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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 92
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Rune 91
Seventh lines, Sonnets 85-98 (Set VII)

                         Rune 91

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

     To every hymn that able spirit affords
     No, neither he, nor his compeers by night,
     The cause of this. Fair gift in me is wanting,
 4  Of faults concealed, wherein I am attainted
     As I’ll myself disgrace. Knowing thy Will,
     Give not a windy night a rainy morrow.
     But these particulars are not my measure;
 8  I see a better state to me belongs
     In many’s looks. The false hearts’ history—
     They are the lords and owners of their faces—
     Cannot dispraise but in a kind of praise.
12 So are those errors that in thee are seen.
     Bearing the wanton burthen of the prime
     Could make me any summer’s story tell.
     Glosses: 1) To every hymn that... (Q Himne t...) puns “To eerie [i.e., timid] Hamnet...,” the poet’s dead son; spirit = the poet’s muse, with a namepun on “...speare”; 2) he, nor his puns on “Henry’s” (suggesting Southampton); 3) cause of = reason for; wanting (v. or sb.) = lack, desire; 6) night puns on knight (see 2); 7) these particulars may point to the buried namepuns in 4-6; measure puns on meter, verse; 8) state may be prescient as a printing term (OED 1874); to me puns on tome; 10) They = False hearts (see 9); 12) errors echoes faults in 4; 13) burthen (i.e., burden, bass line) and prime (refrain, theme) are musical terms; 13 (the line number) is a prime number; 14) Could puns on Cold; summer (i.e., one who adds) suggests “adder,” a “number’s man” or metricist; tell suggests tally, add up.

     91. A Summer’s Song

     To every song I sing, that gifted unnamed spirit offers
     neither his own presence nor that of his peers—his evening companions—
     the inspiration for and intended audience of this lyric. A handsome talent is something I lack
  4 because unknown deficiencies and unrecognized faults taint me,
     and so I’ll (“I, Will”—here in somewhat faulty forms) disgrace myself. Knowing your poet,
     you shouldn’t respond gloomily to all this bluster.
     In itself, the mere trivia I’ve set down above is not even a good sample of my skill at verse;
  8 better times and texts are coming for me, a prospect that I see
     many people assenting to. The narratives of false-hearted people—
     who best control the faces they put on—
     always give a kind of praise even in censure.
12 Your faults (including your absence) and these error-ridden reflections of you are like that.
     Bearing the burden of your youthful wantonness
     could make this minstrel sing almost any old lay about summer.


          One hacks through thickets of ambivalent syntax and bawdy puns toward reaching a clearing where, as I read it, this situation comes into view in Rune 91: The poet is a minstrel singer whose “nightly” songs aim at pleasing his friend, but this friend is tied up with “wanton” companions and doesn’t show up to listen. With no audience or “inspiration,” Will rationalizes and keeps on singing.

           Although the poet’s self-deprecation is familiar to readers of the visible Sonnets and may be purely conventional, the situation here does describe Will’s personal reality—a minstrel with no audience, “singing” in the dark world of the hidden Runes. Knowing of Q’s runic game, with its inevitable imperfections, also helps us understand terms like “burden” (13) and “attainted” (4).

           A calculated pattern of references to singing and storytelling include “every hymn” (1); “measure” (7); “bearing the…burthen” and “prime” (13), both musical terms; and “any summer’s story” (14). (Punningly, summer = adder = “numbers man” = metricist.)

          Standing in apposition to “lays” are these references: “this fair gift (jest, gust) in me” (3); “faults concealed” (4); “a windy night” (6); “these particulars” (7); “a better (bitter) state” (8); “heart’s (art’s) history” (9); “those errors” (12); and “story tale (tail)” (14, suggesting “coda”). The question “Can knot [i.e., a riddle, a knotty text] dispraise, but in a kind of praise?” (11) gets “answered” with a pun that both “praises” and “dispraises”: “Sore.../Soar [= Rise aloft...] those errors that in thee are seen” (12).

           The rune sketches the unnamed friend and muse—“that able spirit” (1)—as a dissolute courtier (see 2) whose indifference drives his minstrel poet toward indiscriminate materials. The pun “knight” (2, 6) joins with “come-peers” (2) and “lords” (10) to depict the friend as noble—with “a… state” (see 8). The pun “They are the Lords, and downy or soft [down arse oft] their faces” (10) is playfully demeaning. Will’s only known patron, Southampton, seems a likely auditor. The sea-language may also be aimed at Southy, who had a naval background. Nautical puns include those on “gust,” “piers,” “isle,” “windy,” “rainy,” “sea,” “oar,” and “knot.” Implicit associations among pirates, sailors, earrings, and homosexuality energize the play “To every ‘him’ netted, a bliss pirate affords (...ablest pirate’s sword’s / In ‘O’…)” (1-2). “T’ Harry, the Lord S., I endow an arse...” (10) may also pun on Southampton, Henry Wriothesley.

           The puns “Sore those ears that I inter, seen be earring...” (12-13), “hair-fine be earring” (12-13) and “be earring gold (...cold, old)” (initial words in 13-14) remind us that the Chandos portrait of Will, the one reproduced on this page (above right), shows a small, gold earring in his left ear. “Ears”—e.g., in the pun “ears are not my measure” (7)—was a sexually suggestive term in Will’s day, while punning on “arse” and “airs.”

           Other innuendoes (e.g., in 2, 10) may allude to the School of Night, a London cabal that scholars often mention as possibly relevant to obscure hints in Love’s Labor’s Lost. This coterie was rumored to include Sir Walter Raleigh, also (of course) a sailor. “The cough oft I suffer, just enemy, aye Swan tinges all...” (pun, 3-4) may allude to the Swan Theatre and/or to coughing theatre audiences.

           Puns on “Hamnet” (1) and on the name “Meres, F.” (14) are also intriguing. In Palladis Tamia: Wits Treasury (1598), Francis Meres published a full appreciative reference to Shakespeare. One pun in line 14 of Rune 91 is “Cold make [i.e., ‘mate’ in Renaissance parlance], m’ Annie S. You, Meres., F., too, riddle (...stow wry tale).” A pun on “eerie Hamnet” occurs in 1 (code: ...euery Himne t...); another on Hamlet or Hamnet lurks in the letterstring I am at (4). (Hamnet, Will’s only son, died in 1596.)

          Other variants of puns about Will’s wife, Anne, include “In m’ Annie S.’ look is the false heart’s history (...Southy falls hard...)” (9) and “Cold make [mate], m’ Annie S., ye may restore, wide, too [= ll = II]” (14). The last pun (like many others in Q) suggests that Anne—once the mother of twins—was fat.

Sample Puns

          1) To you, wry Hamnet, Hath-a-bull aspired; Towery Hamnet had able spirit of sorts; To you, rhyme innate I table, ass, peer, eye it, ass; T’ Hat-a-bull, S’speare’s sword
          1-2) ford snow, (k)night, here; nitre
          2) Know Nate (Nun ate), hurrying o’er his come; Nun, eat her, Henry’s come; compeers by night suggests the School of Night; eye scum, peers
          2-3) in Horace’s empire is bane, I jet this; see empires benight the cause of this; Henry’s come, peers, benighteth his office; I supinate this
          3) cough; sour jest enemies (enemas) wan tinge; airy jest
          3-4) enemy, eye Swan, tinges false, concealed; in Jove, false counsel; false cunt’s healed
          4) faults conceal dewy Runnymede t’ Anne; false council,…Runnymede to end; salts [medical, nautical]; fit aye names W., Anne, t’ John [in]
          4-5) rune I made ended asylum; dead asylum, yes, hell, see; daisy limb ye see
          5) my cell see, Dis gray see; see no wing t’ hell; Ass ill, Asylum y’self disgrace; Grace know I in Judy, [signed] Will
          5-6) in jet y’ will, Juno to win, Diana get; will June ode a windy knight arraign?
          6) Give not Owen [Glendower? overlaid on “windy”] Diana; “Jew” note; Erin eye, m’ horror (error)
          6-7) nigh Tehran, eye more O-beauties, particulars: Iran-ode mime, azure (my measure)
          6-8) a rune eye, my horror, beauties particulars, airy knot, my measure icy, a bitter state, tome be long
          7) see you Lear’s Orion, autumn; icy you leer, Syrian ode mime
          7-8) Aryan ode may monsieur aye see; Aryan odd, my monsieur icy (...I see; he); measure I fee: a better state [printed ms.] to me belong; a furious Hebe et her ass; measure Isaiah better, his tete to me be long
          8-9) a better fed atomy (...bitter, fit) belongs in my Annie’s loo
          9) Enemy nasal OO [= see]; In m’ Annie S.’ look is the false heart’s history; kiss this ulcer, ’tis history; many Salukis th’ evil see
       10) T’ Harry, the Lord S.; They are the Lord Sundowners [cf. line 2], oft Harry’s asses; T’ harried hell or Dis Anne, down, errs oft
       10-11) sundown errs oft here, faces sea; seize Canada, deaf peers
       11) See aye knotty I’s pierce butt-end, a kind of praise (pee-raise, pee-race); I see abut Inca, India—surprise!
       11-12) if Paris be you, tiny kin deaf Paris is; Pharisees’ whore thou fear; See aye naughty eyes pierce beauty and—aching, deaf—praise his O-art; a kin deaf praises Howard, whose errors they’d eye (they dye) naughty; deaf peer, eye Caesar thou fear
       12-13) rot stayed in thee, arising, burying thee; Sore thou Pharaohs thought, in theory Annie baring the wand; Sorties arose, that India ravine baring
       13) prime [mathematical, musical] peer, eye me; Enos the peer eye
       13-14) know, Southy, Pyramus old; to neighbor, then, owes the peer a maze; eye mickle dim ache; neighbor in jetty wan, to neighbor thin
       14) Cold ma[t]e, m’ Annie S., you immerse [i.e., baptize in the Protestant manner], saved whore, why t’ Hell? Annie S., immer saved whore, get hell; m’ Annie’s homme, arse fit to riddle; ache m’ Annie S. immerses; Cold May came, Aeneas you may restore; “Called” (Cold), mecum Annie is humorous, fit, whorey tail

Acrostic Wit

          The lefthand acrostic code—TN TO AG B II T C S BC—suggests, e.g., “Ten to a gibbet [gallows] see, site [B=8] see (...sight 100 [=C])”; “Tint o’ Egypt seize, B.C.”; “Ten dodge bait, seize ‘B.C.’”; and “Ten took bitty seas by sea.” Other readings include these: “Ten dodge bitey seas busy,” “Tend t’ H., Betty, Sue’s busy,” “Ten dodge Betty, seize Bess,” “102—age (be 2 t’ 100) is B.C.,” “Tint o’ agate [B=8] eye aye; tease is busy,”and “102 Age bitty see, sub-sea.”

           The codestring II T C S BC may read “T.T. [i.e., two-T], see, is busy”and “...T.T. [i.e., two-T] sees B.C.” The joke suggests that Thomas Thorpe, Will’s printing agent, is reactionary in his focus. A full reading along these lines is this: “T.T. [i.e., T & T] o[f] Age 8: T.T. sees B.C.” Here the idea might be that Thorpe is puerile or that he lives ca. 8 B.C. (One remembers that Thorpe, working on the Q project, would have uniquely cultivated a player’s minimal focus, looking at individual letters as alphabetic characters fraught with implicit possibilities.)

           The upward (reverse) codeline—C BS CTII B GAOT NT—suggests such readings as these: “See B.S. See ‘To be,’ gaity end”; “Site’s City, I be Gate in it [a mild sacrilege]”; “See B.C., city ape, God, New Testament”; and “See busy type gaity [gaudy, goat, Judy] end.” Variant readings include “See busy City, I be Gate innate,” “See busy seat [housesite, butt] I eye be gay. Ode end,” “See Bessy taught [II= TWO], gaity end,” and “See busy City aye eyed: God (...goat), New Testament.....”

           (The anachronisms CBS and TNT show the runes’ ongoing inventiveness—and how a gameplayer cooperates with the strings to help generate “decoded” wit.) The inherent play in the letterstring GAOT on “goat” would certainly have been apparent to Will as a parallel to the “sacrilegous” reversal of GOD to DOG.

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