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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

Playing the Runegame


Toward Broader Readings of the Quarto Lines

         Finding the Runes hidden in the Sonnets bring some clarification, but also new challenges: Some of the Runes are very hard, and most are at least moderately teasing and frustrating to read for coherence and sense. Given the problematic Q lines and unfamiliar runic permutations, some of the 154 Runes first reappear to us as blurs that need focusing, and others appear as murky mysteries or as dazzling sleights that make us blink.

           A first necessity for reading the Runes is to let go of what we’ve previously thought given lines “mean” and to start with clean slates as Quarto readers. Another requirement—hard for me personally—is to eschew calling the Runes “subtexts,” since they originated as coeval creations and in fact may in their crafting reflect even more time and patient care than the Sonnets do. If anything, they are conjoined—the way what used to be called Siamese twins are joined. The truly “subtextual” aspects in Q are the deeply buried puns, such as those cataloged in the index, and the acrostic games and “gameboard” elements.

         From the point of view of readers who’ve known about the Sonnets but not about the Runes, the latter, of course, feel subtextual; inference suggests, too, that Will saw them as private, not public. Whether he saw them as “secondary,” however, is another matter.

          Before tackling anything “subtextual” in any runic text, a first goal for reader/players is to try, as I have tried, to construe the artifactual linestring so it “makes sense”—and concurrently to experience the text as a game that’s attempting rather successfully to thwart the very reduction to linear meaning that we’re trying to make. My editorial punctuations and paraphrases offer one set of possibilities in the case of each rune, but readers will derive their own versions and have their own experiences.

          At first, the Runes may seem to be doing violence to the lines they bind together, especially as they expand the “meanings” in the familiar old saws: e.g., “S. Hall, I come, pair thee two, a summer's day” (Sonnet 18.1); “Let me knot two [suggesting Sonnets, Runes]—the marriage of true (…mirage oft rue) minds” (Sonnet 116.1); or “Bare runèd quires where late the Sweet Bard sang” (Sonnet 73.4), also “…where Earl (…W., Harry, Earl) ate the Sweet Bard’s [h]angin’ meat… (73.4-5). Readers who object that I’m misreading, mispunctuating, or misconstruing Will’s lines are confused about how his punning plan works. At least two roadblocks may routinely bar our treatment of the Q lines as such gamy letterstrings: the modern disdain for puns as trivial humor, and modern bardolatry, the reverence for Will that makes us discount “low” meanings as somehow “beneath” the dignity of a “serious” poet.

          As readers progressively salvage the Runes from oblivion, new attitudes toward Shakespeare’s Q texts and lines will emerge, recapitulating in various fashions the struggle I’ve already undergone myself, and complementing the suggestions I make in this book.

          Earlier I’ve offered samples of a few familiar lines in their old and their new contexts. Here are a few others that show further how each Q line gains an alternate set of meanings in the Runes:

I all alone beweep my outcast state;
I summon up remembrance of things past
Which I, by lacking, have supposèd dead.
            (Rune 30.1-3: 2nd lines, Sonnets 29-31)

In this authorized string of lines, when the poet speaks of “‘re-membrance’ of things past(e)”—not only lost but also “pasted together” and perhaps “sham” (cf. paste OED 1659)—he puns about the very act he’s (and we’re) engaged in, putting artificial parts together again to create a pasteup text that may seem spurious. “Outcast state” (cf. “exiled kingdom”) even seems likely as a neologistic printing term describing a “discarded” text. (OED shows “state” as an engraving term in 1874.) The pun “Witch, eye (Witchy…) black ink, half-supposèd dead” describes the Runes; more overtly, the details “state” and “summon,” along with the pun on “lackey,” combine to suggest lost kingliness and thus a lost domain or sphere.

          The double entendre “which I, Bill, aching [a king], half supposèd dead” is a still another pun about the loss of a mysterious province—really, as this book shows, half of the poet’s verse cycle. The concurrent pun “witch able, a king,” depicts Will as a magician in control. “Summon up” not only suggests “add line to line,” as in a tally—the proper business of “my adder’s sense” (Sonnet 112.10)—but also “conjure into being.”

       Similarly for the first time we hear new meaning and playful wit in this unfamiliar directive to Will’s unnamed friend—or to some other auditor, perhaps us:

Give warning to the world that I am fled.
After my death, dear love, forget me quite (quiet)
Upon (A pun!) those boughs which shake against the cold.
               (Rune 73.1-3: 3rd lines, Sonnets 71-73)

      In addition to the plays “… dear love forgèd me—quite / a pun!” and “love forged me quiet,” this bit of lost text embeds the nameplay “Shake” and the fuller pun “Witch Shake., against thee, see [c = see], old….” (OED shows “pun” 1662, origin obsc.) The ligature ft [i.e., “long s” + t] as a name cipher helps create the pun “Witch Shake., aging Shakespeare,” “…see boss [protuberance], Witch Shake., again ft, thistled,” and a joke about “Which Shake[speare]?” The third line also offers puns on “soul,” “sold,” “cud,” “code,” and “God” (in Q’s could, “cold”), while “fled” (in the first line) admits the puns “flayed”—a writer’s joke about parchment and about “losing one’s hide”—and “slayed,” because ƒ and “long s” interchange visually. (Booth calls the letterforms “nearly identical” [ix]). Finally, this tercet encases a joke about the torture that comes from “stichs” or line units: e.g., “…e quite [equity, acquit] / a pun [‘acute, a bun,’ suggesting a protruding buttock, or ‘equate a pun’] thou see: bough-switch, ass ache again, stick (‘stich’ [line unit, verse, card trick]) old…”—or some such. The “whispered”conceit suggests that the figurative “boughs” are like Q’s line units, which have been “left out in the cold” all these years, and which, further, are like instruments of abuse, like switches on buttocks. The put-upon reader here begins to understand the meaning of the play, “After my death, dear love forged me quite a pun!”

          A third example, one of the Runemaster’s immodest self-references, helps show how much new stuff there is to be found in the Expanded Q, “this composèd wonder” (Sonnet 59. 10) with its “newfound methods” and “compounds strange” (Sonnet 76.4). The address below, like the one just above, seems to be directed toward a future recompositor or, rather sarcastically, toward the “beloved friend”—who may in the poet’s mind have seemed likely to be the same person:

And arts, with thy sweet graces gracèd, be
No praise to thee, but what in thee doth live—
He of tall building, and of goodly pride,
When all the breathers of this world are dead….
             (Rune 82.8-11; 12th lines, Sonnets 78-81)

Here the image of “breathers” figuratively reinforces the phrase “what in thee doth live,” while “doth live” and “are dead” foil each other neatly.

          “Farfetched” puns (the term is meaningless in Q) in the linestring include these: “And hard is witty Swede [i.e., Thomas Thorpe, the ‘editor’], gray see Ed. be / in ‘O,’ peer’s toothy, bawdy, wadding that ‘oath-leaf’”; “When all Lethe be…”; “When all the beraters of this world [cf. ‘my sphere,’ The Globe] are dead…”; “beraters oft hiss [The Globe]”; “We null the beraters of [The Globe]”; “We annul thee…”; and “Be readers (Beraters) of this whirled, or dead.” The quiet pun “arts…be / an ‘up-raise’” anticipates “tall building,” while a joke about “mouths” resides in the collaborating phrases “in operas [1644, from It. and Fr., and from L. works] toothy be you taught (…taut, twat)” and “the breathers of this world are dead (…the breath, or soft high swirl, darted).” The initial play “Ann darts, witty, sweet…”—like “Witch Shake.” in the preceding example—may be another latency about the poet’s wife. Concurrent puns, distracting but entertaining and thus part of the game, include these: “good Libbie (written) Hall”; “In operas toothy, bawdy, waiting to heed oath, Livy, he’s tall”; “aye vestal be you, ill, dying, and of God…”; “wry dune alt [high] he bred here”; “goodly pee, ridden ‘awl,’ to Hebrew there (Hebrew’d heiress) soft is.”

         Readers deterred by such puns or doubtful about their “authorization” (for certainly a reader cooperates in creating or re-creating them) may at first choose to ignore such minimalistic word play, concentrating instead on the obvious and substantial surface coherence, the sense and logic, in the three restored sequences above, studying at first the emphatic rather than the tangential evidence for the poet’s authorization of the sequences, analyzing the lines for evidence of craftsmanship and order rather than disorder.

         However far a reader may want to pursue them, the lurking sequences of newfound meanings in the Q lines and their combinations make it easier than before for one to take the poet at his word when he talks (as in Sonnets 27-28 or 43) wearily of late-night composition, of being frustrated and bone-tired at bedtime, and of not being able to sleep because of the “journey in my head (irony enemied; irony enema’d; ‘iron-eye [or phallic ‘I’], enemy, heed’).” Our increased understanding of Will’s real difficulties and frustrations as he labored to complete his arduous grand design may lead us to hear his complaining aspects as fairly honest, not just conventional.

         Too, ironic or deprecating contexts in the Sonnets are now less likely to belie the potential accuracy of such comments as “my verse astonished (my verses tones [cf. ‘tomes’] hid; my verses, to one eye shut; my verses twin…; my V [pictographic groin], arse, a stone I shit)” (Sonnet 86). Such epithets as “new-found methods” and “compounds strange” (Sonnet 76), broached above, occur in Will’s comments about his own writing. And the term “both your Poets” (Sonnet 83) now becomes pregnant with the meaning “Sonneteer and Runemaster.” Knowledge of the buried scheme, in fact, invites us to reconsider many of the details and much of the matter that is in the Sonnets—but especially the poet’s profusely recurring references to himself and his preoccupation with his own on-going activity as a writer.

           Thus the discoveries posted on this site have far-reaching implications for reading the texts that have been before our eyes all along, since the original coterie would surely have read not just the Runes but also the Sonnets broadly, for their wit. Offering new approaches to lines and thus to the whole of the Q texts, the present book not only reveals 154 lost runic texts but also begins to restore to us the Sonnets themselves, showing us the original interconnections among the visible texts as the author first juxtaposed them on hand-scripted pages, and revealing in particular their coy playfulness, their leg-pulling and game-playing character, on a scale that far transcends the white-noise level of punning we have already detected in them.

Puns in the Quarto: “Simple” to Complex

         While learning to play the pungame is like learning to swim in that at some point you have to jump into the water and do it all at once, a kind of sequencing may help readers get the hang of it. First, one can start with the “usual,” conventional, single-term puns in Renaissance usage—including such bawdy examples as “country matters,” with pudendal suggestiveness (e.g., Hamlet 3.2.123), “die” as “have sexual intercourse,” and “ear” as pudendal.

        Along this same line, Booth notes such puns as these in the Sonnets: glass = mirror, hourglass (Sonnet 3.1); husbandry = agricultural management, manly “tillage” (3.6, 13.10); uneared = not fruitful, “untilled,” as a womb (3.5); thing = object, generative organ; nothing = vulva (20.12); all, punning on “awl” as “penis” (26.8); travel/travail (27.2); vulgar = commonplace, base (38.4); dumb = mute, unfeeling (38.7); count/cunt (58.3, 75.7); countenance = face, patronage, a play on “cunt” (86.13); acquaintance, with bawdy overtones (89.8, 12); hate away / Hathaway (145.13); and And/Anne (145.13).

       Partridge offers access to hundreds of other conventional Renaissance puns.

         A standard list of predictable puns in Q could also include these: anon / a nun; antique/antic; as/ass; well (inkwell, pudendum); bear/bare; best/beast; but/butt; could/cold/called; depends/deepens; desert/dessert; duly/dully; grown/groan; heart/art/“hard”; hold/holed/hauled; hour (Q hower)/whore; horse/hoarse/whores; hue/hew/Hugh; hymn/him; lays/lace; like/lick/lack; might/mite; more / m’ whore / Moor/More; morn/mourn; my loue / mellow; ne’er / near / in ear; nor/inner; or/oar; poor/pour; proud/prowed; pine/pain; reign/rain; rime/rhyme/rim; rose/rows/arrows/errors/eros; seal/sail/sell/sale; seen/sign/Seine/scene/sin; sit/sight/cite/site/seat/sate; tell/tail/tale; there/their/tarry/ t’ Harry / th’ear; thus / th’ huss; thy/thigh; tomb/tome; waste/waist; which/witch; wight/wait/weight; and write/right/wright/rite/raid/writ/red.

         Other one-term substitutions include “ƒ--k” and Q’s fuch; “butt” (“body,” “bawdy,” “beauty”) for but; “Luke” or “luck” for look; and “Annie” for “any,” —as in “For shame deny that thou bear’st love to Annie” (Rune 1.10).

         A next stage of punning, still easy, takes short elements and reinterprets them: e.g., my nature (107A.11) = miniature; why then (129.4, following Q white) = whiten/widen/waitin’ / wade in / Wyatt-end; me thy lips (140.2) = meaty lips; Iackes so happy are in this (139.2) = Isaac’s soppy errant eyes (…a rune t’ hiss); day say ore (104A.10) = desire; the very (104A.10) = thievery; the Stars (18.1) = this Taurus, these tars; my barren rime (18.2) = maybe I err (maybe error) in rhyme, maybe a runer I’m; then my (18.2) = th’ enemy, th’ hen may…; But day (18.14) = body, bawdy, beauty; To witneffe (18.12) = two eyed an ass; to wit, knife; too-white knave; to Wyatt, an ass; farre more (136.4) = farmer, sour m’ whore; why write (75.6) = wearied, worried; W.H., you’re eyed; and I death my daies fhould (18.8) = Idea: Tommy dies fooled (…th’ Midas of old).

          Further examples, some of them a bit more complex, include these: to thee / toothy (45.6); a league is took / a leg I stuck (47.1); black/bullock; to die/ today; mark / m’ ark; than/thin; with/witty; my name / minim; ruined/round/runed; that/thought; line/lain/lying; part/party; spirit/spurt; now/know; clean/ceiling; pine/pain; they / th’ eye; again/aging; compile (78.9) / see homme pee ill; graces / gray seas; gracious / gray shows; lovely/lowly; owes/hose; afford/a fword; ƒaint/saint; ƒrom or ƒrame/serum; o’er-read (81.10) / horrid; bless / be less / be lass; plain/pealing/playing; barren / be a rune / Berowne; in/John/Ann/eying; clear/sailor; comments / see homme ends / come man t’ ass; other/“oather”; cannot / see a knot; gulls (86.10) / jewels; again/aging; a king/aching; for thy / farty; so thy /Southy; stay/sty; shall / S. Hall; Eve/ewe; ƒaces/fauces; to it / taught / twat; lovely/lowly; mansion (96.9) / man ass eye on… / menace, I own (…Ion, John); gentle/Gentile/genital; errors/Eros; stern / ass, turn; being / be inch / baying / buying; his/hiss; pied/paid; yet / ye et; robbery / “robe-ry”; canker (99.13) / see Anne, cur; if/eafe/eyes/ass; time/Tommy; not that / noted; that / T’ Hat.; overgoes (103.7) / Argus; mend / m’ end; fuch/suck/ ƒ--k; beauty/body/bawdy; leafe/leaf; ƒlame / slay me; look/Luke; now / in “O” (pudendal, anal); hand/handy; favor/four/fore/fore; tan / t’ Anne; crown / see rune / zero in; admit / Adam eyed (…ate); Let me not / Lady may not(e) / Laddie may Ann ode; giue/Jew; appeal/apple; policy / pole I see (why?); still/steal; date/died; razed/raced/erased; fears not / is ear snotty; crime / see rhyme / serum; heir/hair/air/hear/here; thee behold (131.5) / Tybalt; prison / Paris own; and whoe’er (133.11) / whore.

         By exploiting punning possibilities in short snippets as those above, one builds up gradually to longer components—lines and multiple lines.

Fuller Linepuns in the Letterstring Codes of Q

          Below are some insistent examples, with the clustered letterstring codes in Q that yield them. In these instances one has moved from merely detecting isolated puns to runic deciphering of a more complex sort—a lost art in modern reading practices that requires a playful, creatively flexible construction of the alphabetic code. The originality of the wit (and sometimes the metered or pleasantly cadenced patterns, too) may lead us to hear such plays as authorized—more so, at least, than of our own contriving.

Hominy, ale, ye end up sick… Howmany ahol y and ob feq… (33.3)

For tooth-essential salt, I bring John’s own semen (…in Seine seamen; …in fancy hymen)
                                                      For toth yfenfuall ƒault I bring inf en ce,Imayn (37.7-8)

Applied in cunt handy, thin, misty 8 [inches]—I needle y’ ass remote (…y’ ass-rim odd)
                                                      HaplyeIt hin keont hee,an d then myf t ate A ndheauil y ƒ romwoet (38.1-2)

Apply th’ ink Auntie Anne did in misstating devil’s row mute
                                                      HaplyeI th inke onthee, an dt hen myftate,An dheauilyƒ ro mwoet (38.1-2)

When Lucan were dead, is Rome the thing it was?  When louecon uer ted f rom the thing it was (49.7)

To Livy, a fecund elephant see-saw needed (…aye fecund elephants Esau kneaded).
                                                               To liue a fcond l i ƒeon fe co ndhead, (63.12)

Science mandates our steins erect, yours (ewers) down: Indeed, eye meaded jaw, doubting
                                    Since mindeatƒ ir ftinc arrect, erwas done. Andt i methat gaue, dothn (64.3-4)

A rooster roast done (…roasting), Anne did eye meat: Hat.-jaw (Mated Judith…) doth now his gifts (jests) [i.e., his crowing] “un-sound”                  a rrecte(r) rwas done. An Dt i met hat gaue, doth now his giftc on ƒound (64.3-4)

If state offers you limited aid, John, (…I own [admit]) you hear a lack.
                                                      …f ftate, Oƒeareƒ u llmedit at io n, w here a lack, (65.8-9)

Handy form, my far off, witty oathers’ altar, near panting Magi witty, bawdy…
                  hand From me ƒarre of, with others allto neere, Painting myage with beauty (70.4-6)

Andean (Ending…), th’ hymn is t’ ill Greene but weepy, twatted witch.
                                                      …andhein th em ft ill greene, But weepe tohaue,that which (70.7-8)

In ark you aye see kitchen jet, hid yellow taper shows my nights’ waste (…knight’s waist).
                                                      …n orq u i c kechan ge?T hyd yallhow thypre tious my nuits wafte, (72.6-7)

Worried, eye Shakespeare ill, alone: You read his ame.         Whywrite I ft ill allone,eue rt hef ame, (75.6)

In a Ming [vase], thy enemy be less (…bellows…) seasonal repartee.  N a ming thy name, b leffes an ill repor t. (92.11)

Eye slick alembic old, high sill, oak stair, and slate (…oak’s terrain oscillate [OED 1726])
                                                      I ƒlike aLambehec ould hi sl ookes tr an flate. (94.12)

Age, amend: Apples [cf. the story of The Fall] herald a sequence to hell.
                                                      …ag eme.And haplieoƒ ourold a cquaintance t ell. (96.4-5)

Saw-dust thou, too, eye in death, a rune (…erring).                   So doft thou too, a n dth e rein (102A.3)

Sought (Sewed, Sowed), high tummy, cell see: Bearing Judy, razor missed Anne.
                                                      Sot ha t my fel ƒe brin gwa te rƒor myft aine, (106A.11)

I teach (ditch) theatre for liquor, aye foamy (…I foam, Tommy; hold my tongue)
                                    I teach theehow,There fore likeher, I fome- tim e hold my tongue: (111A.3-4)

Human descending, the First Cunt, see it, O, ass lewd, hairy, bared fore-nothing, this wide V, never fecal, thin, gummy….        …umen t ,Finding the ƒirft con ce it o ƒ louet here bred, For nothing this wide V niuer feIcall, Then giueme… (111A.9-12)

Ass, you see meatus, that “I” half-scanned, addle Lancaster, my crape tights murky, nude…
             ACc u fe methus,that I haue fcant edall, LIkeasto ma keourappe tites morekee neWHat … (113.5-7)

You pawn your dearest lute, O callous (to call us) tupper, vender melodious.
                                                      …v pon your deareft louet o call,As topre uentour malladies (115.5-6)

Lame fool, dafter ward, suborns Lear error.          …lame fhoul dafter ward sburnec leer er.Or (116.3-4)

Tom [Thorpe] hawks m’ own fit (ft=Shakespeare) airs, handy things, in digest (… and, dead, hangs)
                                                      Tom akeoƒ m on ft ers, an dt hings (117.2)

Tomahawk [OED 1634] of mine stirs, handy thing is in, digs to boot
                                                      Toma ke of mon fters, an d thing s in digef t, But (117.2-3)

Tomahawk of mine (man) stirs Anne dead, inches in, digs to butt or ass, keen- inch to amuse a million decadent sonnets anew
   Toma ke of mon ∫ters, an dt hings in digef t, But r ec ken ing t ime,whofe million daccident sOno,itis aneu (117.2-4)

Tommy wove million decadent sonnets, any verse (“Annie-verse”) I X’d.
                                                      …time,whofe million daccident sOno,itis ane uerf i xed (117.3-4)

Witch-work is on leaves, effort numb readier is (…red whore scent).
                                                      Which work es on leafes offhort numb redhower s, And… (122.12-13)

T’ Ham S., elves babble dares, orate o’ Judy: Ham is Romeo, sibyl (…ass able).
                                    …t hem-f elues bebeuel Theref oret o giuet hem f rommewa s Ibold (123.9-10)

If it be poisson dead, is the lesser fin lousy (…Louisa)?
                                                      If it be poifon’ d,t is the leffer finne, Loueisa (125.2-3)

They say Dante is shallow. (They say Dante’s shallow-ribbed odes you eyed […ate].)
                                                      Thi sI doevowandthi s fhalleue rbe,T othis Iw it… (125.11-12)

Euripides you eyed in a scald’d, heavily soft, immune set (…seat).
                                                      …euerbe,Tothis Iw it n e scallt heƒole soft ime,Hen ce,t (125.11-13)

Sotted o’ the Roman, Mauritania eye, mighty (…empty) too.
                                                      fothat o the r mine, Morethenenough a mItha tve (129.8-9)

Aye litotes witty will make John giddy, shunned huss (…shown t’ us).
                                                      i ll:Tothyf wee t will mak in gaddi tiont hus. (130.8-9)

Maybe I, too, end in Japan.                   …my p i ttiew ant in gpaine. (130.14)

Awesome, ye see Livy and theme-sources eye (…again’ll err).
                                                      Oƒhim,m  y  fe  lƒe, and theeIam ƒorf  aken,Hel ear… (133.7-8)

Fertile, eye Cato write forms holy (hollow) in ode here.   …furetie-l i keto write forme,S hallwilli n ot her (133.8-9)

Th’ “Hat.-music” hath a farmer-pleasing sound.          Th at Mu∫icke hath a farremore pleafing found: (136.4)

Lo(w), you eye seamy Finn, and headier virtue hate.    Lo u ei s my finne, andt hydeare vertue hate, (141.2)

Dais, hurting ass, [wi]ll amend jabbering. …dehis heart in ƒ l amin g brand, (142.14)

Anne, to enlighten the cows, tup London asses, aye seek Whitehall…
                                                      And to inlighten thee gaueeyes tob lindn effe,. I fick withall (151.12-13)

The atomie (The atom, aye…) is tough t’ hew [cf. “split”]. I’ll wait. This shall I ne’er know, but live in doubt I hate.
         …th atthoum a if thaue t hyW ill, Yet this ∫hal I nere know but liue in doubt, I hate (153.4-5)

         While it seems presumptuous, even to me, for an American non-specialist—a mid-Southerner to boot, with Tennessee/Arkansas nasality buried deep in his genetic code—to be trying to recreate encoded patterns of British dialectal speech from four centuries back, it’s fascinating to think that the poet’s phonic codes sometimes allow us all access to pronunciation patterns, much as rhymes in earlier verse sometimes do. The acrostic code in 105A allows one example of how this might work: AS BAT TT II CIITN. Hearing, e.g., in this codeline “A Sabbath to Satan” or “As bait, T.T., aye eye Satan” establishes an phonic equivalency between “CIITN” and “Satan.” Further, BATTTII as “Betty” and IITN as “Eden” suggest other articulated forms, much the way “keto” (above, in 133) can encode “Cato.”

        As aother example of how an authorized letterstring might encode Will’s own pronunciation, imagine the end-letter sequence of Rune 84, n hg sy deeyyn dee, as code for “in edge see Diane die (…dying day)”—with “edge” a reference to the righthand “edgecode” itself. Other readings include “An ‘X’ wide eye ye handy,” “In hex ye die windy,” and “In hedges ye’d eye Indie.”

A Primer on Playing the Runegame

      Working backhandedly, I’ve concluded from my long hassle with the Runes that the formulas that a Rune poet learned, the runic patterns and paradigms, would predictably have comprised such components as these, some of them useful for burying or encoding materials—and thus, to the reader/player, for rediscovering them—and others functional to give the buried features their challenging, playful, dazzling character:

Some Routine Characteristics of the Runes

         1. Respect for order and sequence of elements in an overt text.
         2. Respect for parallelism of elements in an overt text.

         3. Employment of visually emphatic elements in an overt text.

         4. Employment of numerology.

         5. Regroupings of elements based on the items in 1-4 above, and analysis of those regroupings for those same features.

         6. Egregiously flexible and playful uses of alphabetic and numeric codes, as phonic and pictographic symbols.

         7. Wit always straining after new conceits, but, concurrently…

         8. Recycling conventional figures and allusions, especially those about the runic game itself (e.g., “O,” “rune” or “round,” “knot,” “rows,” “aegis line”) and clustered conceits about such topics as military activity, naval activity, legal activity, gardening and growing things, seasonal change, and the whole range of Biblical and classical subjects.

         9. Associative and spin-off logic that pushes coherence to the breaking point.

       10. Employment of materials and attitudes betraying bawdry, profanity, sacrilege, disrespect for the conventional, irreducibility, and other perversions of normalcy appropriate to a world turned upside down, concurrent with…

       11. Mystical piety that acknowledged God’s omniscience as the only really capable Reader of the Runes (and admitting any other writer or reader’s limitations) and that depended somewhat on the mystical symbols of traditional numerology; as time wore on, secular attitudes came to dominate what in earlier years may have been genuine piety and mysticism.

       12. The use of puns, the more extreme the better, with overlays of serious and non-serious matter the norm.

       13. Secondary employment of aspects of incidental word games—such as anagrams, acrostics, or palindromes—and of any and all the rhetorical and poetic devices and figures of speech known to writers since the lost, bardic beginnings.

         Trying to reduce a runic text to paraphrasable meaning and thus make sure that some real, authorized composition exists at all, a player has to make many judgments about significance and must try to discount whatever seems peripheral, at least for the time being. This, in effect, is the centripetal force of the Game’s activity, its center-focused drive toward order and stability. Diametrical is the centrifugal pull toward disintegration, where puns run rampant and bring pleasure in themselves at the expense of the integrated whole—or so it seems. This activity, enjoying all the diffused, authorized distractions that bestrew Will’s lines, is the other side—the far side—of a reader/player’s endeavor; here spectrums of puns range from predictably conventional to ludicrous and babbling, and add-on acrostic and “gameboard” aspects that hinge on deciphering alphabetic codelines move us far from “reading” poetry in the conventional sense of that phrase, even though reading a poem is also a process of decoding an alphabetic codeline—and even though Will blurs the line totally in Q so that each wordstring (or line) also becomes concurrently a letterstring (or code) with multiple “readings” allowed by the author’s manipulation of it and by the potentialities inherent in the phonic/alphabetic code used in Shakespeare’s English. Knowing when to stop (or for that matter when and where to start) is a puzzling part of this open-ended enjoyment of the infinitely various texture.

         In short, playing the Runegame pushes us in two opposite directions. Conventionally minded readers may be more comfortable with “reductive” readings. Working in the other direction brings to mind modern “deconstructionism,” analysis of a text by which one “proves” the lack of any central meaning at all and shows, rather, its confusingly divergent implications.

         Readers should note that this book does not deconstruct the Sonnets, except to the extent that the author himself did: Practically speaking, Will did his own deconstruction job on the Runes—in the same act by which he set them to paper. Thus the main act of this book is restorative. But readers who want to “dissect” or “tear apart lines” (as my students would say) to see what particular possibilities lie in them may do so. In learning to hear the punning implications of the lines, we are, in effect, relearning Renaissance skills at responding to concurrent meanings and wordplay (see Booth xiv-xvi). Admittedly our former sense that the Sonnets can be trusted to yield serious meaning will seem threatened if we do this extensively.

         A particular block to progress in construing or deciphering a letterstring or a whole text may occur because one is constantly asking, “Am I hearing Shakespeare’s communication or am I ‘making this up’?” The answer, of course, is “both.” If Will’s mind were less capacious, we might often accuse ourselves of inappropriate creativity, of overreaching. Experience with the game, however, leads us farther and farther toward the conclusion that most “meanings” in the code—if they aren’t anachronistic—are possibilities that Will could well have toyed with.

        My own rhetoric strains its limits to try to sort out and systematize the various runic aspects in Q that convey diverse kinds of meaning. I repeat that individual study (and play) will be necessary for any full understanding of what I mean.

         By diverse means the Q lines slyly embed bawdry, scatology, irreligious wit, and family humor of all sorts. Much of this occurs uniquely in the facsimile-line recompositions, where puns, ambiguities, double entendres, and jokes are routinely achieved by means of spellings, capitalization and italics, interchangeable alphabetic characters, spacings, punctuations, and even altered alphabetic characters in the printer’s font. To see and hear such wit, modern readers will need not just to loosen up a good bit but in effect to retrain themselves to recognize the possibilities in the English phonic code as Shakespeare exploits it.

         One who wishes to cooperate with this baroque game must first imagine each letter-string in Q as a phonic code set up to challenge “eye and ear.” (The phrase occurs in the first rune I found, The Pearl Rune: “ear and eye toiled, condemned.”) Learning to ignore preconceptions about “correctness” or what the alphabetic characters stand for or represent helps one play the game with fluency. It’s easy to forget that meanings are conventional rather than phonically bound—that in “power,” for example, a punster may see “pour,” “poor,” “pee o’er,” or (if p=th) “th’ whore” or “th’ O-er” (i.e., the “rounder,” rune-maker), “th’ oar,” “th’ ore,” “th’ hour.” Some of this kind of punning humor in Q will survive modern editing or spelling and may undergo no changes in detail. For example, “…when the gracious light” (Rune 1.7) suffers no change if rendered in modern English and thus retains the puns “…when the gray show’s light” or “…gray shows light” or “…gray show [may] sleight.” (A “gray show” may be a “misty entertainment,” and “light” means both “revealed” and “lighthearted.” Vaguely “subjunctive” or conditional verbs often contain a sense of something hypothetical.) But other details “lose the pun” if modernized. For example, the puns “lawyer,” “lower,” and “Butler” in Q’s “…but loue you are” (Rune 1.13) get lost in “…love you are”—while “low viewer” and “lover” emerge. Suggestive spellings in Q, and those allowing ambiguity of reference, include such overtly attention-grabbing examples as “howers” for “hours” (Rune 1.5) and “beautits” (Rune 4.6), the second a notorious “error” in the Sonnets.

       As a further example, the authentic line “NO more bee greeu’d at that which thou ha∫t don’,” (Sonnet 35.1) offers, much more readily than its edited form, such potential puns as “No more be greedy, T.T.…”; “In [H]omer, beggared…”; “An ‘O’ moor [dark], bigger…,” a likely pudendal joke; “an amour bigger [beggar, bugger]”; “…that which thou half-done (half'd one/wan),” a suitable epithet for the Sonnets/Runes; and “‘Hat.’, witch, thou half-ton.” Even the strange form “…don’,” ending the line with an apostrophe that seems to replace a “missing ‘e’,” may be a small joke about something unfinished, “half-done.”

       I’ve said that an important guiding assumption here is that Will prepared Q for print and envisioned its printed forms as the eventual bases for his Game. I have not studied how his game would’ve worked in its hand-scripted forms. To the extent that printed and scripted forms overlap, much wit would carry over in both forms. (See Thompson for a sample of the likely forms in script.) But some of Q’s wit is particularly crafted to be set in type in precise forms that would’ve required Thorpe’s complicity.

Practical suggestions for decoding subtextual puns and letterstring codes in Q

        1. Use Q’s spellings, punctuations, letterforms, bobbles. Regard “errors” as potential keys to authorized wit. Ignore word divisions in construing letterstrings. Look at run-on letterstrings, especially where runic lines connect, for possibly encoded puns. Remember that the game is playful, not logical or sensible. As a coterie player, go looking for bawdry, scatology, and other kinds of licentious wit. Start hearing the common coordinating conjunctions as End, Butt, Fore (i.e., frontal), O’er/Whore/Oar (with phallic suggestiveness), ’n her, ye et, and Sue/sow (as in “…wild oats”). Look for what are now called Freudian symbols—awl, prow, oar, eye, well, “thing” and “no-thing.”

         2. Try to hear “Elizabethan” pronunciations imaginatively—with modern British or Cockney in mind. E.g., gun = “goon,” about = “a boot,” making = “my king,” itch = each = age, pee = pay, my = may, tea = “tay,” done = down = dune (roughly), laud = loud, it = eat, and so on.

         3. Remember interchangeable letterpairs in the Renaissance: I and J, U and V, VV and W—with the last four (U, V, VV, W) roughly equivalent. (Q’s recurring giue encodes Jew, and vfe = wife, use, us, verse, vice, wise, whiff, viz., oeuvre[s]).

         4. Roughly, let A = I = Eye = Aye.

         5. Read S and F as interchangeable when they occur as f [“long s”and ƒ. I’ve concluded that within the coterie it must have been conventional to make the F/S substitution “as needed,” especially in the capital letter acrostic codes—even when the S’s and F’s did not look similar. Q’s lookalike s and ƒ generate hundreds of multiple sets of puns—e.g., soul/fowl/fool; fear/sear/seer/sere/Sir/sire; and increase / ink-grief / insure ease / incher, ease / “inch” [h]er ass / injuries. Regard “F” as potentially the dynamic notation forte, with FF and FFF as possibilities.

         6. Note that alphabetic characters may sound separately as phonic letters. For example, But = BU+T = body, bawdy; here = hairy, Harry, or “each, he err”; crime = see rhyme. ABCs may also represent whole words: Aye, Bee, Sea, Day, He, If, Jay, Each, Aye, Jay, Quay or Key, Hell or Ell, Hymn, In/Ann, Owe, Pay, Queue, Are/Err, Ass, Tea, You/Ewe, …, Aches, Why/Way/Weigh, and Sea/Zed/Said.

         7. Note that vowels may be missing in the consonant frames of the code, so that (e.g.,) BRING = bearing, be-ring, peering, bare inch, bare I inch, burying, burying Jay, be air in (erring) jay, etc. Similarly, some consonants (esp. H) may be dropped—e.g., art = heart = hurt = hard = phallic “I.”

         8. In decodings, allow the vaguely subjunctive “be,” as in Emily Dickinson’s “Know I…what a billow be.” Let phonic “owe” (code O, etc.) mean “acknowledge, recognize, admit [that something is true].” Allow “eye” (code I, A, etc.) to mean “look at, observe, ogle [something].” Such “verbs” allow “syntactic” statements to grow from the subtext.

         9. Become familiar with such recurring terms as “fon” (silly), “wood” (crazy), and “make” (mate). As a hypothesis, assume that “loo” works as a euphemism for outhouse and thus a pointer toward scatological wit (cf. lieux, “place”).

        10. When a key word or convincing pun occurs, look for an encoded syntactic context. 11. Using the forms previously suggested for the names of major players in Q, look for nameplays as keys to wit pointed their ways. Locate, e.g., So, All, SHall, Hat., giue the, am not, Which, Will, Hen., TT, etc. as keys to banter. Note puns on the names of characters in Shakespeare’s plays, and puns suggesting The Globe—e.g., whirled.

        12. Remember that letters in English (e.g., I, J, G, Y) typically represent divergent sounds (cf. C in “cat” and “ace,” and “ou” in “tough,” “cough,” “plough,” and “through”). Also, let initial consonants, especially voiced/voiceless pairs, interchange to represent closely related sounds (e.g., B/P, D/T, F/V).

        13. Be ready to hear foreign terms and funny nonce words; let et=and=Anne.

        14. Listen for “pronounced” puns and double entendres—e.g., a tomb = a tome = at home = item = atom; upon = a pun; Where = W + “hear” = “Double you hear.”

        15. Allow such visual interchanges as B=8; S=5; b=6; W = IN; lefthand parenthesis mark = C or flaccid phallus, righthand mark = “l” or I or flaccid phallus.

        16. Acknowledge that, in such a spirit, letters may be pictographs. As context warrants, let O = round/rune, anus, pudendum, “eye,” testicle; V or Y = groin; VV=fangs or sagging dugs; X = acrostic; H = “ladder” (parallel vertical acrostic rows); I = phallus; J = hook; S = snake, hiss; T = cross; colon = “spots”; exclamation point = phallus meeting a tight pudendum; the digraph ft = Shakespeare or Saint. An X may mean a null, or (as a verb) “to X out,” obliterate.

        17. When context warrants, use letters as Roman numerals—esp. I, V, X, C, L, M.

        18. Consider “runic” plays on Thorn (archaic th) and Wen (archaic W = When = “wen” = Will’s initial = a rising or protuberance, or “proud flesh”).

        19. For practice, read “And fee the braue day funck in hidious night” as “Anne deaf ate Hebrew’d Avon, seeking hid-Jew’s naked…” (code An dƒ eet hebraued ayƒun ckin hid ious nig-ht…) and go looking in Sonnets and Runes to see what comes next. Listen for “eye peers,” “eye Paris,” and “ape ears” in appears. And for “knight” or “night” (cf. N-IG-HT, N-I-GHT, etc.) read Aeneid, “naked,” “Annie head,” “any God,” “nigh God,” “neigh, God,” “nugget,” “negate,” “nigh gate,” and “Anne I got (jet).”

          All in all, the printed English alphabet with some 50-odd (capital and lower-case) forms allows Will a maddeningly fluid medium for conveying punning wit, and his licentious treatment of the code—very much of his own day—permits especial flexibility and range. I believe that editors have so far not proffered “f--k session” as a pun in Q’s fucceffion, or “f--k” in Q’s fuch. But Booth ventures such plays as “cunt-science” in conscience and notes that “saucy jacks” (Sonnet 128) is sexually suggestive, and so on. It seems likely that the reluctance of editors to go further than they have in pursuing bawdry has resulted largely from their collective sense of decorum and politeness and their unreadiness to stress low wit in distracting ways. (Booth dismisses Will’s bawdry in Sonnet 128 as “a mere labor at cleverness.”)

          Will’s chosen forms in Q routinely facilitate his puns, and even a few examples may suggest conscious manipulation for “low” effect. In Sonnet 59.4, a functional pun lies in “fecond” on “fecund”—just after “laboring” and “beare amiffe.” Similarly, witty little plays on “money” occur in Q’s forms “The fad account of fore-bemoned mone” (Sonnet 30.11, my emphasis) and “…prefent mone” (Sonnet 149.8, an endword adjacent to “fpend”).

         The recurring spellings “loue” (love) and “liue” (live) generate “loo,” a scatological pointer that seems functional in such lines from Rune 1 as “Loo-kin, thy glazen’d tail, the face thou viewest / Unthrifty ‘looliness’[‘loo-lines’]…” (3-4 ); “Loo-end [Loined], hairy end…” (7); “…deny that thou bear’st loo [bare assed, lewd] to Annie” (10); “…this loo seek, that ‘tails’ that I’m oathèd…” (12); “…your cell is but[t] loo…” (13); and “pee, loo seek” and “th’ [p = th] loo seek” (14, terminally). The word “loo” may have originated colloquially as the euphemism “place” (Webster’s 3rd suggests an origin from Fr lieux d’aisance); one notes also that “lew” (now dial Brit) meant “a place of shelter.” Other plays and puns in the lines of Rune 1 amplify the poet’s “looly” scatological wit: e.g., “fair-assed creatures,” “creasures,” “farty wind-errs,” “addle” (OE stinking urine or liquid filth; mire), “tars,” “doughy,” “midden” (ME dunghill), and “I sit, force eerie/awry [sight source hairy (sorcery)]…,” “I sit sore, fart, O [fart ode odd]…” (9), etc.

        Shakespeare would for sure have called an outhouse a “jakes” (OED 1530, cf. jakkes, “Jack’s”), so that the Q line “faufie Iackes fo happy are in this” (Rune 128.13) admits such plays as “saucy jakes—foe appear in this”; “…soppier jaundice”; “…soppier, John to hiss”; “Foes, eye jakes soppy, a rind th’ ass (error in this / a reign, thy ass / a rune this)”; and “saucy jakes soppy around us [horrendous?].”

         The reader will recognize that partly what is happening here is a tendency toward witty sound effect and echoic diction that has often been remarked upon in the Sonnets and other carefully crafted verses. Thus, in Sonnet 1.1, one hears “creatures” play against “increase”; in Sonnet 2.1, one hears “When” and “Winters” and the echoic play “shell besiege,” suggesting aspects of combat; “Unthrifty” anticipates “spend” in Sonnet 4.1; and so on. The kind of puns that have generally not been heard include plays such as “Wind, farty ‘winders’ shell, besiege thy ‘burrow’”; “thy glassen’d tail, the face thou viewest”; “why, dust thou [ha]st penned!”; “those whores that with genital work did frame [didst ram]”; and “Oathèd you were yourself, but lawyer.” These and other such plays are the kind of undignified fiddle that emerge subtextually.

        Collectively, puns can be strongly tendentious and eventually impossible to discount, especially in a writer who made an art of them. However, since single puns are almost always inconclusive because they are susceptible of multiple readings—and since many of the puns I explore are not only concurrent but contradictory—I make no insistent case for the authority of any particular detail below or elsewhere here, and instead offer the alternatives in the exploratory spirit of the game, whose verses, in reductio ad absurdum fashion, suggests meaning in dazzling, multifarious ways.

       The letter-string puns I excavate are more radical and rampant (if those conceits are compatible) than the many puns typically suggested by explicators and editors of the visible Sonnets. Thus an explicator who approaches the Sonnets from the far side—whose main argument is that the Q lines are, in a fundamental way, punning entertainment—is bound, I fear, to appear foolish.

        The examples below use the 14 lines in Rune 1 to suggest the capacity of all of Will’s Q lines for inordinate punning. This approach loses continuous, run-on wit but at least shows something of the cornucopic potentialities of any set of Q lines. While the examples above start with a “reading” and then give a code equivalent, those below start with a potential codeline and give a reader practice in seeing how divergent “meaning” emerges from it. Thus these are more typical of how the runes actually work—taking an alphabetic/phonic letterstring and exploring it for “whispered” meanings that are partly “encoded” but also emerge because the code itself, construed flexibly, cooperates to generate ambiguity.


1. FRom ƒaireft creatures we defire increafe,
    From fairest “creasures,” Weedy Sire, increase.
    From fairest “creasures” we’d ease our “increase.”
    From fair-assed Creator S. we desire inch-series.
    Fair homme, fairest creature, is witty siren’s rave.
            …fair ass, ’tis richer, sweet, afire…
    Sour homme, sourest creature, Swede [i.e., T.T.?], is our increase [as agent].
    Of Rome is Harry S., ’tis right, you’re swayed, Sire John (see our ass).
    Form fairest see. Erasures we desire: Ink erase.
    Fair homme, fairest creature, sweet siren, see, erase (…see her ass; see arras).
    Fair homme hairy ass, ‘tis red: Your sweetest ire-inch raise.
                                … Swedes, eye rune-series (…sweetest Iran crave).
    From serest creatures, weeds, eye rain (ruin, rune), see reef.
    Fair homme, fair-assed creature, Swede [i.e., T.T.?], if our ink erase....

 2. VVHen ƒortie Winters fhall befeige thy brow,
    When “farty winders [i.e., things wound up]” shell, besiege thy burrow…
    Wind, farty wind, arse offal, besiege thy burrow.
    Windsor, too, eye. Enter S. Hall, Bess, eye jet Hebrew.
    Wen—sore to enter ass—his awl besieged high burrow (…Hebrew).
    W., Hen. S., our twinned (tuned) arse shall besiege thy burrow (…th’ Hebrew).
    Wen, sore to enter, ass is. Hall, besiege thy burrow…
    When fortune tears S. Hall, Bessie age thy brow…
     Wind for tune enters asses’ hell by siege. The way? Burrow.

 3. LOoke in thy glaffe and tell the ƒace thou veweft,
    Loo-kin, thick lies Anne dead: Healthy is ass thou viewest.
    Luke, John, thy glees sent t’ hell this ass, Tho’s T.
    Luke, eye Anne, th’ ugly saint-tail, thesis to have weaved.
    Low cunty jellies see aye in detail t’ hiss, ass, t’ house Shakespeare [=ft, the name cipher].
    Luke, eying th’ witch, laugh until the face toast.
    Luke joined Wycliffe and detailed his ass t’ house tea.

 4. VNthriƒty louelineffe why doft thou fpend,
    Unthrifty lowliness, why, dust thou [h]ast penned!
    Winter’s t’ ye lovely, nice, W.H.…
                        …an ass, why does T.T. house paint [...hose pin...]?
    Winter’s Tale howling, Ass W.H. widows T.T., who uses pee-end.
    Winter eye, still holiness white, oft t’ house penned.
    You in there eye style of lines wide. O’s [Rounds, Runes], T.T., husband.
    Unthrifty, lowly anus wide oft Thos. pained.
    Unthrifty, lowly, an ass, why does T. T. husband / those whores… [cont. 5]?

 5. THofe howers that with gentle worke did ƒrame,
    Those whores that with genital work did ass ram (died firm, did fry me)…
    Th’ “O”-sewers—thought witty, gentle, workèd—I’d frame (…farm, form, affirm).
                             …witty gin tell [i.e., device reveal] where key died, Sir, eye me.
    Thou see Harry Southy (tee!). Witty gentle W., o’er kitty [cf. “pussy”], desire me.
    Those who err state, “Wit gentle work did frame.”
                                    … genital work did Fr. [father] o’ (owe) me.
    Thou see “O,” worse-state [a printing term?] wit…
    Thos., your ass thawed with gently workèd, “I’d” serum.
    Thos., sewer is thought wit. Gentle work died, Sir, a midden [i.e., dunghill] … [cont. 6]

 6. THen let not winters wragged hand deƒace,
      T’ Hen, Lady Anne owed winter’s Ragged Andy face.
      T’ Hen, hell, Eden owed windier surrogate, handy fece…
      T’ Henley, 10 o’ 2, enter, sewer eye, get handy sauce.
                                        …rage, Dane, deface…
      Thin, Lady Anne ought wind [her way?] t’ her sewer again....

 7. LOe in the Orient when the gracious light.
     Low in the whorey end, W.H. integers I owe you—slight (slicked).
     Loo-end, hairy end windy, gray, seize…
     Loined Harry entwined, hickory shows, licked.
                         …to Hen. th’ “gray show” ’s light [i.e., dim (dour) entertainment’s gay (visible)].
     Lo, in the “O” (runed, windy) gray seas lie jet [i.e., black].
     Lo, in the “O,” wry end when the edge [knife], Horatio, you slight (sleight, slide).
     Hell windier eye, entwined hickory shows legate.
     Low in th’ whore, I and twenty, gristly, jet.
     Low in theory, end windy, Grey, Cecil I jet.
     Loin, th’ whore eye, and twenty gray seas’ll I jet.

 8. MV∫ick to heare, why hear’ft thou mufick fadly,
     Music to Harry W. high hearest thou? Music’s addle [“stinking liquid filth”]? Why?
     Muse? Seek two: Harry, Harry S., [&] T. T., whom you seek sadly (fatally).
     Muse (Muff) I see, cat too, Harry. Why, here’s T. T.—Thomas—aye sick, fatally!
     Muff, I see (icy), kitty awry, Harry S.… (…a wry Harry S.; airy, hairy ass)…
     Muff I seek (sick), two hairy wires, titty…
     Him (Hymn) you seek, too, Harry, W.H.; worse, T.T., whom you f--k fatally.

 9. IS it ƒor ƒeare to wet a widdowes eye,
     Is it force, Harry, to “wet a widow’s eye”?
     I sight “forest ‘ear’d’,” to wit, a “widow’s eye” (…weedy sea, witty see).
     Eyesight, force “ear” [pudendal] to “wet a widow’s eye.”
     I sight force eerie too (I sit, force Harry to widow ideas aye).
     Eyesight fore is hairy [i.e., lashed?] to wet a widow’s eye
     “I” [phallic] sight, force hard. A weed (Awed; Odd), a wet (wide) “O” we see.
                    …hear duet, a widow sigh…
     I sight sorcerer, toad, odd dose eye.

10. FOr fhame deny that thou bear’ft loue to any
     For shame deny that thou bear’st love to Annie!
     For shame! That T. Thorpe arrest! (Lewd whinny!)
     Fore is Ham’et, Annie, that thou bearest [buriest]—love-twin. Why?
     Fore [Firstborn?] is Ham’et, Annie, that thou bearest low, twin. Why?
     If o’er is Ham’et, a-nighted, thou buriest low (law), too, Annie (lewd whinny).
     Fore-shamed Annie (tee!), Hathaway bare-assed, lewd. O, Annie! (O, Anne, why?)
     For shame deny, Tho., T. Tho’p, ear: Fit (if it) low’d o’ Annie.
                         …T. Th. (titty; lispingly, “Kitty”), O you be, Harry S. (hairy ass) t’ love.
     Fore is a midden [dunghill] yet. Ha. T. Th., O you be harassed, low…
     “For shame deny th’ titty, O,” you (bare-assed, lewd) whinny!

11. A[space?]S ƒaft as thou fhalt wane fo ƒaft thou grow’ft,
     A sophist ass, thou ass, halt, whinny! Sophist thou grow’st (…jurist).
     A soft-ass’d ass, Thos., halt, whinny! Soft ass’d thou grow, Ass. (Tee!)
     A sophist aye, Southy, fall to anus of ass T.T., how gross. (Tee!)
     As fast as thou, S. Hall, twin [i.e., Judith?] so fast thou grow’st!
     As fast as thou, S. Hall, twin, so fast thou grow'st
                                    …S. Hall to Anne, “So fast thou grow’st!”

12. VVHen I doe count the clock that tels the time,
     W. H., Annie, doesn’t this lock that tail? Southy, tie me! (Southy’d “I” me!)
     Whinny too Count, the seal. O, seek th’ tittle, Southy, t’ eye me.
     When eye do count [i.e., measure] this low, seek th’ “addle” [i.e., muck] t’ eye me.
      W., Hen., adieu. Count, this low see: Kitty, t’ tell Southy, “Eye me.”
               … eyed a cunt, this low. See kitty tail [cf. “pussy”], Southy…
     W.H. eye docent t’ heckle, O, see cat had tail, ass, that I may [cont. 13] ode at you…

13. OThat you were your felƒe,but loue you are
     O, th’ Tower, your cell see, but low you are (…lower).
     Oathèd—you W., Harry, yourself—butt lower!
     O, Tho. Thor., sell, fee. [See] beauty over (…but 1 whore).
     O’ the two weary whores ’ll see beauty o’er (…sea booty, O you are).
     Ought (O, tee!) Hathaway rears (rear ass,…). Hell see, but lower.
                              …ours, Elizabeth, love you are.
     Oath adjure yourself, butt-low you are.
     “O” thought: you weary yourself, butt-lover.

14. NOt ƒron [(sic) cf. ƒrom] the ftars do I my iudgement plucke,
     Not foreign, this tar [sailor?] sodomy, huge men t’ pluck.
     Nate F. runty star is. Dome [Wisdom; The Globe] y’ judge, th’ loo seek.
     Knot’s a rune: The stars, too, image E’mund th’ lucky [plucky].
     Not front, he’s t’ arse. Sodomy-judge, amend (Amen’d) th’ luck.
     Knot from the stars, dome [wisdom, judgment] ye judge, mint pluck.
     Knot from the stars (“domey,” huge), meant t’ pluck.
     Innate, [Not] form’d, he stirs: Demiurge [(?) OED 1678] mend th’ luck [i.e., Fortune].
     In ode Pharaoh, India-star’s dome, you’d commend…
     Notice rune… …eye-made mint… …tars do eye, my huge men…

       Inevitably, some anachronistic puns will emerge—terms that for one reason or another Will couldn’t have thought of. I’ve included in the index many terms not recognized in OED as having currency in the Renaissance, terms borrowed from other languages or of unknown origins. But I’ve tried, as best I can, to cull items such as these examples: Silhouette (23.3)—though the family name might have existed; wisteria (33.3); “dull my power tie” (38.12); Tennessee (code TAAAAANSCE [62X]); paraffin (46.3); Hadacol (51.2); Simonize (51.1); Kodak (74.3-4); Monet (83.1, perhaps an extant name); sandwich (73.3-4); Niquil (77.13, 87.1); “Mouthèd Graves” (76.7) as a reference to myself; Celsius (85.2); TNT, CBS (91X); dynamite (93.5); Puget (118.1); “Eye Nazi foe” (125.3); “bucked Tommy gun t’ end beauty” (125.7); Tommy gun (153.1).

       At first I thought “jalapeno”—in the codestring Mr. W. H. ALL.HAPPINESSE. on the dedication page—must be anachronistic, until I learned that jalap(a) (NL.) is extant and once meant a purgative. Thus “Mr. John [=W=IN], jalapa in ass…” (overlaid on “John Hall”) makes a fairly convincing authorized joke with “medical” overtones. Concurrently, the play “Misery: Hollow penis” occurs. Over and over I’ve relearned that I must not underestimate Will’s deviously inventive mind.

         The real capacity of the runes to generate, amid their chatter, coincidentally “prophetic” forms helps me understand why such researchers as Drosnin find what they take as superlogical portents buried in the textual acrostics that they analyze. This aspect of “rune-magic”—lurking amid heaped products that in varying measures are authorially generated—must have appealed especially to a pre-rational age, when the bardic capabilities of word-wielders were presumed and when it was in the best interests of the bards themselves to have their consumers keep on buying that notion. As I’ve said elsewhere, the convention that “only God can read the runes” seems to’ve developed in the early runic coteries, probably as a serious affirmation of faith during the medieval Age of Faith. The idea still may make some sense by allowing us to postulate a hypothetical omniscience superior to our own puny rationality in dealing with overlaid complexities of meaning. Any rune, even the simplest Anglo-Saxon riddle, is finally an unknowable microcosm.

       A more pragmatic observation, perhaps, is that subtextual coincidences and accidents in a coterie work do not rule out subtextual intentionality and authorized craftiness, even though the authorized and the accidental forms may admittedly be hard, or even impossible, to tell apart.


        Readers not particularly interested in tediously punning aspects of the Runes—or in abstuse philosophical theorizing—may prefer to focus on the more overt senses of the lines, reading the runic texts rather much as they might read the Sonnets—for sense, figurative and rhetorical features, and wit—and trying to ignore intrusive playfulness if they can. (The subtextual wit will intrude anyway, gradually educating an attentive reader/player in the more “far-fetched” aspects of the Q project. This process is essentially how I myself have proceeded.)
       Readers with diametrical interests who want to pursue the arcane minutiae of the Q texts can consult later sections of this introduction, where some especially complex aspects of Will’s Runegame are the topics.


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