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Shakespeare’s Lost Sonnets: A Restoration of the Runes
by Roy Neil Graves, Professor of English
The University of Tennessee at Martin

Set III, Runes 29-42: Texts and Comments 
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 30
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Rune 29
First lines, Set III (Sonnets 29-42)

                          Rune 29
     (First lines, Set III: Sonnets 29-42)

     When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
     When to the sessions of sweet silent thought,
     Thy bosom is endearèd with all hearts
 4  If thou survive my well-contented day.
     Full many a glorious morning have I seen;
     Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day?
     No more be grieved at that which thou hast done;
 8  Let me confess, that we two must be twain.
     As a decrepit father takes delight,
     How can my muse want subject to invent?
     Oh, how thy worth with manners may I sing?
12 Take all my loves, my love—yea, take them all,
     Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits!
     That thou hast her, it is not all my grief.
     Glosses: 2) sessions = court hearings, with sessions of sweet, silent thought a conceit for the Runes; 4) well-contented suggests “a full docket”; 6) promise puns on “swear yourself in (on)”; 8) that = so that; 11) manners = (courtly) decorum; 14) her = liberty (see 13), but suggesting some woman.

     29. The Sessions of Sweet Silent Thought

     When your fortunes are low and you’re disgraced in men’s eyes, and in that condition
     your heart comes before the court of my mind for a sympathetic hearing,
     it’s still assured of being beloved by all other hearts
if you can survive the full docket of this day and can tolerate my own sense of well-being while you yourself may be low.
     I have seen many such busy, glorious mornings.
     Why did you swear yourself in on such a beautiful day! (Why did you once guarantee me such a day?)
     Don’t be grieved any longer at whatever it is you’ve done.
Let me confess here at the bar that I share your guilt, making us partners in disgrace and confirming that we two (like these bifurcated texts) must stay divided.
     Just as an aging father can enjoy talking on and on about his child,
     my imagination cannot lack subjects for invention.
     But in what manner can I praise your worth and still maintain an appropriate decorum?
12 Go ahead and abscond with all my displays of affection, my love, yes, take them all,
     all those pretty licenses that a free man may take, errors liberally perpetrated!
     The matter of your liberty is not my only perplexing concern. Your freedom does not terminate my grief.


           Here Will, penning the sonnets, makes a new start on a new leaf housing Set III. (We can imagine the 14 visible sonnets in this set, 29-42, arranged on a large, two-page spread in Will’s hand-scripted text, with Sonnets 29-32 across the top, 33-36 in the next row, 37-40 in the next, and 41 and 42 centered at the bottom. The first lines of these visible numbers would link to generate Rune 29, our subject here, if one were to “read across” the set leaf instead of down.)

          The lines of the first two visible sonnets in Set III—among the better known in Q—color this and all the runes in the set with melancholy contemplation; the affirmations of the sonnet couplets, by contrast, lend a relatively upbeat tone to Runes 41 and 42, as if to make those two a sort of “couplet close” to the runic string of 14 numbers inherent on the leaf.

           As it emerges in the runes, the tenuous topical unity in Set III comes from a preoccupation with the bifurcated writing project itself, its paradoxes and ironies, the impossibility of its publication. The usual text in the set is a lament or complaint. If Set I urges “increase” and Set II deals with the poet’s role in securing the muse’s fame, Set III stresses the poet’s alienation from the very figure he “flatters.” Until the last covert text or so, the set materials seems to ask, “What have I gotten myself into here?” Emerging Stratford-focused wit in the runes invites new readings of the sonnets in the set, but the irreducible mysteries of biography seem to remain locked inside the poet’s crafty brain.          

           Unburdened momentarily from so many conflicting pressures and having, in effect, 28 clean slates before him, Will contemplates his need for inventive new subject matter (10) in the new set. Indeed, as we note, he creates some of Q’s more famous texts, along with these emerging, unfamiliar ones.

           Will sets Scene 1 (if you will) of Rune 29 in the hidden courtroom of his “sweet silent thought,” where his familiar auditor, the unnamed muse—actually that friend’s “bosom” (3) or heart--appears at an imaginary hearing to give account for some unnamed offense. At first in high spirits, Presiding Magistrate Will, an aging and paternal figure (9), feels challenged by the full docket (4); quickly he admits complicity and allows the friend liberty (8, 12-14), at last seeming more grieved than ebullient. One suggestion (8) is that the speaker assumes the plaintiff’s “guilt”—and thus may be off to jail himself. (Indeed, locked in his writer’s lair while his “friend” is at large, that is much the case.) As a “taker,” the friend at last seems guilty of stealing Will’s “loves” (12), though what originally brought the friend “disgrace” (1) seems to have been a failure to keep his word (6).          

            “Manners” (11) suggests courtroom decorum, and more overt legalese keeps the strained conceit alive: “promise” (6), “grieved” (7, cf. “aggrieved,” “grievance”), “subject” (10), “worth” (11), and “wrongs that liberty commits” (13). The convoluted pun “assay decrepit farther takes delight” (9) asserts “a run-down trial advances entertainment.” Since lines 12-13 embed “My lawyer, take the Mall [St. James’s Park?], / th’ hose pretty, wrong is thought,” the joke may be that the gentleman’s “crime” is bad taste in dress. The emphatic initials “W. H.”—always tied to the Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley, and always (as “IN. H.”) possibly meaning son-in-law John Hall—yield the plays “W. H., in Inn Disgrace” and “W. H., into the Sessions…” (1-2). The closing line puns “That [i.e., What...] thou hast here, it is not all my grace […all, My Grace].” Overall, Southy (or some unknown constituent[s] trained in law) may be the imagined auditor(s) for Will’s City and courtly puns here. In any case, within the closed circle of the poem’s development the muse figure goes from “disgrace” to freedom while the speaker declines from high spirits to grief, finally trapped in chambers—if not in a cell for having “confessed” (8) and, with Christlike “grace,” having assumed the blame that was not originally his. Notably, one finds “disgrace” at the outset and “grace” at the last” (14, pun).

           “Sessions” is a conceit for the poet’s thoughts and his poems, where he “sits” and controls readers’ responses (3). The poems are “well-contented” (4)—having “underground” sources, with the usual pun on inkwell. “We, too, must be twain” (8) is a comment on double composition, while “Wet ‘O’…” implies a newly-inked rune (a rown or round), or a page wet with tears. “Witty ‘O’...” is concurrent. “Muse,” “invention,” and “subject” all refer to writing, and “All my loves” and “pretty wrongs” (12-13) refer to these licentious love poems. “Her” (14) anticipates the Dark Lady conceit and means in one sense “the perverse, licentious ms.” And the “widow” (punning “wide ‘O’”) that “must be twain” is like the bifurcated text itself—the visible Sonnets and hidden Runes.

           Though “her” (14) anticipates the Dark Lady conceit and means in one sense “the perverse, licentious ms.”—and though the “widow” that “must be twain” is like the bifurcated text itself—the technical antecedent of “her” is “liberty” (13). Nonetheless the term vaguely suggests that the muse has a girlfriend who is the speaker’s rival or bane, and thus an air of misogyny taints the speaker’s loss. The puns on “Hall” (12, 14) and the vague suggestion that “her” might mean Susanna—these allow us imagine the son-in-law as reader and to create whatever reasons we wish. Since elsewhere we imagine the speaker rejoicing in the union and encouraging progeny from it, can we here imagine the jealousy of a spurned lover? The disapproval is also vaguely like that a father might display toward a son’s “sowing wild oats” (9-13), helping explain the listener’s “original sin,” the one that brought him into court in the first place.

           Linked elements that show careful craftsmanship include these: “Eyes” (1) anticipates “seen” (5) and establishes the motif of “light,” advanced by such details as “day” (4, 6), “morning” (5), and “takes daylight” (9, pun). “Silent” (2) establishes a foil for “promise” (6), “confess” (8), and “sing” (11), while “fore-tune” and “soar, tune” (1) pun on singing. Variants of the same up-beat epithet occur in three consecutive lines: “my well-contented day,” “a glorious morning,” and “a beauteous day” (4-6), while “grieved” and “grief” (7, 14) establish a basic countermotion.

           If the poet is playing a full-text letter-acrostic game, then perhaps we can forgive him a certain choppiness in the text, with more adjacent end-stopped elements than might ideally make a fluent text.

           The emphatic capitals of the pasteup and the initial word-elements in the acrostic are both provocative in ways that are surely authorized—executed with Thorpe’s help. (See acrostic wit, below.) The prominent capital “W,” written as “VV,” is Will’s own initial and links in every case with “H” to create plays on the title-page “patron’s” name: WH, and Hen[ry]. Line 6, with its particularly huge “VV,” houses a pictographic joke; partly it’s about the poet’s baggy eyes, apparent in the Droeshout portrait of 1623, since it comes just after the suggestive “glorious morning[s] have I seen” line and implies he may have been up all night. The pictograph is also about Ann’s corpulence, since it coincides with the pun “…heavy is Annie, / WIDEST tupper (wide-eyed…)”; the concurrent pun “heavy scene, / WIDEST (whitest) titty…” turns VV into sagging dugs. Because archaic “W” is “wen” and thus “protuberance,” the poet’s initial (and Wriothesley’s) permits much strained wit beyond the convergence in the equation W = IN = John = Anne! The capacity of Rune 29 to pun subtextually on “devil,” “mule,” “lighthouse,” “Ptolemy,” “Synod,” “Semele,” “Thebes,” “India,” “Hamlet,” “a nurse,” “satellite,” “Tower,” and “Lent” is—as another puns encodes—“amazing.”

           “The pretty wrongs that liberty commits” (29), a comment on the poet’s own licentious errors in his text, occurs amid a “TTT” string that includes “Thos.” (13); to find “Thorpe” one goes to the “wide line” to hear the joke, “Why didst Thorpe [Q thou p] row miss?” (6). The line “No More? Be grieved aye, T.T.…,” varying as “be grieved at that which thou half done” (7) seems likely to be on the subject of the unpublished More text, with “No More be ‘gravèd [i.e., engraved]…” concurrent.

           The opening “Anne joke” is offensively funny: “When in disgrace with fortune, Anne menses” (1). The play about “separation” does not spare Ann either: “…We two must be two, Annie—ass, a decrepit, fat or tacky satellite who’s Anne, my muse….” (8-10). The pun “Thou see pretty wrongs that Libby, artist, omits” (13), just before a plausible “grandfatherly” lament in 14 about estrangement from Stratford, may identify the “her” of 14 as the granddaughter Elizabeth Hall. The best “Judy” play seems a compliment: “soft, sweet, silent, thou Judy be…” (2-3, Q ght,/Thy). The occurrence of such “continuation” or run-over puns in the Sonnets themselves can be illustrated by those involving line 6 here, which also occur at Sonnet 34.1, where letterstrings help create these plays: 1) “Why didst thou promise such a beauteous sudde/n May? 2) “Why didst thou th’ row miss? If you see a beauteous ‘D’ a/nd ‘M,’ ache….” And 3) “Why didst thou ‘prow’ miss? F--k a beauteous Da/ne, make him t’ rail….” Such puns show how the poet embeds “runic” wit in Q’s overt texts and hint that much more wit of similar sorts waits to be discovered.

           Topical puns and bawdry in the Q line letterstrings include “ ‘horn’ [whoring] enjoys Annie, / widest tupper [fornicator], O, miss f**k I...” (5-6) and “Why didst [Thomas] Thorpe [Will’s printing agent] row miss, so cheap, odious Dane...?” (6-7). (Recurring puns suggest that Thorpe must have been red-headed, colloquially a “Dane” or “Swede.”) In 14, such overlaid puns occur as “Tee! Hathaway stirred, eyes note all my grief” (code: Hat thou ha ftherit, is not all my griefe) and “Tea Hathaway stirred. Eyes know Ptolemy greasy.” The letterstrings hat whi (7) and how thy wo (11) also vary “Hathaway.” Daie and FVll (4-5) link to pun on “devil,” as part of the fuller pudendal pun “my well, c--t-ended devil, my Annie, aye galore [OED 1675]...” (5). See below for other puns in the letterstrings of the lines.

Sample Puns

          1) Whinny; W., Hen., in disgrace; …ends, gray, sweaty, sore, too, an anthem in sighs; Grey see; in India, f--k her ass; gray, see witty fart, you, neighing demon, sigh, ass (size); “tuna” demeans eyes; Anne menses; witty four-two-né (i.e., playful 42 born): 42 overt poems are being created in Sets I-III.
          2) W. Hen., too; Whinny; …toothy ass seizing soft wit of island’d thought; Windy, O, th’ season, soft, sweet, see Lent; violent thou get (jet); violin huge
          2-3) ill end t’ haughty Thebes homme eyes; India, adieu; O, you Judy, be awesome, aye seen dirty; scene; soft, sweet, silent, thou Judy be of hommes endeared
          3) Thy “bow” (beau) foamy is; end “eared”; eye-cinder; Wit Hall hard is; I sin, dear Ed., Wit (witty) Hall here tease (hurt ease); dear Ed with Hall hard is
          3-4) …hurt his “I”; Thebes home aye seen dirtied, with hall, hearth safe; safety house
          4) Eye fit [stanza], how firm; mule [cf. Whinny (1)]; my well, cunt-ended, die; Will see, untended, die
          4-5) Eye of a mule, cunt-ended devil, m’ Annie eye galore
          5) m’ horn-inch heavy seen (...scene, sin)
          5-6) in Jove (jaw) is Annie Widest [with a huge VV starting the line, suggesting fangs or dugs]
          6) W. H., ye died, Shakespeare = [st] thou prow; abode; Why did Thorpe row miss? …Rome aye see?
          6-7) Miss, f--k (suck) a beauteous Dane, o[r] Moor bigger; f--k a beau Tuesday, no more
          7) W.H. edged housed don (Houston); aged
          7-8) Anne O, Moor bigger rooted Hat-Which, th’ O vast, tunneled, messy O
          8) that wet woe, muffed between; twain bifurcated, like these texts; cunt’s effete
          8-9) son seizes that widow muffed, between ass a dick ripped farther; Annie is aye decrepit, fat, her tack [i.e.,blemish] a satellite
          9) Hell [Q L], Anne [Q Et = And], me, see, insist that we two must be twain; Helen; a kiss; elide [i.e.,destroy]
          9-10) East lighthouse enemy may use
        10) see Anne, my Muse wan; muff he wants; O weaken; you swan (swain); few be jacked; twin windy
        11) O haughty wart-hued man-arse (a nurse) amazing
        12) Tackle; Ache Hall, my love’s Semele; simile; smell loaves; my lawyer, take the Mall!
        12-13) yet ached Hamlet [Q hem all, T], who’s pretty; awl
        13) Prate you rune jested; pirate, you’re on gusty Hat.; Thou see pretty Tower owing Southy; at liberty see homme I tease; two wrongs; Southy t’ lie bare
        13-14) Ye come, it’s t’ Hat., thou halved her (I tease not)
        14) That thou hast Harry, ’tis knot; it is no Ptolemy grave; Herod; sign o’ Ptolemy; eye snot, awl, my grease (cf. menses [1]); eye Synod Hall meager; maugre fee [i.e., despite cost, etc.]; maugre [spite] fey; I snow, tall, meager, easy; My Grace

Acrostic Wit

        This printed first-line rune generates double acrostic wit: The downward (or down/down) code—VVTI FVN LAHOT TT VVF VVOES OHAHHHHH…—suggests, e.g., “Witty few annihilate...,” “Witty, fon [i.e., foolish] laddie T.T. [i.e., Thomas Thorpe, Will’s printing agent], whiff woes , O!...,” “Witty, fon lady T.T. whiff woes, O, ha!” “Wait, heavenly ode, T.T. whiffs O,” “Wight heavenly, hot titty whiff [VV, pictographic ‘titties] o’ Sue,” “Wide, heavenly ode t’ diffuse, O,” “10 to 1 funnel, a hot, tough woe saw I (sway),” “10 to 1, fon laddie tough woe sha[t?],” “W-typhoon let T.T. refuse [tongue-tied], O,” “Wit eye few, anal 8 [scatological] whiff you easy,” “Witty few in hell ate T.T. (titty)….”and “Witty, fon lady, wife you owe [acknowledge], Sue Ha[ll]....” “Fun” (OED 1685, cf. “fon”; code FVN) suggests a hoax or trick.

        The upward reverse codeline (i.e., the up/up code)—HHHHHAHOS EOVV FVVTTTOHAL N VF I TVV—suggests such readings as, e.g., “Hiss ‘Eve’—futile enough. I, too,” “Is Eve feudal enough ado?” and “How Sue feuded to Hall, enough ‘I do!’ (…anus eye, too [F=S]).”

        Line 29.3 lacks the usual second capital, perhaps consciously omitting the “h” in “Thy” to control, in a modest but significant way, the alignment of the capitalized acrostic code . The terminal codeline “H’s” suggest “ladders.” (Such typographic manipulations would have required the help of Thomas Thorpe, Will’s printing agent—or of some other collaborator who was in on the game.)

        The rune is built to pull one further into the acrostic grid to see what phoneme is encoded next. The opening plays “W., Hen…” (1-2) suggest an acrostic focus on “Southy” or “Southampton.” Other combinations occur in this doubled-columned (“laddered”) acrostic, in the first text in the set with its amplitude of initial capitals. Down/up and up/down codelines offer additional possibilities. The 6 V’s suggest 30, the number of the next rune.

Proceed to Rune 30
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