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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 VI, Runes 71-84: Texts and Comments
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

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Rune 71
First lines, Set VI (Sonnets 71-84)

                         Rune 71
     (First lines, Set VI: Sonnets 71-84)

     No longer mourn for me when I am dead;
     Oh, least the world should task you to recite.            
     That time of year thou mayst in me behold,
 4  But be contented when that fell arrest.
     So are you to my thoughts as food to life;
     Why is my verse so barren of new pride?
     Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties were,
 8  So oft have I invoked thee for my muse,
     Whilst I alone did call upon thy aid.           
     Oh, how I faint when I of you do write!      
     Or I shall live your epitaph to make:
12 I grant thou were not. Married to my muse,
     I never saw that you did painting need.
     Who is it? That says most. Which can say more?
2) Oh, least puns on “‘O,’ leaf’t” (i.e., Round [Rune], paginated); 3) That time of year = That time of my death, punning “ are” (“...and I am not”); 4) fell arrest puns “...fellow rest”; 7) Thy glass = Your image as reflected here; 8) So oft puns on “Soft” (adv.); 9) Whilst I alone is a name-pun on “Will Shakespeare [The digraph st = Shakespeare, the name cipher I have deduced, a ‘long s’ seeming to hold a dagger-like—and thus spearlike— t by the handle and to shake it], I alone”; 10) faint puns on “feint” (i.e., deceive); 11) Or = If, Perhaps (contrast 1-4); 14) Who is it? = What is the name in the epitaph?

     71. Whose Epitaph to Make?

     When I am dead, do not go on and on mourning for me.
     Oh, you are the last person in the world to be asked to eulogize me.
     You may live to see that season when I die,
  4 but hold your peace and stay composed when that cruel end comes.
     These ideas about you nourish my mind and keep me living;
     but why is my verse so lacking in new substance?
     Your reflection here will (at least) show you how beautiful you once were,
  8 so often have I invoked you as my inspiration,
     calling upon you alone for support.
     Oh, how faint (but also how playful) I feel when I write about you!
     If it happens that I outlive you and write your epitaph, instead of the other way around,
12 I will simply mention your nonexistence. While married to my muse (you have been my inspiration)
     I never felt that you needed the artifice of eulogy or embellishment.
     What is your name? Which name, yours or mine, will the earlier epitaph feature? Answers to such questions would say it all. Who or what could say more?


          Rune 71, a lighthearted poem on a sober subject, might be called the “Duel of Eulogies,” or “Who Will Go First?” Will’s coyness about identifying his primary auditor in Q makes the question “Who is it?” (14) doubly intriguing.

          The rune is neatly organized. The first four lines imagine the poet’s death and instruct the unnamed friend to refrain from eulogy and keep a low profile; the last four imagine the situation reversed and suggest what the poet would write on the friend’s gravestone—very little. The midsection (5-10) discusses the poet’s feelings for his muse and evaluates the poems as “uninspired” but potentially useful for recalling the friend’s “beauties.” Like many of the runes, this one partakes of fliting—that is, a mock putdown, a kind of “roast.” Such friend-berating implications undercut the serious content—especially at 11-12.

           Puns that add playful confusion include “that time of ‘ye are’” (3), “when that fellow rest” (4), and “thy beauties ‘we are’” (7).

           The poem uses diction about eulogies and epitaphs—one relevant pun is “In ‘O’ languor, m’ urn-form…” (1)—as well as routine legal terms such as “leased,” “arrest,” “invoked,” and “married.” Other details cluster around the topic of time and seasons: e.g., “No longer morn” (1); “barren of new pride [i.e., lacking new growth]” (6); “That time of year”; and “May-st” (3).

           However serious or jocular, the line that allows the reading “I grant thou wert not married, too, my muse” (12) seems quietly biographical: The poet himself is married and yet makes a point of his being “alone” (9) and of seeking outside friendship, as in the present instance. He suggests a vague concern with marriage in such details as “recitation” (2), “barrenness” (6), and the puns “So are you two [Sue, are you two?]” (5), “Sue S. t’halve, I enyoked thee [i.e., son-in-law John Hall?] for my muse” (8), and “W., Henry [Q’s f looks like r], O, you dowried whore” (10-11). “To make” (11) puns on “Two mate.” One lurking conceit seems to be that the friend is a kind of bride, a “beauty” (7) invoked “for my muff” (8) who does not “need painting” (13); if the persona were to die (1-4), the friend should not play the weeping widow, but should be “cunt-ended when that fellow rest” (see 4).

           Differently, the two lines that start with “So” read covertly as apostrophes to Susanna—Will’s daughter Mrs. John Hall, one possible muse—while other plays confound any conclusion about who’s listening: e.g., “my Muse eye, never Sue (…newer, Sue)” (12-13) and segments that seem to be directed at W.H./Southy—Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton, Will’s only known patron. Lines 10-11 pun, “Aye faint (A saint...,) W.H. annoys you, dowried whore evil.” One thrust of Q (and of this text) is to frustrate the reader about the muse’s identity. Coterie readers of the poet’s own day would have enjoyed the same confusion, each finding enough clues to make him think, “It’s me!”—and plenty to suggest otherwise. Conveniently, WH always suggests both Southampton and (because WH encodes the form IN H, suggesting Jn. H.) Dr. John Hall, Anne and Will’s son-in-law.

           Other details pointing to Susanna Hall as possible auditor include the play “O, wry S. Hall, live” (11) and the emphatic acrostic suggesting both “Nota bene. Sue ‘tis…” (code NOT B SV[V] TS…) and Sue (…SWOOIIW). But the pun “Write, O, Wriothesley [Q RIshallliuey], your epitaph to make” (10-11) points elsewhere. Other plays on “Southy” (a plausible nickname for Southampton) appear in SO/VVHy/THy (5-7), SO/THy (8-7), and “SO oft haue I” (8).

           Q’s form Neuer (13) reverses to reueN (suggesting “rune”), within the pun “I Rune saw that you did....” Thomas Thorpe, Will’s printing agent, would likely have heard wit in to my (12), suggesting “Tommy.” One terminal pun is “...witch see, Anne S., aye m’ whore (...amour, etc.)” (14). An overlaid “medical” version is “Who is it Hat. sees most? John H. [= wh = IN H], eye, check Anne’s femur.”

             Now that “That Time of Year…” (Sonnet 73) is a recognizable set-piece, lines 2-3 suggest to us “recitation” of that poem; an outside possibility is that the poem was composed ahead of its context here, had gained in-group admiration, and was worked into Set VI with a consciousness of that status. (The method of runic composition would have allowed that.) With a bit more certainty one can suggest that Will may be mocking the sentimental and periphrastic rhetoric of such lines as his own, the third here, and also predicting the popular taste for it with a fine prescience.

Sample Puns

           1) Know longer my horn, sore, mewn [i.e., confined], I am dead; “Noel,” un-German form; W., Hen. eye amid heady “O,” leaft [on pages]; In “O”-languor, m’ urn-form, whinny immediate
           1-2) he, Nahum, did olive t’ the world show, vile task
           2) Olé’s t’ the world faulty; Old, eye Shakespeare, the World [suggesting The Globe] of old taste, queued o’er City; “O” [pudendal] leased you, our lad, S. Hall did ask you to recite [i.e., wedding vows]; laddie’s old task, uterus “I’d”; East, the World faulty [cf. “East of Eden”]; “uterucide”
           2-3) old ass, cauterize it, eat it; To re-site [i.e., relocate] t’ Hat-i-may’s yard, home, I, Shakespeare, enemy behold
           3-4) Hat, “Tommy’s year” thou mayst in me behold, but be contented when Tho. T. sell our fit [i.e., stanza]; Tommy, O seer, thou may aye fit in me: behold butt, be “cunt-ended”; home, I, Shakespeare, John [in] may behold, Beauty, son
           4) Butt, bacon-tinted wen
           4-5) W., Hen, that fellow Shakespeare saw, a rude homme, yet haughty ass—ass foot to leaf; our fit ass, whore, you Tommy thought
           5) Is “O” a rudiment thou jet? Sue; Sir
           5-6) asses’ subtle ease, wise my verse
           5-7) [initially in the lines] So…/VVHy…/THy [delineating “Southy”]           
W.H, yes, my verse foe be, aye runes new peer-eyed; my verses’ “O” be a rune, oft new-pried; high, eye Samaria’s foe, baron’s new parade; foe, barren o’ sinew, peer eyed (“I’d”)
           6-7) arses, Oberon’s new pride, thy glass will show
           7) Thickly Sue’ll feud, hee-haw t’ High Body, I swear; Thick laugh will shout hee-haw; Will S. you’d hee-haw, thy bawdy swear; Thick lay ass-swill
           8) Soft, thief I invoked; Sue, oft have I invoked thee for my muse; Soft have I John yoked thee fore, my muse; muff; soar, my muse
           8-9) this army hymn you fuel, fiddle wan did call
           9) Eye awl, “O,” Nate “I’d,” see “awl”—a pun; tail wan t’ hide; one did see Hall up, untidy
           9-10) decent; docent; …did call upon Thetis—Anne, too
         10) feint; O, Heaven t’ win, Jove, you’d “O” write; Heaven twin [i.e., Hamnet?], I of you do write, Arise, Hall, live, your epitaph to make; Heaven, twenty, a few, do right (write); dowry; knave; knife; “O” housing twins you deride
         10-11) aye Saint W.H. annoys you, dowried whore evil; writer eyes Oliver, epitaph to make; in Io, pseudo writer, I shall live
         10-12) deride our eisell, liver pity, fat homme, ache I grant
         11) O, wry shell you; you RIP; make [i.e., mate]; tomb, tome, Tom; ache; Our evil Livy (Levi), Europe adapt
         11-12) megrim [i.e., migraine]; titty, how warty; I grant Thornton ought marry Ed, Tommy, my wife
         12) Ignorant Howard, an oat, married Tommy; Tom hurried to malmsey
         12-13) muffin; Tommy, “muffing” your fetid ewe, died panting; my homme, you Seine aver; thou wert knot-married, Thomas
         13) eye Rune (...I rown) [Q Neuer], saw [a saying], the two died panting, needy; th’ toad eyed pain, tinging Ed
         13-14) engine, adieu, was it t’ hot? I never saw th’ touted painting—in Edo, is it?
         14) W.H. “O” I sight, that ass aye is moist, W.H., itch, see Anne S., amour; witch see, Anne Seymour; Shakespeare witch, see Annie’s amour (Anne-femur); W.H., O, eye seated, fey ass moist, W.H. I see hissing, assy Moor; eyes moist; W.H., eye Jane Seymour (eye Jason, see Moor); W.H., aye check Anne’s femur; …eye chickens, a moor

Acrostic Wit

          The paste-up here has larger capitals than the other 13 runes that follow in Set VI because its components are the first lines of the 14 sonnets in the set, and these opening verses in the printed version of Q have oversized initials. The same bold capitals, I believe, would also have been insistent on Will’s original hand-penned set leaf—forming an acrostic grid system (both horizontally and vertically, and perhaps diagonally) in the sonnet-shaped scheme that gives Q an architectural feature that recurs on each set leaf. In any case, these emphatic initial letters generate here in Rune 71 a vertical acrostic codeline for reader/players to toy with and ogle at. Ambiguities result particularly in lines 2 (because of the gap between O and L) and 6 (because of the divided W—printed VV, with a “third” capital, H, initial in the line).

          As always in Q’s pictographic game, the “OO” sequence, as a mini-palindrome, suggests paired eyes.

          In the down/down form of the emphatic acrostic codeline, plays on Nota bene and “virgin” seem insistent, as does a play on “Swede,” an epithet linked recurrently in Q with T.T.—i.e., Thomas Thorpe, Will’s printing agent. This full codeline—NOT B SVTS WOO II WO [L?]HV O VHOH[H?]RGN H—suggests such encryptions as these: “Anne ought be sweetest wo... aye. Who? Virgin H[athaway?],” “Knot [i.e., Riddle, Rune] be [Not t’ be] Southy’s woe, O leave off whoring, H.,” “In ode, B.S. witty is…,” “Nota bene: Suit’s woolly. O, Fortune [virgin]!” “Noted [B=8] (In ode be…) Sue t’ swallow rune,” Nota bene Swede’s woe...,” “An ode besuits woe. To woe, love a (pudendal ‘O,’) virgin,” “N.B. Sue,’tis woe-to-woe, live a (leave ‘O’) virgin,” and “…liver, chin itch.”

          The upward reverse of this same codeline (i.e., an up/up variant starting “from the inside”)—HNGR[H] HOHVOVH[L] OW I IOO WST V SBT ON—may mean, e.g., “Hungry hovel owe I aye [i.e., I own]; [see = OO], W. Shakespeare you spat on,” “Hungry hovel o’ waste...,” “Hungry owl..., ” “Hungry Howell...,” “Henry howl, ‘O’ waste [i.e., destroy the orifice], use baton,” “Hungry Hall ‘O’ waste: use baton,” “Hungry hole owe I, Jew-ass (Jewess), t’ Satan [B=8],” “Hungry hollow I used to visit [B = 8], town,” and “Hungry Hall owe [acknowledge]. Aye eye [OO= ‘ogle’] W.S., too, beaten.” Here “hall” suggests both family seat and Will’s son-in-law, Dr. John Hall.

          The codestring sequence OWST might mean either East or West but also suggests “o’ W. St.” = “of W. Shakespeare,” with st the conventional family name cipher. (In the lower-case digraph, an s appears to hold a spear-shaped or dagger-shaped t and “shake” it. The poet would surely have heard plays on “Ass [i.e., S]-spear”) and “aspire” in this easily encoded cipher. The happy accidents of the language code aided and abetted in Will’s game.

           “Swallow” (SWOOIIWOLHVO, down) and “hungry” (HNGRH, up) seem symbiotically interactive in the codeline.     

          The down/up hairpin (starting in the top left position) suggests, e.g., “N.B. Suit (sweet) is ‘woo’ to vulva, virgin itch, hungry hole wooest you, spat on (ass bit on, as baton).” “Swallow” (down) and “hungry” (up) seem to be interactive. Other variants of this two-columned (or “ladder”) codeline can be similarly explored.

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