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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 25
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Rune 24
Tenth lines, Set II (Sonnets 15-28)

                         Rune 24

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

     Sets you, most rich in youth before, my sight,
     Which—this time’s pencil or my pupil pen
     Be scorned, like old men of less truth than tongue—
 4  Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st
     Nor draw no lines there with thine antic pen,
     Till nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting;
     And then, believe me, my love is as fair
 8  As I, not for myself but for thee, will;
     And, dumb preságers of my speaking breast,
     Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine, for me—
     After a thousand victories once foiled—
12 Points on me graciously with fair aspéct,
     Presents their shadow to my sightless view,
     And dost him grace when clouds do blot the heaven.
      Glosses: 2) this time’s pencil = modern styles in drawing, my present effort at depicting you; 4-5) Nor.../Nor... = Neither…/Nor…; 5) antic (Q antique): an automatic pun in Q; 8) As I…will (8) encodes an automatic namepun on Will, the poet; 9) presagers = predictors; 10) thine = thy shape; 11) foiled ( suggesting a pointed weapon) = defeated; 14) him = the victorious “shadow” of the man being addressed, punning on “hymn”—i.e., a lyric, such as this text.

     24. Mine Eyes Have Drawn Thy Shape

     My vision forms and presents you, a view from the front (or the past?) quite rich with youth,
     a view—current fashions in art and my schoolboy pen both
     being set aside in the same way that one rejects old men who talk a lot but are unreliable—
  4 a view that neither fails to attribute to you the handsome thing(s) you own
     nor adds any time-worn details that caricature you
     until nature herself, seeing you in a state of nature, has fallen in love with the representation.
     After this, believe me, my beloved is as handsome
  8 as I wish, as I determine—acting not selfishly but purely on your behalf.
     Thus, silent forecasters of what my audibly beating heart would say,
     my eyes have drawn your shape; and your form, all mine and playing its role just for me—
     its thousands of rapier-thrusts having found their mark—
12 points toward me kindly and handsomely
     and shows the shadow of such imagined victories to my inner sight,
     thus honoring that noble image (and this lyric) when clouds seem to blot out the heavens.


         The speaker in Shakespeare’s known Sonnets sometimes addresses a beautiful male friend in uncomfortably erotic terms—e.g., as the “master mistress of my passions” whom Nature “pricked…out for women’s pleasure” (Sonnet 20, also here in Set II). Students of the Sonnets have long wondered about this puzzling friendship and have often remarked on such suggestive images in Q as those that accumulate here in Rune 24, where playful, bawdy wit cultivates imagery about “antic” pencils, pens, “foils,” and “points.”

         This variation on how the poet “increases” the auditor seems likely, in fact, to be a phallic tour de force in which magining the listener/muse as a naked, well-endowed young man whose envisioned “shape” (10) “points” toward the poet (12) may make the most sense of the text. Suggestive puns include “See, ’tis you, moister, itching (edging) youth” (1); the contrast between “thy stem’s pencil” and “my pupil pen” (2); “beast corned” (3); “witty nine” (5); “fellatio’d inch” (6); “my loaves, ass fair” (7); “homme pre-saggers” (9); “mine ‘eyes,’ halved, round” (10), adumbrating testicles; “wand’s foiled, points on me graciously” (11-12); and “fairest pecked” (12), a latinate pun on “pecker” suggestive of “stained.”

          Readers who prefer to do so can try to read the text in more innocent terms as a serious reverie and tribute.

          A main topic in the rune, as in many other Q texts overt or hidden, is how the poet imaginatively recreates, honors, and perpetuates the friend’s beauty. Will does this in concurrent and contradictory ways.

          Loosely linking figures about vision, writing, artful representation, and fighting—notably fencing with a foil—are the words “draw” (5) and “drawn” (10) and the eyepun sight/fight (Q1, 13). “Drawn, thy shape” (10) may denote a fencer’s heart-badge and the more obvious sense of “drawing” blood. But finally the pointing “foil” is a flippant conceit, and the fate of the muse, as a “shade” whose “grace” comes not from heaven but from the poet, seems uncertain. Line 11 jokes that maybe he was “once foiled”—wounded and subdued (sexually or otherwise)—after many “victories” and is now only a shade, a “drawn” shape (10-14).

          Line 5 suggests childish moustaches (or other appendages) that the poet decides “not to draw” on his imagined figure (5). Carefully echoic or contrastive pairs occur in “Pupil pen” (2) and “antique/antic pen” (5); in “old men of…tongue” (3) and “dumb” (9); and in lines 1 and 13, where “my sight” and “my sightless view” occur as parts of parallel comments.

          The idea of penciling on features with an “antic pen” may allude to the controversy in the circle of the Earl of Southampton—Shakespeare’s only known patron—during the 1590s about whether the handsome young earl looked better with a moustache or without. At the time of Q’s approaching publication when Will was completing the cycle, this petty argument would have been a dim memory. “When clouds do blot the heaven” and the pun “dust him grays” suggest a white moustache—“time’s pencil” (2). Perhaps, then, an aging Southy is the poet’s envisioned muse here, or at least one of the men he had in mind as auditors for the entertainment and putative flattery latent in the long-evolving cycle.          

          Its easy association with “sharp tongue” (see 3) makes one imagine “foil” as a tongue stuck out—a counterpart to the childish moustache or penis the poet decides “not to draw” on his imagined figure (5). “Dumb” (9) plays against “old men of…tongue” (3). “Beef corned” (3) is a funny kenning for “old meat.” “Ass” puns (see 6, 7, 8, 12) are routine, with “dumb ass” latent.         

          Riddle-like features that challenge readers trying to make sense of the Runes include problematic sentence structure, vague pronouns, and puns whose various meanings are at odds. For example, the inverted syntax of line 1 can mean “My vision establishes an image of you…” but also jokes, beratingly, “you used to be handsome, but now you aren’t.” “This time’s pencil” (2) may mean “modern styles in drawing” or “my present effort at depicting you.” The perversely inverted syntactic structures in 1 and 13 are echoic, but the two subjects—“my sight” and “my sightless view”—are contrastive.         

           “Nor…/Nor…” (4-5) means “Neither…/Nor….” “Antique” and “antic” (5, Q antique) shared various spellings and were pronounced alike in Shakespeare’s day. “As I…will” (8) is a routine namepun on “Will.” “Presagers” (9) are predictors. “Thine” in 10 means “your shape.” “Foiled” (11) means defeated while suggesting a pointed weapon. “Him” (14) refers to the victorious “shadow” of the man addressed while also punning on “hymn”—and thus a lyric, such as this text.

          Detecting the pun “Set Sue, most rich in youth, before my sight” in line1 changes the implications of this poem totally: “Sue” is likely Susanna Hall, the poet’s daughter.

          Economic imagery and legalese includes “rich” (1), “lose possession,” “ow’st” (4); “will” (8), and “have drawn” (10). A minimal joke about the apostrophe in “ow’st” occurs in “loose possession” (4); the embedded pun “oust” means to dispossess.

Sample Puns

          1) Set t’ Sue; Set [pur]sue, Set assume; Set is “You Most Rich in Youth”; Set 5 you must reach anew (“A New Thebes”); before frontally, suggesting “well endowed”; See, ’tis you, moist (muffed) or itching (edging) youth be sore
          1-2) Eye anew Thebes’ hoary message, t’ which this City ms. (seedy ms.) appends alarm (…appends Hell); message t’ W.H.
          2) pup ill pen
          3) Bess see horned, like old men; Beef corned like (lick) old men; lie keeled; tongue (bawdy); I (“I,” Eye) killed may know Felicity, Truth
          3-4) Nate, ingenu
          3-4) Ruthie, Nathan, Jew, gnarls a pussy of Zion, O fated (fetid) affair
          4) pussy’s fine “O,” fatted, fair, th’ “O” used
          4-5) In ’er, Inner; Nor rune (reversed)
          5) In (End) our D-row, no lines t’ Harry W. eye, that hie an antique pen; witty thy inanity; antique pen cf. old meat
          5-6) pee until nature’s shower, O, you jet; until Nate (knight) your ass furrowed; at your ass, Herod high fell a-doting (A.D. O [i.e., zero]); fellow, dot “i”
          7) Anne thin be; leave me, my love, I say, “Suffer”; Anne died in belly of mammal, oft I sigh, suffer
          6-8) a doty engine died (did Hen believe—my male [mammal] office, as is Harry’s)
          8) Ass eye, not fore, myself, butt-farty Will; A sign (sin) ought (As I knot,) form y’self; A synod form, why? Cell of abbot is hard, you ill
          8-9) for thee, Will, Anne doom be
          9) Anne, dumb peer of a jeer, soft muff (…of a chair soft), pee-aching breast; a king bereft
          9-10) a king (aching) , barest Tommy nighs, half drawn [i.e., erect]
        10) M’ Aeneas, half-drawn thy shape and thin form; …thy ass happened; M’ Annie ye should rown—this happened
        10-11) thy shape, Annie, thin fore me, after a thousand “victories” once “foiled” [phallic]
        11) Thou, fon [i.e., silly], devise Tories; ass-tirrit (tirade), house Anne (As tirrit, how’s Anne?); a fit erred (heard), housing deviced “O”; wand’s foiled [phallic]
        11-12) onus of oiled point is on meager 8 [inches]—I owe you sly wit; one’s foe I led (once-foiled), Poins
        12) son meager; Poins on meager eye shows sly wit of hairy aspect (ass pecked, pieced, pissed)
        13) present is th’ heir-shadow to my sightless view; fade-out; fey doubt
        13-14) Sue, Eve, Anne do fit hymn gray
        14) Anne dost hymn grace, whence ludus doubled; W., Hen., see Ludus Doubled; End o’ Shakespeare [st], hymn gray see; T.T. heaving; titty heaven; ludus doubled (do blot) the even; Gray see; clouds silly Judas

Acrostic Wit

          The downward emphatic acrostic codeline—SW BNNT A A A MAPPA—may encode, e.g., “Sue benight I aye, a maybe-Pa,” “Swabbing (Sobbing) knight I eye aye, maybe,” “Sweeping Anne, Tame Ape eye,” “Is web innate? Aye, maybe,” and “Swap Anne, Knight (Nate) I, I aye may pay.”

          The upward acrostic codeline—APPA MAAATN NBWS—suggests such decodings as “Ape eye mating, N.B. [signed] W.S.,” “Up, A.M., I eye 8, Anne abuse,” “A payment in nibs (...nips),” “A beamèd Anne…,” “Ape, I mate Anne abuse,” “A payment, Anne, abuse,” “Up aye m’ 8-nib was,” “Up high m’ Eden be. W.S.,” “Ape eye, mating boys,” “Ape eye, maiden and boys,” “Up high, Maiden Anne be wise,” “Abbey, Matin N.B. W.S.,” “Abbey—mating and boys,” “Abbie mating, and boys,” “A Pa mating, in Nate (B=8), W.S.,” “Obey maiden and boys,” and “A Pa mating in boys.”


Proceed to Rune 25
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