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An Exploration of Possible
Gameboard Elements
in the Hidden Runes

by Roy Neil Graves
2005, All Rights Reserved.



          With the acrostic form AVON in Rune 1 as an insistent and instigating clue, witty and meaningful patterns that one finds in Rune 1 suggest that, to some degree at least, Will manipulated his buried runic texts to craft them into alphabetic gameboards, somewhat like modern Bingo (because they operate on a checkerboard-like base that uses both rows and columns) but with complex encrypted elements for a reader/player to discover, decipher, and “play.”
          To be honest, I don’t know how extensively these patterns are authorially contrived, and I don’t know to what extent they are pervasive and operative throughout the hidden cycle of runic texts in the 1609 Quarto.
          One problem in making these determinations is the fact that language itself will always begin to cooperate with the Maker to lead a player on, perhaps on wild goose chases. Another obvious problem is that life is short, while explorations of these hidden patterns are tediously time consuming and often inconclusive.
          Examples here thus focus mainly on Rune 1, where provocative “messages,” alignments that appear too witty to have simply happened, convince me that careful authorization is at work and that coy elements do lie encrypted.
          One possibility is that the poet labored tediously, jot-and-tittle, over Rune 1 as a provocative come-on, to suggest to a coterie player that the other texts operate similarly—whether they do or not!
          Another possibility is that Will gave the first-line runes in each of the eleven sets—that is, Runes 1, 15, 29, and so on—special attention, crafting them to encode authorized gameboard elements that the other runes do not embody. In any case, these first texts in the eleven sets, where the poet was freest to make unfettered choices in his language, seem to me to be the most promising sites for exploration.      
          One boggling possibility is that not only all the Runes but also all of the Sonnets work as contrived gameboards.
          As I say, I have not pursued a study of all the Runes, much less all the Sonnets, in any full or careful way to see if they might be set up as gameboard texts. The examples that I offer here will perhaps allow others to do so, since I set up paradigms that anyone might apply to any or all of the Q texts.
          In any case, my theory that the Runes in some unknown measure house gameboard elements is tangential—rather than strategic—in my larger demonstration on this site that the 154 runic texts encode sense and wit as authorized 14-line verse compositions.
                                                                                                                        R.N.G., 28 November 2005

How to “Play” the Text of a Lost Sonnet

 To explore a Rune as a potential gameboard, one first copies out the 14-line recomposed text onto an alphabetic grid, imitating the models below. (In some cases the spacing between line elements in the Q text is ambiguous, forcing one to experiment with the spacing itself. Mostly, however, this first stage is purely mechanical.)
          For reasons that I explain in the exploration of Rune 1, one regards the 14 lines as “rows” with sequential alphabetic names from top to bottom —the “A Row,” “B Row,” “C Row,” and so on—and the columns (sequentially from the left) as numbered elements that proceed from left to right.
          Two clues in Rune 1 convince me that Will himself conceived of and actually applied this letter/number system: First, the pun at the end of line 2 (in “...brow”) on “B-row” and, second, the vertical line-up of letters that spell out “ten” occurring in the tenth vertical column of letters on the gameboard grid!

          Once a player is on to the row names, the recurrence in the Q texts of such common words as “arrow,” “brow,” “crow,” “error,” “fro[m],” “grow,” and even “row” itself gains special interest.  
Puns such as those in through (that is, the row or TH row, ThH row, Th R row, also come to the fore as possible elements of wit in the Q lines.           The pun in rose” on rows” also emerges.
          I believe that Will would have regarded his verse lines as hisrows,” his Rose.
          The I/J conundrum adds a special twist to the process of “naming the rows” with letters: In Wills day these two alphabetic characters were in flux and were more or less interchangeable. Some of the wit in the letterboard game seems to play on this confusion. In Rune 1, for example, the I [J?] row starts not only with the letter I but also with a question, possibly the pun “I, is it fore...?”) Readers here will note that I myself am not always consistent in using the alphabetic row labels; my assumption is that here, as in many other instances in Q, the I/J dichotomy generates a forking-paths situation with two overlapping alternatives in play. The Sonnets coexist with the Runes, and the “I row” and “J row” can similarly coexist. (The A and B variants of the texts in Set VIII offer another example of such coexistence.)
          In some cases, the row letter, if placed at the front of the row (or line of text) as in the models below, begins to modify the text itself in interesting ways. For example, the C that initiates the third row of Rune 1 generates “C+LOoke,” a form of “clock,” and the word “clock” occurs later in the text (in line 12) along with “face” in the very row that “clock” initiates. Similarly, the initial G+ LOe... in the G row (that is, line 7) puns on “glow, in a line that mentions “Orient” (which has the meaning “dayspring”) and “light.” Too, the initial I and N that label their rows echo the initial letters in the rows themselves. A player who sees such patterns finds other puns emerging from the merger of the row letters with the rows themselves: The puns “A fair homme,” “Boon fore,” “Dun,” “Ethos,” “Hymn” (merging with “music”), “case,” “Lunar,” and “Mother” are examples in Rune 1, below.
          Regarding rows as lettered and columns as numbered means, astoundingly, that each alphabetic character, punctuation mark, or empty space on the gameboard grid has, in effect, a unique position that can be identified with one number and one letter. (I like to use the number first because doing so allows Hamlets statement “2-B or not 2-B, that is the question” to take on a secondary meaning that I believe Will himself, along withknowing members of his contemporary coterie, would have smiled at.)

What a player does with the text after setting up the gridded form of it is pretty much up for grabs. First, he or she will probably scout out meaningful letterstrings that line up vertically in the columns, looking especially at the ends of the rows where the text thins out and vertical manipulation would have been easier for the poet that it would have been in the thick of things.
          Interesting intersecting clusters on the gameboard can also become objects of the players search. (The examples above of initial puns in the rows offer one kind of paradigm.) An example in Rune 1 occurs where “howers” (that is, “hours”) in the “E row” (a pun on “error?) intersects “whore ad u” in column 9, with the whole column letterstring, rry whore ad u, suggesting such puns as “wry whore add you,” “wry whore, adieu,” “roar add you,” and so on.
          Finding such plays as that here on “whore” encourages a player to examine the puns in the operative wordstring elements—puns such as “Thou see whores that with genital work didst ram.” Knowing that the whole text is rife with punning elements encourages such pursuits as one tries to second-guess the writer in a bewilderingly open-ended game.

Numerological approaches may also whet the appetites of some players, though results are slippery to read. An example occurs in Rune 1 when an apparently contrived, upwardly patterned, tripartite anagram ,wi-ly-vm, suggests the poets name; the nameplay occurs in column 44, possibly an indicator of the poets age c. 1608 as he prepared his text for publication. (Remarkably, this nameform is set between textual commas that act effectively as paired quotation marks. A numerologist might be interested that this nameform grows from a pattern of three, a mystical number. And so on....)

Rune 1 Arranged as a Gameboard Text

The form of Rune 1 below
illustrates the paradigm of the gameboard that seems to be operative in Q, at least in this one case and possibly elsewhere. Forms of the same text follow, one with handwritten notes, the other with certain elements highlighted in color to make them visually emphatic and show how one might proceed to “play” the board.

  Rune 1 with Some Notes  

          My hand-written notes under the illustration below may be a bit hard to read here, so let me try to clarify them in printed comments.  

The first line in the notes below (after “Some possible vertical acrostics”) begins what might proceed to be an attempt to read the full vertical linear code, moving across the text from left to right and using the numbered columns in sequence to generate the letterstring.
          Appealing opening puns include the one I note below, “ 'Fool' you title him if 'Avon' runes [that is, communicates secretly]....” Other decodings might start with “Fuel you title ms. [F=S, conventionally], AVON ruins us....” I’ve tried deciphering the whole vertical codeline without clarifying for myself whether or not Will manipulated the text for it to work that way. More likely, I think, is the possibility that he constructed the gameboard text of Rune 1for it to be played piecemeal, as I do in the selected examples here.

           I’ve already mentioned above the intersection of howers in the E row with whore in Column 9.

           Among my other favorite game elements in Rune 1 are these:           

                      *The pun on Grid Awesome in col. 33.
                      *The pun “I f--k you, my lady [ laddie]” in col. 34.
                      *The pun “O, youre aye a wreck!” in col. 42.
                      *The exactly spelled directive “wad note” in col. 43—meaning, perhaps, “destroy [this] message” and “notice the protuberance,” and punning “way denote,” “weighty note,” “wad naughty,” “wight naughty,” and so on.

           The most convincing play, the one that makes me sure that Will has authorized this letter grid jot-and-tittle, is the namepun on “William” that occurs as the carefully patterned anagram wi-ly-vm, set inside commas that work like paired quotation marks to set off the name. You can see the nameplay below in col. 44. Start at the bottom and work upward, noting the three pairs of letters perched atop each other. Normally I stay suspicious of anagrams and try to steer clear of using them to demonstrate much of anything; here, however, the instance is striking enough to carry weight.

           The ending of the gameboard text of Rune 1 is a cacophonous medley that seems to assert the message “Look at me!” (Elsewhere I have suggested that the ST digraph in Q is a name cipher, with the S, as it were, holding a dagger-like or spear-like T as if by the handle and “shaking” it. there that ending digraph occupies prominent positions in the end profile of the text. Almost certainly the poet knew he was drawing a profile at the ragged right-hand edge of his text, one that his coterie players would seek to read for an image of a human profile, a face, albeit a grotesque one.) Here one finds not on the name William (col. 44) intersecting the face thou viewest (Row B) but also me (twice); the pun eye me (ending Row L, also Row E); see Shakespeare (as se in col. 46 intersecting the digraph ST in Row K); and W. Shakespeare (shortened, at the end of Row K, echoing the end of Row C, which suggests We, Shakespeare). End-puns on “ink-ray see” and “inker aye see,” “penned,” “handy face,” “S., oddly,” and “”you see key” (Row N) amplify the poets clustered namejoke. The pun “ to Annie” (ending Row J as I designate it here) completes the picture, with “...low, too, Annie” and “... thou barest lot o Annie” as alternate readings of the play. The last joke, I detect, is one of many in Q about Annes obesity. (We remember that she once was the mother of twins, just as Will, in Q is siring another set of twins in his Runegame.)
           Surely arcane craftsmanship is at work here for the entertainment of coterie reader/players.

Rune 1 “Played” with Colored Highlights

           The gameboard sample below shows some of my stabs at seeing what the board might yield.
           Elements in cols. 15-16 suggest “wry lieutenant, nigh, aye” (code ri  llhieeeuutenaiann,t  ny  a), with a possible pun on “loo-tenant” that is unconfirmed by OED. (The word lieu as a euphemism for “place” may have operated to generate the term.) The f/long s interchange generates many forms in the vertical alignments. such as fish in col. 20. The code of that column (rss ishw lhd) can be decoded, e.g., as “arse issue, lad [...laddie, lady].” The intersection of hear (Row H) and net (col. 22) creates a pun on hairnet. Sum (col. 33) may pun on the numbers game at hand.
           You can see that the fact that most of the letters Will uses here to spell out his own first name (WI-LY-VM) are Roman numerals prompted an unproductive attempt to add them up. (Y might be construed as V+I, or simply as a form of V.)

Six Other Samples of Runic Texts Set Up as Gameboard Texts

Runes 15 and 29

Runes 43 and 57 Set Up as Gameboard Texts

Runes 113 and 127 Set Up as Gameboard Texts
(The H/I notation is wrong. The sequence should read ...H, I/J, K....)

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