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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        

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Rune 98

Fourteenth lines, Sonnets 85-98 (Set VII)

                         Rune 98

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

     Me for my dumb thoughts speaking in effect,
     Then lacked I matter, that enfeebled mine—
     In sleep a king, but waking, no such matter;
 4  That, for thy right, myself will bare all wrong,
     For I must near love him whom thou dost hate
     Compared. With loss of thee, will not seem so
     All this away, and me most wretchèd make?
 8 Thou mayst be false, and yet I know it not
     If thy sweet virtue answer. Not thy show
     Lilies that fester, smell—far worse than weeds.
     The hardest knife, ill used, doth lose his edge;
12 As thou being mine, mine is thy good report
     That leaves. Look pale, dreading the winters near,
     As with your shadow I with these did play.
     Glosses: 1) in effect is an eyepun in Q on insect, suggesting “in a sect”; 2) mine puns on mind, “m’ Anne”; 4) That = Matter (see 3); for thy right = given your merit; will suggests Will; 5-6) him.../ Compared = the auditor himself; will is another namepun; 7) and...make puns “Anne, m’ most wretched make [i.e., mate]”; 9) Not thy show puns “Knotty (Naughty) show”; 11) his edge puns “high sedge” (see weeds in 10); 12) mine puns on “a source of riches” and, again, on “m’ Anne” (see 2); 13) leaves (v.) is a paradoxical pun, roughly, “disappears after being set down on pages”; Look = Countenance; 14) these = these poems, including the ones that have “left” a reader’s field of vision.

     98. Speaking in Effect

     Trying to express my inarticulate thoughts effectively and artfully,
     I found that I lacked substance, the mine (of the mind) depleted—
     kingly in my dreams, but lacking command when conscious;
  4 despite your merits and the treatment you deserve, I, Will, show matters all wrong,
     because I’m privately burdened with holding dear the singular man whom you dislike
     seeing rendered by inadequate comparisons, inept conceits. Losing you, won’t it seem that
     this is all behind me, making me most wretched?
  8 You may be insincere or false, your looks deceiving, and yet I don’t know it
     while I perceive only your sweet virtue. You don’t have the look of (and are not suitably cloaked here in such conceits as)
     decaying lilies, bad smelling—worse than mourning clothes.
     The knife of hardest steel, abused in execution, loses its edge,
12 and the same might apply to you; because you are mine and have mine-like resources, my report on you is the good one
     sent out here to the world on these sheets. Countenance pale, dreading the coming winters,
     I have played with these figures and poems as if toying with your shadow.


          This composite poem made up of the 14 end-lines in Set VII mixes its poetic figures egregiously, “speaking in effect” (see 1) as if to contradict Will’s assertion that his poet’s “mine” of “matter” is exhausted (2).

          Partly a self-denigrating complaint, the rune explores the isolating results of Will’s decision to put the best face on the unnamed muse’s life. His theme—relevant to the poet and to his muse, but with larger implications—is the contradiction between what’s inside and what shows. The pun “speaking insect” (1) clarifies some of the wit and meaning in the ideas of not being kingly (3), of wretchedness (7), of “weeds” (10), and of fearing winter (13)—while the pun “speaking in a sect” suggests both “…coterie” and “…sectioned parts.” (The Runes address an in-group audience and are assemblages of verse sections.)

           The poet’s “dumb thoughts” (1) suggest his unexpressed (and wrong) ideas, with the hint of a dumbshow that makes line 3 seem to allude to the Mousetrap scene in Hamlet. These “silent ideas” have succeeding analogues, all of them figurative equivalents for the runes: e.g., a “king” with “matter” (3); the friend’s “right” (4); the poet’s “love” for him (5); what the poet “knows,” the friend’s “sweet virtue” (9); the beauty of the lily (10); and a sharp knife (11).

           Contrasted with such “dumb” ideas are figures describing what actually appears in print: “speaking in effect” (1), implying both showy conceits and “ineffect” (i.e., bad rhetoric); a “lack of matter” (2, 3); something “bared all wrong” (4); a subject “compared” (6) in figures rather than shown directly; a lost subject, and distressing matter (6-7); “thy show” (9), implying superficial representation; a knife “ill-used,” the rendering not sharp (11); a “good report / That leaves” (12-13), suggesting evanescent art; and finally, an art that seems frivolously playful and concerns itself with the muse’s “shadow,” not his essence (14).

           Similarly, the poem recognizes (in 8-9) a likely contradiction between what the friend really is and how the poet chooses to perceive him. The friend’s “sweet virtue,” then, is a part of the show (9), or shadow (14), that appears lily-pure. Underneath is the aroma of festering mortality (10)—and of a muse who is hard and destructive (11), deserts friends (6, 14), asserts prerogatives (4), and is so vain as to “hate comparison” (5-6). Thus we hear such disparaging puns as “knife, ill used, doth lose his edge / As thou” (11-12), “myself will bare all wrong” (4), and “I must ne’re love him” (5).

           These separate dichotomies between reality and appearance then, suggest a staged deterioration: 1) The friend’s character is real; 2) the poet chooses to misperceive it; 3) and he expresses his misperception in showy but faulty conceits.
At the opposite end of such analysis, one reads the poem for its play, with puns and bawdry that nearly derail any train of serious thought. As usual, letterstring puns in the lines as well as the lefthand acrostic string of emphatic capitals seem authorized to house ambiguous wit.

           Entertaining puns, for example, that are encoded in the textual letterstrings include these:

                   — “eye Nice, a city endless” (1-2);
                   — “Thoughts, our theory, yet may sell, few eye labor” (4);
                   — “I jet myself, Will, liberal rune” (4);
                   — “notice a missal (...missile) to hiss away and maim oft” (6-7);
                   — “Thomas T. be false, and yet I know it not” (8), berating Will’s known printing agent, Thomas Thorpe;
                    —“false Anne died, I know it not” (8);
                    —“...witty S., the artist, knave, ill-wifed, doth lose his edge ( his Age)” (10-11);
                   — “thy ‘God report’ [possibly the King James Bible project, in progress before 1609] that leaves Luke pale t’ read in jetty hue, interesting e’er (...ear; ...error)” (12-13); and
                    —“...pale Ed. [i.e., ‘editor,’ likely a joking epithet for Thomas Thorpe] reading to you [cf. Hamlet, who ‘enters, reading’], enters in error; a sweeter, shadowy wit had he, if he did play” (13-14).

          The pun “a Swede, here shadowy...” (14) is one of many suggestions in Q that Thorpe is a “Swede.” This insinuation occurs in Rune 1.1 and crops up all over the place in Q in ways that have led me inductively to this small hypothesis. Doubtless it was fun for Will to think of “his Dane” and “his Swede” as foils. Thorpe would have enjoyed the joke as much as Will.

          For other punning potentialities in the line, see Sample Puns (below).

          The possibility of a coterie reference to the KJB project in “thy God report” (12) is particularly interesting. One pun (of many possibilities) in 12-14 is this: “As thou being mine, mine is thy God Report that leaves Luke pallid reading. (Th’ W inters an error. I saw it here fade. Do you....?)” The closing pun “I with Thief did play” may mean, “My cohorts were like the Thief on the Cross, crucified with Christ.” The closing line,  “As with your Shadow, I with these did play,” if aimed at one of the KJB committee members, might mean, “While you fiddle with texts about the Holy Ghost, I fiddle here with these gamy texts.” (See below, where Titus may occur as acrostic wit. And see the index to subtextual terms, particularly re. [Michael?] Rabbett, [Richard?] Edes, and [John] Boys.) Since distributions of labor applied on the KJB project, matching up names with such plays as Luke (a pun here in 13) may eventually be fruitful as a way of narrowing the field and deciding whom Will had in mind as his coterie audience. Progressively I’ve become convinced that Will, in his solitary project (but with Thorpe’s collaboration), thought of the parallel between himself and the committee concurrently working on that “other” momentous project.

          Q’s form vs’d (11) is especially versatile, punning, e.g., on used, wifed, whiffed, and versed.

           Phallic bawdry, as usual, tinges the text. “Edge” (11) routinely has phallic overtones. “...Know f--k matter, that (thought) farty, rigid: Myself, Will, bare ‘awl’ wrung—fore ‘I’; muffed, an ‘ear’ low...” is one variant of the puns in 3-5. Lines 4-5 concurrently encode an entertaining pun on “farty rectum,” suggesting such a scenario as this, e.g.: “That farty rectum, y’ ass, [wi]ll fuel bare awl—wrong form use, t[oo]near, low....” Phallic puns in 12-13 include these: “A stubby inch, mine” and “A stubby inch, m’ ‘anemone’ is thick, odd, repartée tells (...our [whore-]portal is low)....”

           The interactive forms so. / all (6-7) pun on “Sue Hall,” Will’s daughter. Thou maist (opening 8) is a close form of Thomas T., suggesting Thorpe, the printing agent.

Sample Puns

         1)Monsieur, Madam,” thou jet, ass, speaking insect; Miss, whore, my dumb thoughts; Ms. o’er (ore); in a sect
         1-2) eye Nice, a city endless
         1-3) Is Peking Jonah’s city, Hen, Jack, Tommy T.?—Turd Hat. enfeebled my Nine [i.e., nine muses]
         2) Thin lacky Tom, a turd, had enfeebled mind; I’m adder [cf. “summer,” metricist]; I matter t’ Hat., enfeebled mind; Mater; Th’ Nile I see (icy), get I maid t’ hurt, hating sable demon (domain)
         3) John, flee Peking, boudoir-king ; join flea piquing in butt; King in “O,” f--k matter
         3-4) f--k maid earthy, ’tis whore, thy right; f--k my dirty Hat., farty, rigid miss; missal fuel (swill) bare, all wrong; f--k my turded ass
         4) our theory yet may sell, few eye labor; ill be Earl W.
         4-5) hell-fuel burial, rune-giver eye; awl wrong, fore-“I” muffed, an ear low; Hall, wrong for aye—muffed, an earl!; That farty rectum, y’ ass, [wi]ll fuel bare awl—wrong form use, t[oo]near, low...
         5) “farm” you fit near “loam”; in “ear,” L’homme W.H. emitted oft hate; “Forum” you fit in here
         5-6) W.H., homme, thou doffed 8 [inches?], compared; thou dost eat come
         6) Come, party (pardie), with love of The Will; Come, peer dewy, idle “O” see oft; he, Will, knot seamy sow
         6-7) notice a missal to hiss; faulty swine, dim, moist, red, shit make
         7-8) “Awl’d,” Hiss-away, Anne, my moist, wretched ma[t]e, thou mayst be false, Anne, yet aye know it not
         8) Anne died, I know it not; eye naughty knot; T’ home I have t’ be; fall scene died, I know; Bess eye, licensed, wide-eye kin (ken)
         8-10) know witty, “notey” Southy, sweet were tune of W., Harry, “notey” fool
         9) “I” fit, his weedy virtue; his witty word you answer not
         9-10) Will I list Hat “sister,” “female,” “sour whore,” “fat and weighty ass”? Aye fit, high, sweet virtue, Anne S. were not—this howl aye, allies
      10-11) Witty S., the artist, knave, ill-wifed, doth lose his edge ( his Age)
      11) [phallic]; knave ill-versed doth love high sedge
      11-12) loo face, ditch “assed”; loo-faced Ed, gassed helping m’ Annie, menaced
      12) A stubby inch—mine, m’ Annie’s; eye Nomini aye, Southy
      12-13) thy “God report” [suggesting an allusion to The KJB project] that leaves Luke pale t’ read, in jet-hue inter sneer; m’ Annie is thy God Report, that loo-slough
      13) pee awl’d, red inch, th’ wen to arse, an ear; Winder cf. “windy round”; leaves low-coupled, read (red) in jet (inched you inter); T’ Italy slow, cappelli dreading
      13-14) in ear, ass-withe; the windy arse, near ass (an heiress); sneer aye, Swede, you’re fey, dowdy, hideous Ed, I’d plea; enter sinner’s wide “ewer” fey, doughty; pale Ed, reading to you, enters near [cf. Hamlet, who “enters, reading”]
      14) Eye Southy; Aye Sue eyed your ass; Ass, with your shitty “O” Judith aft did play; I, witty thief, died, pillowy; aye witties dyed th’ [p=th] lay; A sweeter, shadowy wit had he; fetid, peel aye; fated, peal I; aye sweet your shit; aye Dido I wooed; adieu, you eyed the seated play; I Wyatt-thief did play

Acrostic Wit

          Like the main text, the acrostic codeline encodes “Thorpe-wit.” (The initials “T.T.” occur twice in Q’s frontmatter, and scholars acknowledge that the signature is Thomas Thorpe’s.) In the downward letterstring—MTI TF CAT IL TATA—the bawdy codestring FCAT opens up suggestive readings including, e.g., “M’ T.T. f--ked a lady (...laddie) t’ aye,” “Him, T.T., f--k aye [I] till ‘Ta! Ta!’” “Him, T.T., f--k, idle daughter,” “Mighty tough cat, ill T.T.,” “Empty eye tough kettle, T.T.,” “M’ T.T., off-site, ill T.T.,” and “Empty, tough cattle taught I.”

          The encoded form Titus [code TITF, with F = S, conventionally] reinforces the likelihood of coterie wit about the KJB project, the “God report” (see Sample Puns 12-13, above).

          The upward reverse of the codestring—A TAT LITA C FTIT M—encodes such possibilities as these: “A tight Lady C. fitted him,” “A tight laddie, see fit item,” “A titled ass, fit item,” “Addled ass, fit item,” “High tea, delights of tidy hymn,” “Aye T.T. laid a sieved item,” and “A tight lid, a sieve: tidy hymn.”

          The down/up and up/down hairpin variants of the codeline yield other possibilities that a player here can toy with.

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