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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

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

Proceed to Rune 6
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Rune 5:
Fifth lines, Set I (Sonnets 1-14)

                         Rune 5

     But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
     Then being asked where all thy beauty lies
     (For where is she so fair who’s uneared womb,
 4  Then beauteous?)—niggard, why dost thou abuse?
      For never-resting Time leads Summer on—
     That use is not forbidden usury,
     And having climbed the steep-up heavenly hill.
 8  If the true concord of well-tunèd sounds,
     The world will be thy widow, and still weep
     For thou art so possessed with murderous hate!
     Herein lives wisdom: Beauty and increase.
12 When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
     So should that beauty which you hold in leaf—
     Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell.
     Glosses: 1) contracted = shriveled, betrothed; 3) who’s uneared womb = who is unfruitful...; 4) niggard = miser; 6) use = maintenance for sexual purposes; usury = unlawful lending; 7) And = Nor is; Any more than...; 10) For = Because; 13) leaf (Q lease, with a “long s,” an eyepun on f); 14) Nor without Neither (arch.); minutes = time, records; tell (see “tally,” calculate).

      5. Of Ears and Leaves

     Reduced to admiring yourself in the mirror, betrothed to your own vivacious image,
     and then being asked about the storehouse where all your beauty is bedded
     (for who is so attractive as to be unfruitfu
and still beautiful?)—you stingy miser, why do you practice such abuse?
     For Time, always active like a true husband, leads Summer on.
     That practice is not an abusive investment of assets
     any more than having finally gotten up the rocky road to heaven might be.
  8 If it concurs in the truth, singing its lament in unison,
     the world will weep for you like an unfulfilled widow after you die
     because your mad selfishness kills off a generation!
     Wisdom lies in linking personal beauty with fruitfulness.
12 Just as I can perceive lofty growth here where pageless poems have no “leaves,”
     even so should the beauty that is latent within you spring into leaf.
     In no case—even given my conceits or your flowering—can I tally up fortune’s outcome in any short memorandum. Neither brevity nor fortunetelling is within my range.


           Like others, this further text hidden in Set I advises the beautiful friend to “marry and increase” but doesn’t specify the auditor’s gender. The opening “Mirror, mirror…” situation (1-2ff.) seems to paint a “she” (3), but “The world will be thy widow” (9) implies a male listener, and this impression overrides the other. Will’s tone, often harshly critical, softens toward the end but remains skeptical.

           The poem clusters figures about engagement, marriage, procreation, and widowhood with others about nature as fruitful or barren, and the two groups connect in the terms “un-eared womb” (3) and “barren trees” (12). Eventually the ideal of “leafing” suggests writing pages, a part of the conceit that the poet is a “Summer”—a number’s man, “adder,” or metricist who adds to his store by creating “leaves.” Will’s complaint “Nor can I [produce leaves]” means that the tedious runic composition process leaves nothing behind to show for itself. In the context of the poem’s main theme, time (always a pun on “meter”) is both the enemy (14) and the sponsor of productivity: Like an active husband, Time leads Summer over obstacles to create lyric harmony (7-8). “If” (8), an eyepun on “Is,” allows other syntactic readings.

          Lurking in 1-4 is the wild conceit that the auditor is “all eyes” (1) and “earless” (i.e., lacking female genitalia) but concurrently womblike (3); “holding in” stretches out the joke that the friend is an unproductive womb—with the same figure a hidden analogue for Q’s unborn poems. “Still” (9), next to “widow,” hints at “stillborn,” and non-fruitful abuse (4) suggests masturbation, with reinforcing puns in such details as “that beauty which you hold” (13). The adjectives “Steep-up” (7) and “lofty” (12) are phallic, while “well-tuned” (8) is a pudendal pun. “Abuse” (4) and “use” (6) link as overt contrasts.

         “Niggard” (4) prepares for the new figure, “usury”—illegal profiteering by miserly types—and for the phrase “hold in” (13). The poet’s charges against the friend as “criminal” escalate from “usury” to “murder” (10); as a “being asked,” he is like an interrogated felon who “lies” (2). The legal term “contracted” (1) works—as “reduced and shriveled”—to foil the notion of “increasing” that’s explicit in 11 and general in the poem; as “engaged,” the word prepares for the linked motifs of consummation (5-8) and widowhood (9). The elements “contracted” (1) and “brief minutes” (14) open and close the rune with legalisms—both implying diminution and “commitment.” Lease (13) is an economic and legal term that underscores the “loaned” and temporary nature of beauty. Contrastive terms include “own by right” (pun, 1) and “possessed” (10). The phrase “Herein lives” (13) cultivates the same motif. Even the question about “where all thy beauty lies” (2) seems a question about beauty’s bedroom—and thus about real estate. The pun on “room” in “womb” (3) amplifies the pattern.

           The text has an early rhymed couplet (eyes/lies), halfway-and-end rhymes (hill / tell [7, 14]), and an incidental rhyme cluster, increase / leaves / leaf (11-13). The gap in Q8 may be an eyejoke about the “emptiness” of a well. Maybe some vertical acrostic game going on in the full text needs a “double space” to make the letters align as authorized. An intentionally altered letter “mars” a rune-pun in 5, and a “Willobie” play occurs in 9.

           The name of Anne’s hamlet, Shottery, lies deeply buried in the Q-string s hate,Herei (10-11), overlaid on scatological wit. Q’s “use” (6), looking like vfe, allows puns on “verse”and “wife” and also segues into a pun on “Anne H.” (7). “Why doost” (4) puns on “Widow Shakespeare,” with st in Q a routine family name pun that I’ve deduced—an s “shaking” a spear-like t as if by the handle. Thus 4 puns, e.g., “Thin, beauteous niggard, Widow [why do...] Shakespeare thou abuse[?]” Other family nameplays in 13 allow the pun “Sue, S. Hall, that beauty which you, Hall, John lease [, leave].”

Sample Puns

          1) Butt; Beauty, how cunt-racked (edit, hie, noun buried aye is); thine own buried ass
          2) T’ Hen., being ass, key, Tower’ll thy beauty lice; W., Harry; Hall; as key to “W,” hear “Hall”; Hen. be in casket, W.H. realty bought; bawdy alias
          3) For W., Harry, is she Sue fair, who’s uneared womb
          4) Thou beauteous niggard W.H., why do Shakespeare thou abuse?
          5) rune [reverse, with initial “n” altered]; [pur]sue m’ rune; time meter; Summer metricist
          5-6) saw you my rune, that verse [vice, whiff] is not forbidden
          6) T’ Hat.-wife, aye snot is our bed, in use wry (no, sirree; new, furry; new fury)
          7) Anne H. avenge, see limbed thief tup you, phew! heavenly hell
          8) Eye Southy t’ rue cunt-chord of Will-tuned sounds; Well t’ you, Ned (Nat, Nate, knight)
          9) Will; Willobie; thy widow Anne S.
          9-10) T’ you, Earl, dull be thy widow Anne’s till, weepy, farty, overt ass or pussy steweth murderous hate
        10-11) witty merd-row shat Harry in loo’s waste; You “Shottery” [Anne’s native hamlet] eye in loo’s wisdom
        11) Harry, anal aye use wife; Hairy, anal, I use wife; John, loo’s wisdom; Herein live, Sue, eye Sodom bawdy ending series; foe
        11-12) Anne dying, see her heavy wen, lofty t’ raise (erase)
        12) assy be a rune o’ slaves’ offal
        12-13) Use Sue, S. Hall, debted beauty which you hold in lease; that bawdy witch you “holed” anally
        13-14) a sinner see, Anne, eye ass whored, unit o’ bare ass, my Anne you eyed, ass, tail
        14) Nor rune (reversed); Enter (Inner, In her), see Annie fart; you Nat (knight) “O” bare, ass, minute his tail; minute [i.e., written record] stale; too brief my knight’s tale

Acrostic Wit

          The downward acrostic codeline—BT FT FT AIT FHWSN—suggests, e.g., “Beat [i.e., accent] fit/fit [i.e., stanza/stanza], 8 fusing [suggesting two quatrains?],” “8 [B = 8] to fit, fit 8 fusing,” “Be tough to fit 8, fusing [phallic],” “Betty fit ‘fit 8,’ fusing [...if you sin],” “Be tough to Fit 8 if you [H.W.] sin,” and “Be tough to fit 8 if H.W. is in.”

          The upward reverseN SW HFTI AT FT FT B—encodes such potentialities as, e.g., “In Sue (Ensue) hefty 8 fit fit [i.e., an appropriate match] be,” “In Sue H[all] fit I’d fit ‘fit 8’,”and “In ass, W.H. fit ‘I’, 8 fit fit be.”

          The rune seems likely to be a phallic joke of some sort about a hefty “8 [inches]” that “fuses” in a “fit” way, with H.W./W.H. (encoding John Hall, Henry Wriothesley, and/or Anne Hathaway, with W = IN = John or Anne) or Sue Hall as recipients of the action (and the poet’s wit). Letterstrings suggesting tight, fit, sin, 8, hefty, fusing, and so on encourage a reader/player to fill out the ambiguous scenario.

          In the Q acrostic codes, the convention may be that F=S, even in the capital forms, since long s and f look alike in the typography; thus an S in the codeline may stand for an F, and vice versa. Note that Will’s initials, WS, occur—as they often do in the acrostics—and that SW H suggests “Sue Hall.”

Proceed to Rune 6
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