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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 V, Runes 57-70: Texts and Comments 
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 67
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Rune 66
Tenth lines, Set V (Sonnets 57-70)

                         Rune 66
     (Tenth lines, Set V: Sonnets 57-70)

     Where you may be, or your affairs, suppose
     That you yourself may privilege your time
     To this composèd wonder of your frame—
And delves, the parallels in beauty’s brow!
     It is my love, that keeps mine eye awake,
     Beated and chopped with tanned antiquity,
     Against confounding age’s cruel knife
 8  Or state. Itself confounded to decay,
     Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid,
     And Folly (doctor-like controlling skill)
     Beggar’d of blood? Two blush through lively veins:
12 Without, all ornament, itself and true;
     And that in guess they measure by thy deeds,
     Either not assailed, or victor being charged.
     Glosses: 3) this...wonder... = this poem (with phallic innuendo); 4) delves (sb.) = furrows; brow puns on “burrow” (bawdy); 6) i.e., assailed by the poet’s ms.; 7) confounding = defeating, confusing; 8) state = condition; 10) doctor-like puns on “...lack,” Dr. Jack (suggesting Dr. John Hall, Will’s son-in-law); 11) Two suggests sonnet and rune, testicles; 11-12) phallic pun: e.g., “Two [i.e., testicles] blush, th’ rouge life-lines without [i.e., external], ‘awl’ ornament, ‘I’ to feel, fey and true [i.e., fatal and plumb]”;12) Without = Outside (i.e., the visible sonnet);13) that in guess = the rune; measure = judge, “meter out”; 14) not puns on “knot,” and charged on “discharged,” suggesting ejaculation.

      66. This Composèd Wonder

     Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, imagine
     that you yourself might be fortunate enough to spend your time
     with this erected miracle that you are engendering and helping to frame—
  4 and imagine the parallel trenches that doing so would dig in beauty’s brow!
     This work is my passion; it keeps my eye active and alert,
     assailed though it is by old age and the parchment skin surrounding it,
     on guard against the cruel cuts of age
  8 and senility. Itself overcome and left to fade away,
     shall this best jewel in time’s chest lie hidden,
     and Dr. Foolishness—performing a tedious procedure skillfully—
     fail because the patient bleeds to death? Two jewels (like testicles, one more extroverted than the other) blush through throbbing veins:
12 the apparent one, all obvious show, displaying what it is,
     and the surmised one a thing that people reconstruct in imagination (using your prowess as a measure) as
     either totally unassailable or, when besieged, triumphant. (More largely, your hidden jewel shows itself in this its hefty discharge.)


          This tour de force, an extended double entendre that itself comprises “twice-heard” lines, comments on the “loss” of Will’s hidden runic jewel. “This composèd wonder of [the auditor’s] frame” is a conceit for the poem at hand, which we ourselves—like the unnamed muse—are helping “frame.” Line 2 suggests leisurely private entertainment.

          The poem is also a complex phallic conceit that stretches any definition of Metaphysical wit. In an overt cycle where sexual innuendo is insistent, as in “...[nature] pricked thee out for women’s pleasure” (Sonnet 20.13), Will’s coterie male readers would surely have read the runes for sexual wit. Offended modern readers can, of course, seek out more genteel options, as prim Bardolators have done for centuries.

         The poet’s “eye,” which“confounds” enemies (5-8), is kept awake to write (5) and is “assailed” by the infirmities of age (see 14) and by the parchment he stares at (6)—and maybe by the dimness of runic antecedents (6). “Knife” (7) may be a penknife, and “state” (7-8) may describe the condition or stage of a ms. The “jewel in the chest” (9) is the hidden rune, “itself confounded” (8) because it is “mixed up,” a kind of “foolishness” denied blood and viability (10-11). “Lively veins” (11), like “parallel delves” (4), suggest trenches (a conceit for lines of text) and “mines” (which might produce “jewels”). “Two blush through lively veins” (11) refers to the Sonnets/Runes and also pictures paired eyes navigating lines of bawdry. Lines 12-14 describe in turn an “outside gem” (i.e., a visible sonnet) and a hidden one (a rune). The latter, as a “wonder” of the friend’s “frame” (3), shares his attributes and so is immune from attack (14).

          Puns on “knot” (14), “measure” (13), and “time” (2, 9) are also about verse composition. The dichotomy in line 14 contrasts an unassailed object (i.e., a hidden text) with a “victor being charged” (la sonnet, capable of self-defense). The figure of “attack” allies with the metaphor of surgery, with “your frame” and “delves” suggesting a surgical “dig” made on a body. Like all Q’s “medical” details, this one probably has in mind the physician Dr. John Hall, Will’s son-in-law, as a main coterie reader.

          Detecting coy wit about castration and emasculation is one key to unlocking the text. Readers who scan the lines for phallic bawdry will see how “this composèd wonder…” may mean the auditor’s phallus, capable of “delving the parallels in beauty's burrow” (3-4). The rest of the poem hints at a selective operation, the “best jewel”—like the Runes—threatened with “decay” and being “beggar’d of blood.” “Folly,” suggesting sex or the phallus, is rendered bloodless in his “delving,” while “jewel” and “awl ornament” are figures suggesting testicles. Part of the joke is that the second orb “lies hid,” as if to escape the knife.

          Such puns as “W., Harry, you may bare your ass, hairy [...fair] ass [...Harry S.], if you pose” (1) seem aimed at Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton and Will’s only known patron, often proposed as the mysterious “Mr.W.H.” of Q’s dedication. Such a pun as “T[o] Hath-you-Y ourself may peer...”(2) encodes humor about Will’s wife. One pun implicit in the lettercode links Anne with Southampton: “Weary you may be, whorey, our ass , Harry W., if you pussied [...posed, puffed] Hathaway, whore, see: Love may privilege your time” (1-2).

          Routine humor about “country matters” (of a sort familiar to those who know Hamlet) occurs in “confounding” (7), “confounded” (8), and “controuling” (10). The line about “lively veins” (11) opens with the pun “Big, hard...” and is followed by a play on a “wet, out awl-ornament”(12).

          The poem closes with such puns as “8 or not, assailed or victor, 6 [=b] inches are good” (14). In the numbered 66 in Will’s hidden cycle, the opening line also employs the bawdy b = 6 eyepun, as in “Where you my ‘6’ hear, you raise fair asses up, pose...[up, oaf].”

          Recurring jokes in Q seem to attribute the epithet “Swede” to T.T., suggesting a physical type, probably a ruddy redhead. (This body-type appelation persists in current use. My own “Uncle Sweet”—surely a corruption “...Swede”—had such features. He lived near Medina, Tennessee, during the mid-20th century.) Further wit aimed at T.T., bookseller, occurs, e.g., in the extended pun “...sell seamy proof, allege you’re Tommy T., ode hiss, composed wonder of your frame handle, use the pair [power]...”(2-4). “Pair” implies “Sonnets/Runes.”

Sample Puns

          1) W.H., a roomy bier (rheumy beer); W., Harry, you may bare your ass hairy
          1-2) Harry S., suppose the Tower is hell
          1-3) ass is up, posed, a tower, your ass’ll seamy peer (gaze, appear), wily ditch or tamed “O,” this composed wonder of your frame
          2) Ed jeered, “Eye me!”
my peer, evil “edger” Tommy T. owed his come, pussy dew; see Mayberry village your timid oaths composed; vile Ed, gay Archimedes [t looks like c] see
          3) said W., “Honduras” you’re framing; woe end, Ursa our fire amend
          3-4) amend lusty peril, hell, sin; sea-homme posed wand dear, “O” of your ass ramming delves [i.e., furrows]
          4) Anne, dead, ’ll use the pair—awl, else—John; Hell, sin, bawdy’s sub-row
          4-5) B-row, it is my low thought; bawdy ass borrowed “I” seamy; wit, eye simile
          5) key; piss; it is my loo that keeps many eye awake; keep Simon aye (simony) awake; broad is melody, Hat.-key P is           5-6) Nike obeyed Ed and ditch hopped; aye Nike be at a dance, hopped to it
          6) Betty dainty see—hop to it!—heady end, and I quit aye; Beaded [suggesting “religious”] Anne, chopped-witted Anne, dainty, quiet eye; Beaded Anne ditch hopped (and Egypt) wide, attending tea quiet; Tanned, antique, you die; that andante quiet eye;
          6-7) Wyatt, attending tea quiet eye again
          7) Anne’s deacon found in [green]gages see [alluding to Moses]; ages, see relic nice
          7-8) sun is hounding aegis, sir, Yule can ever state its hell (can aver stated shell); A Jesse rule: key never stated; Again Shakespeare’s son, found, engages cruel knife…to decay
          8) O’er-stated is elfy son, found dead; Arrested; Ore, Shakespeare ate it, cell see; O’er-state it, sell fecund sound, edited, easy
          8-9) found, edited, acacia ultima is best; decay shall tie my ass bestial
          9) Fair Homme, t’ eye ms., see hefty lid
          9-10) hidden devil; S. Hall, Tommy’s best Jew-hell is Rome, Tommy’s chief delight; S. Hall t’ eye, miss, best jewel from time’s chest, laden Folly, Doctor Jack [John], cunt-rolling skill; eye mischief t’ lie hid
        10) Anne, silly cat (silicate) owes t’ Orly keel-controlling skill
        10-11) (medical wit); lynx’s kill be guards bloody
        11) Big herd; bloated ass; Does B allude t’ obelus, hid roughly? you shit, Wriothesley, living ass
        11-12) thoroughly evil, ye’ve Annie’s wit; evil Eve, Annie S. without “awl” ornamented is; th’ rule [cf. measurement] of life, Anne S.; Ass, kill (Beggar’d of blood, too blue) Shakespeare’d arrow huge, lively, vain
        12) naming Titus’ll scent a row
        12-13) ruined, hating Jew, Fatima is your bed
        13-14) theme assure, Betty, deed’s either not assailed or victor
        14) Eternity assailed orifice; our wicked [with a “wick”] whore be inch-charged; know tasseled whore, wicked orb, inches her god

Acrostic Wit

          The downward acrostic codeline, the one most insistently visible—V[V]TTA I B AOSAB WAE—suggests these possible readings: “Witty aye be Aesop. Why?” “You, T.T., eye a base A/B. Why?” “Wit, tight [B=8] hose obey,” “Vitiate Aesop we (…why?),” “Wit (Wight) obeys Abbie,” “Witty type, I owe [i.e., admit], is a boy,” “You, T.T., abase a boy,”“Wit, Tabbies obey,”and “Wet aye Bessie be. Why?” The last reading may be relevant to Will’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Hall. A variant is “Wit aye Bessie be....” Plays on T.T. always suggest Thomas Thorpe, Will’s printing agent, whose initials are on Q’s title page.

          The upward (reverse) codeline—EAW B A SOABI A TTV[V]—may be decoded, e.g., “You be a soppy eye, too,” “You bay, so aye be it. [Signed] W.,” “You be ‘I,’ so ‘I’ bitty ‘V’,” “You ate [B=8] a soup, I ate, too,” “You ate a sweet; I, too,” “You eyed a sweet Giotto,” “You be a Swede, eyed, too (…eye T.T. five),” and “You be a Swede, aye, T.T., you.” Q often seems to align “Swede” and T.T., Thomas Thorpe.

          The down/up hairpin suggests “Witty aye I be, ass, aye beware. Base, O, I beat you,” “You Bess owe, Abbie, too,” “Witty boy is a boy you ate—a soppy ‘I,’ too,” and “Wit, eye Bess, eye baby, aye Sue, eye Betty.”

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