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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 I, Runes 1-14: Texts and Comments
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 11
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Rune 10:
Tenth lines, Set I (Sonnets 1-14)

                        Rune 10

     And, only herald to the gaudy spring,
     If thou couldst answer, “This fair child of mine
     Calls back the lovely April of her prime,”
 4  Thou of thyself thy sweet self dost deceive—
     A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass
     If ten of thine ten times refigured thee!
     Like feeble age, he reeleth from the day,
 8  Strikes each in each by mutual ordering,
     Shifts but his place fore; still, the world enjoys it.
     Shall hate be fairer lodged, then gentle love—
     Harsh, featureless, and rude—barrenly perish
12 That thou among the wastes of time must go
     Which husbandry in honor might uphold
     And constant stars? (In them I read such art.)
     Glosses: 13) uphold = exalt, and (paradoxically) prevent; 14) Q such is always a bawdy eyepun on “f--k.”

     10. A Prisoner Pent in Walls of Glass

     Now, you who (like winter) are always heralding the coming of a showy spring,
     if you could speak here and say, “This lovely child of mine
     recaptures her parent’s youthful beauty,”
  4 you’d be fooling your sweet self, with only yourself to blame—
     like an ink-created prisoner trapped inside an ink bottle
     so that any ten images of you would be illusory, not offspring mirroring your lost beauty!
     This prisoner, as if decrepit, turns from the light and staggers from the very weight of living,
  8 striking out at whatever comes along, leaving successively fleeting images,
     staying in the same place while changing orientations. The world (a comfortably lodged and unmoved audience such as readers here) continues to enjoy the frantic reel.
     Should I house disdainful spectators comfortably here, even as gentle love
     dies empty and without offspring—cruelly impoverished, lacking delineation—
12 so that you go down in history unprofitably,
     you who could ultimately prevail and defeat a negative fate by better management
     and heaven-sent luck? The fixed stars show me as an artist an ideal state.


          Rune 10 continues the main theme of Set I, that Will’s unnamed listener should sire offspring. A dazzling poetic figure (5-11) shows the listener “penned” inside glass walls and turning frantically before a comfortably “lodged” audience. The buried image of the friend vainly “deceiving” himself in a looking-glass (4) spawns the metaphor that the friend’s life is the ludicrous reel of a frantic, aging person inside a brittle prison. This far-fetched tour de force conceit also expands the idea that mirrored reflections can entertain but aren’t real or “constant” (see 14). This conceit may allude quietly to Southampton’s imprisonment in The Tower, and to old wit about “living in glass houses.”

          A madhouse of mirrors, the glass-walled structure is figuratively an ink bottle--as the words “liquid” and “pent” (5) imply. The terms “refigured” (6) and “Strikes. . . [and] ordering / Shifts” (8-9) may allude, as well, to printing and rune-writing: The lineal “bars” of the “refigured” text are coy analogues for the prison that traps Will’s auditor. Since each poem is a new “reflection,” this “tenth” refiguration in the runic cycle has been “struck” in “mutual ordering” (see 6-8)—set up and then dismantled, struck like a stage set.
          Imagery also suggests a gaudy theatrical show announced by a “herald” (1), with “the world” (9) implying The Globe. Like a confused actor, the friend turns in different directions, while “still [perpetually, unmoved], the world enjoys it” (10). The actor’s alternate ends are the ignomy of the trapdoor exit (11-12)—with “gaudy spring” (1) a clue—and the ideal “constancy” of the artful Heavens (14) painted over the stage. (The “god-dy spring” may also play on the idea of a deus ex machina, effected by mechanical means to introduce a deity into a drama.) “Pent” inside this inky world of illusion and zig-zagging in confusion from sonnet to rune, a reader identifies with Will’s reeling bumbler while also being one of the smugly “lodged” on-lookers.

          Theatrical terms include “calls back” (3), “Strikes” (8), and “walls of glass” (5)—the “invisible walls” of the thrust stage that the actor occupies. Whether or not “stars” (see 14) means “leading actors” (OED 1824), “constant stars” contrast with an erratic bit-player. “Reeleth” (7) suggests a dance.

           Will sketches the auditor/friend as “Harsh, featureless, and rude, (11), a man who neglects “husbandry” (13). “Only herald” (1) paints him as a walk-on of low rank. He is also a talker and not a doer; is like Old Man Winter (1-3, 7); and is a self-deceiver and a fool. Will’s criticism moderates only in the phrase “gentle love,” with “hate” designating the haughty audience (10).

           In the jargon of heraldry (see “herald”), “prime” (1-2) means “original predecessor.” Details expanding the motif of family include “refiguring” (6), “husbandry” (13), and the mention of children (2, 6, 13) and of respect for rank and succession, as in “mutual ordering” (8). Line 5 suggests seminal fluid, withheld in a fragile membrane, that could “refigure” the friend—through the multiplication of progeny. Ambiguously, the “reeling” friend can be identified with “hate” (10) because he rejects the kind of “gentle [or ‘genital’] love” (10), suggestive of sex in marriage, that would make a family and bring “honor” (13).

           “Hate...” also points routinely in Q to such buried Hathaway-wit as the pun “Harsh, featureless Anne deride, barren lip erase” (11). Q’s printed form of “such” is always a crude eyepun, and “constant” (14) has routine bawdy overtones. Other low wit here includes such puns as “logged,” “genital” (10), “ordure-ring” (8), “wastes” (12), and “midget uphold” (13). Provocative, allusive puns include “Lear, old” (1); “Judy” (1), short for Judith, Will’s daughter’s name; and “Harsh feat, you release fiend: Druid be our rune, lip eerie [= timid]” (11). Other strained puns include “. . .pyramid housed his ‘elfy’ thighs, witty cell see, dusty. . .” (3-4) and “. . .terse end, hemorrhoids you chart [chaired, cheered, charred, see hard]” (14).

          The capital-letter acrostic spells out TAILS, puns recurrently on “ass” (= phonic AIC and S), and encodes scatology. Its end letterstring HT WA, a short form of “Hathaway,” allies Anne with this crude acrostic wit. (See acrostic wit, below.) The pun “Th’ lowly aye thrill over th’ rime” (3, with p = archaic th) sounds like a put-down of those who comment on the “missing” rhyme in the Runes.

           The poem shifts from direct address (1-6) to third person (7-9) and back again (10-14), ending in a private musing.

Sample Puns

           1) Anne, dun lyre, howled to the gaudy spring; Eying dawn leer, howled toothy Judy, “Spring!” [cf. “this fair child of mine (…m’ Annie)” in 2]
           2) If thou see oldest [cf. Susanna], Anne, swear, “This fair child of mine…”; If thou callest Anne, swear this, S., Harry; see hell-dose, m’ Annie
           3) See Hall-ass be aye sick; see Hall’s basic tale of labor ill; the low library looser appear
           4) This. Th. y’self, This. witty ass, elf, dusty sieve; dusty, see Eve
           5) A lie queued peer eyes own; A liquid prisoner pent in, John [= W] Hall Sue f--k, laugh
           5-6) John Hall soft jelly-ass is…; John Hall saw fickle asses, ten, oft high, neighed in time
           6) “I” of 10, oft high, Nate (knight) intime is; refigured thee (phallic wit); eye me, Sir Fig, you read; Nathan, Tommy’s refigured thee; the line puns about iambic pentameter, with 10 syllables
           7) Ape-leisure’ll Ed. hiss 7-8 Lick ass, a bull, a jeer, laddie formed heady ass t’ wreak
           8) Shakespeare wry kisses Hen.-itch,by mutual ordering; by mouth you, Hall, ordering
           9) Shy fit’s bawdy’s palace; Scheisse ’tis, butt’s play, see, forced ill; World cf. The Globe; W., Earl; you, Earl, Dennis (tennis) eyed
         10) S. Hall; “Hate” be fairer “logged” (phallic); S. Hall, “Hate,” Bess—error logged Hen., genital, low
         11) Harsh, featureless Anne deride, barren lip awry
         11-14) peer, I sh[,]t Hathaway (Q hat thou a…); Hathaway, m’ own, get you (jet hue), a fit ass ofttime, “muffed,” gouge husband wry. John [Q in], hone ’er, mighty you polled Anne-cunt, stained stars, John. The miry, odd (A.D.) “f--k [Q ƒuch] art”; …in the mire, add [odd] f--k art
         12) Hat., Timon you got aft
         13) Witch huss be Anne, dry Anne “honer,” my jet, uphold
         13-14) you poled handy cunt; irate f--k hurt (hard)

Acrostic Wit

          The scatology here is hard to overrlook. The downward acrostic codeline—AICTAIL SSSHT WA—encourages such readings as, e.g., “Actual shit weigh,” “Actual asses’ shit weigh,” “Assy tail’s shit weigh,” “Ache, tail’s shit-way,” “Axle asses shut away,” “A stale ass is shut away,” “Estella’s shitway,” and “I iced Alice’s head. Why?”

           The confluence of TAILS with forms of “ass” and “shit” (merging with a squeezed-down form of “Ha...Tha...WAy...”) seems insistently crafty and typically denigrating to Anne.

           The upward reverseAWT HSSS LIAT C I A—may be read, e.g., “Ode hisses lie to see aye, aye,” “A wit hisses lie, I to sea, ‘Aye, aye’, “Oddest slight see I aye,” “Odyssey’s slate sea eye aye,” “Odysseys sly, Attic eye aye,” “Ode hisses lady-sigh,” “Odyssey’s late: CI [i.e., 101 ], aye,” and “Oddest sciatica [with ‘l’ = ‘I’].”

           Humor about sciatica—related to the hip—involving “ache,” “ass,” “tail,” and “shit-way” invites up/down hairpin readings such as “Oddest sciatica ache t’ ail ass’s shit-way.” Medical humor seems likely to be aimed at Dr. John Hall.

Proceed to Rune 11
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