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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        

Proceed to Rune 75
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Rune 74
Fourth lines, Set VI (Sonnets 71-84)

                         Rune 74

     (Fourth lines, Set VI: Sonnets 71-84)

     From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell
     Fore you, in me can nothing worthy prove:
     Bare runèd choirs where late the sweet birds sang,            
 4  Which for memorial still with thee shall stay
     As ’twixt a miser and his wealth is found.
     Two newfound methods, and two compounds strange
     And of this book, this learning, mayst thou taste
And, under thee, their poesy disperse.                 
     And my sick muse doth give another place:    
     Two make me tongue-tied speaking of your fame.   
     Although in me, each part will be forgotten
12 Of their fair subject. Blessing every book  
     The barren tender of a poet’s debt,    
     Which should example where your equal grew?
: 1) vilest = Q vildest; 3) Q quiers puns on quires (i.e., multiple sheets of paper); birds puns on “Bard S.”; 6) Two (twice) = Q To; 8) And under thee their puns on “An ‘under-theatre’...,” suggesting buried entertainment such as that in the Runes; 9) Q an other puns on “an ‘oather’,” i.e., a sworn peer in the coterie; 10) As in line 6, Two = Q To; 11) in me puns on enemy (see 2); for (in forgotten) puns on four (see the two puns on To/Two in lines 6 and10; 12) Blessing is ironic; 13) tender = offering, payment; 14) Which = Which part; example (v.) = show, illustrate.

     74. Bare Runèd Quires

     For me to leave this evil world and live with vilest worms
     before you do—that could accomplish no good purpose and would leave an unworthy legacy:
     empty runic songsheets where formerly sweet birds (and your “Sweet Bard S.”) sang into the dark,
  4 remnants that will stick with you as a memorial
     the way a miser is inseparable from his wealth.
     Two newfound techniques, two compounds unique
     to this text (my erudite specialty), you may sample;
  8 and, at your discretion, you may disperse the poems that result.
     Further, my ineffective inspiration makes room for another poet or recomposer:
     this duplicity, this double praise of you, makes me tongue-tied.
     Though lodged in my mind and heart, each part here will be forgotten
12 by the fair subject whom the parts address. Every section being blessed (and thus lessened)
     by the inadequate offerings of a greatly indebted poet,
     which sonnet or rune can illustrate the vitality of someone like you?


          Will’s self-deprecating comment here on the Q project probably combines conventional poetic modesty with real frustration that was emerging as he neared the midpoint of the cycle. Rejecting a scenario in which he predeceases the auditor/friend (see 1-2), Will focuses instead (as I read the text) on his “two newfound methods and two compounds strange” (6). “Wildest Worms” (suggesting “Wriggly Lines”) would also make a good title for this text.

          Q’s Bare rn’wd quiers (3) encodes “runèd quires”—a “quire” is a measure of paper—as a seminal meaning, and the pun “…where late the Sweet Bard S. sang” continues the wit. One cluster of terms pursues the topic of writing: e.g., “this book, this learning” (7), “poesy” (8), “my…muse” (9), “each part” (11), “fair subject,” and “every book” (12). A concurrent pun about the Q writing project in 2-3 is “Wordy th’ row [p = archaic ‘thorn’ = th] / be, our rune-joined [w = IN = JN = phonic “john”] quires [i.e., pages] whirled aye t’ tease wit....” “Sue [John...], here litotes [i.e., understatement] witty be heard” is a punning overlay.

           Related analogues include singing (3), eulogy (4, 12), alchemy (6), and public speaking (10). Spin-off figures are roughly gastronomic (7, 9), clerical (3-4, 12), economic (5, 8, 13), and botanical (3, 14), and hidden elements reinforce these figurative clusters.

           Elaborating the motif of food, e.g., are “witty, wild stew, our mess” (1), “sweet” (3), “shells tay/As t...” (4-5), “meat hods [carriers]” (6),”make me tongue” (10), “in me each part” (11), “ewe rib hook” (12), “tender,” and “a poet’s diet” (13). The pun “make [mate] meat hung” (10) signals phallic wit in the pun “WH, earl, ate the sweetbreads’ hang” (3). (“Sweetbread sand/wich” [3-4]—maybe an early hamburger?—must be a prescient coincidence.)

          The upward acrostic storehouse packs in OAT (12-10) and BFF (3-1). (See below, Acrostic Wit.)

          Overt musical terms include choirs, sang, tongue, and part. Other minimal jokes about music voice themselves in such details as “B air” and “the sweet B hard, ass sang” (3); “Tone you found [...sound]” (6); “andante, reedy th’ air” (8); “music muse; do th’ G” (9); “each part” (11); “B lass sang” (12) “the barren [i.e., ‘bared’] tenor of a poet’s D ebbed” (13); “Eureka, allegro!” (14); and the acrostic play on FF (1-2).

           Linked details add playful coherence. Lines 1-3 juxtapose birds with worms and a “can, nothing worthy.” “Bare rn’wd” (3), punning “barren wood,” is varied as “barren tinder” (13). “Found” (5)—repeated in “new found” (6)—contrasts with “forgotten” (11). Line 11 closely echoes “In me can nothing worthy prove” in line 2. “Poet” (13) and “Sweet Bard” (3) link with “Will be forgotten” (11) and “this Willy-world” (1) as self-manipulated nameplays.

           “Vildest” (1), a form that has troubled editors of the Sonnets, is (like “rn’wd”) an authorized “compound strange” (6).

           Line 3 here in its famous original context (that is, in Sonnet 73) elides to create sexual puns. ( As usual, readers who mistakenly think of Will as always high-minded will need to adjust their expectations.) Examples in Sonnet 73 include “Bare runèd quires [...ruined, queer ass;…queries], where Earl [...W. H., Earl] ate the Sweet Bard’s hang-/in’ meat, thou seest [...seized]...” (Sonnet 73.4-5). Variants include “the Swede be hard, his hangin’ meatuses T.T. hid (...hit) while I get (...jet) off...” and “the Sweet [sweaty] Bard’s hanging meat tosses, T.T. hid wily jets, f--ked asses after sunset…” (Sonnet 73.4-6). The question of wit in the Sonnets proper—and especially at points where lines create different linkages from those examined here in the Runes—is a large topic that must wait until another day for examination.

           Q’s form such (e.g., 5, 9) is always a suggestive eyepun.

           From many instances I’ve deduced that “the Swede” refers to the T.T. of Q’s title page and dedication, the printer-agent whom the Stationers’ Register identifies as Thomas Thorpe. Will would have needed Thorpe’s help (or somebody’s) to see Q into print in the exact, jot-and-tittle form that allows the Runes (and a spectrum of incidental coterie wit) to operate.

           In the hidden context of Rune 74, similar “W.H.” puns of a similar order seem likely to be aimed concurrently at 1) the third earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley, Will’s only identified patron, often suggested as the “Mr. W.H.” of Q’s dedication, and at 2) Will’s son-in-law John Hall (because W.H. = IN. H. = Jn. H). Samples of such wit in 3-5 include “W.H. related his witty bird song…” and “W.H., earl, hate [...relate] the Sweet Bard’s anguish sore.” Puns in 12 include “Oft here is Harry S. abject, blessing every book.”

           A phallic pun in 11 paints a David-and-Goliath scenario: “‘Awled,’ huge enemy, a shepherd will be sore....” Q’s form should (e.g., 14) always encodes plays on “S[ue] Hall,” the poet’s daughter, overlaid on “S-hole(d)” wit. Line 14 puns, “Witch S. Hall, [&] dicks ample join, hairier equal grow.” The forms iall and shall in 4 respectively encode coterie forms of John and Sue Hall.

           Complicating all “WH” wit in Q is the fact that these letters can also stand for Anne H[athaway], with W = IN = (phonic) Anne.

           Since “thing” and “nothing” were routine puns in the Renaissance, denoting masculine and feminine body parts, either word (as here, e.g., in 2) always invites a broad reading of its context. Amplifying innuend here in line 2 are such puns as “Fore” (i.e., frontally), “you in me,” “enema,” “see a ‘no-thing’,” “warty,” and “prow.” In line 3, “Bare” and “ruined” are similarly suggestive.

Sample Puns

          1) Fair homme, this vile W., earl; toad well; taught Will; tot [dead]; is tot well?
          1-2) eye Seville, whirl with wild eyes t’ Worms to dwell, foreign mason
          2) Sour enemy, see Anne, no-thing worthy; noting warty prow
          2-3) an oat injured thy prow bare, ruined, queer
          3) Bury rune wood [i.e., crazy]; Bare runèd quires [measures of paper] where late the Sweet Bard sang; dick you eye, arse, W.H.
          3-4) buried is Sandwich; Sandwich is our memorial
          3-5) W.H. related his witty bird song…; W.H., earl, ate the Sweet Bard’s ass, inch—which?
          4) Witches, whore, mammary, awl—still; witty S. Hall stay; Eisell Shakespeare eye
          4-5) sty aye is twixt A.M. eyes; Which form o’ my oriel [passageway], fiddle with this hall’s dais; witty thistle is tasty waxed; taste 29 [tw ix = 2 9], tame eyes, erring, die, swelled
          5) aye my foreign day’s wealth is found; Ass, too, I X’d amiss, errant
          5-6) wealthy seven did owe newfound meat odd; we “awl” thy ass, sounded “O” anew, found meat (method’s end, too), sea-homme [i.e., sailor] pounds Shakespeare or Anne
          6) odd santo see
          6-7) Son Dimmed who descends, homme, pounds strange and deft his Book; strange end of this bouquet is leer [i.e., barren]           
          7) Kate eyes this Lear, nighing my stout ass; Anne doffed, I spoke it: highest learning mayst thou taste; m’ “I” fit thou taste
          8) dunderhead, hear pussy disburse; headier poesie disperse
          8-9) dies Percy, enemies I seek; peer, fiend dim
          9) Aye in demise, eye sick muse; Anne, my sick, muffed “O”; dim, you f--k him; the June ode hear
          9-10) the Jew, another palace (, Tommy, eye; peal a stomach, “Meat!”; you said oath, giving “oather” place (...plays) to make me tongue-tied…; Jew (cf. disperse [8], tender, debt [13])
        10) Tom, I came to you in jetty Dis, peeking; Geoffrey; ma[t]e; peak inches, yours, aim
        11) “Awled,” huge enemy, shepherd [suggesting David and Goliath] will be sore; Willobie forgotten; me tongue-tied speaking of your ass, a meal; too, eye Libbie forgotten
        11-12) for God knows th’ Harry-S.-hairy subject, blessing every book
        12) a few, biased, be laughing; Oft here is Harry S. abject, blessing every book; hairy ass; you be jacked, be lass-inch, your “Y’ be hooked, hip errant, end, arse I pawed, sad, ebbed; I see t’ blessing Eve, Rebecca
        13) The baron, tender ass, aye pawed his dead; the bar-rendered arse, a poet’s dead
        13-14) ebb twitches holed
        14) Witch, assholed dicks implore you, wreck you’ll grow; Witch S. Hall takes homme, play, W., Harry, your equal grew; you reek, you awl grew; G-row; W.H., hear “Eureka!” allegro.

Acrostic Wit

          In the downward acrostic codeline—FF [=SS] BWATAAATAOTW—I deduce that F and S interchange conventionally in the Rune Game lettercodes because printed f and “long s” looked alike. Some possible decodings here have musical implications: e.g., “Double forte, Betty [Elizabeth Hall, Will’s granddaughter?] taught W.,” “Asses be weighty, 8 eight W,” “Asses eyed weighty, taut wen,” and “Double forte, bawdy, aye eye tattoo [i.e., a military drumbeat].”

          The upward (reverse) codeline—WT OAT AAA TAW BFF—may house such encryptions as, e.g., “Wit owed 80 webs (whips),” “W. taut 8 aye whips [FF suggests loud screams],” “Witty O [i.e., Round, Rune], a tattoo, be double forte,” and “Witty oat ate, attend [W = VV = phonic ‘ten’] beef.”

          The down/up hairpin codeline suggests, e.g., “If Betty aye taught W[ill] wit , O, a tot I, W[ill] be, [crying] double forte” and “Subito, a tattoo, tattoo be FF.”

Proceed to Rune 75
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