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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        

             

Click on a link below to see the text in paste-up, edited, and paraphrased forms, with sample puns and acrostic wit.
Rune 85
Rune 86
Rune 87
Rune 88
Rune 89
Rune 90
Rune 91
Rune 92
Rune 93
Rune 94
Rune 95
Rune 96
Rune 97
Rune 98

 
         Available here are Runes 85-98, 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 85 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 86 is the sequence of second lines in the 14 visible sonnets shown below, Rune 87 is the sequence of third lines, and so on through Rune 98.

           Clicking on a rune number in one of the boxes above (Runes 85-98) 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 VII (Sonnets 85-98): How Like a Winter

          Collectively, the lines of the 28 texts here establish a scenario not new in Q but with its own twists: The absence of the poet’s unnamed muse makes even springtime feel like winter (Sonnets 97, 98); the “tongue-tied” posture of the muse (Sonnet 85.1) leaves Will’s verse uninspired and gives other poets the chance to “write good words” about the friend (Sonnet 85.5) while Will searches for new conceits to do his subject justice—a process that the outcomes here show to be much more profitable than the poet himself usually implies, despite the damage that the duplicitous project does to individual texts. Will feels self-pity over the friend’s disregard—hyperbolized as “hate” (Sonnet 90.1)—but continues to admire the friend’s beauty, both criticizing and rationalizing the friend’s “youthful, wanton” behavior (cf. Rune 87, Sonnet 96.1).

          All in all, the set explores personal and artistic implications of Will’s self-abasing commitment to the project at hand, whose deep-hued “fruit” we are just now unpacking. As usual, materials here often allude sotto voce to the overlaid elements at work in Q: e.g., any “rival” writer here (cf., e.g., Sonnet 85.5, Rune 89.1-2) means in one sense Will himself, and his usual lament over “inarticulate,” unrespected verse has in mind the unread Runes we now belatedly broach. Many conceits gain unique meaning as analogues for the Runes themselves—e.g., the “deep hue” in the Rows or “canker” in the Rose (Rune 86.11, Sonnet 98.10); Will’s “strangled acquaintance” (Sonnet 89.8); the puzzling “after-loss” event (Rune 88.6, cf. Booth’s long comment); and the figurative “winter” that equates with the “real spring” of the friend’s absence (Sonnets 97.1, 98.1)

           One sure paradox in the set is that amid the complaints about ineffectual verse emerge striking conceits that prove the poet wrong (and deceptive) when he says his “mine” is exhausted (Rune 98.2). Rune 92 seems more honest, somewhat like the soliloquy of Prince Hal in 1 Henry IV 1.2.218ff. that shows us how the speaker is silently working to gain his eventual end. Through his own patient work, Will believes the poems and friend will endure (cf., e.g., Runes 86, 92).

           In various ways Will’s contrived conceits represent himself, his friend, their mutual situation, and/or the Sonnets/Runes project. Notable tropes include the vocal comic figures of the “unlettered cleric” (Rune 90) and “Words” the braggart soldier (Rune 96); the broadly suggestive images of a striking gem on “the finger of a thronèd queen” (Rune 89) and of “widow’s laps” that belatedly bear unlikely fruit (Rune 92.13-14); and vivid new employments of such stock conceits as Diana’s arrow (Rune 85), the poet as court minstrel (Rune 89), Eve’s apple (Rune 97), and a red rose,here rich with sinister suggestiveness (Rune 94.14). The line about Will’s “patented”—i.e., runic—method (Rune 92.3) now makes full sense to us. Some runes in the set, with their disparate figures, objectify the choppy incoherence that Will apologizes for (e.g., Runes 93, 98). Indeed it is true that the arduous mode of Q did cause all the poems in the project to suffer strains.

           The layers of irony in the Q project and the vagueness with which Will admits us into the facts of the “real” world that is the basis for his fiction—these elements leave us still asking many of the familiar questions about the absent friend, the “other” poet(s), and Will’s “real” feelings for and experience with the muse he addresses. Courtly implications, and hints that the friend is superficially occupied with shallow companions (cf., e.g., Sonnet 95, Rune 86.12), seem to “fit” Southampton in the 1590s better than other known candidates for the muse slot.

           A quick overview of the set shows no traditionally popular sonnet, though Sonnets 91 (“Some glory in their birth”) and 97 (“How like a winter hath my absence been”) are reasonably familiar. The interesting “error” whereby some copies of Q show Charter as Chatter (Sonnet 87.3) seems playfully functional in Will’s overall plan, given how “The ‘chatter’ of [the friend’s] worth gives [that person] re-leafing [i.e., new paginations]” in the Runes. The term “chatter” also helps tie the poet to the figure of Words, the talky soldier; for in the runic context the military conceit has the poet assert that he will “fight” against himself and on the muse’s side (cf. Rune 87.3-4).

           The spread grouping of the set makes clear the couplet-like effect of the thirteenth and fourteenth units in the group—sonnets 97-98, about winter and spring. The pessimistic close of the couplet lines of this “couplet” pair overlays the whole set in the same way that any couplet in any sonnet gives it its final tone color. My selection of a title for the set holds this fact in mind.

           The vertical acrostic code on the set page—MSS VVTTH F SH F VVBS—suggests such readings as “Mss. witty, evasive webs” and “Mss. witty, this sheaf W.- ‘B.S.’ [F=S].” The strings SVV (cf. Sue, WS reversed) and TT (cf. Thomas Thorpe) emerge in this codeline, along with BS, suggesting “Bess.” This string, of course, is visible only on the composite leaf and is not apparent in the acrostic of Rune 85, which proceeds numerically and horizontally.

             

Click on a link below to see the text in paste-up, edited, and paraphrased forms, with sample puns and acrostic wit.
Rune 85
Rune 86
Rune 87
Rune 88
Rune 89
Rune 90
Rune 91
Rune 92
Rune 93
Rune 94
Rune 95
Rune 96
Rune 97
Rune 98
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