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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 4
Return to the Index of Set I

Rune 3:
Third lines, Set I (Sonnets 1-14)

                       Rune 3

     But as the riper should by time decease,
     Thy youth’s proud livery—so gazed on now,
     Who’s fresh—repair if now thou not renewest.
 4  Nature’s bequest gives nothing, but doth lend,
     Will play the tyrants to the very same.
     Make sweet (some vial) treasure thou, some place
     Doth homage to his new-appearing sight.
  Why lov’st thou that which thou receiv’st not gladly?
     Ah, if thou issueless shalt hap to die!
     Grant, if thou wilt, thou art belov’d of many,
     And that fresh blood which youngly thou bestow’st.
12 When I behold the violet past prime,
     Against this coming end you should prepare—
     But not to tell of good or evil luck.
     Glosses: 2) livery = uniform, flaunted “badge” (with phallic overtones and a pun on “liver,” a body part); 3) repair (subjunctive) = may depart; 6) Make (sb.) = Mate, Companion (ME); 7) his = youth’s (see 2); 14) not to tell of (elliptical) = it’s unclear whether you will have....

      3. Make Sweet Some Vial

     Exactly as what is ripest will naturally die in time,
     so the showy display of your youth, now so admired,
     now so fresh, will slip away unless you renew it—and thus yourself—now.
  4 Nature grants nothing permanently, only makes loans,
     and, like tyrants, will confiscate the very things it lends out.
     If you find a sweet mate to treasure—a receptacle for your treasure—then some site
     is set to pay homage to youth’s reappearance.
 Why do you so readily overvalue what you’ve not even been given to keep?
     Think of what would happen if you should die childless!
     Admit, if you will, that many love you (even if you wilt, flowerlike, that will be true)
     and that they will also love any new blood your vigor bestows.
12 As I contemplate a wilting violet,
     I say to you that you should prepare for the oncoming fate it depicts,
     though one cannot predict what kind of luck you’ll have. (You shouldn’t reproduce just to melodramatize—to brag or complain about your sexual exploits.)


         As scholars have noted, Sonnets 1-14 (i.e., Set I in Q’s hidden structure) deal with “marriage and increase.” Thus that topic inevitably colors this and other of the 14 runes in Set I that recycle the same 196 lines. I deduce that Will wrote or revised the low-numbered sonnets ca. 1605-09 and thought of them (and of Q itself) partly as an epithalamion honoring his daughter Susannah’s marriage in June 1607 to Dr. John Hall, a Stratford physician. (The birth of Elizabeth,Will’s first granddaughter, is recorded 21 February 1608.) After 1600, John and Susannah Hall seem the likeliest “master/mistress of my passion” (Sonnet 20.2), their “increase” being very much in the poet’s interest.

          Insistently phallic diction makes the text of Rune 3 hard to read in any but explicit terms: As elsewhere in Q, the speaker here flatters an unnamed male friend in playfully suggestive terms, urging a man with “proud and fresh” outward trappings to find a female “vial” (6) that he can “make sweet.” In Will’s secular sermon, “liver wry” (2) puns on “soft, playful organ” and “proud flesh.” Other innuendoes include “the ripper” (1); “dying” (9), a routine image for sex; ogling (2); withdrawal and “renewal” (3); “no-thing,” punningly a female organ (4);“vial,” echoed as “place” and “site”(6-7); “wilt” (10); “violet” (12), reiterating viall;t (Q6); and “coming end” (13). “The violet past prime” (12) that Nature’s bequeaths (4) means “lost beauty” but puns on “aging penis”—a contrast with “the riper” (1), “youth’s proud livery” (2), and “fresh blood” (11). “Proud” in Q always puns on “prowed—like a ship with a frontal projection.

          Though the text might seem to lead us to assume copulation, suggestions of deviant sex occur in plays such as “Butt is the wry peer-fold [that] bitty ‘I’ may disease” (1) and in other puns explored separately below.           

          In another sense, the storage “vial” for the friend’s “treasure” is Will’s own body of poems, his verse scheme for making the friend live on. The poet’s decision not to prognosticate (14) partly reflects his ignorance of whether his own scheme for insuring the handsome friend’s future will work—whether anyone will find and restore it.

          The vagueness of “his” (7), referring to “youth” and the hoped-for son, lets line 7 suggest The Nativity. Imagery of “growth” (1, 3, 4, 10-12) intertwines with details about life and death, youth and age, fortune and time. Diction about wealth includes “bequest gives nothing, but doth lend,” “treasure,” “receiv’st,” “Grant,” and “bestow’st.” Comments about nobility and lineage include the pun “some palace / Doth homage.”

          Wit berating Anne occurs in “Grunt. If thou wilt, thou art beloved of m’ Annie” (10). In Q, “violet” puns on “vile Anne,” since et is a latinate “And.” Thus we also hear “the vile Anne, past prime.”

          Challenges for readers include strained syntax (e.g., 3, 6, 14), remote pronouns (e.g., 7), and archaic words: e.g., “repair” = (may) depart;“livery” = uniform, flaunted badge; and “make” = mate. Such ambiguous aspects, routinely authorized challenges for the reader/player in the runes, helped the author’s double composition pattern to work. Archaic meanings (e.g., in “repair,” “make,” and “livery”) will also challenge readers unused to Renaissance diction. Routine puns on “witch” (8, 11) suggest “fate.”

          The elements “hap” (9), “coming end” (13), and “good or evil luck” (14) echo each other. The last line puns “Bawdy knot, total of good or evil, you seek.”

          As in Rune 2, the tone of an older man giving a younger and less forward-looking one advice governs this pragmatic secular sermon; in both runes, the “vial” where the younger man’s treasure might be stored to make it “sweet” is in one sense this body of runes, memorial to the friend. The namepun in “Will ‘Play-the-Tyrant’ S.” (5) reminds us that the poet is in some measure in control.

Sample Puns

          1) Butt’s the riper fold, bitty “eye” may disease; Beauties there appear: […eye, peer,] S. Hall.; Debate aye “Medics” (1663); Debit I Medicis; timid asses; Betty I made cease
          2) proud livery puffed-up “badge” (phallic); P-row; Row D lore, why soggy? gay Zed [i.e., Z], O, no!
          3) W.H., O, suffer, share, peer, I’ve naught; hound, otter, in you (an ewe) aft
          4) Nate (Knight), your ass beck if it gives no-thing (pudendal); Jew’s no-thing butt (bawdy) doth lend; repairing “hose”
in oath, ink-beauty, doth Helen dwell 
Will-play that errant is…
          6) Make [Mate] S. we eat, foamy vial (vile); violate erasure, Thomas, O may be lazy; some (“foamy”) place cf. womb
          7) “Do thumbage”; Doth homme aye jet “O’s” anew, appear inches, I jet
          8-9) witch; Why love Shakespeare, Tho. Th., a twitch thou receivest not gladly, ah, if thou a few lasses halt, happy to die
        10) Grunt aye Southy wilt; wilt go limp; Will, T.T., Howard, beloved of m’ Annie
        11) Anne dead, Hat.’s rash blood, witch, youngly thou bestow Shakespeare [= st, the name cipher]; thou beast o’ Shakespeare
        12) W., Hen., I behold (be old), the violet [cf. 6, pun] past prime; W.H., Annie behold, the vile/vial et [cf. And, Anne] past prime
        13) A jay (Edgy), Anne Shakespeare’d hiss, “Coming end, you should prepare!” coming end (bawdy); you should pray, peer
        14) But not t[w]o tell[s]… cf. Only Knot 2 [i.e., Rune 2] tells…; Bawdy knot, total of good or evil, you seek

Acrostic Wit

          In the downward acrostic codelineBTWN WM D WAG A WAB—the B may represent phonic 8. The codeline suggests such encodings as, e.g., “Bedouin [desert Arab, gypsy (ME)] William’d wag [i.e., move a body part to and fro on] you up (apt, ape),” “Bedouin, Wm. de Wag, await” (with “Wag” [OED 1584] meaning “habitual joker”), “Bedouin whim, dewy age, a wipe,” “Between William deux [two]—a Jew, ape,” “Be too new M.D., we go up (we jab),” “Be twin Wm.’d weigh: Jew, ape,” “Bedouin Wm., dog-Jew I be,” “Bedouin whim do a Jew up [cf. The Crucifixion],” and “Bedouin Wm., d’ wag, O, I be!”

          The “NW M.D.” of the codeline may be Dr. John Hall, Will’s son-in-law, a “new” employed northwest of London.

          The upward codelineBAWA GAWD M WN WTB—“Boy! God, my wen [cf. archaic W, suggesting ass or protuberance] wet be,” “Be we God, mewn [cooped up] wit be,” Bow, a good mewn wit be,” “Bow a God-hymn, W., new to be,” “Boy, a God-damn wen, wet (wit) be,” “Boy, a Jew-diamond (Damon), wet be,” “Bow aye, God-damn you, new ‘To be’,” “Boy—aye God-damn you—knew ‘To be’ (…nude be, …newt be),” “Be Yahweh God, man wight be,” “Bog odd, mewn [confined, whined] wit be,” “Bow: A God. . . ,” “Bog, autumn, [&] wine wet be,” and “Bog awed….” The School of Night was accused of the sacrilege of reversing “God” to spell “dog.”

          Each of the four Ws in the codeline is, of course, “WM’s” initial, linked throughout Q with archaic W, Wen.

          Other potentialities lie in the down/up and up/down “hairpin” variants of the codeline.

Proceed to Rune 4
Return to the Index of Set I
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