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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

The Cast of Characters in the Quarto Texts
Their Roles and Interests

(Posted 16 May 2003)


          In discussing the personal drama in the Sonnets, it’s conventional to speculate in terms of the interactions of four characters—1) The Poet/Speaker/Persona; 2) the unnamed beloved Friend/Auditor/Muse; 3) the so-called Rival Poet; and 4) the Dark Lady or Perverse Mistress, a figure that seems to occupy some intermediary (and therefore triangular) relationship between speaker and auditor. Other characters (such as the Friend’s friends) appear as shadowy generalities.

           The Runes do not obliterate these players in the drama, nor do they finally resolve our uncertainties. Questions about the speaker and his listener (with the latter in multiple guises discussed below) continue to dominate Q’s dramatis personae.
           In the Runes cycle, the concept of the Rival Poet may seem to be emerging in Rune 19 (with the notion that the poet’s wit is too poor to catch the friend’s beauty) and, as metonymy, in the term “every vulgar paper” (Rune 32.10), echoed as “every Alien pen” in Rune 73.8 and treated as a minor subject in several runes in Set VI, particularly, and in Rune 86—the last of which implies that many other flattering “comments” emerge besides Will’s praise of the Friend.
           Similarly, a prototype of the Dark Mistress seems to takes vague form in Rune 26.13 and eventually to emerge full-blown in the last two sets.
          Both on a large scale and in any given text—sonnet or rune—Q is indeed essentially dramatic, with scenarios, a speaker, a listener, frequently an implied setting, and others (always punning on “oathers,” that is, oath-bound coterie members), offstage bit-players—along with rival writers and the mysterious “mistress”—in typically antagonistic roles. Since the “friend” at times seems like Will’s worst enemy, an image of an isolated persona/poet who is put upon by everyone sometimes seems to dominate the situation in Q. But our finding the Runes belatedly opens up notions about the likely listeners and other referents in Q, those who interact dramatically with the Speaker.

         The Runes not only enlarge Q’s cast but also teach attentive students that the Rival Poet and Perverse Mistress are essentially fictive constructs intended to confuse, thus advancing the game. (R.P. Blackmur and perhaps others have already decided, based on more overt evidence than the Runes, that no “real” Friend existed [see Hubler, Riddle].) The Mistress most basically stands for Will’s perverse texts, his Mysteries or Mss., with “‘I’s that are nothing like the sun” (being inky black and straight rather than round and light-centered [see Sonnet 130.1]). In one poem about the indignities the “Mistress” imposes, we find that she is actually a “hymn”—a “him” (see Rune 138.8)
           Similarly, the other much-discussed figure, the “contending” writer who tries to get the auditor’s favor is, on one level certainly, Will’s own alter-ego, the Voice of the Runes—texts that rival and undercut the Sonnets with their on-going “comments,” even when Will’s muse seems inactive (see Rune 85.1). The author of the runic texts “rivals” the author of the overt ones because the Runes everywhere pervert any suave lyricism the Sonnets might attain, especially by foul-mouthing covert auditors but also by competing in every line of the Sonnets for energy, meaning, and cadence that must be at least half subverted if the Runes are to thrive.

          To a certain degree the players in the Quarto verses are also the coterie auditors. Certainly the two groups overlap, and speculating about the poet’s intended audience—and thus about the poet’s motives for publication and reasons for delaying it—helps provide an approach to deducing his larger cast.
         Whoever the auditor/friend is, Will’s frequent insistence that Q is mainly to insure this friend’s fame is hard to take seriously, especially since the friend’s name is, paradoxically, so carefully obliterated. The convention of apostrophe to a masked, idealized beloved in sonnet cycles was of course an almost necessary Renaissance convenience, creating an interaction of characters—speaker, auditor, and others (often antagonists)—that allowed lyric writing to gain the power of drama, with roles and implied scenarios from poem to poem.
           In Q’s final form, I take the pose of address as mainly obfuscation and artifice, though by addressing a body of his works to a man in the first place, when most any other Renaissance poet would have focused on some woman, Will initiated a situation that from the start might have made publication difficult in his small London society. Perhaps in some early stage—in the 1590s—Will envisioned a privately circulated work memorializing his beloved Southampton, but by 1609, in the paternal act of publishing his ink-smeared offspring, this was surely not his main motive.
          Many scholars have already concluded that the Sonnets probably “were written over a number of years” and had their origins in the 1590s, perhaps ca. 1593-96, at a time when sonnet cycles were popular, when Will’s friendship with Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton, was fairly young, when Will had fairly recently dedicated poems to Southampton (his only acknowledged patron), and when the question of Southy’s decision about marriage was, at least in courtly circles, a burning one (see Akrigg 191ff., esp. 204). By the late 1590s, we know, versions of at least two sonnets (138 and 144) were already in circulation “among Will’s friends.” And finally, evidence seems pretty good that Sonnet 107 commemorates Southy’s release from the Tower on April 10, 1603 (Akrigg 254). Southampton had been imprisoned because of his role in the failed Essex Rebellion (Feb. 1601) and had served a two-year stint in The Tower that ended only with Elizabeth’s death and James I’s ascension and speedy order for Southy’s release. Shakespeare’s company, The Chamberlain’s Men, had itself very nearly been implicated in the Rebellion for having agreed to stage Richard II, a play about the deposition of a monarch, just before the event occurred and thus being subject to the charge of intentionally inciting it, in a city that the rebels saw as a powder keg ready to explode. As Elizabeth’s favorite players, however, the company was exonerated (Chute 249ff.).
          These sketchy details lay several plausible bases: that Q started out in the mid-1590s as another work—like the earlier Venus and Adonis (May or June 1593) and Lucrece (May 1594)—that Will would also dedicate to Southampton and that, in coterie fashion, would deal coyly with personal, cryptically encoded materials that both men and their close friends and peers would understand. Also in the background from this early period are Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost (before 1595?) and the unattributed Willobie His Avisa (Sept. 1594), both of which have riddlic, coterie aspects that make them puzzles for modern readers but that seem likely to allude in various ways to the Shakespeare-Southampton friendship and to Southy’s circle (see Akrigg 207ff., 216ff.)
           In this context of origin, the early sonnets that urge a handsome young man to marry and reproduce himself seem likely to have Southampton in mind. (Between 1590 and 1598, Southy, with prestige and wealth, was eminently eligible and stubbornly unmarried.) But the unparalleled explorations of male friendship in Q, with homoerotic overtones, also suggest some kind of intense, forbidden friendship—in the poet’s mind if not in actuality. Whatever the two men’s relationship, the texts probably do reveal Will’s real distress at the progressive dissolution of their intimacy and at the pain the auditor has caused the poet by his actions—including Southy’s name-staining part in a failed rebellion.
          One original motive, then, for Q was to write a series of love poems—a category in which we have always placed the Sonnets, whatever perversities we have found in them. As Will says in Rune 66.5, “It is my love that keeps mine eye awake.” As his project progressed, it became in many instances (and on one important level) a record of the strains in that relationship.
If Sonnet 107 celebrates Southy’s release from the Tower, then we can probably assume that all of the other interlinked texts in Set VIII also emerged about 1603, including not only the moving “To me, fair friend, you never can be old” (104)—Southy would have been 30 later in 1603, in October—but also other texts about the muse’s absence and the “vulgar scandal” (Sonnet 112.2) the poet has suffered.
          Singly or in combination, several facts seem likely to explain Will’s delay before 1603 in publishing Q: that it seemed unfinished to him and needed improvement; that Southy, central in its materials, had become politically unpopular so that publication would’ve been dangerous while Elizabeth lived; or that the materials as they had evolved, in which a male poet addressed intimate sonnets to another man, seemed unsavory for a married poet to broadcast, even with the red herring overlay of the Dark Lady materials at the end, suggesting as they did a kind of good-old-boy triangle of some sort, with two buddies and one woman involved in wry but seemingly “normal” interactions.
          While a fourth option is that Shakespeare had meant all along to keep his Sonnets (and, as we see now, the Runes, too) private, I doubt that that was the case—certainly not as the work grew in scope and expended energy. The complexity of Q, so difficult to have contrived, urges the new conclusion that all along, or at least fairly early, Will would have seen it as a magnum opus that needed to enter the public record—a way for a gifted poet with a clear sense of his own genius to secure lasting fame by following numerous Renaissance precedents since Petrarch and by evincing an artifact epitomizing the best features of sprezzatura or “suppressed design,” a preeminent Renaissance ideal in art. Because Will’s scattered plays were uncollected and because plays in his day must have seemed as ephemeral as TV scripts do today, the plays were certainly an iffy gamble as a basis for lasting fame. Even a few of the intricately wrought sets in Q, by contrast, might have stood as at least a decent memorial to ingenuity. The full 11-set Megasonnet—now there would be a monument indeed!
          My guess is that, at some point during the growth of Q, Will thought about making his work just 10 sets long, with 140 overt poems mirroring the syllabic structure of a regular sonnet, but decided to go himself one better, partly to make sure that, once the volume was in print, the runic plan would be adequately obscured from general detection by including what seemed like a random number of visible texts. (Perhaps one set numbered lower than X in Q was done separately, and late, and interpolated, to lengthen out the work from 140 sonnets to 154.) My guess also is that the Dark Lady sets (X and XI)—or at least the first one and the concept of the perverse mistress—may be rather early compositions, and that placing them last as a kind of perverse couplet close to the whole structure came to him as a suitable way, as I’ve suggested, to mask the residual taint of homosexuality.
           Exactly which composition blocks Will did from scratch and how much revising and rearranging he did while he was actively working toward final publication, I don’t know, but I believe that the new work after ca. 1600-1603 was probably extensive—masking but not obliterating the “old” story of Q and investing it in some measure with new focuses, sufficiently muddying it up to keep down personal embarrassment. Probably whatever old blocks of materials the poet used were already warp-and-woof, “runic” in their nature. Though old poems could, with effort, be worked into new sets, likely the sonnets as they had circulated “among private friends” of Will’s in the 1590s had been runic sets, and not all of Q. Perhaps Sets X (127-140) and the Sets I-IV (1-56) were among the earliest composed (see Akrigg 204, dating Sonnets 1-52 and 127-141 ca. 1593-1596).
         Though the conceit of the complaint, also at work in the “love poems” of Q, has made us take Will’s grumblings about how hard his “pilgrimage” to the friend was, we can now see that indeed the task was arduous, even for a man who probably could write blank verse as rapidly as you or I speak prose. One motive for doing Q, then, was as a personal challenge—and another was that pulling off such a complex feat would bring him repute, at least among the in-group who knew about the Runes, and perhaps eventually, in time, in the wide world, a phenomenon we are now in a position to watch, belatedly, unfold.
          Accepting the notion of intentional publication, rather than the widely held view that Q was pirated and set in print against the poet’s wishes, is absolutely strategic here, especially because so many scholars assume the opposite. Chute, for example, says that “the book was obviously unauthorized” (340), and Booth says “most people guess” that it was (545). Finding the Runes, however, shows us not only that we have in Q an authorized arrangement of lines, but also that even tiny details reflect witty authorization. In general, we can now see that the “errors” and oddities” that make Q look garbled and unfinished are in fact functionally playful—both pulling the leg of the “serious” reader and delighting the game-minded in-grouper.
          Other scholars, working on different evidence, have deduced with me that the poet himself probably “perform[ed] the last act of literary paternity and [saw] that somehow [the Q texts] reached the press” (Akrigg 262). Thomas Heywood’s testimony in 1612 that Shakespeare “to doe himselfe right, hath…published [his poems, an unclear reference] them in his owne name” offers qualified evidence that some (e.g., Muir and O’Loughlin, The Voyage to Illyria 14) accept as compelling (qtd. Akrigg 262-63).
         Though one logjam blocking publication of Q probably broke in April 1603 with Southy’s release and the upgrading of his reputation, the crux of my new argument about Will’s motive for publishing Q is that between that date and June 1607, Will found a new and overriding motive for seeing Q into print, in the context of Susanna Shakespeare’s courtship and eventual marriage to Dr. John Hall of Stratford. Envisioning a time frame of 1606-1609 as the main period during which Will revised and prepared Q for the press, with the close complicity of Thomas Thorpe in particular, will not be wrong except perhaps by a few years at the front end of the estimate.
            More importantly, we can see how Will could envision the work as an epithalamion group, a set of poems celebrating a marriage. As an epithalamion, Q would have been following a paradigm that was as thoroughly naturalized in Renaissance poetic practice as were cycles of love, complaints, and apostrophes to vague muses.
          Will’s father, John, had died in September 1601; his brother Edmund, a player, died in late December 1607 in Southwerk at age 27, and on the occasion of his burial at St. Savior’s, hard by The Globe, the “great bell” rang at noon on December 31—an elective event that cost money (Chute 239-40) and was perhaps paid for by Shakespeare. Will’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Hall, was born in February 1608, and his mother, Mary Arden, died in September of that year. Working during 1607-1608, after the “great push” during which he had finished his major tragedies, Will wove coterie references to Libbie’s birth into Q, and may well have alluded to these other personal passages, too. Sonnet 71, e.g., which mentions “the surly sullen [funeral] bell,” opens with “NOe L…,” perhaps tying it to the time frame of Edmund’s death.

          Dr. John Hall—an Oxford graduate, a bachelor, reputedly a Puritan, eventually a noted physician and scholar in his day—was almost 27 and had only recently begun his practice in Stratford at the time of the death and burial of John Shakespeare, Will’s father, in September 1601 (Halliday 89; Chambers 2.11; Chute 295ff.). If Will did not meet Dr. Hall on that occasion, at least it’s likely he would have noted the new young man in town as an eligible son-in-law. The poet’s older daughter, Susanna, was at the time several months past her eighteenth birthday; Judith, the other daughter and only living twin, was past sixteen. Shakespeare himself was 37, only a decade older than Hall but already nearing the passage of his own fortieth birthday—a preoccupation of Sonnet 2. Anne Hathaway Shakespeare was 45 and unlikely to bear more children. The couple’s only son (Hamnet) having died in 1596 at age 11, Will, living estranged from his wife in London, had no prospects for further issue of his own and was destined to go sonless unless one of his daughters produced a grandson; and his now marriageable daughter had reached the plausible age for marriage.
          Eventually, about June 5, 1607, Hall and Susanna did marry, at ages 32 and 24. Susanna was by all accounts and evidence the poet’s favorite; her epitaph describes her as “witty above her sex,” adding, “Something of Shakespeare was in that” (Chute 296). As I’ve said, the Halls’ daughter, Elizabeth, the only grandchild Shakespeare ever knew, was born in late February of 1608.
          One deduces in this budding situation, then, a second “origin” for the Sonnets that might well have revitalized a shelved and moribund cycle project. The early extant sonnets encouraging Southy toward “marriage and increase” could now focus themselves with minimal fiddling on a situation close at hand in the family, and very real. The wittily pejorative comments about a “self-consuming single life” could now be aimed at the daughter and/or potential son-in-law—with incidental relevance to the poet himself at 40, still vital and capable of siring offspring but doing nothing about perpetuating his own line now that Hamnet was dead. Strategically, the “Master/Mistress of my passion” (Sonnet 20.2) in this new context could be not a tarnished Southampton but rather the two-gendered couple Susanna Shakespeare and John Hall—without absolutely negating the original, sexually-ambivalent address to Southampton. (In the Sonnets/Runes, overlays of meanings are the unvarying norm, and singularity of meaning is absolutely nonexistent.) The motive of playful “matchmaking,” then, and of creating an epithalamion group to celebrate a family wedding plausibly becomes Will’s new impetus toward composition.
         Having a legitimate “auditor”—or actually a pair of them—in his head as he worked on revision, Will could without too many changes transform Q respectably. All of the ambivalent initial “So’s” in Q—originally linking easily with “…Thy” to pun on “Southy”—might now be heard as “Sue’s.” The “W.H.’s” that originally encoded Henry Wriothesley’s reversed initials could now be conceived of as “IN. H’s”—John Hall’s. And such a line as “SHall I compare thee to a Summer’s day?” could be heard to pun, almost magically, “S. Hall, I come [i.e., to Stratford], pair thee two a summer’s day” (Sonnet 18.1), with nice concurrent plays on “party, too,” “I come, perdito,” and “père.” Perhaps such a line, with many other changes to effect currency, was entered only after the summer wedding day had been set, with the surname “Hall” applied prematurely, in teasing fashion, to encourage the daughter toward her new role in marriage. (In any case, the quasi-fictive scenario of the Q poems thrives on having a reticent auditor whom the poet can “persuade.”) Thus the poet urges his newly constructed “Master/mistress” toward a union in which he himself has an honest interest. If Sue were not to be imagined as a literal auditor, Will could at least imagine Dr. Hall hearing them addressed to her, his wife. (The dialogue at the writing stage is all in Will’s head, anyway.) The old poems flattering Southy might now be refocused toward the new son-in-law, whom he could legitimately love, and perhaps, in his fantasy, even be physically attracted to, as he had been to Southy. (Hall was only about two years younger than Southampton, who was born in October 1573.) Even if much of the old material in Q did not exactly “fit,” at least the perverse interests inherent in earlier versions could be readily disguised or rendered adequately ambiguous to allow Q’s publication.
          Several other particular family puns, heard in Rune 1, exemplify hundreds in Q: e.g., “As fast as thou, S. Hall, twin [suggesting Judith], so fast thou grow’st” (11), and the painful play about children growing up: “…thou, S. Hall, [and] twins, O, fast thou grow’st / When I do count the clock that tells the time. / O, that you were yourself! But love you are” (11-13). The fact that Hamnet does not “grow” in 1609 adds poignancy to the lines; the form “S. Hall” suggests a composition date well after Hamnet’s death in August 1596—if the pun is a conscious one.
          In any case, I believe that as Will neared retirement and contemplated moving back to Stratford to enjoy his final years, John and Susanna Hall moved into prominence in his mind, their courtship and marriage giving him a mental green light to move ahead with publication.

          Evidence from Q’s dedicatory page, craftily signed “T.T.,” helps flesh out this scenario by offering—again, without obliterating other options—a whole new way to construe the mysterious “Mr. W.H.” of that dedication. (Puns from Rune 118.8-9 seem to comment on Thorpe’s role as the author of the dedicatory “salutation” or preface: e.g., “Assay, buyers, ye half pay Shakespeare: Alias Tommy, / Give salutation to my sportive ballad,” with the variant “…Tommy, / Give salutation to ms. poor…?” [118.8-9]. Donald Foster [42] objects to the term “dedication” to name the perplexing “W.H.” page in Q, so perhaps Will’s own word—“salutation”—is a better one.) In any case, anyone who is now in on Will’s (and Thorpe’s) game can read


as a dedication to “Mr. IN. Hall…”—with “In.” (i.e., “Jn.,” at a time when I and J were interchangeable) the common abbreviation for John. Earlier scholarly speculations about a “Mr. W. Hall” have already gone at least half way toward this conclusion by noting “Mr. …HALL” spelled out in contiguous letters on the dedication page (see Booth 548).
          Other family puns in this dedicatory texts—craftily worked out between the author and Thorpe, his printing agent—include “‘Mr. IN. Hall’ happens—see?” “John/Sue” […INSV…]; “Son”; “Ann” and “Hat.”; “Ann S.” [ET(= “and”)S]; “Will Shakespeare” [WI SH, twice]; and, notably, “To the one (wan) Libbie, getter of these…Sonnets (… ‘jetter’ of the Seine’s vin. Jeez! […Jason eats]),” depicting a peeing baby granddaughter, in effect a female “putto,” as the poet’s muse, spurting out French wine!
          Dr. Hall, incidentally, was called “Mr. Hall” in one document surviving from the day (Chute 315), clearing up one problem that some have had reading “W.H.” as Wriothesley, Henry, the Earl of Southampton—because Southy, given his rank, would not have been called “Mr.”
          One variant reading of these dedicatory puns is, “To the one Libbie, jetter of the Seine’s vin. Chasing it’s (…chasing Ann S.,) Mr. John Hall, ape-penis (…ape, an ass…)!”
          Much like the Runes that follow in Q (and in this book), the dedication encases other complex wit, including such puns as “Pyramus Ed.” [PROMISED], probably a play on “editor” and thus on Thorpe; “Burghley avenge” [BY.OVR.EVERLI VING], perhaps referring to Southy’s guardian; “summarily, penis” [S.Mr.W.H. ALL.HA PPINESSE], and so on. While it would be a bit easier to imagine Dr. Hall detecting and enjoying such wit were the good doctor not labeled “Puritan” in surviving records, we shouldn’t automatically rule out the possibility that Hall could laugh at himself, too. At least we can deduce from the existence of all the Hall-directed wit in Q that Will hoped his son-in-law would respond in spirit, perhaps after Will had helped to educate his son-in-law in the ways of wit during the leisure of his retirement back in Stratford. Since Q and its puns are imaginative, one possibility is that the whole Will/Hall interchange occurred solely in the poet’s head, never to find fruition in the realities of Stratford life.
          Another insistent “John Hall” nameplay occurs in the “Master/Mistress” text, in the much-debated line Sonnet 20.7 (Rune 21.6), a line that is the basis for the imaginative “William Hughes” theory proposed in the eighteenth century to identify Mr. W.H. (see Chute 341-42, Booth 547). Q’s line reads, “A man in hew all Hews in his controwling.” (This line position numerologically generates 27, either 20+7 or 21+6, a possible play on Hall’s age ca. 1602 and thus, perhaps, a key to dating the writing or rewriting of Sonnet 20.) With insights we now have, we can see the play “A man In. Hewall [i.e., John Hall] you see nigh…,” followed by a variety of puns: e.g., “…you see nigh cunt or howling,” “…he was in his cunt rolling,” “using his cunt…,” “…he W.S. eying [‘Iing,’ with phallic wit]…,” and “using his controlling / Witch….” (6-7). The plays “Amen, John Hall, you sin…,” “Amen, John, heal…,” and “Amen, I knew Hall, he was anus-controlling” may jokingly nod toward the auditor’s profession and his “Puritanism.” Thus we see how a witty poet might deal with a “Puritan” son-in-law, at least in his head. The truth is that if one reads Sonnet 20—the only one in Q with 154 syllables—as a unique epithalamion text, Sue and John in mind, a good bit may fall into place. The italicized Hews not only encodes “He, In. [=W=John] is” but also reverses to “Swe H.,” so that the line puns “A man, John Hall, Sue H. in his controlling,” “A man, John Hall, Sue H. ends, controlling (cunt-rolling),” etc., even as the whole teasing line seems to be a crafted rune that generates a reverse alphabetic code mostly about Susanna (and Annie):

,gnil   wort   n  ocs                                ih    ni      swe Hll      aweh ni                nam          A
Genial ward in O’s [i.e., rounds, runes] eye nigh: Sue Hall—away, nigh […of Annie]—name I.
Genial ward knows sin (sign) aye: Sue Hall, Yahweh, Annie, name I.
Genial ward Anne owes [acknowledges, is indebted to] aye: Annie, Sue Hall owing, I name aye.
Gin ill were t’ nose. Sign eye (Sinai, Sin I swell, loon eye in a May)
Genital wart nose, Annie S. we’ll (whale, wail, while) away, Annie name I.
…Annie S. will aye wane, enemy (…wail away, an enemy).

In the context of Rune 15, the line that opens Sonnet 20 generates, with its new peer (Sonnet 21.1), “A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted— / Sue, is it not…?” and “… / Sue eyes it not with me…” (Rune 15.6-7, Sonnet 20.1-2), thus offering other punning clues that in Sonnet 20 the poet has Susanna in mind—and perhaps that she is outside the coterie that views such wit.
         Another early example of witticisms in Q that Will may have directed at Hall—a play on “lawyer” (Q loue you are)—shows his tone as he “wishes” his son-in-law were a lawyer, not a doctor: “O that you were yourself—but lawyer. / Note [An odd] affront…” (13-14). Concurrent is the pun “Oathèd you were yourself, but lawyer / Not…,” alluding plausibly to Dr. Hall”s Hippocratic commitment, though “oathèd” also means “initiated in the coterie, sworn to secrecy.”
          Readers here who find such puns unconvincing can discount them as small threads—pulled or errant—in a large tapestry. The sequencing of this argument for readers even farther outside the coterie circle than I am proves, as I’ve said, rhetorically challenging, and the continuum of my own thoughts from certainty to guesswork proves hard to calibrate with clearly marked notations.


          Just as the upcoming family marriage gave Will a new incentive to write, to revise existing materials, to work toward publication, and to mask the sniff of scandal that publishing any sets of them earlier might have triggered, the printing deal he reached with Thomas Thorpe, the “T.T.” of the dedication page, sometime after 1603 and perhaps toward 1605-1606, also figured prominently, I think, in Will’s decision to publish. The dedication page itself shows one convincing instance of their collaboration, with every authorized “bobble” that Q retains adding to evidence that close collaboration was eventually at work during the printing stage. Thorpe, “a minor figure in the London book trade” with “neither a press nor a retail outlet” (Chute 339), was necessarily in on the game, working as the agent who arranged to have Q printed, by George Eld, and then sold in the shops of William Aspley and John Wright. (Judging from the presence of “TT” puns and the smaller number of detectable “Eld” plays, I conclude that Eld’s role may have been a lesser one, but it’s unlikely that Eld would have been out of the loop, since Q was eventually printed in his shop.) Thus Will could finish Q with assurance that, when it went to press, its coterie details would remain intact—including letterform “errors,” imprints made by filed typepieces, and intentional bobbles of many sorts. The Thorpe-addressed wit in the Q lines supports this theory further.
          With motive and method both available, Will finished the Sonnets as a family focused text—as hundreds of subtextual details in this book show—while keeping Southampton, and Thorpe, too, potentially in the reader/players’ loop, whether or not those men would ever actually choose to go seeking wit about themselves in the lines. As we read the subtextual materials of Q, I must repeat, we stay in Will’s head, with no firm assurance about how any audience ever reacted to what he was encoding. The Runes themselves often show the poet’s uncertainty on this point. Southy, if he ever did read the Runes in their finally published forms, would’ve been unearthing their private wit about himself as a married man past 30. Though Will probably did not want unsympathetic contemporaries to link Southampton easily with the “W. H.” of the preface, he could still quietly flatter his patron one more time, keeping distance for both their sakes but using a dedicatory form in which coterie readers would still hear “Henry Wriothesley”—as later critics often have, too.
         Retaining the vestige of having at least an ostensible patron might also have eased somewhat any embarrassment Will felt at pushing forward his own works, even though he’d made an effort to cover his self-publishing by involving “T.T.” as an ostensible instigator. By 1609 the poet did not have to curry favor from anyone, since his practical and financial success was effectively assured, though like everyone he surely could have used more money. Thorpe could help him on that count, and could also enjoy the Thorpe-focused wit of the texts up close as he helped set their details in type. The evidence of subtextual details in the Runes is that Thorpe, like Southampton and Hall, was a man Will thought of as a good friend—but not, certainly, a lover.
          A further family-related motive for Q, I believe, was the fatherly urge to erect a fitting “twinned” memorial to the poet’s dead son, Hamnet, an analogue for the buried Runes, and to Judith, the living twin, analogous to the Sonnets. (Hamnet, Will’s only son, died in August 1596 at age 11.) In doing so Will could figuratively replicate Hamnet’s existence and maintain it, as a poet can do through artful treatment of any subject. Plays on Ham/Hamnet and Judy/Judith in Q include, e.g., “Babble therefore two—Judy, Ham S. (our homme), muse aye bold” (123.9-10) and/or “Therefore two—Judy, Ham—form muse, aye bold (…I behold; …form me, W., a sibyl)” (123.10), and the morbid pun “Two live a second—live one, second dead; / In ‘oather’ accents do this pair aye see and sound (…peers, see Son S., O, you end)” (63.12-13). The pun “twin, my son…my female…” (145.4) draws a similar dichotomy, while the play “A Sister/Son set [of poems] fadeth in the weft [of this ‘woven’ fabric]” (76.3) may have Judith/Hamnet in mind as elegiac topics and analogues for Sonnets/Runes. In each of the two cases of “twins”—Sonnets and Runes, Judith and Hamnet—one of the pair is extant and apparent, the other is buried and lost but perhaps to be resurrected and reconstituted in due time.
          It’s more than psychobabble to assume that the poet may have felt some guilt for having left his children back home, or that the guilt compounded itself in the case of the son. A kind of mea culpa impulse probably encouraged his viewing the Q project as an act of penance, a writer’s unique brand of recompense for his failings as a father.
          Even the Master/Mistress conceit in Sonnet 20 may allude not only to the Halls but to the twins as well. Omitting Judith from consideration as a “mistress” who might “increase” to her own and the poet’s advantage would be a mistake; and certainly, in apostrophe at least, the dead Hamnet is a candidate for the role of Q’s beloved “Master,” the beautiful young man for whom the poet might wish continuity and an improved condition.
           Since the analogy between the bifurcated poem project—with one-half buried and one half viable—and the poet’s “other” twins has progressively become obvious to me from working with Q, I have no doubt that Will, with his quicker mind, sensed it and manipulated it, especially in the various puns alluding to the dead son in alliance with that other famous son, Hamlet (see the index), whose name surely is no coincidence. Judith seems to me a relatively minor subtextual figure overall in Q—sometimes satirized and linked with Anne as limited, her mother’s daughter as Susanna was apparently Will’s. In any case, she is not omitted.
         Thus, given the ultimate ambivalence about whom Q was “for,” all the poet’s family might be included in the canvass of those to be symbolically immortalized by the project: Susanna, Dr. Hall, Hamnet, Judith, even baby Libbie, the “one getter/jetter” of the poems (to quote the pun from the opening of Q’s dedication.) As we shall see, not only “Will” himself but also Anne gets her due in the Q lines—“to boot…and in overplus,” to use the term in Sonnet 135.2.

          To summarize a complex argument difficult of demonstration but plausible in outline, I believe that Will originally meant to address the Sonnets/Runes to Southampton, his patron and close friend, but found that stretched-out project stymied until events after 1601-1603 refocused his eye toward Stratford and his family, especially John and Sue Hall and eventually daughter Libbie, adding Hamnet and Judith into the mix as analogues for the Runes and Sonnets, and factoring in Thomas Thorpe as the strategic friend-expeditor of the project, a man who might help him make a little money and enter his hard-crafted masterpiece into the public record. Will’s drive to express real emotion—love, loss, guilt, inadequacy, pride, hope—merged with his delight in manipulating conventional artifices and his skill at oneupmanship. Uniquely in all of literature he had the ability to convey marginally self-revealing personal materials to coterie readers (who knew what to look for) and, concurrently, a broad range of more general materials, seemingly “marred” with frustratingly incomplete hints and teases, to readers outside the loop, including posterity.


The Coterie Audience: Will’s “School of Night.”

         Scholars have customarily tried to answer such questions as “Who was Will’s auditor/friend?” in singular terms. Given that the whole of Q is predicated on the principle of double entendre, however, we now deduce the futility of such an approach. In a game in which the poet effectively wanted the Q texts to be all things to all people, my best summary guess is that he imagined as potential readers some members of the constituencies listed below and hoped that individuals in each group might be able to hear his verse as having them in mind.
        While evidence that any oath-bound peer group existed at all as a “mystery” or kind of masonic order is at best inferential, hundreds of puns in Q—as well as the logic of a situation in which overt mention of the activity did not occur—help certify our deduction. This complex pun is one example of hundreds: “wicked oath peers rued,” “…peer S. rued,” “Fey Ed. enjoinèd wicked oath [that] peers rued, hell arised (erased) heavy, wearisome Judgment’s lead,” etc. (143.7-8). Since the “oath” links its practitioners in a light-hearted way with dark, perverse, and “wicked” behavior, “School of Night” may have been a kind of generic rubric for all the oath-bound Runers in London during Shakespeare’s era, though it survives as designating the Raleigh faction. Puns in Q about the coterie oath of silence occur in such forms as “Feeding on that wicked oath, peers rued hell” (143.7). The pun “When I break twin-tie, I am perjured most” (146.12) may mean, “I’d violate my coterie oath most completely if I were to reveal the connections between my Sonnets and Runes.”
          Will teasingly broaches the topic of the identity of his “muse” in Rune 99 in the punning question “W. H., Harry, art thou Muse that thou forgettest so long?” (2) and also in his “answer” later: “Alas, ‘tis true, I have John, Harry, Anne, and t’ Harry / owe form…” (12-13). Elsewhere, puns encode a litany of the names of people Will “buries” in his lines: “Still loosing (Still loving…) W. H., Annie, Sue, myself, twin… (…myself twain)” (116.7). Three of Will’s principal auditors’ names occur in the pun “T’ Hen, Jack [Hall], Tommy T.—turd-hating, feeble ed.—m’ Annie in sleep aching, bawdy waking, knows you…” (98.2-3). Rune 100A.2-3 compiles this list: “To speak (‘Two-speak’) eased Hat.-witch, Ju., Southy, Hall, Tommy….”
          At any rate, these sets of “oathers” or “peers”—to use Q’s pervasive punning epithets—in Will’s coterie seem likely or quite possible:

           1. Southampton and residual courtly friends and acquaintances. By 1606-1609, marriage and aging and the inevitably separate paths that young men take in life would have dispersed them. Much nautical imagery in Q seems to’ve had Southy the seafarer jokingly in mind, and homogenital humor and other bawdry also seems likely to be aimed at this readership. Probably much of that material is residual from the original content of at least some of the Q texts done in the 1590s.

           2. The close-knit group of London fellows in Will’s Company (see a convincing description in Chute), perhaps including Nate Field, the young actor who at some stage after 1600 joined the poet’s company, and Will’s brother Edmund, an actor who died in 1607 at age 27. Many puns in Q allude to the plays, characters, and other aspects of theatre.

           3. Thorpe and the printers’ and booksellers’ “mystery,” centered formally in the Stationers’ Guild in London, perhaps including Stratford-born Richard Field, George Eld (who owned the shop where Q was printed), and John Wright and William Apsley (booksellers mentioned on the two variants of the title page). (See Harrison 65; Booth 543.) Puns about printing and writing, of course, might appeal to this group.

           4. Lawyers, members of the Inns of Court, who would have appreciated the prolific punning in Q on matters legal, as well as much overt diction and imagery germane to that topic.

          5. University wits, apt to enjoy all the literate wit and arcane trivia. Though Chute speaks of “the contempt that most young university intellectuals felt for a popular professional writer like William Shakespeare,” she also shows that by 1601 “sweet Mr. Shakespeare” was an object of humorous discussion in a series of student-written plays put on at Cambridge (224-26).

           6. The Raleigh faction, the School of Night in a narrow sense, and quite likely other contemporary writers and artists, perhaps some of those whose names occur subtextually (see the index). Many puns in Q deal with literature, art, music, and the classics. Raleigh knew Spenser and influenced him (Norton I.529), and Spenser (as Hieatt has shown) practiced buried numerology in his art. (See Graves, “Herbert’s ‘The Collar’,” re. runic rhyme-wit.) Harrison includes in this group Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, “Wizard Earl”; Thomas Harriott, a mathematician; Matthew Roydon, a minor writer; and poets Christopher Marlowe and George Chapman (who had an “obscure” poem called The Shadow of Night [1594]). This group was rumored to engage in sacrilege. Raleigh “was no friend of the Southampton group,” but Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost may allude to this School (Harrison 395-96).

           7. The narrow circle of the poet’s own family back in Stratford, John Hall and maybe Susanna. (Sir Thomas More had had a bright daughter whom he admitted into learned activities. See comments on Rune 39 pointing to Will’s subtextual listings of family members.) Subtextually Will imagines Hall as the quick-minded “kin of our merited quietus” (see the italics rune in Set IX)—with a homoerotic play on “…coitus.” Will often addresses Hall otherwise as the putative auditor and imaginary decoder of particular puns and plays (see, e.g., the plays in items 3 and 8 of the section on numerologic wit).

          8. Some member(s) of the King James Bible Committee, perhaps Richard Edes, John Boys, and/or Michael Rabbett (see Butterworth 208).

          9. Future readers whom the poet anticipated as, long after his own death, finding and restoring Q to completeness—and particularly an unknown “friend” who might eventually restore the lost materials and “fame” the poet. (Such a punning directive as “Sh. ‘O’ [= Round], riddled fit [= stanza], convert” [12.14] may be aimed as this inclusive potential constituency.) We, of course, are in this group—I, so privileged with serendipitous latter-day inclusion in Will’s inner circle, and now all of us who wrestle playfully with the poet in the deep-set arena of his lost texts.


           Inside the Runes, even more so than in the Sonnets, the game hinges on being able to identify the addressed figure the poet has in mind—especially the listener but also any figure referred to by an ambiguous pronoun, and any vague “she” or “they” (the latter often a vaguely conspiratorial group of antagonists). Cherchez la femme has long been recognized as a main aspect of the Sonnet game, as scholars have tried to identify the Dark Lady. “Naming” the “rival poet” and the auditor/friend have also already become commonplaces in the activity of trying to construe the Sonnets. So in effect the runic game has been working all along, with the Sonnets as riddles to be solved. (They’ve proved to be impenetrable nuts to crack, especially because of our half-knowledge about them.)
          In the Runes, a partially new set of characters seems to emerge as dominant and also as peripheral figures, with some of them gaining life underground, purely in puns. Many are subtle and deeply suppressed, but some of these puns are of much the same order as the “Will” puns (e.g., in Sonnet 135) that are so overt and have been so universally lamented by serious scholars. Several of the dramatis personae are people whom I’ve already mentioned. Others, especially the minor figures, may be new. These characters function both as implicit actors and sometimes as the silent subjects of what is being said or as listeners to whom, as the conceit has it, the poet speaks. Often a main riddlic aspect of a text is trying to guess who the auditor (and thus the peripheral figures) might be. Hearing the “you” of a poem as Anne or Southy or Sue, e.g., can generate in essence three separate poems.
          Two traditional game elements, epithets and fliting, factor pervasively but peripherally into Will’s treatment of his dramatis personae in Q. Epithet-making—renaming a writer’s antagonists (especially) in endless, witty variety—has a long history of decorating literature entertainingly and (in the negative) can be a kind of mini-diatribe. Fliting—antagonistic verbal oneupmanship in a spirit of fun—provides one-sided “dramatic” encounters where the “intended listener” (usually a contextually ambiguous entity) is allowed no voice; these and other forms of address to a putative auditor incapable of response make the Sonnets and Runes seem like dramatic monologues. In a post-Browning age, the Runes in particular—given their associational developments and blank verse structures—seem closely linked to this form.
         The tone of complaint and of moralizing and the motive of self-rationalization frequently govern the drama of Will’s runic interchanges with his implied characters—who also help comprise his audience.
         Here, I propose, are some of the main figures (and some walk-ons, too) in Q’s newly mounted drama. I group them in fifteen categories, roughly in the order of seeming importance—as I parse the Q text. (Likely my own focus is skewed, since finding one detail predisposes me to seek others like it, and since I’m apt to be overlooking topical references out of my own ignorance of the situations that might have been on Will’s mind.)
         I’ve used color backgrounds below to separate these fifteen segments and thus help readers negotiate this link and find the beginnings of discussion points.

 1. Will, the poet and persona of Q
 2. Anne Hathaway Shakespeare, Will’s wife
 3. Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton
 4. Dr. John Hall of Stratford, Will’s son-in-law
 5. Thomas Thorpe, Will’s printing agent and collaborator
 6. Susanna Shakespeare Hall, Will’s older daughter
 7. Hamnet Shakespeare, Will’s son
 8. Judith Shakespeare, Will’s younger daughter
 9. Elizabeth Hall, Will’s granddaughter
10. Other friends and enemies and potential auditors
12. The Raleigh circle
13. Will’s literary antecedents
14. Will’s own literary characters
15. The “Evil Ones”

       1. Will, a.k.a. Willie, William, Bill, Billy, shake, spear, sphere(s)
(e.g., 119.7), well, and a host of creative conceits—including the “Shakespeare name cipher,” the digraph (or ligature) st (with “long s,” representing an initial “S.” pictographically “shaking” a dagger- or spear-shaped “t,” as if by the handle. “Will” as the “I” of the Sonnets rears his voice most blatantly in Sets X (Sonnets 135, 136) and XI (Sonnet 143), with No. 135 including some 14 “Will’s,” one-half in the emphatic form Will, and with 136, after speaking of “filling [the treasure of thy love] full of wills,” ending flatly “…for my name is Will.” Quite unhappy with them for being “flat-footed, feeble, museless, to the last degree,” J. M. Robertson concludes that these poems are unauthorized, given “their sheer platitude of theme and style” (269); many other critics have at least wished they could be willed away, and almost all editors have de-italicized and, where possible, decapitalized them. Nonetheless, the Will puns are inarguably at the heart of Q’s playfulness, offering keys to all the punning remainder, and our insistence on ignoring them as puerile (and on finding “higher” art in Q) is one of many aspects, wrong-headed in retrospect, that have blocked our fuller understanding of the nature of the cycle.
         A variant of fliting and of the “name the person I mean” game in Q is epithet-making. Though the darts of Will’s name-calling more often sting other people’s asses, he’s pretty good at representing himself in the Runes, too—e.g., as a “sensible adder” (108A), a “number’s man”; as “Summer” and “thy summer” (2.6; 15.4; 23.4), also implying “addition”; as “witty Winder mete” (13.4), generating “wound-up” texts or Rounds; and as “Rune-poet Dapper Shakespeare” (18.14); “De Bard” (16.14); “Mister Maybe” (34.6); “Monsieur Milieu” (35.4); the “Avon Ovid” (36.2); “Library Jetter” (46.1); “Gnome Adder” (47.2); “Witty S., the artist, knave ill-wifed” (98.11); “Witch, Wondrous Scop” (110A.7); “Maybe Europe’s Bard” (111A.14); “Rhyme-averter” (116.4); “Sovereign Mister (Master) S.” (117.14); “I, the Ink-God of Theatre” (120.9-10); “Moor…Rune-giver, great, earthy, humble, sallow, witch wan, dead” (124.7-8); “Toothy, sweet William, a King” (130.9); “The Morning Son of Hugh-John, me, of Rome” (131.6-7); “The Windy Pastor” (132.2-3) and “Pastor Avon” (133.3); “I, a mean or (minor) sly knight” (139.13-14); “long-inch Shakespeare [st]” (141.7); and “Mighty (Empty) Will” (154X). Indirect descriptions such as a “Fumed Torque, my mind” (18.12-13) also characterize De Bard, as do acrostics like AVON—reversing to NOVA—in Rune 1.
         Rune 69.1-2 offers a good “Will-I-am” pun, amid such jokes as “So true a fool is love, Tenor William two ate, though eating Sue be hell (subtle)” and “So true a fool is lauded (I slotted) in your William….” Will associates himself with Taurus, his astrological sign (see the index). Commenting on his current state, Will puns, “Soft thighs’ excess, Hath. [=Hathaway] left me, and I, disparate, now approve” (147.6-7)

         2. Ann(e), a.k.a. Ann(e) Hathaway Shakespeare, Annie, Hat., Ann(ie) S., Ann(ie) ∫t, et [=“and”=Anne], perhaps “Auntie Anne.” Though more covertly constrained than the “Will” plays, puns on Anne’s name(s) have already been acknowledged by leading critics much less ready or eager to hear gaminess in Q than I am. Booth, e.g., comments on “hate away” in his line note on Sonnet 145.13— “I hate, from hate away ∫he threw”—by observing that “Andrew Gurr [in 1971] persuasively suggests a pun on ‘Hathaway’.” Booth credits Helge Kökeritz’s Shakespeare’s Pronunciation (1953) as an authority for his further comment: “Since And was regularly pronounced ‘an’…, there may be a pun on Shakespeare’s wife’s first name as well; line 14 may have sounded like “Anne saved my life….”
         Readers can’t fail to note that, in Will’s pun-ridden scheme, if “And” sounds like “Anne” once in Q, anywhere, it sounds like “Anne” anywhere and everywhere. My readings, then, are not licentious, even though earlier critics, including Booth, have been reticent to pursue any possibilities that risk turning poem into game.
         Collectively, the bitterly witty portrait that emerges of Will’s wife in Q’s puns is of a fat, simple-minded, overly pious woman, a self-centered, gluttonous, whorish, hateful, frigid but promiscuous drudge. One fully convincing pun about Anne’s weight—we recall that she had been the mother of twins—comes in the acrostic codeline of Rune 122, TAM WAT T M ANN WAS, i.e., “Damn weighty my Anne was!” (Yes, the line may also read “Tomato man weighs,” “Damn white my anus,” “Tom Wyatt a man was,” “Damn Waite [see Chute 135] mean was,” “Tom, wait to man noose,” and so on.) Although the tone of the Runes heightens verbal abuse for comic effect aimed at male readers, surely something of Will’s actual feelings come through.           At least we can say that Anne is a main butt of humor in Q.
          One easy way to get into the wife-bashing swing of Q is to read every “And” as “Anne,” thereby re-voicing in one sweep hundreds, thousands of lost puns and wife-berating plays. A variant on this approach, reading “any” as “Annie,” allows Sonnet 10.1 to pun “For shame deny that thou bear’st love to Annie!” That is, “How dare you say you don’t love my wife!” Imagining this line as a joke in a closed group of male friends, we note that the wit about a “shared” woman loosely parallels the conceit that operates in the Dark Lady scenario.
          Sonnet 66, with ten parallel “And/Ann’s” starting the lines, is another good place to commence chiseling into this can of worms, since that “Anne” poem comes close to paralleling the egregiously “Willed” texts later. In Sonnet 66 a series of epithets (some ironic) describe “And”: “needy Nothing, trimmed in jollity,” “maiden virtue, rudely strumpeted,” “Captive Good, attending Captain Ill,” and so on. (One way to read the poem is to imagine Anne applying these epithets self-pityingly to herself, in a “poor little ol’ me” tone.)
          Forms of “Hathaway” can lie, e.g., in Q’s “…hat thou I…” (47.4), where “th’ Hathaway name dost lie” occurs, or in “…hat I wa…” (99A.11), where “Onerous-eyed Hathaway” lurks, or in “hate, / I.Oea” (141.2-3), and in many other phonic letterstrings. One of Will’s games is to play on “Hat.” or “Hath.” as an abbreviated name. Another is to contrive three-syllable or three-component variants of “Hathaway”—e.g., “How-to-weigh” (120.8-9), “Hurl’d-away” (8.11), “Hat-I-may” (9.10, 139.14), or “Hath-not-maid” (9.11), etc. (My favorite occurs in the pun “Anne This-by-That I prove” [153.14],” as if Will is “measuring” his humongous wife the way one steps off the dimensions of a room.)
          Among the punning subtextual epithets for Anne, many laughing at the excessive weight of an unreformed mother of twins, are these: “Victual’s Twin” (2X); “Hell-dose, my Annie” (10.2); “Cold Death” (11.6); “The Oval Eve” (12.4); “Anne What-it-was” (12.5); “Anne Otherway” (12.7); “Thick Anne” (13.12); “Awesome Anne” (13X); “Thick, Raw Anne” (14.1); “Witch Wife” (14.4); “Noodle Anne” (14.11); “The Household Dust-Parent, M’ Whore Anne,” “Anne Bawdy-Ass” (14.14); “Half-taught Fool Anne” (acrostic in Set I [see notes]); “My Annie Hath.,” “The Panter (Panther) Anne Hath.” (15.10); “Hawk Anne” (15.14); “Tanned Make” (16.4-5); “Ass Hat-I-may” (16X); “Witch Hideous” (18.3); “Sapient Anne” (18.9); “A Weighty Wife” (18X); “Mean Ass-Pill Anne”; “Hat., Municipal Anne”; and “Menace Plain” (19.1); “Farter Huge, The Panter (Panther) Muffer” (19.10); “The False, Fey, Mushy Anne” (20.1-2); “Ye Ton (Tun) of Anne” (20.2); “Ending of Reason” (20.3); “Anne, Dusty Anus” (20.4); “Thin(e) Enemy, Anne” (21.8-9); “Witch Enemy” (21.10); “That Heavy Anne, Siren in this Huge Rune (Rondure)” (22.7); “Hawk (Hulk) Annie” (22.8); “That Hath-ass-sway” (22.10); “Boa Auntie” (23X); “Peer of a Jeer, Soft Muff, Pee-Aching Breast” (24.9); “Ass-Tirrit [see Tirade] Anne” (24.11); “Ludus Doubled” (24.14); “Sweeping Anne, Tame Ape” (24X); “Easy Anne, Eater” (25.1-2); “Our Fiend Anne, Dead Dull ‘O’” (25.5); “Ass Annie” (25.7); “Weighty Anne” (25X); “Hate-away” (25X, B=8); “Mordant, Hat-tongued Hat.,” “That Ton Jetty, Dim, Whore Hath., M’ Whore” (26.9); “Eisell [Vinegar] Annie” (27.8); “Hat., Silent, Low, Hath-Awry” (27.9); “Addle-way Ann, Dam Bloody” (27.11); and “Thou Ghost, Meaty Annie, an Auto-Jew” (28.8).
          Other demeaning epithets for Anne include “Annie’s a Decrepit, Fat or Tacky Satellite House, Anne, my Muse” (29.8-9); “Annie S., Muddled, Huge Whore” (30.7-8); “Anne, Dead Rubble, Deaf, Heavy Anne” (31.1); “Dowdy Mere [Doughty Mer], my Annie” (31.8); “Peeress Ptomaine” (31.11); “Hath-the-I, Soft Mule in (Mewling) Jesus” (31.14); “Miss Anne, Cur (Ma Sainte Coeur)” (32.7); “Knotty (Naughty) Hath-her-way Thick” (33.6); “Lay Meaty” (34.12); “My Anne is Hardened Hat., my Anne is Scop Witty” (35.1); “Celled Woe” (35.2); “Lady Savage” (35.5); “Anne, this Ham” (37.6); “Horsy (Heresy, Hear-say) Anne” (37.6); “Anne, Heavy Life Form, wood” (38.2); “Anne Hostile, the Lusty Adverse Party” (38.6-7); “Anne Loo-Finger, my Friend Hath.-ass” (38.14); “Haughty Lewd-Way,” “Hath (Dull-wit) way” (38X); “Red, Hideous my Annie…, Anal One (Wan)” (40.2-3); “Twat, Sweat-Heavy Witch, Sour Liar” (42.7); “Mega-ton Wife” (45.6); “Easy Anne” (45.8); “Airy Summit” (47.8); “Pear Shakespeare, with Christ” (48.4); “Moist, Warty Consort, an ‘O,’ My Greatest Grease” (48.6); “Lady Annie, Anne of th’ Hard Eye” (49.4-5); “Greasy Anne” (50.11); “Anne, Dull Oblivious Enmity, Lady Satan” (51.13-14); “This Half-away, our Present Shakespeare Ill” (52.5); “Bawdy Hat., Foam Huge of Earth and Water Wrought” (53.2); “Home’s Pea-Shelling Saint, Anne” (53.10); “Odious Anne, Dull, Oval (Offal)” (55.12); “The Wife S., my Cat-Whore” (57.4); “My Hell-Oval” (57.7); “Annie, Base Whore, Whore, Whore, Barren Ass, Big, Wild” (58.3); “No-Thing’d Hat., that Haughty Oaf” (58.13); “Anne of Slight Eyesight” (61.4-5); “Anne, O Household Ass” (61.9); “Hirsute Ass” (67.7); “His Ass-Wife, ’tis Outback Ann, Deaf, Ample”; “…Simple Truth, miscalled Simplicity, for she hath Knox (?)” (67.9-11); “Witch, Thick Lass” (75.7-8); “Anne, Heavy Ignorance” (76.8); “A hippo” (77.9); “Annie B. Castaway” (83.10); “Anne, Dim, Huge, Enraged” (84.7); “Fat Wife, Being Fon” (84.13-14); “Anne, dull aye, kin huge, thick” (86.3); “Anne, proud, heavy, righteous (arduous), too huge” (88.4); “Hickory Anne” (89.3); “Greasy, my Half-so-ill (-swill), a dough-knot” (89.5-6); “Anne, fetid O, W (Wen), nest too red (torrid)” (90.4-5); “M’ Annie S., Humorous, Ass’d Whorey Tail” (91.14); and “Sister, Female, Sour Whore, Fat and Weighty Ass” (98.10).
          The sample list of “Anne” epithets continues: “Bitter, nasty Hathaway, ill, bitter” (109A.13); “This Wide Universe” (111A.11), with pictographic pudendal V; “Monster Ass (Monstrous, Monsteress) Anne” (117.2); “Ever-sexed, y’ Ark’d Hathaway” (117.4-5); “Heavy Knot of Annie” (117.13); “Mighty my Greasy (Gray Sea) Anne, Dour” (120.14); “The Mount Anne Earthy” (123.1); “Hath-a-weighty” (123.2); “Anne Twat-way” (123.11); “Her Oddity” (123.14); “My cunt-end-butt Hath-you-Y” (125.7); “Mount Anne” (125.9); “Whoever (Whore) Hath-her-way” (with “Wife”) (127.9); “Fat Annie” (128.6); “The Huge Anne” (129.2); “Eisell Anne Dirty, the Bastardess” (130.1); “Silly Annie What-the-Beast” (130.10-11); “Anne, oral, knotty beef [who] ruled house o’ Will” (131.8-9); “Anne, dim, yellow Nubian” (132.9-10); “Soul-stirred Hat., wife” (133.6); “My sleazy Anne (Miss Lizzy Anne)” (133.7); “Anne obese” (135.5); “Weighty…foe, Anne” (137.2); “Miss Ass-shit Anne” (137.13); “Heavy Anne” (139.4); “Furry Body, Black Anne” (139.6); “Tubby Lady, Double Wide” (139.14); “The Heavy End” (140.3); “Meaty Anne” (140.7); “Wifely Turd” (140.12); “Dough-knot lewd, The Weight, my Annie S.” (141.1); “Hate-away Ass…, our Eisell (Evil) Housewife, our Annie S. dogged” (141.3); “Anne, Dis-parrot, who’s lapsed (Hat. loves Onan),” “…whose lips-to-hate love Ass Onan” (141.4-5); “Anne Shakespeare [st], Thicker Vial (Thick Whore Vile)” (141.9); and “Easy Witch Have-no-core (Heaven Ogre)” (142.7-8).
           Finally, other demeaning subtextual names for Anne toward the end of Q include “Widow Shakespeare, Tupping Wet Hen Anne, Dis-Huss, is Our Dirty, Heavy, Dungeoned Hat.-Witch Dowdy” (143.6-7); “Seed-engined Hathaway” (143.7); “Hathaway, Rice-Made, Gummy Anne,’tis Lady Dough-Knot” (143.8-9); “Hipped Woe” (143.12); “The Whore S. (Whoress, Whore Ass)” (144.4); “Anne, deaf, warty, hot” (144.10); “Hat., m’ Anne S., the ewer-lady, O-citizen” (146.8); “Soft Thighs’ Excess, Hath.” (147.6-7); “Weighty Anne” (147X); “Anne Dull, my “Hone-y” Shakespeare (sating thee), Fat Auntie, Ass Lusty (ass aloft)” (148.12); “Anne, beetle, oval, 1 loaf” (149.1-2); “Hawk Anne” (149.8), with “Toucan”; “Dull Anne” (149.9); “Deaf, Weighty Annie S.” (150.1); “Hill of Titty, Babe’s Hockey, the Ass, our Behind” (150.2-3); “A wife of hate, a Scheisse Triumphant” (150.10-11); “Cunt Anne, titty-poor drudge” (151.11); “The huss, arrogant midge [insect] Anne” (153.1); “Hat., Icy Anne” (153.11); “Anne This-by-That” (153.14); “hollowest Anne, dam blind, moor, warty, aye tubby below” (154.9-10); and “Anne Shakespeare, that rude hussy, foul alley where queue pissed” (154.12-13).
          One aspect of the “Anne” game that emerges in Q is the playful question of her full name—with some evidence to suggest “Anne Elizabeth” (…Betty, …Beth, …Bess) as a real possibility. Given that Susanna used “Elizabeth” for her first daughter, the idea is plausible. Some or all of the nameplays might have in mind the granddaughter herself. In any case, such teasing plays as these occur: Widow Betty (14.5-6); Betty Hathaway (?) 18X; Annie Betty (21.14); Anne Betty (25.6); Annie Beth, Annie Betty (28.6); Anne (?) as Betty (34X); Annie Bess (109A.2); Annie May (110A.6); Betty Anne (133.3-4); and Miss Lizzy Anne (133.7).
          Other puns in Q show Anne in unflattering situations—as post-menopausal (33.1), a bad writer (46.4-5), and perhaps as director of a Noah play (46.1ff.). She looms like a ship (86.11), a mountain (123.1), and—as I’ve said—a “this-by-that” entity as big as a room or house (153.14). Her unrespected “piety” emerges in such plays “Direct Anne, Luke, another way” (12.7) and “Wordy (Warty) ass / Anne, like unlettered clerk, still cry Amen!” (Sonnet 85.5-6). Readers soon learn to associate her with such lines as “Three themes in one, Witch wondrous scope affords” (Sonnet 105.12), though the reference is concurrently to Set VIII’s bifurcation, “allowing” the poet to write three sets of poems at once, and perhaps also to Will himself as a Wondrous Scop.
          One kind of wit about Anne’s name occurs with initial, terminal, or clustered groups of name components, “And,” “Hath,” “Why,” etc. “Mine” puns “M’ Annie.” “Which” (as “Witch”) and “Make” (as “Mate”) are frequent pointer words. Anagrams or line plays may occur: e.g., “Anne, threescore year, would make [i.e., mate] the world away” (Sonnet 11.8) contains the sequential elements “An…h…a…th…away,” a buried name-anagram that requires no reordering.
          If Anne is one model for the Perverse Mistress who stands in a medial relationship with Will and the Friend in Sets X-XI, she is perhaps “rare” (see Sonnet 130.13-14—in the context of the pun “bellied”) the way undercooked meat is, bloody and unpalatable. For more about Anne, see the subtextual index (esp. Anne, Hathaway, Weight, Wife, Widow, Witch).
One series of plays (see the index) seems to suggest that she was known in Stratford as “Auntie Anne.” “Annie Hat.” puns on “Aeneid,” “a knight,” and “a gnat.” Perplexingly, Q’s letterstring in is always a potential play not just on Anne but also (as In. = Jn.) on John. And all the WH puns that suggest JN. H(all) can equally stand for Anne H(athaway). Nay-sayers here will argue that such interchanges discount minor parts of my argument; to Will, such absolute ambiguity was the stuff of which Q was made.

       3. Southy, a.k.a. Henry Wriothesley—“Rye-oath-ess-ly” or “Rye-ose-ley” but usually pronounced Risely, Risley, or Rosely (Akrigg 3)—the 3rd earl of Southampton; also Southampton; Henry; Hen; Rizz; Rizzy; Rosey; Earl; Count; H.W.; W.H.; Harry; Harry S.; Harry W.; W., Hen.; and so on. His name occurs easily and often in Q, especially as whole words, initial plays, and word combinations such as “So thy…” “WHen,” and “Rose.” These shorter forms occur with greater frequency. Both “Harry” and “Wriothesley” occur, overlapped, in Rune 141.4-5 in the letterstring “…aire,/THoseli….” The reference to “thy budding name” (87.11) plays on “Rose-ly,” as do the capitalized “Rose(s)” in 64.11—in lines that demean Southy by punning, e.g., “disabled Rizzy, soft ass, had Dauphin seize Rizzy’s truer bawdy ass, dead of lice, maiden-oather gay, beefy inches harder, thin…” (64.10-13). Rune 64 starts, “W., Hen., you have bid your servant once adieu,” allowing the whole text to be heard as apostrophe. (The puns “…you—half bad you are—serve Auntie one seed deux” and “…serve Anton seedy Eve without a cause” are typical.)
          Traditionally at the center of discussions of the Sonnets, Southy has always seemed a most likely candidate for the “W.H.” (his initials, reversed) of Q’s dedication page—though “Mr.” has always seemed inappropriate, given his rank. Most likely, Southampton was the original third arm of the Will/Anne/Beloved Friend “love triangle.”
          Typical plays aimed partly or wholly at Southy, keyed by tags that suggest him as auditor, include many of the overt addresses of the Sonnets—laments, cajolings, criticisms, statements of adoration—as well as much sub-textual joshing, often with implications of associations with the wrong crowd, with nautical imagery suggesting buggery, and insults of all sorts in the fliting spirit of the game. Even in 1609, as I’ve suggested, Will probably still wanted to include Southampton tangentially in his loop of readers—even skillfully manipulating the title page to allow the whole work, ambiguously, to seem to insiders to be “dedicated” to him at least in part.
          For further plays on Southy, see the index, checking various forms of his name; nautical humor in such terms as Salt, Sail, Boat, Mariner, Boatswain, Buoy; plays about his imprisonment in such terms as Tower, Cell, and Cat (Southy had one as company in the Tower [Akrigg 133]); wit about his moustache (which was at one time a topic of discussion); and names of people in his life—e.g., Aldeburgh, Butler (the Earl of Ormonde), Cecil, Davison, Devereux, Grey, Harris, Harvey, Horsy, Howard, Leveson, Norris, O’Donnell, Russell, Sandford, Waite, West, Whitaker, Willoughby—and place names such as Enniscorthy (see the Akrigg index).
          Possibly Will created some sections or versions of Q particularly as diversions for Southy while he was imprisoned. The pun “So thy great gift [Q guiƒt, punning ‘jest’], upon misprision growing” (95.3) puns initially on his name and may be paraphrased, “Your wrongful imprisonment, Southy, causes the further expansion of this large project writing project”—with a pun on “ms.” Likely Q, in whatever form it had assumed by 1600-1603, would have served as a good time-killing diversion for him anyway. See, also, e.g., the pun “W.H., in Tower you used this, thou dost review (…an opera design…) now, proud as an enjoyer, eying Dane wan (…Don Juan; …and a nun)…” (75.4-5). Another Southy-ribbing Tower pun is this: “The Tower cell see, being extant, [and] William eye, devoted to his subject lean” (see 76.13). Puns about Southy’s cat (see Akrigg) are also relevant.
           A representative play acknowledging Southy more generally as “muse” is this: “Nasty O [i.e., rune], lower fit [stanza] own [recognize], my doughy knot is penned / t’ Harry S. (F--k Shakespeare rune…) If you see his tear in jet handy, weigh our rune…” (147.9-10).
          Puns in 99A.2 discuss Harry’s role in shaping Q: “W. H., Harry, art thou Muse that thou forgettest so long?” A punning “answer” comes later: “Heartless (Artless), ’tis true, I have John, Harry, Anne, (…and) t’ Harry / Owe form, ms. eye, key do you wish for, too naked your love, and deep…” (11-14). The poet is probably reworking old texts that originally “owed their form” to Southy but at present retain mainly a technical respect for the now-long-absent “Muse,” focusing more directly on the Stratford group, with Dr. John Hall at its center (and principal intended reader) in the poet’s mind as he prepares the poems for publication.

        4. John Hall, a.k.a. John, John H., Jack, In., WH [W=IN], husband of Susanna Shakespeare Hall. (Puns suggesting the equation WH = Hall occur in 5.2 and 6.2 [as “…WH or Hall…”]. Thus any “WH” texts one might hear as addressed to Southy may also address John Hall, and only context—if at all—can guide in deciding which possibility makes more sense.) Variants of Hall’s name occur readily in Q, given the frequency of words like “in,” “all,” and “gone” in English; “I all” and “in all” easily incorporate the name in forms that are phallically suggestive—see, e.g., phallic “I,” “awl,” “I in Hall, “in, awl.” (As I’ve said, “In” also encodes “Anne,” and WH also encodes “Anne Hathaway”, creating much incidental ambiguity and confusion for a would-be decipherer.) Sonnet 66, after listing various epithets for Anne, puns, “Tired with all these, from these wood [crazy] aye be John” (13). Sonnet 81 puns, “Thou, eye, see once John (too, Hall)—to you (hue) our lad mufti (musty) t’ hear (there)…” (6-7). And Rune 137 links “John” with “Onan” in the run-on string “F--king ass John Onan owed [acknowledged] here—ass naked ‘O’ wide (white), and ass bare” (Q…sawagodd e∫∫e goe,/One onan ot her s necked o wit n e∫∫e beare… [4-5, my letter grouping]). The play “…my lover’s John” (38.3) clues one into another bawdy cluster of puns: e.g., “Hung with the trophies of ‘My Lover’s John,’ Adam’s wry end is wife (wise, m’ huss, Muse), grown witty ass, grown gay Jew” (38.3-5).
          As I’ve said, I believe that, with Southy and Thorpe, Hall was in Will’s mind a primary auditor and, after ca. 1606 if not earlier, a likely candidate for the role of auditor/friend. (A different question is whether Will actually meant his literate son-in-law to read the Runes in Q or merely entertained the interaction inside his head as a means toward advancing his imaginative project. My best guess is that Will envisioned Hall potentially as a real reader and that a main motive was to impress his learned son-in-law with erudite wit and engage him in future discourse during Will’s retirement years.) Elsewhere I’ve provided limited samples of Hall-focused wit and explained how the dedication page is calculated to embrace him (and his family) without doing so overtly in a way that might ever embarrass him or the poet.
          Other examples of Hall-focused wit include such puns as “unlooked for John, that [him] I honor most” (18.11); “For Hall, that eyed heavy wit, inches [of text] you in rest pieced, Johnny your joust is t’ end, see S. Hall denote fit [stanza]” (44.1-2); “made tongue-tied by authority, Wise Hall, dally…” (65. 10-11)—or, “made tongue-tied by arthritis, Hall, dally, vein owe (…daily vino, wine, aid your ebb [rib, hip]).” (Rune 66 mentions “Folly, doctor-like,” veins, and a knife.) Many segments of Q might have appealed to Hall, especially Stratford-focused wit about Anne and Sue, Avon, and Fulke Sandell(s) (see item 11, below). How far he would have gone to tolerate the gross wit that the Game directs his way is anybody’s guess.
          Especially the extensive medical humor in Q’s subtext—along with overt medical diction and conceits in the Sonnets—seems likely to’ve been couched with Hall in mind as a coterie reader: See, e.g., Aloe, Alum, Anal, Anus, Appetite, Arse, Artery, Asthma, Basin, Belly, Bile, Bloated, Bloody, Body, Boil, Bone, Brain, Buttock, Cancer, Catamenia, Cauterized, Cells, Cerebral, Coler, Colic, Cough, Cure, Daze, Deform, Diabetes, Disease, Dissect, Eisell (Vinegar), Energy, Entrails, Eyelids, Eyesight, Feces, Femur, Fetus, Forehead, Genital, Glans, Gonorrhea, Groin, Hare-lip, Headaches, Hemorrhage, Hemorrhoid, Hepatic, Herpes, Hiccup, Hip, Hysteria, Knife, Knuckle, Labia, Lame, Laudanum, Leper, Lice, Limp, Lips, Liver, Lobe, Mammary, Marrow, M.D., Meatus, Medicine, Megrim, Menses, Nasal, Neck, Nerves, Neural, Nitre, Node, Numb, Oath, Offal, Oil, Operation, Opiate, Organ, Ovary, Pain, Paste, Pate, Penis, Pest, Physician, Pill, Prunes, Pubis, Puke, Queasy, Rash, Rectal, Remedy, Retina, Rheum(y), Saline, Salivate, Salve, Sanguine, Sciatica, Science, Sedate, Semen, Senile, Sick, Sick-ward, Snot, Soda, Sore, Spay, Spurt, Surgery, Syphilis, Syringes, Syrup, Tea, Teat, Tender, Thigh, Thorax, Toes, Tongue, Tooth, Torso, Trance, Tummy-ache, Ulna, Unction, Ureter, Urine, Uterus, Vein, Venom, Vertigo, Vessel, Vial, Visceral, Vulva, Weaken, Whiff, Whine, Windy, Wine, Witch hazel, Womb, Amoeba, Demented, Dentiste, Dura, In utero, Lumbaris, Mort, Ptomaine, Renal, Serum, Stat., Test tube (?), Thymus, and Urea. (See the index.)
          If Hall was seriously Puritan, perhaps Will hoped he would be attracted by the large body of subtextual wit alluding to religion(s) and to the Bible—materials that would’ve also appealed to the scholars on the KJB committee among Will’s intended or imagined auditors. Religious and Biblical topics (see the index) may include these: Aaron, Abel, Acts, Amos, Antioch, St. Audrey, Babel, Bethany, Caiaphas, Cain, Canaan, Canonical, Christ, Church, Dan, Delilah, Eden, Endor (with Saul), Enoch, Ephesian, Ephraim, Esau, Essene, Esther, Eve, Ezekiel, Gentile, Habakkuk, Hades, Hamon, Hebrew, Hebron, Herod, Hieronomus (St. Jerome), Hittite, Horeb, Hosea, Isaac, Isaiah, Ishmael, Israel, Jaroah, Jehoshaphat, Jehovah, Jeremiah, Jerusalem, Jesuit, Jesus, Jew, Job, John, John II, Jonah, Jordan, Joseph, Joshua, Judah, Jude, Kings, John Knox, Levi, Levite, Lucifer, Ludim, Luke, Magus, Malachi, Mark, Mary, Matthew, Medes, Messiah, Methuselah, Miriam, Nahum, Nathan, Nazarene, Obadiah, Olivet, Onan, Parable, Pastor, Peter, Pharaoh, Philippian, Philistine, Phillip, Pilate, Pontius, Pope, Priest, Psalmist, Red Sea, Rebecca, Ruth, Sabbath, Sadducee, Samaria, Sarah, Satan, Savior, See, Selah, Semite, Sermon, Serpent, Seth, Silas, Simon, Simeon, Simony, Sin, Sinai, Sinner, Sodom, Solomon, Synod, Talmud, Teresa, Thieves, Timothy, Titus, Tobit, Torah, Tyndale, Uriah, Ursula, and Zion. (See the index.)
          As a scholar and classicist, Hall would have been likely to enjoy dredging out classical and historical references on such topics as these: Academy, Actaeon, Aegisthus, Aeneas, Antenor, Artemis, Bacchus, Centaur, Cerberus, Cicero, Circe, Creusa, Critias, Dante, Dedalus, Diana, Dido, (H)eloise, Elysium, Endymion, Evander, Faustus, Gemini, Hebe, Hela, Helen, Hellas, Heraclitus, Hercules, Hermes, Homer, Horace, Icarus, Inferno, Io, Isis, Isolde, Janus, Jason, Jove, Juno, Leander, Leda, Lethe, Livy, Longinus, Lucan, Lyceum, Maenad, Marcus, Medea, Melos, Menander, Mentor, Midas, Miletus, Milos, Minerva, Minoan, Minotaur, Mycenae, Mylae, Myrmidon, Nautilus, Nemesis, Nestor, Odyssey, Oedipus, Oenone, Oracle, Orestes, Orion, Orpheus, Osiris, Ovid, Pallas, Paris, Persius, Phaedo, Phidias, Philander, Phoebus, Plato, Plautus, Pleiades, Remus, Rome, Romulus, Sabine, Saracen, Semele, Sibyl, Siren, Sirius, Sophist, Sparta, Spartacus, Stoic, Tartarus, Thebes, Theophilus, Theseus, Thetis, Thyestes, Tiber, Tiberius, Titans, Titium, Turnus, Tyre, Ulysses, Venus, and Xanthus. (See the index.)
          Further, John is a likely auditor for all the mother-in-law bashing wit about Anne, whatever his “real” feelings for her, and also for the rest of the family- and Stratford-focused punning.
          Epithets and puns demeaning John seem less abundant than the Southy-aimed jibes, but language itself, if not Will’s intent, generates them. Perhaps “Peer John” (139.2) and “Lubber John” (144.12) are typical of a few kennings I detect. Though Hall might have found bawdry and scatology in the subtexts of Q’s lines, Will does not seem to engage in much fliting with his (perhaps sober) son-in-law. The 116 acrostic is possibly a typical directive pun: “See my O, Son, be taught” (SA M OWW SVN B TWWT), alternately, “See my ‘O,’ son, be twat” and “Same O’s you N.B., twat (twit, taut, toad, to wit… [suggesting a reverse]).” (Here “O” may mean “round” but bawdily suggests “orifice.”) The reduplicated “I all” and “in all” in 64.6 suggests that “In. Hall” is one auditor here, where Hall-berating humor envisions him as an “ass ridden”: e.g., “Ass John Hall, oather John Hall were th’ ass. Sir, mount, / Stealing away the treasure of his ass, peering / in crease, inches tore with love…” (6-8). Wit about “gates of steel” and “limping” (9-10) follows. The implication may be that Hall would be an “unwilling” subject to play the “ass” role but might eventually give in to the misdirected advances of “oathers.” (If the poet is homosexual or bisexual and his son-in-law is not, the fantasy—however “serious” or playful—is perhaps archetypal.) Overall, maybe Will hoped that the tendency to “find what you look for” would work with John, allowing him access to wit of the “cleaner,” allusive sort. As I know from my own experience, a rune-player typically begins to feel that maybe he has only himself to blame for the emerging bawdry, since any “clean mind” would—in ingenuous fashion—not detect it.
          Such a play as the following may let us hear the poet imagining his son-in-law in the act of reading Q’s forked pages and seeing its scheme at work—even possibly after his own demise: “I in default (in the vault, Anne dissolved…), my leaves eye, John, gin [i.e., device, the runes] owe [recognize] too (two)” (154.5).

         5. T.T., a.k.a. TT, Thomas Thorpe, Th.Thorpe, Tom, Tommy T.—and (I think) “Ed.” (for Editor, though perhaps “Eddie”—and somebody else) and “Swede.” As the conspiratorial facilitator and effective partner in Will’s Q enterprise, Thorpe is a presence—like Hall and Southy—who seems to permeate the subtext of Q, as the index tries to show under the various relevant headings. My theory about his role, having emerged progressively in response to the hundreds of puns that this text catalogs, is not one I can prove but is congruent with all that I’ve found:
          Sometime after 1603 Will worked out a 50-50 printing deal with Thorpe, his agent. His relationship with Thorpe was close, confidential, and (from Will’s view, at least) subtextually interactive. All the buried Thorpe-wit suggests that Will expected Thorpe, as typesetter and coterie reader, to interact letter-by-letter with Q, and much of the wit about writing, editing, printing, and publishing seems most likely to “aimed” at Thorpe and perhaps his circle, including George Eld—wit including tedious jot-and-tittle comments about letterforms. (In February 2003, I presented a paper at the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies conference on Thorpe and his possible interconnections with the Thomas More play—suggested especially in the pun “Thou shouldst print More, not let that copy die.” In the process of developing that paper, my thinking about Thorpe evolved considerably past where it was in the late 1990s when I drafted the present text. I hope to make that paper available here in time as a link.)
          Thorpe would have agreed to print Q “as is,” replete with the tongue-in-cheek dedication (signed “T.T.”) that would have helped mask the unsponsored self-printing situation, and rampant with such little “errors” as the one that occurs in one form of the title page, where “Aspley” (compare “Ass-play”) replaces what “should be” Apsley. (One form lists William “Aspley” as seller, the other, John Wright.) As part of this in-group joke, the title page also encodes such wit as “reuen” for “rune,” reversed in “Neuer before Imprinted,” along with “Pickled fart tender,” encoded on both forms as “By G. Eld for T. T. and are…”; with “Toby’s old volume I (…old belly I may) splay (…aye is play),” in “to be solde by William Aspley”; and even with “I be Onan (...on Anne) ” in the Arabic date “1 6 0 9 ”—that is, I-B-O-Nine. (The Runes are a catch-as-catch can game, and makers and players both take advantage of whatever crops up.) Further puns include “Newer be Forum parented” (in “Neuer before Imprinted.”) and “8 [inches?], low in Don” or “Addle one (wan) Don” (in “AT LONDON”). Even the chief rubric SHAKE-SPEARES / SONNETS. allows Dr. Hall to hear “Shakespeare’s ‘son’ et (eat) ass,” “Shakespeare’s son tease (’tis),” “Shakespeare is on Ann [= ET = and] S.,” and/or “It is in your beaver imprinted,” “Is a kiss (Ass-ache is…) Paris’ own?” and so on. Main coterie clues to the existence of such title-page wit include the nearly overt “Aspley” and “G.Eld” forms, suggesting “ass-play (…splay)” and “geld.”
          Plays on Eld’s name (see the index) occur subtextually elsewhere in contexts suggesting his collaboration in altering letter typebits and thereby effecting Q’s game elements: e.g., “My ludus, wry inches, tilled [cultivated, enhanced] Eld—maybe add angels (…odd angles); eye rhyme, wicked won out” (154. 3-4)—where the “angels” suggest added “seraphs” (or “wings”) on letterforms (a possible source, I think, for the term, one unrecognized by OED). Other plays about Eld’s role include “T’ Eld (‘tilled’ [i.e., ‘cultivated’]) each tore [i.e., defaced] ‘a,’ ‘Zed,’ oblivion yields…,” “Ye [= Pe, The] Eld’s part [in this project] endured here, maked hymn bore knight…,” “Y, or frailer S,” “raz’d O, B, live I on, Y held his part,” and “Why [=Y], our frailer spy’s tillage tore a zed [Z] up…, Y held his part” (119.10-11). The puns let one envision the letters in their trays, fearful of being “erased” or “raz’d,” of being made “born to our desire under the blow of thralled dis- [i.e., missing] content.” The joke may be only the more general one about how the poet manipulates his “erased, obliterated” text, but I think it has in mind specifically the modification of little details of type, linked with “Eld” in the printer/publisher’s role. Other “Eld” puns may occur at 77.11 and 106A.14.
          Equally slippery puns accumulate throughout the text proper of Q to imply that Will thinks of himself as “writing for Tommy” after making a 50/50 printing deal that he thinks “overpays” the printer: Samples of such puns include “I must attend (attain, attaint) Tommy’s ‘leafure’ with my moan (money)” (54.2); “Tommy’ll eye fainter evil t’ dawdle aye” (94.8); “mine own thought’s sold cheap” (101A.12); “O, see Hall, not me, to justify [a printing term] the wrong, / Be wise ass (wisest), Thouar[p], serial do knot press [i.e., …riddle imprint]” (127.13-14); “Slandering Creation, wit, half’ll (half, all) seize Tommy” (138.1); and “live, Thorpe, on thy servant’s loss” (149.6). The pun in 71.3-6 may be decoded, “T’ Hat., Thomas ye are, Thomas T., John may behold (…may be Hall) debut, [and] be content, Ed., when Tho. T. sell our fit. (Sue, are you?) Soar, you ‘Tommy T. odes’ as subtly fuses my verse (sob), a rune o’ sinew (…snow) peer eyed (…period).” Elsewhere Will puns, “I sell my arguments, older praises are bawdy” (107A.7-8)
          Other potential puns involving Tommy include these: “Sighted, Thomas ye are, Thomas T. John may behold; Body be cunt-ended, W.H. into Hat. fell, arse t’ ass o’er you, Tommy T., haughty ass’s ode t’ leaf…” (71.2-5), and “Be contented, W., Hen., that seller is T.” (71.4). Suggesting revision of some sort is this play: “And leaf no longer thin, thy low ‘Will sty’ may still seem low tome though huge, altered new” (87. 8-9).
          Many other such puns, admittedly strained and covert, seem to link Tommy with the Runes, often “blaming” him for their licentious nature. One such play occurs as “Fair, kind, and true, I sell (seal) my argument, / Sold (Soiled) the air [poem]: Peer asses eye, rapid probe of ass naughty…” (107A.7-9). Another asserts, “…growing the injuries that Tommy sells, I do ‘leaf’ (leave); tight Tom, you cheaper ‘O’ fain’ll fold [and] do it wrong” (95.3-5). Following this play is another: “Come, foe, [book?]stall eye, taste of m’ whore, delight in hogs’ or whores’ bawdy…” (95.6-8); one variant of this pun plays on Thorpe’s role in “hawking” Will’s “injurious” dirty book, an entertaining number: “T’s [= T.T.], oaf, my whore, deal aye jetting [i.e., ‘inking’], hawks our whore’s bawdy, a happy title…” (95.6-8). A third concurrent variant puns, “The injuries that Thomas’ll see, I do; / Leaf’d, I—Thomas, help, rough, anal—folded wrong / bawdy in the unfit sum” (95.4-6).
           Overall, Will seems to enjoy “blaming” Tommy for his own poems’ “decadence”: e.g., “But [i.e., Only] our sickening Tommy—whose millioned decadent sonnets I never fixed (sexed)—mark [i.e., notice]” (117.3-4). The same materials in Rune 117 may be read as a comment on the 50-50 printing deal: “Be you T., Reckoning Tommy, whose millioned accident-Sonnets I newer (never) fixed, marketed I half, Sir Quaint [echoing Serpent, circulating, Sir Cunt] be I anew with unknown minds” (117.3-5). A near-by pun asserts, “Assay, buyers: Ye half pay Shakespeare (I), half Tommy” (118.8), while a variant pun delivers, “A sigh, buyers [and a pictographic space to show the sigh], ye half pay Shakespeare [= st], alias Tommy Jew…” (8-9). The implications are that Thorpe is stingy, that as a collaborator he’s “written” half the work, that Will is shortchanged, and that the buyer of Q is getting ripped off. This same text puns “disarray maims (mimes) Ed. in jewel” (6) and “…end is newer, fecund, given to Tommy [who] ‘Grenada’ repairs, half dirty” (4-5)—with Q’s yourownedea the “misspelling” that Ed., as editor, only half-way corrects.
          Other evidence for intentional altering and marring of letters in Q to effect authorized wit occurs, e.g., at 92.1 (n for m); 38.8 (I. for L); 113.10 (with extra T’s and commas); and (again) 118.8 (with its pictographic comma and extra spacing), in a line that also puns, “A sigh, buyers [pause, with a cipher ‘depicting’ T.T.]—ye have (half) pastel of Tommy.” (That is, “I’m sort of drawing you a picture of my printer.”) Knowing that much wit in Q is Thorpe-directed, we hear a line such “Be wise as thou art cruel, do not press” (Sonnet 140.1) gain new meaning as Will’s “advice” to the printer not to print Q at all, if he’s smart. The directive “Reserve th’ ‘r’ character…” (87.1-3) seems to be a printer-directed play about a single bit of type, and puns in 14.1-2 may also have to do with Thorpe grinding or arranging individual typebits.
          Puns about Tommy’s penuriousness sometimes associate him with “Jewishness”: e.g., “Tale of Tommy Jew is alluded…” and “Tommy Jews eluded, I own (…saluted John), Tommy’s poor, too bloody ‘shekeled,’ aye, by nature…” (118.8-10). The 127 acrostic hairpin code, with its insistent “TT” wit, makes a creditor-at-the-door joke—“I, Tom, T.T., be Swede who be owed. I, W.S., bid Tom T. hie”—with many more BOWTI variants. One scenario in the horizontal acrostic code on the Set XI spread (i.e., the vertical acrostic in Rune 141)—ILL TT P.M. O COLICT—depicts Thorpe coming around to Will’s quarters at night to pick up the recently finished set: “Ill T.T. (I’ll let T.) p.m. ‘O’ [round, rune] collect.” “CO LICT” also puns on “company licensed,” maybe alluding to printing practices; as “co-licensed [authored]” the joke suggests that “ill T.T.” co-authored a late-night rune, again “blaming” Tommy for Q’s content. “Colic’d” in the code here echoes “ill,” with “O colic” suggesting orificial sickness—diarrhea, not a happy form of “night runs” to be making. Overall and cumulatively, the subtextual “pastel” that emerges of T.T. shows an entrepreneurial man-on-the-make and friend whom Will enjoys ribbing. Will not only “blames” T.T. for all the bawdry and errors in the book Thorpe is supposed to be “editing,” but he also teases him about taking too much money in the deal and razzes him about the difficulties of executing Q’s blobs and bobbles. (Will’s ability to encode prescient humor that’s relevant to his future consumer/reader at the time of the reading shows itself recurrently.) A related joke about Will’s “precarious” pecuniary state is this: “I (Aye…) in default, my leaves eye, John (…I join, I joy in)” (154.5). A similar pun is “Theatre’s wry end: Debtor I (…eye)” (41.2-3).
          Rune 127 itself contains a good bit of “Thorpe” wit, along with typebit humor: His name occurs initially in 5-6 as THo… TH… (5-6) and TH…/ MY…/ THouart (sic 3-5)—with the companion pun “T-error anuses owe [acknowledge] as ‘thouart’” (5). Line 6 puns “Thine ‘i’s’ I loaned thee.” Will threatens the printers ambiguously: “If th’ eye foul check the thought [i.e., change the meaning], I come soon; err / Thou blind [be-lined] fool…!”
          My conclusion, further, is that Will’s jokes about (and those aimed at) Thorpe characterize him as aggressively heterosexual and that Will subjects him to some ridicule for being so, often depicting him with loose women. Rune 42 seems to hint that Thorpe is a family man with eight mouths to feed. Some plays suggest that he is heavy-set, with the sort of reddish features that attracted the epithet “Swede,” a linked play on “Sweet.” (See, e.g., the 127 acrostic, suggesting “Item: T.T. be Swede, Wight (white)” [code B=8].) (A red-haired uncle of mine back in Medina was always called “Sweet” Parrish; but officials who named his road after him called it “Swedie Parrish” Road. This “Sweet/Swede” confusion is endemic in the term—and in Q’s puns on it.) The link between T.T. and this Nordic stereotype occurs in Q’s first line, Rune 1.1.—in the pun, e.g., “Fair homme, fairest Thos. [code tc] red, you’re Swede, fair Inker, I see” (Q code: FR om faires tc reat u re swede [f]ire incre a se) also playing on Inkeress, (see Anchoress), ingress, and erase. Here “swede” occurs as an exactly spelled letterstring.
          The string TT is common in the acrostics, and forms of Tom(my) are common in Q, e.g., as time.
           Printing terms are also keys to much subtextual wit that Thorpe and those in his trade would have enjoyed: e.g., Frame, State, Deckle (or its foreign antecedent), Ream, Leaves, Set, Quire, Plate, Ibid., Press, Chase, Rule, Type, Apron, Black-john, Line, Edge, Bind, Align, Ink, Bundle, Preface, Printing, Page, Sheet (compare Shit), Proof, Copy, Placard, Obelus, Indent, File, Eld, and alphabetic characters as topics. (See the index, esp. “Thomas Thorpe,” “Ed.,” “Swede.”)
           Will seems to have more fun with T.T. in his subtextual communiques than he does with Dr. Hall. Witness such epithets as “Sodomite Editor” (129.10); “Tommy, dear, doting, hard, half puta” (129.5-6); “Our man T.T.” (134.7); “Cross Ed., vender—that bonded (…t’ Hat. bonded) him a sophist (…Tommy, a sophist)” (134.7-8), with “cross” perhaps suggesting an illiterate signature; “T.T., wise sorcerer in a tome low” (142.12); and “Earthy Tommy, angel, be turned fiend (…bitty ‘urn’ Ed’s end)” (149.4).
          The eye-pun on “fee” in 154.1 suggests the play “That fee that makes me sin, awards me pain [F pain, bread]” and thus jokes about the sum Will is being paid to complete Q, about how hard the project is, and about his pragmatic motives for doing it. Will’s shrewdness as manager of his materials and his motives here as homo economicus are consistent with what we know otherwise about him. (See, e.g., Chute.)

        6. Sue, a.k.a. Susanna Shakespeare Hall, Susan, S. Hall, “Hall’s wife” (143.3). With “So,” “SHall,” “Sw…,” “saw,” etc., so common in the diction of Q, references to the older daughter occur easily if not automatically. (“SW” reverses the poet’s initials and, distressingly for a player, also may point to Southy.) Along with her husband, Sue—as I’ve said—is a likely candidate for the “Master/Mistress” slot; I’ve shown how Will might have addressed apostrophes to her. Rune 76.1-2, e.g., puns, “Thin daughter eyed it, for I love you, Sue, / To do more for me than mine own desert.” Q’s third-person subtextual wit about her varies in tone and often seems to admit crude, female-disparaging humor, with much (as usual) depending on what a reader seeks.
          The personal scenario I like to imagine—and one Will would surely have enjoyed, too, as he worked—is that of poet, intelligent daughter, and bookish son-in-law gathered before the hearthfire on winter evenings at Hall’s Croft in Stratford during Will’s sunset years, Elizabeth already abed, the companionable trio poring over curiously wrought intricacies in the poet’s book of verses, enjoying the in-group pleasure of seeing all the ways the whole world was to be deceived for centuries.
           Perhaps Sue was not meant as a real coterie auditor, Will’s apostrophes to her being conceits and his comments being grist for others’ mills. Some puns do suggest, however playfully, that Susanna was (or was to be, or was conceived of as potentially being) admitted into the poet’s circle—e.g., the play “S. Hall will in oathers [i.e., in the oathbound coterie] seem right [rite] gracious (…see my rite, …see my right gray shows), John thinks…” (133.9-10). At least, I believe, Will considered the question of his daughter’s inclusion in the inner circle of readers—however playfully or seriously. We must constantly remember that what we find in Q represents the reality (or wishes, fantasies, anticipations) inside Will’s head as he wrote—and are imperfectly molded keys for unlocking what actually occurred after 1609.
          One representative pun about Sue, among many, is this: “Two, Annie S. and Sue Hall, see a fit [stanza] witty, Hall honor…” (Rune 148.1-2, as To any s en su all ƒe a ft withthee al one:/R, my letter groupings). Rune 80.13 puns “Witch S. Hall be most my glory, being dumb [suggesting a creature who keeps her mouth shut].” Rune 5.11 puns, “Herein live, Sue, eye Sodom bawdy ending [the] series.” The acrostic in 80 puns “Witch wife win” (WTTTAAC WF WWWWN), perhaps a directive to Hall. The upward acrostic in 116 puns “Twat be new, Sue amaze (Sue o’ my ass, Swami S.)” (TWWT B NV SWW OMAS). The pun “Tobit-err(or) Sue sees, Titus her aim, ms. heeding” (118.6) may joke about a scholarly “Christian” daughter; “S. Hall is a miss-wit” (81.14) is another potentiality.
           Many latent puns in Q also joke about Hall sharing sex with Sue. Predictably, humor about her often links with wit about Hall and Anne and other family members. One funny pun about her, “Sue faulted Helen’s awfully feted (fated) lover, Paris,” overlaps a possibly serious remark: “Sue, fold my papers, yellowed with their age, / But thy eternal Summer shall not fade (…S.Hall in odes aid)” (23.2-4). One concurrent pun certainly seems accurate from our current perspective: “Sue is old, my papers yellowed ‘witherage,’ / But thy eternal Summer [i.e., the poet as metricist or ‘numbers man’] shall not fade….” “Beauty [and] eternal summer, S. Hall in odes [does] aid” is another, flattering construction of the same letterstring.
          Rune 18.12, in the pun “To witness fete, you’d whine ode to Sue, mute (…mewed),” seems to allude to her up-coming wedding, hard upon the pun, “S. Hall, I come, pair thee two a summer’s day” (15.4).
          Subtextual materials in Q appear to bear out the inherited view of Susanna as the poet’s brighter, favored daughter—and of Judith as a more remote figure. But perhaps we have gone looking for the puns that reinforce that biased view and have missed or dismissed others that are contradictory.
          Plays on Sue and Susan(na) are indexed.

        7. Ham, a.k.a. Hamnet Shakespeare, Ham, Ham S., son, Ham st [= Shakespeare], and (often) Ham’et, conflating his name with Hamlet’s. “Without the ‘H,’” the name “Ham” may be represented as “M”—conflated with “him” and “hymn”—and as “am.” “H.S.” merges with “H’s” (suggesting “ladders,” acrostics), “aegis,” and “ages.” Thus a play like “…ages [H.S. = Hamnet Shakespeare] yet to come” can gain nearly undetectable, always ambiguous coterie meaning.
          To modern readers, Q stands as a kind of family memorial to fulfill its pledged intention of bringing immortality to the poet’s beloved subjects and auditor(s), just as his prescient mind could imagine happening. Like the Dark Lady, Hamnet as a conceit occupies a position analogous to the Runes—since he is the buried half of twins, conceived after arduous labor. This analogy, from Will’s view, would figuratively have put the poet in the primary parent position in relation to his only son (as Anne, the mother, was originally), allowing himself as absent father a kind of penance.
          Despite all the bawdry, some of the Hamnet plays are touching, sometimes broaching analogies with that other Beloved Son. The functional “confusion” of many Ham’et/Hamlet puns pushes grief and penance deeply inside the work, letting coterie readers—as they wish—hear the “Ham” plays as being among the many allusions to the poet’s dramatic characters.
          Two examples of “good” forms of “Hamnet” occur in Rune 25.5 (Q Him in t…, following “his shade” and allowing the pun “Hamnet’s our son”) and Sonnet 85.7 (Q Himne t, allowing the pun “A mentor (why?) Hamnet had,” “…see wry Ham, inter ye Hamnet,” and “see wry Ham enter, why Hamnet?” The cornucopic acrostic code of Rune 122—T AMWAT T MANN WAS—suggests (among many other possibilities) “T., Hamnet a man (…my end) was (…my noose, minus)” (W= IN, with the second T creating a phonic “ta,” and thus “…a…”). The 26 acrostic T CAWF BA AM DAT MW suggests “T’ soft bay Ham did mew [‘change his feathers].” The whole of Rune 62—which represents a fairly rare case where I’ve chosen to stress the personal implications of a text as I construe and paraphrase it—may refer to Hamnet’s transformation in death and lament Will’s dissociation from him (see my comments). See the index—esp. Ham, Hamnet, Son.

         8. Judy, Judith Shakespeare, a.k.a. Judy st
[= Shakespeare], “Jew” (Ju.), the living twin, not quite two years younger than Susanna. (Judith married Thomas Queeney [Quiney] a few months before her father’s death in 1616.) Though encoding Judy’s name might seem to present technical problems, it occurs rather easily in such letterstrings, e.g., as Giue t (Judy), ghts (Judy S.—also Judas), and gaue,doth (Judith). A representative pun is “Roosting (Roasting) Anne did eye me, that Judith knows, just cunt-sound (justice confounded)” (Rune 64.3-4). The three children’s names occur together in the pun “…S. Hall, look: Sue, Judy, Hamnet, Heir S. (heiress), injures me till I pass…” (Rune 140.1-2), with the triple namestring occurring in Q as …so. / Giue t hem t….
         One hairpin acrostic codeline, suggesting a charming scenario in which an “aching” daughter needs tea and sympathy, also occurs in Rune 140: “T’ Judith, ache begat hepatic tea” and/or “To Judith-ache, be cat hepatic tea.” Another hairpin codeline may be decoded to yield this scenario: “My Judy a fife fit [stanza] piped ƒƒ, effete gem (a fete, game)” (Rune 111B).
The twins sometimes seem to link in Will’s mind with Gemini (see the index).
          Rune 100A.2 seems to encode Judith as “Ju.” along with several other of Will’s primary auditors and subjects: “Two [texts, Sonnets/Runes?] speak o’ Shakespeare [st], Hat.-witch, Ju., Southy, Hall, to(o? healed?) Ham’et (overlaid: Tommy) / Sue, our thin eagle see, Thomas T. rude, Hen. bawdy died” (2-3). “The heir worthy, greater being (bane) Judy, esteem” (62.14), a pun that may or may not convey dignity to the “other” daughter, also may point to the death of the male heir, her twin; the line also puns, “There warty hickory eater be, John: Judy esteem.” Other concurrent puns are these: “T’ Hat., Judy [Q giue thee] is audient heir (here), warty gray tear (greater, creator) be in Judy [Q g woo’d] ofttime” (62.13-14), “Judy’s odd hiney own [acknowledge]…,” and “Judy’s odd hiney owned Harry—earthy gray tear baying ‘Judy’ ofttime.”
           Two patterns seem to recur, associating Judy with her mother (and thus demeaning her), and making sexual jokes about both daughters that Will’s male auditors (e.g., Hall, Southy, and Thorpe) might pick up on and laugh at.
          Certain puns seem to play Judy’s and Sue’s heights and sizes against each other—much the way Rosalind and Celia (as “short” and “tall”) foil each other in As You Like It. In both cases—in the play as well as in subtextual “comments” on his daughters in Q, Will seems confused or contradictory about who’s taller. Sue may or may not be the “thin” daughter in 76.1, which puns “Thin daughter eyed it fore, I love you, Sue,” “Thin daughter—aye Titus-whore—I love you; you, Sue, too…” (76.1-2), etc. One punning reading of 84.6-7 is, “Sue eye, seamy, low, still; tail in (too lean?), Judy’s tall….” Rune 76.7-9 allows “Of mouthed grave-swill, Judy—mammary, end heavy—ignore, Anne see, Hall,…” and “ill Judy-mammary eye, end-heavy ignorance eye, lofty O’s [i.e., rounds, runes] lady fears t’ heed, rules of a worthier pen.” Rune 95.6 puns “See, homme, Sue is tall, I teased (…I tease Ed.).” The jokes about the daughters’ relative statures seem cultivated and, ultimately, ambiguous. Real acquaintances would have parsed them in light of actual facts.
          Though one can imagine Susanna in the intellectual coterie loop as an exceptional female, Judy (like Anne) seems likely to’ve been excluded as a peer in both contemplation and actuality—because she was younger, was overly connected to Anne (and thus would have been her likely “defender”), and was unrelated to Dr. Hall, a principal auditor in the poet’s head.


        9. Libbie, a.k.a. Elizabeth Hall, daughter of John and Susanna, Will’s granddaughter (and the only grandchild born during his life); also Lib, Liz, Lizzy, Liza, Lisa, Elisa, Eliza, Beth, Betty. The “one begetter” of the Sonnets (as the tongue-in-cheek dedication page has it), Libbie no doubt came more and more into the poet’s mind after her birth as another “muse” for Q, a center for all his concerns about the legacy he would leave the world. A problem, of course, is that many Elizabeths, including the Queen herself, might be referents in puns on this name, so that only the context and content of a given pun can point the name toward “Libbie Hall.” See, e.g., the pun “Niece-cunt see, and ass-tear: Angel Libbie you type while a bundle moist, then see miniature ass subdivided, to know my famous ‘end,’ peers, ass-form you read… (asses roam your tongue)” (104A 12-14). (“Niece” to Will meant “female relative,” a “grand-daughter or more remote female descendant” [OED].) Rune 143.14, e.g., allows the pun “Will Shakespeare [= st], m’ Annie nigh, hymn feasted (name faced Hat.), vowed chaste Lizzy to keep.” “Lady Merdy Bess” may be one epithetic title for her (137.7).
          Rune 57 generates a bold first-rune acrostic that is an ambiguous but nonetheless convincing granddaughterly play: BTI LISA VVS TATTT—suggesting, e.g., “Betty, Lisa, W.S. taught,” “Bitty Lisa, wise tot.” (The down/up hairpin allows “Bitty Lisa W.S. taught Titus, wassail, aye to be (…wassail hated [heated] [B=8]).” Here Will, as her tutor, treats Elizabeth comically as a young Bible scholar, but it’s unclear whether he means to show her how to enjoy life, too.” One can imagine either John Hall or both her parents enjoying such wit—and her covert immortalization, effected subtextually by her brilliant grandfather.           

         See, e.g., Tot, Baby, Didie(s), and name variants in the index.

        10. Some member(s) of the King James Bible committee, most likely scholars in one of the two groups working locally at Westminster, perhaps Richard Edes—though plays on the name overlap those on “Ed.”—John Boys, and/or Michael Rabbett (see Butterworth 208). See, e.g., the pun “[Archbishop Wm.?] Laud ought Edes’ alchemy mime oft” (116.2-3) and “To fear sin, Edes must aye under my transgression bow” (115.7-8). Other plays such as these sound like “advice” or comments aimed at the KJB translators: “Office queasy [ticklish, unsettled], keep Acts hated, amend no part creating Eve, Rabbett, a perfect beast” (119.1-2); “Minus (M’ anus…) thy God report, that leaves Luke pale t’ read (…turd; torrid; peltered)” (98.12-13); “Hardened peer, speck Titus: Beast pee enters air; two in Luke discerned Hathaway honor moist toad…” (18.10-12); and “Some male (meal) men eye Rabbett and dine” (126.8-9). Degrading puns on Boys and Edes occur in 150.12-14: e.g., “Rude, haughty cunts t’ eye (…stay…) in City—Boys’ whore, trailing Edes’, would touch (teach) my barest (pierced) witch-form low, sturdy. Ogle [= OO] Kate, peer, paid you all (…pet you awl).”
          All the Biblical references in Q—especially to books in the Bible—would’ve appealed to such auditors, along with such puns as “if you check on Tyndale to see bawdy, swear, oaf…” (62.6-7), and “A stubby inch mine, my anus thy God report that leaves Luke pale t’ read, inched hue enter, ass near (ne’er; …and ‘ear’; …inched, you enter ass near)” (98.12-13). The subtextual catalog of “false gods” (see below) would have also appealed to witty members of the KJB group.
          I suspect that the previously detected nameplay on “Shake-speare” in Psalm 46 (Interpreter’s Bible IV.240) is genuine and is really a name-and-date tribute—with 46 a reference to Will’s age ca. 1610, the putative year the pun was inlaid, at the very end of the project. (The pattern of a numerologically based name-and-date element encoded one year before the publication date parallels the “Wi-ly-vm” play in the gameboard of Rune 1 in col. 44, a crafty subtextual detail interwoven by Will himself in Q.) The encoded joke in the KJB would surely have been perpetrated not by Will but rather by some scholarly trickster on the Committee, an acquaintance who was in the coterie loop and knew about the Runes.

         11. Other personal friends and enemies of Will and Southy and other potential auditors of Q comprise another set of players. Let’s call these Fulke Sandell(s) and his crowd. The name of this “Shottery farmer,” a friend of Anne’s father who, with another, posted Shakespeare’s marriage bond (Chute 51), crops up surprisingly often (see the index). The first play (Rune 1.1-3) occurs as F…/V…/LOoke (successive initial line elements) followed by “…se and tell…” (3) and the linepun “Look in thy glass, Sandell, the face thou viewest.” Other puns occur as “Shakespeare [= st] be o’er niece-lure (…be whore-niece allure), Sandell thinks” (21.7) and “…my harmful deeds, which vulgar Sandell(s) stamped upon my brow” (100A.14), the latter suggesting a shotgun wedding arranged by the bride’s father’s friend. (Timing suggests that Anne was pregnant when she and Will married.) A concurrent play on one Henry Lok shows how ingenious Will can be in such personally allusive overlays: “From…/ W[illiam], Hen..…/Lok…/ You in there eye, Sty… / Thou see…” (initial words as code, Rune 1.1-5). Henry Lok “in 1597…published his Sundry Christian Passions, two hundred colourless religious sonnets,” including “a commendatory sonnet addressed to Southampton”—and poems for 59 other potential patrons as well! (Akrigg 53). Will must have enjoyed ragging his patron about this pious “rival poet.”
          No doubt Sandells and Lok represent hundreds of lost minor characters—some others from the Stratford region whom Hall might have recognized, along with members of Southy’s set and the London crowd—who are memorialized in Q, if sleuths ever have the facts, time, and wit to dredge them out. My finds are spotty and often inconclusive in this area, but I offer the names of possible figures in the Southampton drama (see above) along with these others, some of them people I have merely conjured into being because their names have seemed to occur in code.
          Robert Greene is a figure worth mentioning alone here, since he recurs as an antagonist, keyed by “green” in Q and by references to crows and birds. Typical puns include “…Southy, Thomas, should see a fiendsome Arse Greene, all (awl) girded up in sheaves” (7.11-2); “…anthem is t’ ill [i.e. hurt] Greene” (70.7); “homme R., often ‘oather,’ is Greene” (67.12); and “Dulling my lines and doing me disgrace since first I saw you fresh, witch yet, R. Greene—one thing expressing, leaves out difference” (106A.5-7), followed by an “olive branch” allusion implying a dove—not a crow. (See “green” as an overt element in the Sonnets, along with the index in this book to subtextual terms.)
          Plays on “Meres”—a benefactor—seem to counter those on Greene: e.g., “Making no fume, Meres eye, naughtier is Greene” (67.12) and “Bawdy eternal saw Meres, all knots eyed” (23.4). (See the index.)
          Q’s subtext encodes many other names familiar in English cultural history, a smattering of them being famous contemporaries—e.g., Lancelot Andrewes, Arthur, Asser, Becket, Bede, Boadicea, Donne, Dowland, Dyer, Ethelred, Hooker, Hugh-John (Huchown), James I, Will Kempe, Kyd, Lyly, More, Raleigh, Robin Hood, Sidney, Stuart, Tottel, Tudor, Tyndale, and Bishop Ussher.
          Many other subtextual names occur as likely topical allusions: e.g., Waite (see Chute 134-35), White, Adair, Addison or Edison, Alice, Austin, Cecil, Cecily, Clarissa, Daryl, David, Debussy, Dennis, Donnelly, Dwight, Easton, Ed (maybe Will’s brother), Edith, Eli/Ely, Emerson, Estella, Fanny, Nate Field (the boy actor?), Richard Field (the printer?), John Fuller, John Fulton, Geoffrey, Halsey, Henley, Herbert, Herrick, Hooper, Hopgood, Houston, Howell, Hubert, Laud, Lloyd, Lord Albert, Lovell, Lowell, Melissa, Meyer, Mitchell, Morris, Newton, O’Hara, Oldham, Pamela, Peabody, Phoebe, Phyllis, Sanders, Seamus, Stow, Terrell, Thornton, R. Turner, Walker, Wallace, Wayne, Webber, Wendall, West, Weston, Willis, and Winstead. (See the index.)

        12. The Raleigh circle. Whatever Shakespeare’s relationship to him and the “School of Night,” Raleigh himself represents a type of literate adventurer who might have appreciated the wide range of travel allusions in Q, often to exotic places in the East, Africa, or the New World, and to their flora, fauna, and arcania—to apes, boas, elephants, giraffes, hippos, cigarros, maize, llamas, tomatoes, and mosquitos.
           Indexed subtextual terms aimed such at readers—and animating the Q lines with their implicit presence—include Amazon, America, Andelusia, Andes, Mt. Athos, Berne, Bedouin, Cadiz, Cairo, Calais, Canada , Cannes, Castille, Cheddar, Chianti , Chile, China, China Sea, Crimean, Cuba, Darien, Delhi, De Soto, Dhaka, Duomo, Edo, Edom, Egypt, Eire, Equator, Europe, Fatima, Finland, Flanders, Gaul, Genoa, German, Greece, Grenada, Hatteras, Havana, Himalayas, Hindu, Honduras, Hungary, Iberia, (Mt.) Ida, India, Inca, Iran, Iraqis, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Kiev, Kuwait, Lido, Lorraine, Lourdes, Madeira, Mauritania, Mayan, Medina, Merida, Milan, Nantes, Napoli, Nassau, Nice, Nippon, Nubian, Oman, Orient, Oslo, Palestine, Paris, Peking, Peru, Po, Polish, Rheims, Rhine, Russia, Saigon, Salerno, Samoan, Sardis, Saturn, Satyr, Sauterne, Seine, Serbian, Siam, Siberia, Sicily, Slav, Spain, Surinam, Sweden, Syrian, Tehran, Tibet, Tigris, Tivoli, Tonkin, Toulouse, Turin, Turk, Tuscan, Umbria, Urals, Virginia, Yellow Sea, and Zurich.

       13. Will’s literary antecedents also mount Q’s curtained stage—particularly Ovid, Wyatt (easily encoded as “yet,” “wait, “white”) and Surrey, and (I think) the lost Hugh-John (Huchown, Huchoun) of the Royal Hall, a.k.a. Hugh (or John) Massey. Scholars acknowledge Ovid as Will’s chief literary source for mythology (e.g., Chute 16). Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, had introduced the sonnet, with its Petrarchan conceits, into England before 1559. Huchown is a lost figure much discussed in the Cambridge literary histories as the “other” great poet of Chaucer’s era; my own contribution to the theory is that, as the Pearl/Gawain author, he may also be the Mr. Massey mentioned in contemporary records. (I’m not sure that evidence emerging from Q’s puns points firmly toward Will’s familiarity with Hugh-John as a lost practitioner and antecedent Runemaster, but I think that it may.)
          Contemporary figures such as Donne, Kyd, Sidney, Raleigh (see above), and Cervantes might be added to the tail-end of this list. Allusions to Dante seem to occur, especially because Dis (the Inferno’s capital in Dante) recurs easily. Earlier artists such as Giotto and Reubens also help people Will’s scene, and mention of the Rubaiyat surprises. Contemporary writers among Will’s coterie would’ve enjoyed such literate allusions.

       14. Shakespeare’s own characters (see the index) alluded to subtextually in Q seem minimally to include Bardolph, Biancha, Bottom, Cassio, Dane, Emilia, Edgar, Emilia, Falstaff, Goneril, Hamlet, Harry, Hero, Hotspur, Hymen, Kate, Kent, Lancaster, Lavinia, Lear, Léon, Mab, Malvolio, March, Miranda, Navarre, Nurse, Oberon, Ophelia, Othello, Owen, Pistol, Poins, Porter, Puck, Pyramus, Regan, Rivers, Romeo, Thane, Thisbe, Timon, Toby, Tybalt, and Yorick. A good bit of humor seems to have to do with Hamlet’s “To be” speech, which perhaps had become already a set piece susceptible to parody; the fact that 2B is a “gameboard position” (2nd row, 2nd column) may also explain this recurrence.
          Any English reader would surely have enjoyed seeing wordplays about these figures, as well as allusions to the Globe and Swan, and geographical references to such place names as Bath, Botetourt, Britain, Cardiff, Chelsea, Chichester, Devon, Dorset, Dublin, Durham, Eastminster, England, Eton, Evesham, Hereford, Hull, Ipswich, Jersey, Kent, Lancaster, Lincoln, London, Lowell, Mall, Maybury, Mersey, Newgate, Rochester, Sandwich, Sandusky, Surrey, Sussex, Thames, Whitehall, and Wyckham.

       15. The evils ones, bit players in Q’s scenarios,
enter the scene as if from the trapdoor below—a tongue-in-cheek cast of sinister characters suitable in a deceptive trickster’s work about some unnamed “crime,” an effectively subterranean world inhabited by a “school of night.” These pagan deities, witches, and other unsavory characters congregate somewhere in the vicinity of Dante’s Dis but remind us more of Milton’s pantheon of fallen angels, later to be cataloged in the opening scene of Paradise Lost: Ashtaroth, Astarte, Atilla, Behemoth, Cain, Dagon, the Witch of Endor, Faustus, Genghis Khan, the Golden Calf, Hecate, Hecuba, Herod, Mammon, Minotaurs, Odin, Onan, Shiva, and Vandal. For atmosphere, references to runes, scops, wyns, thorns, riddles, and tricks link with eisell (vinegar), toads, spiders, sibyls, owls, weirs, fetid fetuses, enemas, loos, and wide-ranging scatology to create an entertaining atmosphere of faux malevolence.
          This group perversely foils the KJB people and the wide range of subtextual figures in Q who generate witty Biblical allusions.