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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 18
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Rune 17
Third lines, Set II (Sonnets 15-28)

                          Rune 17

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

     That this huge stage presenteth, nought but shows
     And Fortify Yourself in Your Decay,
     Though yet, heav’n knows, it is but as a tomb:
 4  Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
     Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger's jaws,
     A woman’s gentle heart but not acquainted
     Who heav’n itself for ornament doth use;
 8  But when in thee time’s furrows I behold,
     Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
     My body is the frame wherein ’tis held,
     Whilst I—whom fortune of such triumph bars—
12 To thee I send this written ambassage.
     But then begins a journey in my head
     When day’s oppression is not eased by night.
     Glosses: 1) this huge stage = the world (suggesting The Globe); 2) Fortify...Decay suggests a morality play, contrasting with shows (1), a term implying frothy entertainment; 4) Rough winds puns on “Runes”; 6-7) i.e., “Only a beautiful, ingenuous woman not being familiar [with the harshness of life]”; 11) Whilst I = “Will Shakespeare [st = the routine family name cipher, a long s “shaking” a spear-like t], I/...eye”; such is an eyepun on “f--k” in Q; 12) pun: “...Toothy, eye Ass Anne t’ hiss; writ, a name be sage (...besiege/...beseech).”

     17. This Written Ambassage

     That’s all this huge stage presents, nothing but light froth
     or some tedious morality about human mutability and the need to prepare for death,
     though as yet—as the heavens can see—this house is empty, this Globe is like a tomb.
  4 The same rough winds that shake May’s pretty blossoms
     leave the fierce tiger toothless—
     facts of life confronted by everybody except some gentle-hearted woman
     saintly and innocent enough to ornament the heavens.
  8 But when I see time plough even you like a field
     or envision some fierce creature full of rage ravishing you,
     my own body becomes its cage
     while I, barred by circumstances from any such heroism—I
12 send off this diplomatic letter to you.
     The trouble is that at that point a journey begins in my head
     as night does not ease the day’s oppression, and death does not release me.


          The topic of Set II—the poet’s struggles—persists in this bleak comment on mutability and isolation. His “huge stage” is The Globe, the world, a stage in life, and (ironically) this little poem—one phase of the “journey in my head” (13) that we see unfolding.

          Tropes alluding to theatre and writing, the poet’s real-life preoccupations, support personal readings of the text.

          Nothingness and inevitability dominate the scene. Mere “shows” or dreary moralities (1-2) play to tomblike houses (3). Some conceits suggest Roman spectacles featuring beasts and foregone outcomes (see 5, 8-10). Motifs of incarceration and death stem from the phrase “fortify yourself in your decay” (2), with amplifying details: “tomb,” (3), “jaws” (5), “furrows,” “be holed” (8), “replete” (9), “frame,” “held” (10), “bars” (11), “in my head” (13), “oppression,” and “night” (14). The detail “heaven knows” (3) suggests the painted canopy over the stage (cf. 1); and “day’s oppression…not eased by night” (14) reminds us that the poet’s shows, however gloomy, never escaped the daylight glare.

         The “huge stage” also stands for the Q texts, especially the runes that the poet’s “frame”—his numbers scheme, his physical being—“cages.” From this raked vantage, the poem seems witty. Will’s shows are superficial (1) and focus on decadence (2). The “runes” (Q Roughwindes [4]) “shake” the innocent and fierce alike (4-5). Line 6 insinuates the coterie’s “maleness”; Will’s “written embassage” (12) is shrouded in diplomatic secrecy. Vague suggestions of typesetting, lineation, and the printing process grow in “furrows,” “frame,” “held,” “O-pression” and “bars” (8-14). The play on “Zed” (14) echoes the Earl of Kent’s attack, “Thou whoreson Zed, thou unnecessary letter” (Lear 2.2.69, cited OED) and highlights the pun “Kent heath” (5). “Knotty Zed by [K]night” turns “night” itself into a play on “Kent.”

           The pun on “Susan[na]” (Q Showes /And, 1-2) hints that Rune 17 may explore her loss of innocence. May’s “rough winds” (Q ro u ghwin…[4], cf. “row you, John”) might even encode the month of composition (May 1607). If 6-7 address Susan, then 8ff. gain poignancy and focus: The poet sees the daughter aging and “furrowed” (8), imagines her ravaged (9), and empathizes with her (10) in a titillating image: “My body is the frame wherein [the ‘fierce thing,’ punning ‘In,’ John] is [‘I’ is] held.” Line 11 jokes ”I should be so lucky” and puns “you, knave, f--ked wry homme fibrous.” The “journey in my head”—with puns on “maidenhead” and “eased by Knight”—may pick up the topic of the poet’s trip to Stratford for the wedding (see Rune 15). “Fierce thing” (9), “nought” (1) and “not a-cunted” (6) are usual sexual humor. In 7, the male auditor may hear the joke that his own “fierce thing” (9) is to be “heaven’s ornament.” “Ornament” points to stage or tomb decoration (1-3), “buds” (4), “teeth” (5), and flourishes in writing (12).

Sample Puns

          1) Tee! Hat’s Huge Stage presenteth naught but Susan S.; this huge Shakespeare [= st, the name cipher] Age; foes; naughty (nude) butt-shows
          1-2) (re. Anne’s bad taste in theatre)
          2) Anne, fortify yourself; Anne fart, I sigh, your fell sin, your decay; decade
          2-3) your decayed Howard heaven knows I tease
          3) tome
          3-4) Though jet-hewn, know we City’s beauty as it home be (a site umber); eye Sabbaths, Adam bare
          4) Rowns do Shake. thee, darling butts of me; Runes do f--k thee…; Rune’s dissected (…dose ached head)
          4-5) beauties of Maypole you seek; buds of maple you see
          5) Rome, the fair (fire) city, Jersey awes
          6) Avow man’s genital, hard but not “a-cunted”
          6-7) Butt-knot, a queue, ended W.H., O heavy night (knight) fell; O’er night’s hell-fever; whore-name ended oath
          7-8) waving itself, fore-ornament doth wife butt
          8) when in three times, force I behold; Circe; 3 x 4 we sigh (say bold); forest I behold; four rows I build; 3 x 4 rows (suggesting 3 quatrains)
          7-9) th’ wife-butt W., Hen., ended, aye miss-furrows seep, hole dour
          8-9) see hole dour foam, Circe thing; in 3 x 4, we Sibyl dour sum
          9) Our foamy fire see, “thing” replete; Whoresome sire, Southy, inch replete; Hoarse homme fears th’ injury
          9-10) plead with Thomas, hear a gem
        10) My bawdy eye, Southy fair, a mirror
        10-11) My body is the frame, W., Harry, in it I shall dwell, stumm (…Shakespeare [st], I, whom fortune of f--k triumph bars)
        11) home, fortune of Sue, see; Will Shakespeare, I, W. H., Homme, saw, art enough; if you see it, rhyme
        11-12) Arse, to this end, (Arsed, odious end [Anne]) thy swarthy name be
        12) Toothy, I offend [cf. 5, re. lost teeth]; ambassage Ham be of age (eyepun)
        12-13) Ham be a sage beauty
        13-14) in maid-wen dies oppression
        14) Windy sop raise I, onus not eased by Knight; East by night [cf. the Magi]; Windy eye is ope, refines knot; naughty Zed (= Z, cf. a snore) by night; W., Hen., dies, upper scion is not—a Zed be ye, Knight.

Acrostic Wit

          The downward emphatic acrostic codeline—TATR PAW B OM WT BW—suggests such readings as “Tatter th’ web, homme, wit be you,” “T.T., our pay…,” “Tighter, paw bow [i.e., pick at the knot], mute beau,” “Tight our paw, bum-wit be W.,” “T’ hate our paw [i.e., our hand, punning ‘writing’]…,” “Taught, rip a web, homme, wit be you,” “Tatter paw, bow mute be you,” and “Tighter paw, bow mute, be W.” Bermuda (1640, cf. B OM W T) may be anachronistic. AW-8-OM encodes “autumn.” PAW echoes “tiger” (cf. 5). TATR suggests “Theatre” (see comments above).

           The upward acrostic codelineWB TW MOB WA PRTAT—may be decoded, e.g., to read “Web to mob we pratted,” “Whipped Wm.-O boy pirated,” and “Wiped Wm.-O boy parted.” “O” suggests both a round or rune and an anus or other body orifice.

Proceed to Rune 18
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