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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 97
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Rune 96
Twelfth lines, Sonnets 85-98 (Set VII)

                         Rune 96

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

     Though Words come hindmost, holds his rank before:
     “I-was-not-sick-of-any-fear” from thence
     Comes home again, on better judgment making
 4  Doing the vantage double. Vantage me
     And haply of our old acquaintance tell:
     “At first, the very worst of fortune’s might…,
     And, having thee, of all men’s pride, I boast,
 8  ‘Happy to have thy love, happy to die!’”
     Thy looks should nothing thence but sweetness tell:
     The basest weed outbraves his dignity
     And all things turns to fair that eyes can see,
If thou wouldst, use the strength of all thy state—
     And, thou away, the very birds are mute,
     Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
     Glosses: 1) Words = a braggart soldier, miles gloriosus, a traditional type ; 3) on better judgment = after reconsideration; 4) Doing the vantage double = Making (past) action a double asset; 5) haply = by chance; 9) thence echoes 2, with the same ambiguity; 13) And thou away plays on Anne Hathaway, with thou away an anagram for hat-ou-way.

     96. Veterans

     The talky soldier brings up the rear but, in his own eyes, is always leading the troops; his boasts can come years later, but in his head he’s always still in service.
     “I never was afraid of anything,” emanates from his quarter. Leaving the army and
     returning home, doing everybody a favor, rejoining his mate, always reliving his war years,
  4 exaggerating his exploits, he gets double mileage out of actions he relives. Do me a favor
     and bring up the subject of our old comradeship, speaking to me as if I’d been your captain and you’re now recalling what happened:
     “At first, it was hard going out there…
     and I can say with pride that I had you, the pride of the regiment, and I can still say,
  8 ‘How happy I am to be your friend. I’d be happy to die in your service!’”
     Beyond that, your demeanor and recollection of things would detail nothing but sweetness.
     The lowliest nothing finds his record of exploits improving as time goes on
     and, to impress people, puts a glowing face on everything from the past that he talks about.
12 Do what you can to exert the force of your present position here in this official record
     so that, after you’re gone, even birds (or bards) will keep quiet,
     and it will be your voice that establishes a kind of ideal truth, sung as all war-stories are.


          However construed, the topical and dramatic key to this knotty riddle, I think, is the miles gloriosus or “braggart soldier”—that stock character in Roman and Renaissance comedy to whom Falstaff is an amply individualized blood-cousin. Who hasn’t been buttonholed by an old soldier blowing off about his dimly remembered exploits?

           Military figures and images of singing and muteness (a foil to wordiness) dominate here.

           Early on, Words, the coward braggart, offers a self-rationalization (2)—with “Thence,” perhaps, personifying a second soldier, one who, like Words, also comes from “There.” (This figure, Thence, occurs again in 9 as an appositive noun: “Thy looks,...Thence,....”) “Double gain” (see 4) suggests that the homefront’s “gain” from the soldier’s return is also the unit’s. “Our old acquaintance tell” (5) sketches two aging veterans reliving their war years and former “heroism,” the persona apparently much impressed by the other talker.

           Two end-line exclamation marks (8, 11), rare in Q, converge here to add energy to the rhetoric, attributed partly to the blow-off persona, the windy soldier going on about his exploits.

           In the context of a military scenario, “At first” (6) suggests “When inducted” or “in first combat”; “looks” and “that eyes can see” (9, 11) hint at parade dress; and “drawn” and “pattern” (14) also gain meaning. The play on “patter” links with the language in the rune about talk itself: “words” and “holds” (1); “tell” (5, 9, end words); “boast” (7); and “mute” (13). “Outbraves his dignity” (10) puns, “overstates his nobility.” And “the strength of all thy state[ment?]” (12) suggests a complex pun on “state” while referring to a nation’s military might.

           Perhaps both windy figures here represent Will—as author of Sonnets and Runes. Maybe the “other” is Southy (that is, Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton, Will’s only known patron)—or perhaps John Hall (Will’s son-in-law), or even Anne Hathaway Shakespeare.

           Puns on Aeneas (2) and Turnus (11, 14) invite us to imagine those mythic figures, rival suitors whose fated hand combat the Aeneid describes. (The inevitable pun “Annie S.” in “Aeneas” was surely not lost on Will. Fortunately, at least for a punster, plays on “anus,” highness,” and “‘I’ [a phallic pictograph] in ass” are concurrent in the name.) One pun in 2 is “I was not sick of Aeneas or of Rome tents.” Line 11 puns, “And Hall thinks Turnus tougher (the Tuscan see)!” and “Turnus tough errs.” Hall here means Dr. John Hall, Will’s son-in-law in Stratford, one likely intended auditor for the runic wit in Q.

           Acrostic puns on 1588 (see below) point the scenario toward another military conflict in more recent times, the Armada year.

           Much of the wit is typically impolite. Puns about farts, which are parodies of speech, occur in “words come hindmost” (1) and “patterin’ of alt [upper] hose” (14). The first line may represent one who “articulates” by breaking wind while holding his “rank before”—his tall, stinky phallus. Implications of disease persist in the protest “I was not sick…” (2). Other representative puns are “Having (Halving...) thee, of awl, men’s pride, I boast” (7) and “you pay, turn, off all th’ hose” (14), i.e., “you pay for back-door sex and disrobe.”

           Lines 5, 7, 11, and 13 are joking apostrophes to Anne, full of the usual insults. For example, the pun “Anne, having thee, of all men’s pride I boast” (7), means, “My wife has slept with everybody.” Other family puns include these: “I was not sick of Annie’s arse or ‘O,’ empty hence” (2); “Come, show me a gay Annie, wan, bitter Judy...”; “Deux, Anne, Judy—vantage double...” (3-4); “My Anne, doubly Eve, our old acquaintance-tail” (4-5, hinting at Anne’s corpulence); and “Twin Judy wan (” (4).

           “Terns too fair…” (11) plays decoratively and incidentally against “the very birds are mute” (13). A concurrent pun quips,“Aunty Hathaway, the very Bardess, eye (...aye) remote (...ire emote)” and/or “...the very Bard S. eye....” “Tyndale thinks Turnus tougher (...too fair)” (10-11) is a topical pun.

           The “you, you” pun in 14 (see below) generates UU, or W, with many implications, including pictographic ones. For example, UU suggests the image of buttocks and also of the windy cheeks of the “talker” of the poem; the closing letterstring suggests “...UU, pattern of Falstaff [code f all t hofe],” with, perhaps, his “cheeks” and bodily heft both in mind. The letter VV or W (as IN = JN.) can also stand for John, and/or (as IN = phonic Anne) can name the poet’s wife.

           Lines C, D, and H (i.e., 3, 4, 8) are “properly” labeled “rows.” (That is, line 3, alphabetically rather than numerically named, is the “C-row,” and line 4 is the “D-row.” A reader/player is apt to note this bit of formal humor because line 14 opens with a pun on “D-row”—which it clearly is not. One pun in 14 is, “D-row, nice terror: You paid to earn assaults.” The I-, J-, and L-rows (i.e., lines 9, 10, 12) all have initials that closely imitate the minims in those alphabetic characters. (One conundrum in Will’s line-lettering game is whether I and J merge or operate separate; in Will’s alphabet the two letters were often conflated.)

Sample Puns

          1) Southy, Jew, or Dis see; See th’ huge Words [suggesting, e.g., Falstaff] come hindmost; Jew hoards come high and moist; see omen, dim hole, Dis is rank
          1-2) moist hole, Scheisse rank before you; holed ass is rank before “I”; I was not sick of Annie S.; O, ruse-knots I see
          2) you eye snot; fix Annie S., erase Rome; eerie furrow, midden see
          2-3) in see-saw, my ass; Nice see, hommes; Annie ass, ear-formed, hence see
          3) Omega eye; nun—bed her; Annie owe in bed, trudge, men, t’ my king; Annie, on bed, err; Judy, gem in th’ making; m’ aching [cf. 2]; making mating
          3-4) amend tummy ache, inched wand jet, event aged; “I” huge Amen’d my king, doing thee vantage… [phallic]
          4) you blow Anne t’ age (...itch, edge) me; Twin Judy wan tie good, you blunt-edge me
          4-5) Levant eye, gem eye in dapply O’s; jet o’ blunt edge may end happily
          5) Apples herald a sequence t’ hell; End applies herald, ass quaint; liver old eye, see cunt, Anne’s tail
          5-6) eye Anne t’ unsettle eight of our stout, heavier oars; Anne-dapples, O, you rolled, a cunty Anne see, tailed
          6-7) in Semite eye Anne diving, the evil, mean spirit eye
          7) Anne, dough, eye; having Judy, …I boast; awful, offal; of Hall mense appeared
          7-8) I boast appetite high, low, appetite eye
          8) Happy Doughy Hath-a-loaf, happy toad; low, weepy toady
          8-9) idle hooks of old, an oath eye in jet
          9) Thy loo-key is S. Hall; no-thing’d Hen see, butt-sweetness, tail; Hen, see, but few eat an ass-tail; kiss of Hall know, th’ inched Hen see
          9-10) nasty lady base is t’ Ed
        10) weedy, witty; we doubt B-row’s dignity; roses dig in eye; out be Rizzy’s dying “I”; widow you’d bury, shy ass, dig, knight
        10-11) eye Tyndale, the hinges turn
        11) Anne dull things turns to fire, that “I’s” can feel; dull things Turnus, too, asserted
        11-12) stuff Harry, that ass, see Anne seize th’ old fit
        12) Eye, Southy, old Shakespeare wife, the Shakespeare rune-jets “awl” thy state; vfe verse, wife, whiff; offal, this t’ eat; you set history in jet [i.e., black ink], awful thy state
        13) Anne Thou-away, the very Bardess, aye remote; thievery; bards, Bard S., the very Bard, Sir Mute [contrast “Words” (1)]; And thou a weighty, weary Bard S. eye, remote; desire
        13-14) high arts, our muted runes t’ rue; heavy, wry bird’s arm you’d add
        14) D-row end… [i.e., line 4, a “pattern” for 14 because both “end” (begin) in “D”], a “double” play [cf. 4]; Drawn nice, tear you, you pattern o’ faulty hose; D-rune, a fit [i.e., stanza]; a UU = W = pudendum or buttocks = wen [archaic letter]; you paid “urn” of Hall, th’ hussy; cf. Fall-thief, Falstaff [tongue-tied]— a “braggart soldier”; eye Turnus; you paid Turnus, Hall; ass, t’ err, UU [pictographic buttocks, etc.] pat; Hall thou see; rupee 8 t’ earn of Hall; paid; owes

Acrostic Wit

          A lefthand parenthesis mark (which conventionally can stand for “C” or “I” in the Runegame) initiates the downward emphatic acrostic code—( IC DAAAHTT AI AD. This code suggests, e.g., “Seize [Sea’s] date t’ eye, A.D.”; “Seized aye, T.T. I aid”; “Ceased, eye T.T, odd” (with “T.T.” = Thomas Thorpe, Will’s printing agent); and “Seize doughty aid.”

          The line also encodes likely Roman numeral plays. According to OED, the letterstring CIC is an “earlier form of M = 1000,” and D was “understood to be the half of CIC [the last ‘C’ reversed].” Thus the downward code generates not only “1000 (date) A.D.” but also an arcane form of 1588, the Armada date, a “military” adjunct to this soldierly text, in this manner: CIC + D + AAAHTA + AIAD = 1000 + 500 + 80 + 8 = 1588. The opening pun “Sea…” and closing “A.D.” in the acrostic are clues that this date may be consciously encoded.

          Other constructions areconcurrent. A “date rune” in Q often proves to be a kind of authorized wild-goose chase.

          Still, the near-palindromic reverse eggs one on: DAIAT THAAAD CI( suggests “Dated 1000,” “Date, the A.D., see, eyes,” “Dei eyed The Eight Seas [echoing ‘Seven Seas’],” and/or “Date (Dyed), The Odyssey see (sea).” Another reading is “Daughter add, Sis,” perhaps a pet name in the family for Susannah Shakespeare Hall. “Daughter, add sauce (...sighs)”—with “sauce” = “sass,” piquency—is another reading.

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