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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 VII, Runes 85-98: Texts and Comments
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 96
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Rune 95
Eleventh lines, Sonnets 85-98 (Set VII)

                         Rune 95

     (Eleventh lines, Set VII: Sonnets 85-98)

     But that is in my thought whose love to you
     As victors of my silence cannot boast;
     So thy great gift, upon misprision, growing
  The injuries that to myself I do,
     Lest I, too much profane, should do it wrong.
     But in the onset come, so stall I taste;
     Of more delight then hawks or horses be.
 8  O, what a happy title do I find,
     Whate’er thy thoughts or thy heart’s workings be.
     But if that flower with base infection meet,
     Where beauty’s veil doth cover every blot
How many gazers mightst thou lead away!
     For summer and his pleasures wait on thee;
     They wear but sweet, but figures of delight.
     Glosses: 1) But that is = Only those things that are; 3) misprision = error, scorn, undervaluation, punning on “ms.-prison”; 5) Lest puns on “leaf’t,” i.e., folded or imprinted on pages; profane: (Q proface, suggesting “prophesy”); 6) stall I taste = “I inhibit choice,” with the bawdy pun “Come up front, so I taste a stall”; 7) then puns on “than”; 9) heart’s puns on art’s, “hard’s”; 10) that flower = your heart (with a pun on blood flow?); 13) summer (Q Sommer) puns on the poet, an “adder,” a “number’s man”or metricist.

     95. O, Find a Happy Title

     Those trivial loving thoughts retained in my mind
     can’t boast of having overcome my silence;
     thus your great, inspiring worth, pent up and undervalued, cultivates
  4 my own self-berating and self-abuse,
     fearful as I am that I, so unworthy, might mispresent it.
     Just come to me to get me past my writer’s block. I’m in such a deadlocked condition that my mouth seems full of manure-polluted straw;
     with your help I’ll enjoy my recreation and verse conceits—my “hawks or horses”—more.
  8 O, what a wonderful subject I’ll find then; how noble I’ll feel,
     regardless of what is in your mind and heart.
     Now, if your heart betrays deep infection,
     the fact that beauty’s veil covers any blemish
12 will still allow you to attract and divert numerous eyes;
     for summer and summer pleasures (and the delights of these my verses) attend you,
     adorned in sweetness, in delightful embellishments and figures.


          Rune 95 has familiar, connected themes: the difficulty of expression in Q, Will’s poor rhetoric and need for inspiration, and the beautiful if flawed character of the unnamed auditor. (A poet’s admission of “poor rhetoric” is conventional, but Will’s in Q also points up the deleterious effects of the hidden Runes on the visible details of the Sonnets. “Double writing” could only generate myriad imperfections.)

           The poem also affirms the imagined “coming” of the friend at “the onset” (6), enabling Will to “find a happy title” (8) in which “figures of delight” (14) attend the subject and “veil” (11) all shortcomings.

           Assorted figures, puns, end rhymes, and assonance integrate the poem. Typically, the letterstrings of the verses hide crafty, ambiguous subtextual wit.

           Figures about enclosure and disease are analogues both for “unwritten texts” and for the runes, which inflict “injury” (4) because they’re hard to write and self-berating. This cluster of claustrophobic conceits includes “in my thought” (1); “my silence” (2); “upon misprision growing” (3); “profane” and “wrong” (5); “stall I taste” (6), a bitter gustatory joke echoed in the pun “floor” (10); “base in-section” (10); and “every blot” (11).

           Contrastive conceits describe happy pursuits in the open air—and the overt sonnets, the “victors of my silence” (2) that “cover” the friend’s and poet’s flaws with “figures of delight.” The affirmative figures suggest lordly activities of titled men (see 8), knights at war or in pursuit of sport. The puns “thy hart’s war kings” (9) and “many gay Sirs” (12) link, with “wait on thee”—bawdily, “weight on you”—(13) implying a retinue.

           Typically, diction about the Q project itself occurs—including “happy title,” “blot,” “figures,” and the puns “art’s workings,” “leafed,” and “fold/sold.” What (see 8-9) may pun on Wyatt, the antecedent sonneteer, as in “Oh, Wyatt, a happy title [maybe the Earl of Surrey, England’s ‘other’ early sonneteer], do eye...” and “...I find Wyatt erred (...earthy).”

           The plays “Anne’s pleasures weigh a ton” and “weighty Aunt Hathaway” (13-14) are routinely pejorative comments about Will’s wife. Line 13, in fact, encodes one of the hundreds of coy suggestions in Q that Anne was fat: “For Sommer [i.e., “numbers man” or Metricist, the Poet, Will], Annie’s pleasures weigh a ton.” A linked linepun admits, “How my Annie-gazers (How many gay sirs…) missed Old ’Athaway!” (12).

           The puns “low” (1), “growing” (3), “come” (6), and “But” (1, 6, 10, 14) invite “low,” bawdy readings, as do suggestions of nude revels (12-14) and penile comparison—e.g., “great gift…growing” (3), “least ‘I’ see” (5), and “gay Sir’s mite t’ howl at” (12). Line 4 suggests masturbation; 6, oral sex; and 10, V.D. Line 13 puns “…fewer sweat on thee.” One bawdy linepun in 6 suggests, “Come up front, making my mouth taste like a stall.”

           Puns that may allude to the Earl of Southampton’s recorded stay in The Tower include these: “Southy, great guest, upon ‘misprision’ growing” (3) and “Southy, great guest, eponymous prison gear owing [i.e., owning, admitting]...” (3-4). The pun “So thy Great Gift upon ‘misprision’ growing...” tentatively supports the theory that Will may have drafted some or all of this Great Work, the Q cycle, to entertain Southy during his imprisonment—or that the poet amplified the work after that event. Wit in the acrostic (see below) seems to amplify the wit in the text aimed at Southy.

           Q’s spelling guiƒt allows the clipped name “Ju. Shakespeare” (with ft = the family name cipher I’ve deduced) and the play “As victors of my silence, see a knot [i.e., a riddle] boast / Southy great, Ju. Shakespeare (a pun)—Miss there [p = th] eye, scion [OED slip, twig], growing / thin…” (2-4).

           Two copies of Q show proface here in line 5, a pun on “prophecy.” This bobble in Q’s printing is a kind of “misprision”—i.e., mistaking one thing for another (OED 1588). My own deduction is that the “mistake” is likely a calculated one.

           Puns about Will’s daughter Susannah Hall, plausibly “Sue,” occur: e.g., “Sue’s t’ Hall aye tasty, / Of more delight than hawks or horses (...hogs or whores)...” (6-7); “Aye Sue I see, torso famous aye lenses eye...” (in 2, suggesting that she looks like a classical goddess); and “Await a happy title, Dauphin Daughter, Thetis...” (8-9). (The efforts made toward securing a Shakespeare coat of arms, an emblem of family status, are documented.)

Sample Puns

          1) Buddha, ’tis in myth (enemy thought); Body,’tis in my thought, W.H., O, feel of it! W.H., awful (eisell, offal) Ovid owe; t’ Hat. I sin; Hat. I see, enemy t[oo] huge t’ house love; eying method, W.H. owes love
          1-2) Feel Ovid, O you ass; W.H., Oslo toast; O, see ludus, vice to whore; salute O’s
          2) I see torso of my assailant’s ass; in season, note bee; see sonnet (sonata) boast
          2-3) host sought hickory to give to peeing miss; Aye Sue I see, torso famous, aye lean see, see Anne “O” t’ bust, Southy
          3) tupping my ass, praise Zion; Southy, Great Gift, upon mis-prison growing; ms.-prison; gust, rowing; if Paris I own, groan
          3-4) upon ms., peer, aye shun G-row inch; I owe injury in jet
          3-5) if prison grow in jet, Henry’s thought to missal fatal is teased
          4) T’ Henry S. that tome is hell fido; The injuries that Thomas’ll see, I do
          4-5) that “tomey” cell see, I dual-leafed it; To muzzle Fido, leashed I Thomas
          5) Lofty, see Thomas help rough, anal fold do it wrong
          5-6) Least (Leaved), eye Thomas, helper offends Hall, duet rune chap (jab) you
          6) Butting thin ass, it’s homme; home forced, Hall I taste; see, homme foes’ delights
          7) Oaf, moor, diligent
          7-8) Oaf mortal I jet, he knocks our whore’s ass, bawdy habit
          8) Lido I find; I tell docent; O, H.W. eye, type yet idle to offend; idol, Dauphin; idol to ascend
          8-9) Await a happy title, Dauphin Daughter; eye fiend, whiter th’ idiot sortie here; waiter t’ idiot, sortie here; I find Wyatt erred to hate Hugh
          9-10) oar, thy hard’s work inches, by butt is taut, ass lower, with base infection, meat; earthy art’s working, sub-beauties that flower
        10) whore with basin, section meat; eye fetid slur; flow-er
        10-11) meat in [W = in] hairy body’s vale doth cower, you rebel
        11-12) W., Harry, bawdy eyes valley’d “O,” this O were your “Y” below, thou, m’ Annie (thou man-Y); autumn eye nigh, gay seer; below tome, Annie-gazer smite
        12) Hominy; lea dewy; Home, Annie, gay sirs, may fit Hall, “Hadaway”; Home, Anne—a gay series—might’st thou lead [i.e., set in type strips?] away; howl “adieu!” aye
        12-13) Waiver; Wafer is Homme, rune’s pleasure
        13) For some, Miranda’s pleasures whiten; Sue ate Auntie; Anne dies, pleasures whiten thee; Annie’s pleasures weigh a ton; mer, Andes please; sweeten tea           
         13-14) [The poet’s] pleasures wait on that Hugh eerie but sweet; if you’re sweet, Auntie t’ hairy butt sweet bawdy is; Auntie th’ ewer, butt sweet; a furry Swede owned heady, weary butt
         14) witty, bawdy fig your ass, O fiddle, I jet! Th’ hairy (eerie, airy) butts we eat, butt-figures of delight; we Tybalt’s figure saw, sad, light (laid, legged); Herbert’s witty butt seek; you erase Ovid, Eli jet [black]; secure soft delight

Acrostic Wit

          The downward acrostic codeline—BASTL BOOWBWH FT—suggests such readings as “Beast-elbow be whiffed” and “Bastille booby [Boob W.H.] fit [fight, sight],” with the second decoding meaning “‘Emprisoned dunce stanza.” (A fit is a stanza.) The Bastille humor here seems to reinforce other wit in the text proper (or, more aptly, improper) about the Earl of Southampton’s imprisonment (3), “tasting a stall” (6), being “led away” (12), and “sins” (see 10-11). One “happy title” (see line 8) that is to be found in the poem, then, lurks in the acrostic: “Boob W.H.” (Southampton, of course, already had another title, a heriditary one.)

           The upward (reverse) codeline—TF HW B WOO BLT SAB—houses such Southy-baiting encryptions as, e.g., “Tea of H[arry] W[riothesley] be woo-bled sap,” “Tea of H.W. be woe, O, bled is ape,” and/or “Tough H.W. be-wobbled. Sob.” “Tough H.W., beau, built ‘ass-up’” is another reading.

           The reversed form of the initials H.W. (as W.H.) has already generated much discussion among critics of the Sonnets, since Will’s only known patron, Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd earl of Southampton, has always been the most likely “handsome young man ” of the Sonnets, and since the initials that occur on the cryptic dedication page of Q (signed by T.T.) read “Mr. W. H.,” not “H.W.” (My own suggestions, offered elsewhere, are that the dedication is intentionally obscure, allowing multiple readings among insiders and outsiders alike—and that one of these readings would have the Q texts inscribed to “Mr. IN Hall...,” Will’s son-in-law, Dr. John Hall of Stratford, with W representing IN (or JN) and thus John.)

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