughts’... (see 2); Reserve their character puns “Reserve th’ r character...,” alluding to the “missing r” in cha ter (3) as the word appears in most extant copies of Q; 2) inhearse = repeat internally, bury; 3) Q cha ter puns on “chatter” (see 1); 5) lameness suggests bad (metrical) feet; halt = stop, limp; 7) Some = some of my thoughts (see 1-2); 8) And puns on Anne; will stay puns on “Will S. t’ eye” (see 5, etc.); 9) low to me (Q loue...) puns on “low tome”; 12) more and less puns “Moor and lass,” suggesting Othello and Desdemona; 13) day’s seen = day has seen (pun: dais [i.e., stage] scene); 14) Hath put a spirit puns “Hath. puta spurt,” “ pirate,” “...aspired,” etc., with a spirit a nameplay on “I, ...speare,” “a ‘...speare’ eyed”; Hath pu... puns on “Hath-th [= p = archaic thorn, th]-V,” i.e., Hathaway, linked with the pun “A. ...speare,” suggesting Anne Shakespeare.

     87. Chatter of Thy Worth

     Hold back your thoughts and don’t set them down until they find ideal forms of expression—
     that notion has formerly kept pregnant ideas buried in my brain.
     The prerogative of your virtues sets you free from such a restrictive approach;
  4 I’ll fight on your side, against myself:
     Mention my “limping feet” and I’ll demonstrate (or smooth them out, or stop writing).
     Joining with spiteful fortune in trying to bring me to my knees—like a lowly person bowing to uppity people at court—
     are some of my own ideas clothed in peacock raiment, gaudily updated. Sick
  8 or dead, I expect your love will still remain to support me.
     Those may still appear beneath respect to me (like upstarts and new arrivals)
     who move others to abject gestures but themselves stand haughty and aloof.
     The beauty of your budding name is, I admit, spotted
12 with grace and faults, which people of all social levels are attracted to.
     But the snubs I’ve felt, the writer’s block, the very worst stagings at The Globe—all that I’ve experienced during my darkest day
     has only made me more punning and playful.


        Sonnets editor Stephen Booth remarks that “something more [than phallic innuendo] appears to be operating” in Sonnet 85 and that “the regularity with which pens appear in…obscure contexts suggests…some lost pun….” The missing “r” in “Cha[r]ter”—in “five…surviving copies”—draws Booth’s conclusion: “obviously a misprint for Charter in the other eight.”

         Finding the Runes helps rationalize some previously obscure wit in Will’s overt cycle. The convergence here in Rune 87 does just that.

        Here line 1 puns, “Reserve th’ ‘r’ character with golden quill,” and the “r” is indeed “held back” two lines later, where the pun “…Cha ter…gives the ‘r’ leave….” occurs. Cha ter puns on “chatter,” idle talk, while “golden quill” (1) suggests “ideal pen”—whose letters lack materiality. (The saw “silence is golden” is a likely instigator here.) “Charter,” meanwhile, echoes “Character” in 1. Overall, the play shows authorization of a minimal detail that Thomas Thorpe—Will’s known printing agent, the man who signed Q’s cryptic dedication—was to execute. Reinforcing puns include “A pun, this idea” (4) and “low Will-sty may still seem low tome, though alter’d…” (8-9). Will’s childish joke illustrates “a spirit of youth” (14) and contrasts with “ideal reserve.” “Budding” (11) links with “spirit of youth” (14).

         More generally, the rune rationalizes necessity; puts the best face on the muse’s behavior and flatters (while criticizing) him; and denigrates the poet’s own verse.

        References to writing occur overtly (1-2) and in such puns as “re-leafing” (3)—rewriting, reprinting, and applying gold leaf—and “my lameness” (5), a reference to bad metrical feet (OED 1600).

         The motif of theatrical performance is implicit in “character” (1, punning “see here actor”); “inhearse” (1); “speak” (5) and the idea of awkward movement; “make me bow” (6); “…themselves as stone” (10, suggesting “wooden” acting); “thy budding name” (11, sluggesting “rising star”); and “dais (day’s; Dis = hellish) scene” (13)—maybe pointing to Othello because it follows the pun “loved oaf [i.e., groundling] Moor and lass” (12). A costuming motif includes “garments…” (7), “bow[-ribbon]” (6), “no longer,” “stay” (8), “seam,” “altered” (9), “spot,” “grays and faults [seams],” “heavy felt,” “dark” (11-13), and maybe the pun lamé (5, from L).

         Wit about weddings may include the idea of “choosing sides” in the church: “Upon thy side, against myself I’ll sit” (4). The phallic “quill” (1) that Booth notes has its counterpart in “Hath. puta, aye ‘spired’” (14). “Hath. put a spear-head of youth in every thing” is Anne-berating bawdry.

         Other puns include “Reserve theories here as to our wit” (1); “Hat. did me rape, th’ haughty sin, maybe our Annie nears” (2); “hated idiom here eye, petty, haughty sign (sin) may be a rune” (2); “Upon this hide [i.e., parchment], again Shakespeare [= ft, the name cipher, an s “‘shaking’ a spear-like t], ms.-elf ill, sight” (4); “Speak of m’ leman S., Anne; die, Straight Will” (5); “vagina is angled ill” (7); “thou genie W.S. eye in glade, ill and alive no longer” (7-8); “God here soured hymn (...soured himself, says Shakespeare[= st] wan)”(10); and “...eye knave writhing” (14).

         The string S…/I…/S…/A…/May… (5-9) suggests “Sesam[e],” pointing to the seedlike colons [:] ending lines 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 14; thus signalled, this “coloned” string—“…releasing: …halt: …ill: …new: …lesse: …thing:”—may encode phallic bawdry, with the “seedy” colon a suggestive pictograph. One reading of this hidden minicode is, “Releasing, [Dr.] Hall, till [i.e., ‘plow’] new lass th’ inch.” The arcane play “Open, Sesame” dates from 1785 (OED). Dr. John Hall was Will’s son-in-law, a Stratford physician whom much of the wit in Q (including the prefatory dedication to Mr. W [=IN]. H.all...) seems to point toward.

Sample Puns

          1) Reserve theories here as to our wit; ass tirrit; jewel den, queue ill; Revered Harry, see here, satyr with golden quill; witty Jew, leaden ink ill; high, reach Harry’s turd; harass; quail [prostitute]
          1-2) iniquity [l=i]; th’ jeweled Anne, queue aye led; quilted, aye demure, I peed; Harry…with golden-quilled hat, dyed, mirror
          2) Hat did me rape, th’ haughty sin, maybe our Annie nears
          2) hated idiom here eye, petty, haughty sign (sin); enemy Berowne inhearse; John, Hera (Hero, Eros) see
          2-3) Neighing Harry, see, the chatter oft you hoard (heard); see this hatter’s thigh; inhearsed, “hacked” Eros t’ you oared
          3) This “Hatteras” to you earth gives t’ hear; re-leafing
          3-4) Jew Pontius eyed again; Jew benights eye
          4) A pun; Upon thy side, aging (itching) Shakespeare [ft], myself; Upon this hide, again Shakespeare, ms.-elf ill, sight; Shakespeare missal’s ill sight; Upon thy feet [cf. lameness (5)]
          4-5) eye deacon’s fit, missal see; eye Dagon’s Tommy, cell feel, sigh,’tis pee
          5) pique o’ simile (Semele) eye; my lay, mincing (menacing), dies; mélee; an ass, eying Dis (Deus), tried Will; Speak of m’ leman S., Anne; eye Straight Will
          5-6) Hall, twin you eyed; I jet, will Hall t’ join this
          6) th’ ass pity, oaf sore (…begat oaf); June; bough; bow
          6-7) you name “Ache” my bosom; you name a key, amoeba so mean t’ Harry; ache my boys [bois, hautbois], Omen t’ jeer (Amen’d Harry); my boy saw Mentor (Minotaur), germane t’ Southy; German
          7) thou genie W.S. eye in glade; regiment is to hone you; So men tarry, jar, men tease th’ O
          7-8) single, Dillon delays no longer; vagina is angled ill, Anne deals an “O” longer than thy love will stay; thin; Anne…low Will Shakespeare eye
          8) handle I see no longer; “handle” I see in “O”—longer, thin—till [i.e., plow] “O” (you will fit aye)
          8-9) gardened hill of Will is Tommy’s till; ill, oval is Tommy’s till
          9) May stills a mellow tome, th’ O huge, altered new; ill female of Tommy’d huge awl tear; thou Hall turd knew
          9-10) you home of John got here
        10) hearse-art hymns elves’ asses’ tone; God here soured hymn
        11) th’ spotty bawdy o’ hymn hie; Tybalt, dying, name; thy budding name suggests “Wriothesley” [pron. Rose-ley]
        12) Moor and lass [suggesting Othello, Desdemona]; the gray scene defaults, airy, low; Ariel; Ovid owes m’ “O” roundelays
        12-13) owe Randall’s ass. What ass?
        13) W.H., adder, Kyd eyes; Kyd eyes F., Nate, puta’s pirate; What of reason? Joseph aye felt W.H. at dark; Isolde, weighty ark, dais seen; W [a pudendal pictograph] Hat.-freezings have I felt (heavy as hell, too)
        14) Hath puta, a “spired ‘O’”; Hath puta is pirate of youth and every thing; …John, you’re writhing (rioting)! tough pirate’s you, thin your writing; in Eve riding; eye knave wry t’ hang; eye knave writhing

Acrostic Wit

          The downward acrostic codelines—R TT VSIS A MW DBWH—suggests such readings as these: “Heart uses a mute boy,” “Our T.T. vs. a mute boy,” “Hard (Red), you seized a mewed boy,” “Arts easy (Our tedious eyes) mewed boy,” “Rites I say, am wed boy (bois = wood = crazy),” “Art you seize, a mewed bow,” “Read you ‘Sis,’ ‘Ham,’ wood [i.e., crazy] be W.H.,” “Hard [phallic] you seize, a mute boy,” and “Rites I say, am wed boy (bois = wood = crazy).”

          Numeric readings include this sample: “Arty, V is aye 5:00 A.M. Attend [W = VV = phonic ten] date [B=8], W.H.” The opening code elements RTT also suggest “Hard...” and “Err, T.T.....”

          The reverse (upward) codeHW BD WM ASIS V TT R—suggests, e.g., “You bid Wm. assist you, T.T., err,” “You bid Wm. aye seize udder,” “You bed Wm., a sister,” and “H.W., bed Wm., as a suitor.”

          One hairpin (i.e., the down/up) acrostic letterstring encodes, e.g., “Ere [i.e., Before] T.T. uses a moody boy, you bid Wm. assist you, T.T., e’er [i.e., always],” with plays on “...err.” Enticing terms adumbrated in the acrostic codeline include début, Swede, sweeter, sister, sweeter, and assister. “W.H.” and “H.W.” always suggest Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton, Will’s only known patron, while T.T. is shorthand for Thomas Thorpe, Will’s printing agent.

Proceed to Rune 88
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