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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 II, Runes 15-28: Texts and Comments 
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 16
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Rune 15:
First lines, Set II (Sonnets 15-28)

                        Rune 15

       (First lines, Set II: Sonnets 15-28)

     When I consider everything that grows,
     But wherefore do not you a mightier way?
     Who will believe my verse in time to come?
 4  Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
     Devouring time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
     A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted?
     So is it not with me, as with that muse:
 8  My glass shall not persuade me I am old.
     As an unperfect actor on the stage,
     Mine eye hath played the painter and hath steeled.
     Let those who are in favor with their stars,
12 Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage,
     Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed.
     How can I then return in happy plight?
3) believe (Q beleeue) puns on “be-leaf,” i.e., put onto pages, publish; 7) that muse points back to you, thee, thou (2, 4, 5); 8-9) pun (reinforced by the meter): “I am old / as Anne, unperfect...”; 10) steeld = engraved, fixed, hardened; 11) Let = Leave (see the pun in 3); 10-11) namepuns: “m’ Annie Hath-th [= p, archaic thorn]-lay,”“Anne Hath...,” Let = “L’ et” = “l ’and” = Le Anne; 14) plight = condition, commitment (suggesting marriage), punning on “placket” = a slit in a woman’s garment, and thus a woman (OED).

     15. Who Will Believe My Verse?

     When I think about you, and all of nature, and this growing body of poems,
     in what respect do you not outstrip my limited imagination?
     Who in the future will believe my conceits? (And who will finally see this verse into print?)
Shall I compare you to a summer’s day—and broach a hackneyed conceit?
     Shall I say that you “devour time” and “blunt the lion’s paw” by staying unravaged, or that
     yours is like a “woman’s face, painted by nature’s own hand”?
     And can’t I say the same thing about myself that I say about the figure that inspires me?
  8 Neither my mirror or hourglass will convince me I am old:
     Like an unpolished actor onstage—
     overly made up to try to sustain illusion, raising eyes to the heavens in fixed poses—I’ve trained my vision to paint its own reality.
     Leave to their fates those currently in favor,
12 lord of my love, for whom, like a servant
     work-weary from this labor, I hurry to my single bed.
     How can I go back now with any joy—back home, or to bed, to work, or to where you are?


          As Will enjoys a fresh start, this initial hidden text in Set II shows a simpler style and several rhymes. Forsaking the procreation theme of Set I, Rune 15 considers the verse project at hand. Will’s complaint, though conventional and rhetorical, also seems “sincere” in light of what we can now see: The unfolding Q project must have seemed arduous and uncertain to him.

          Critics have noted that Sonnets 15-17 introduce the new topic of immortalizing the (ironically unnamed) Friend through verse. Familiar lines from Sonnet 18—“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”—run through Runes 15-28 like a scarlet weft, helping the buried texts raise a nexus of questions: “How do I capture your nature in verse? What have I gotten myself into? Is this a profitable undertaking? Who will believe my verse?”

          The last is a query I myself feel acutely, since fate has picked me in this modern “time to come” (3) to be Q’s advocate as I try to “be-leaf” Will’s verse. As Will anticipates, skeptics abound.

          Whom Will addresses as “lord of my love” (see 12) in Q is a crucial conundrum. Sue and Dr. John Hall of Stratford, daughter and son-in-law, top my list of likely auditors. I’m confident that as one primary reader Will imagined Hall, a potential companion during the poet’s upcoming retirement and an appropriate recipient of much of Q’s buried wit. Here, e.g., line12 embeds a pun on “laudanum” (Q. loue,towhome, w = n), “a costly medicament” (OED 1602). The “Lord” section (1ine 1ff.) also suggests a preoccupation with Southampton, an alternate figure often connected to the Friend of the Q texts; the last line here embeds the play “How can I t’ Henry turn in happy plight?” overlaid on the pun “eye, Henry, Tower” and thus possibly alluding to Southampton’s incarcaration late in Elizabeth’s reign.

           Heavy problems weigh on the poet’s mind: Ironically isolated from the muse he serves, tired and disfavored in a menial role (11-13), he struggles to find adequate comparisons (1-7) and deals with personal and professional failings (8ff.). Plays about his estranged wife—e.g, “My Annie Hath.” (10)—couple with his closing question, where “plight” can mean a “pledged, married state,” to focus on his dilemma: “How can I go back [to Stratford] in ‘happy plight’?” Bemused puns about his family situation infest line 14: e.g., “How’s Annie? Thinner?” and “ urn John H[all], a puppy, licked.”

          Other “family” puns point to a composition (or revision) date close to June 5, 1607, Susanna’s wedding day. These puns include, e.g., “S[ue] Hall, I come, pair thee two a summer’s day” and “...pair thee two as humorous Daddy” (4-5). The “lines’ pause” required by the wedding would “devour time,” and Sue’s “woman’s face” would be the cause—of the hiatus, and of the Q project itself (see 5-7). Will’s decision to be a London playwright has yielded a wrenching dissociation from “reality” (see 9-10). If the poet is rushing to finish his project, the “pause” required by his daughter’s wedding would deter his project, and Sue’s “woman’s face” would be the cause—both of his project and of his not working on it (cf. 5-7). In this context, the closing question ”How can I then return in happy plight?” may mean, “How can I go back to Stratford on a happy wedding day and be happy there?” or “How I can I come back here to London afterward?”

          In light of the text’s preoccupation with that event, Rune 15 can be read as the poet’s contemplation of “everything that grows,” including his own daughter, whom he remembers and addresses as a “mite teary” (Q mightier waie, 2). By Rune 16 the term “Master/Mistress” will have entered the Q texts to help us understand how Rune 15 might address both Sue and the “Lord of my love” (12), John.

          Though Sonnets editors have found steeld (Q10) troublesome and emended it, here in Rune 15 the word reinforces other imagery about creating art. “My glass” (8) suggests that looking into (or providing a “backing” for) a steel mirror may be one meaning. “Painted” and “painter” (6, 10) hint that steel’d also means “engraved.” Too, the word carries the ideas of “steeling oneself” to deal with reality and of being imprisoned. (Q’s linear rows are like a self-made cage.) The claw marks of the “lion’s paws” (5) suggest spaced lines, scars, and wrinkles; to “blunt” them might be to take away the rune-poet’s sharp steel pen.

           Given the punning equation “Summer” = “Adder” = “numbers man” = metricist, lines 4 and 7 may ask the same question: “Are(n’t) our two lives alike?”           

           Meanwhile, “unperfect actor” (9), “played” (10), and a hint about men in women’s roles (6) sketch out a theatrical metaphor linked to “mirror” (see 8) by the common motif of makeup and by the fact that both actors and mirror-gazers create their own realities and put the best face on things. The actor’s “glass” is not only the invisible wall of the thrust stage but also the judgment of the audience in whose minds his actions are reflected: The “glass” conceit implies that art “holds a mirror up to nature.” Other elements paint a scenario in which an “unperfect actor” forgets his lines, looks overhead, and “freezes” (9-10).

          Closing figures combine feudal terms with the topic of marriage or its obverse; since plight puns on “plait,” a variant of “knot,” the term “happy plait” or “pleasant knot” (14) is an epithet for the playful rune—a part of “everything that grows” (see 1) in the poet’s knot-garden. The wordplay “earning happy plight” (14) may also suggest an economic preoccupation, perhaps a consideration of the printing deal the poet has agreed to and is trying to complete—the one that finally culminated in 1609 when T. T. brought out the Sonnets.

Sample Puns

          1) W., Hen., I consider your wry “thing” that grows; G-row
          1-2) that gross butt W., Harry S.; the inch, that G-row (i.e., line 7), is bodying [w = in] Hereford
          2) to a midget I err
          2-3) our Eden owed you (adieu) a mightier way, W.H.
          3) Will; Whale; oil; be-leaf my verse, in time [meter] two [poems, cycles] come; John, Tommy T., see hommes, Hall, I come, party to a summer’s day
          4) S. Hall, I come, pair thee two [i.e., you and John Hall] a summer’s day; Shall I compare Thetis, you, mere sty (…immersed aye); Summers adder’s (metricist’s); Thetis immerses, Dido you ring Tommy (you rune)
          5) Deranged (Dear “inch’d” “O”) “I” may blunt; hotel yon suppose; line’s pause
          5-6) hell, John, (Helen) suppose—a woman’s face
          6) with nature is (with an 8 you rise) Onan deepened
          6-7) A woe, man’s sauce within a Tower is Onan-deepened sauce
          7) witty Adam you see; not wit, me ass; Sue, is it not, with me—a sweet, hot Muse (muff)?
          7-8) Saucy “10” ode we, Tommy’s with th’ Hat.-muse (Th., Tom, you see), mickle [much] ass, S. Hall
          8) My glass, S. Hall; lass S. Hall note, peers; you aid me, I am old
          8-9) few Adam eye, moldy ass, a nun; Mickle Ass S. Hall, not peer of witty me, Hamlet’s (…Hamlet, as) an unperfect actor on the stage
          9) As an unperfect act o[r] rune, the stage; knot (riddle); a son unperfect
          9-10) peer, seize, taste Orion-theft, eye Gemini
        10) M’ Annie Hath. polite, the pan[h]er Ann Hat.; Anne Hath Shakespeare [= st], Eee! (…a lady); Anne Hath. steeled (cf. Anne Hath “[stolen] away”); Anne hath ass-tilled
        11) Helen [L-et = Hell-and] thou see whoring, favor wittier fit [stanza], arse; thou see whore, John, fair, witty…; few Orion favor
        11-12) Helen thou see, W.H., Orion favor, wittier star is Lord (lowered)
        12) Lourdes, my loo, Tommy knew; Lord of my love to W. H., homme, in vassalage; Lower (Lo, our) dose, my laudanum in vessel; mild autumn, enough foliage
        12-13) in Wassail, a Jew eerie
        13) We are youth; toil aye halved me, Tommy be ed[itor]; Weary with toil, I half’d my tome. You bet!
        13-14) …you be ed., Hawk Ann; may be Ed. who weakened Henry t’ earn Anne…
        14) See Annie thin return in (weakened Henry turning…,) happy plight Hawk, Anne eyed Henry tower 9-high, papal “I” jet; in a Babel, I jet

Acrostic Wit

          The acrostic code in this first-line text is “doubled” because of the typographic practices in Q whereby first-lines of visible sonnets are set with oversized emphatic capitals followed by ones that are smaller. The downward (or down/down) code here—WB VSD AS MAMLL WHHVVHE [W]O YS IEOEO—suggests such readings as, e.g., “Web used as mammalia Jesu,” “Web used as Mademoiselle W.H, who’s Io (you),” “Web used as Ma’m’selle wise Io,” “Web used as my male (mill) W.H., who you see, Oy!” “We be-versed a (We bust a) simile, was ea[sy?],” “…Rizzzzz [a tongue-tied play on Wriothesley?],” “W. bussed [kissed] a Semele. Was “IEO” [i.e., in the codeline] Io?” Cf. also “milieu.”

          One of the reverses of the codeline (the up/up, starting with the bottom right of the implicit codeline “ladder” is [W?]OEO EISY O [W]EHVVHHWLL M AM S AD SV BW. Possible decodings here include “Woe, ease, you will maim. Sad Sue be. W.” and “Easy William amazed....” The upward string HWLL MAM SAD SV B W suggests “You will m’ Ham, sad his hautbois,” and “Hall ma’am, said (sad) Sue be you.” As usual, the VV and W characters may represent pictographic fangs and/or Roman numerals. The string …V V VV suggests, e.g., 5, 8, 5, 5, totaling 23—Susanna’s age between 5/26/1606 and 5/26/1607. Thus, cf. “Hall Ma’am said [sad] ‘s 23.” The upward string ...OWEHVVVHHWLLM, extending over the two columns, suggests William, with WLLM a shorter but visually more emphatic version.

          Other ways to read the code include these: WBVVSDASMAMLLWH (down) = “Wyatt [the sonneteer], W.S., daze, Mammal W.H. [suggesting Henry Wriothesley, John (=W = IN) Hall, Anne (=W = IN) Hathaway]” and “Wyatt, W.S. daze ma’am low.” And HWLLMAMSADSVVBW (up) = “Age [= H] will maim Sad Sue...,” “Will may ‘hymn,’ said Sweet [B= phonic 8] W.,” and “H.W. will maim sad, sweet W.” Since “Swede” elsewhere seems to be an epithet for Thomas Thorpe, Will’s printing agent and the T.T. of Q’s frontmatter, such further readings as “You’ll my ms. aid, Swede. [signed]W. ” are concurrent. LLWH may encode “loo,” likely (I propose) a variant of lieux and a euphemism for outhouse. OED does not support the existence of the term at this early date.)

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