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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 27
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Rune 26
Twelfth lines, Set II (Sonnets 15-28)

                          Rune 26

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

     To change your day of youth to sullied night
     Can make you live yourself in eyes of men
     And stretchèd meter of an antique song
 4  When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st
     For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men,
     By adding one thing—to my purpose nothing:
     As those gold candles fixed in heaven’s air,
 8  As tender nurse, her babe from faring ill—
     More than that, tongue that more hath more expressed
     Delights to peep. To gaze therein on thee
     (And all the rest forgot for which he toiled
12 To show me worthy of their sweet respect)
     Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new;
     When sparkling stars twire not, thou gild’st the even.
7) gold candles = stars; 11) he = tongue (9) and thus the poet; 12) their refers to all the rest (see 11) but suggests eyes; 14) twire = peep, blink (OED); gild’st (suggesting beguiles) = makes golden; the even puns on “th’ heaven.”

     26. The Babe in the Dark

     To change your shining youth to “sullied” darkness—drawing the topic of your youth as a conceit into these hidden, messy subtexts—
     can help make you go on living as yourself both in men’s eyes
     and in the wrenched meter of this playful old lyric,
even as other immortal lines of mine spread your fame through the ages
     as a paradigm of beauty for men who will live in coming generations,
     if I add one touch here—nothing much at all in my larger scheme:
     Like those bright stars dependably fixed in the heavens,
  8 like a tender nurse, solicitous of her babe’s welfare—
     even more than “peeping” stars and nurses, this tongue of mine known for its rhetoric (having expounded on the Moor, moors, Thomas More, and blackness)
     likes to peep and chirp. For this babbler to gaze in on your babyhood--
     forgetting all others, and all the hard work
12 to prove myself worthy of their sweet respect—
     makes black night seem beautiful, renews her old nurselike face;
     when no sparkling stars blink, you gild the dark, beguile the evening.


        The striking verses of Rune 26 comment on how a covertly “antique/antic” text of Will’s, with its far-fetched figures, can bring the poet’s beloved subject/muse immortality of a sort different from anything the “eternal lines” of the visible Sonnets can achieve. (Scholars agree that “antique” (Q3) puns on “antic.”) “Antique/antic” in the hidden cycle suggests the runic tradition (which my own studies trace back in England to the early Middle Ages) while anticipating that posterity will be “peeping” into the darkness of these old lines for a long time, as indeed we are still doing.

          The text figuratively represents Will’s listener and muse (1) as a snug babe in a darkened room, with the poet being like an old nurse who “peeps” at the babe and loses all other realities. The cribbed babe is also like this hidden poem, absorbing the poet’s full attention; the nurse’s eyes are like “twiring” (blinking) stars.

          The text as usual is full of all sorts of jokes. By the magic of puns, it can “change [the muse’s] day of youth to ‘sullied Knight’” (1)—a pun echoed as “Black Knight” (13). Puns also hint at “sullied” diapers that might be “changed.” An “antic song” may be a nursery tune, with “stretched miter” (Q3) a pun about a straining, grunting tot—a “mite[r].” Other scatological clues hint at elongated, golden “creations,” laboriously “expressed” (9) and “coiled” (eyepun 11); thus the “new face” of the nurse (13) might well show a nose wrinkling at a stench. Crotch-focused wit about “one thing” and “no thing” (6) seems to call the babe’s gender into question. (Puns on male “things” and female “no-things,” of course, occur routinely in Renaissance texts.)

          The idea that Will’s tongue has “More expressed” is a likely pun about the unfinished, unpublished Play of Sir Thomas More that scholars believe the Bard had a hand in (see E. M. Thompson, Shakespeare’s Handwriting [Oxford, 1916; Folcraft, 1970]). Puns in 8-13 may gesture toward More’s beheading, his jesting on the scaffold, and the poet’s role as a spokesman for a blank-eyed figure who has lost his head.

          “To guild the even[ing]” (14) may pun about a “guild” of darkness—a “School of Night.” (In the 1590s a London coterie of that name included Sir Walter Raleigh. Its members were rumored to indulge in impieties such as spelling “God” backwards.)

          We note a kind of theatrical stage emerging in the rune as we remember that Will’s expressive tongue (9) and “stretched meter” (3)—his enjambed blank verse—can “change day to night” (1) under a canopy of the heavens (7), and that the “tender nurse” (8) is a stock stage figure. “Forgot” (11) suggests lost lines.

          Formally, the poet imitates the “stretched meter” of his “antic song” with an attenuated 9th line, which is “More thin....”
The hag-like nurse with “twiring” eyes (8, 13-14) seems an incipient version of the Dark Lady or perverse mistress, whose presence pervades Q’s last two sets, X and XI, comprising the visible sonnets 127-154.

           Letterstring wit in Q’s lines always houses encyclopedic possibilities. Here, I think, such wit even plays on the name F. Sandells, encoded as candells[,] f...(7). Fulk Sandells was a Stratford man who signed Will’s marriage bond; I deduce (from several implicit jokes in Q) that Will sees him as having helped stage a kind of shotgun wedding binding the poet to a pregnant bide, Anne Hathaway. One decoding of 6-7 is Will’s sarcastic pun: “...Guest of ‘eagle’ Sandells, F., I exit anew...” (code: ...g.Ast hof egould candells f I xt inheau...).

          Line 8 encodes medical puns—“nerve,” “syringe,” and “ill”—that I think Will designed for his Stratford-based son-in-law, Dr. John Hall, to enjoy as an early (and primary) reader/player. Dr. Hall would have been in the poet’s mind ca. 1608 as Will finished preparing the Q ms. for publication. Likely the period involved revision as much as original composition.

          Subtextual wit, as usual, houses an encyclopedic array of possibilities: cough, bivouac, spatter, ostent, Rome, argot, Doll, Zurich, forage, and heckled. Examples below illustrate fuller expansions of potentialities in the line letterstrings.

          The dateline in the acrostic code that “locates” this poem at 1:00 a.m., 10 February 1608 (see below) will seem less conjured to readers who consider it in the context of many other authorized clues about the time frame in which the Q texts grew.

Sample Puns

         1) Token; Toucan jaw; Touch Anne, Jew, ready “O” is [that] you’d hit, awful “I’d” knight (offal-eyed night); change, sullied [scatological, suggesting diapers]; O, Southy, O Sullied Knight [cf. “Dark Knight,” 25.13-14]
          2) See Anne, make [mate], you live; See Anne, my cue; lore (lure) of elf; livers love, eye nice “O,” semen; seamen; lower; loo; eyes phallic
          2-3) John “Eeiis!” O feminine distress he’d meet (mete)
          3) Anne, deaf to wretched meter
          3-4) Anne deaf, red (deferred) shit made her ass an antique, sanguine end; head made her often antic, sanguine; Antique Son, Jew; W., Hen., eye, neat urn, “awl” I an ass
          4-5) eye meat, how gross (huge roast, arose), tough; grow tougher body as pattern to f--k, seeding men
          5) urn to f--k, seeding m’ end; Four, bawdy, spatter Nate (knight)
          5-6) to suck seeding men (to suck seed, inch-men), biting wand-thing
          6) tome (tomb) ye propose; no thing; biting wand, injure “O,” my pure, puffing O
          6-7) th’ inches t’ hose gold see
          7) F--k old Sandells, F., aye X’d [obliterated, honored as a constellation) in heaven’s air; Ass thou see, gold candles, 16 [inches], heavy, sour; I X’d any Eve, Annie’s heir
          8) Ostent rune, your fare be a baser Rome faring ill; Ass tender
          9) Mordant [biting] Hat.-tongued Hat., m’ whore, Hath more expressed; Moor; more, tongue [bawdy]; m’ “O” Rex pierced
          9-10) th’ Moor expressed delight; Hath., m’ whore, expressed delights to pee-pee, to gaze at Harry jaunty
        10) Delhi; two [eyes]; reign
        10-11) Indian delta; anoint handle; Stop a bit. August Harry anointing dolt—Harry S. ’tis argot for which he toiled; witch; coiled; John
        11) Anne, Hall, the rest forgot; And Doll there Shakespeare forgot; “Four, go to Zurich,” he called; or go to forage, heckled
        11-12) for Witch he toiled to show me worthy of th’ heir’s wittier aspect; Did “O” show me worthy?
        12) toss home (homme) two foamy, warty “O’s,” their feud rough, pieced; ass pissed; wart—high, austere, wittier if pieced (I’ve pissed)
        12-13) Aspect; Respect, my kiss, be jacking “I,” jet beauteous
        13) Ma[t]e S., Black Night Beauteous, Anne, her old face new [cf. the Dark Mistress of Sets X-XI]
        13-14) Knight body; innate bawdy, I owe you, Sandells, ass new, W.H., in his park lying, fitter ass t’ worry (earn, “urn”)         14) O titty huge you awl, steady, even; t’ worry not, thou guild, fit th’ eave (Eve) in; knot; gildest [scatological], re infant’s feces—cf. gold candles (7), coiled (11) and line 1

Acrostic Wit

          The downward acrostic code—T CAWF BAAM DAT MW—suggests, e.g., “T’ see a wife be (T’ see awe, fop), I A.M. date mew,” “T[om?], cough, bay, m’ day t’ mew,” “T’ say ‘Wife, be Ham dead,’ hymn W.,” “Take a wife. Bam! Dead m’ w[ife, whore],” “’Tis off-beamed item [cf. the directive to the “guild” in 14 about the “eave”]. W. [suggesting an inverted roof],”and “’Tis I (T’ see aye, T’ say), 10 Feb., 1 A.M., ’O8, I’m W.”

         This codeline seems to be crafted to suggest that it hides a date, given that its code elements suggest “date-mew” (DAT MW), that is, “date hiding place” (OED) along with “A.M.” (AM) and “Feb.” (FB). Such “datelines,” common in the Runes, tend to set players off on wild goose hunts because the lettercodes are typically ambiguous. Here, e.g., both “AT” and “B” may encode “8.” “A” may mean “I” (= 1); AW or D = 0; and several ciphers are Roman numerals. One plausibly decoded variant is “’Tis aye 10 [= VV] Feb., 1:00 A.M., ‘08....” Certainly 1608 “works,” given Q’s publication date, 1609.

          The upward reverse codeline letterstring—WM TAD MA A B FWACT—conveys such potentialities as “Wm. dead may aye be f--ked”—with plays on “A.D.” and “May,” “fact,” “of 10 act[s],” “maybe few act.” Other readings, e.g., include “Wm. t’ A.D. may be fused [i.e., sonnets/runes joined],” “Wm. t’ Adam, A/B fact,” “Whimmed, Adam a bee f--ked,” and “Wm. to Adam: Eye a bivouac. Tee!” The letterstring FWACT is insistently bawdy.

Proceed to Rune 27
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