Shakespeare’s Lost Sonnets: A Restoration of the Runes
by Roy Neil Graves, Professor of English
The University of Tennessee at Martin

 The Edited Texts of the Runes in the 1609 Quarto: Sets X-XI, the “Perverse Mistress” Texts
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved


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Set X: Runes 127-140

—Notes on Set X— 

          By introducing the infamous Dark Lady or Perverse Mistress, texts in Sets X and XI add new challenges and a puzzling dominant “character” (often prefigured earlier) to Q’s implicit dramatic interrelationships among poet/persona, friend/auditor, and “mistress”—the last a witty perversion of several centuries’ worth of idealized females who were good at making the poems of European males drip in drool. While various hints in the Runes point to wife Anne, daughter Susanna, Mistress Alchemy, or even granddaughter Elizabeth as prototype(s) for this odd “female”—and while there may even have been some other “real” Dark Lady—the Mistress, I’m sure, is essentially figurative, a conceit for Will’s own torturous contrivances, for the poems themselves and especially the “peer-verse” Runes: The Mistress is Q’s Mysteries. Such overlaid coterie puns as “ms(s.),” “mystery sighs,” “ms. duress,” “ms. distress,” “ms. dress,” “misty heiress,” and “mystery see ye” help in some measure to decode Will’s cryptic assertions, heavy with “her” voice. The “mysteries,” too, are in part the poet’s guttural and suppressed vocabulary, which we have to work hard to make audible (see the index).
          Though proving any theory about Q seems elusive, readers who broach the late Q poems reading “mistress” as “Q texts” will see how such a coterie insight opens up meaning and veers all the Q texts nearer sense. Commentaries elsewhere on this site show some ways the Mistress/Mysteries conceit works in given cases—and Sonnets 127ff. can hereafter be similarly reconstrued at will. Because close variants of Sonnets 138 (in this set) and 144 (in Set XI) had appeared in 1599 in The Passionate Pilgrim (see Booth 476) and because these two texts thread across the horizontal warp of both sets, it seems likely that Sets X and XI were unitary products of the 1590s, originating as entertainment for Southampton’s circle and others, the same “sugared sonnets” that we know were circulating “among [Will’s] private friends” before 1598 (see Harrison 1032).
          By 1606-09 when, I deduce, Will reworked these two sets to cap his Megasonnet scheme, he had come to make them serve the cycle as a perverse “vertical” couplet—a close that seemed, in his numbers box diagram, to “walk upon the ground” on two stemmy legs (see Sonnet 130.12) while showing a substantive “turn,” as a closing couplet might in a single text.
           Another purpose these couplet sets served in their new Q setting was to mask the homophile odor of the overt Sonnets (so unconventional for being love poems written mostly to a man) with good-old-boy misogyny and winking innuendoes about some shared, down-and-dirty mistress.
          The antithesis of light and lyric beauty, Will’s Mistress inhabits a siren’s world of darkness and is medial between poet and auditor. She is “that art that makes my heart to groan,” wounding both poet and auditor (see Sonnet 133.1-2). She is, or can be, “made,” though punningly she is also often a “hymn.” As a shared romancer, she toys with both Will’s and the friend’s affections, mistreats both by being temperamental and nearly impenetrable, and effectively holds both their futures and reputations in her manipulative hands. She is a creature of black (ink), though “in the old days” color would have been the norm; she is “c[o]unted”—fair or not—as women are (see Sonnet 127.1). Her voice is a “wiry concord that confounds the ear” (Sonnet 128.4). She is “ablest in proof and proofed, and very wo-” (Sonnet 129.11). Her “‘I’s” are nothing like the sun” (Sonnet 130.1), for printed “I’s” are straight and black, while the sun is round and bright (like an “O”). (Will’s gendered ambiguity about phallic “I’s” and pudendal “O’s” always defies reducibility.) Will’s “mystery sighs are nothing like this: One,” for everything in Q is multiple.
          A few details from particular texts may show how Will’s puns, especially about writing and printing, typically conflate “ms(s).” and “Mistress.” In Rune 135, “my Mysteries’ [printed] ‘I’s’ are rune-black” (1). “Two be so tickled they would change their state” (2) may (despite OED) allude to printing and the shift of “state” from ms. to book. “Made” (3) puns on “maid” while combining ideas of “madness” and “craftiness” that are echoed in “ravin[g]” (1) and madde (14). The “speaking” mistress is a product of the “[ink]well” (4, see 13). Will’s “heart / art” is to be imprisioned in “thy steel bosom’s word/ward”—suggesting “pen” and printing apparatus. “Water” (9) suggests ink, and “raine” puns again on “rune.” “Number” (10) can mean “verse text.” Line 11 puns “my art [merd], th’ ink(y) thought, a several plot,” suggesting divergent “story lines.” “Unjust” (12) varies what may be a printing term (see “justified text”) to suggest “irregular.” “Well” (13), a pudendal play befitting a “mistress,” puns on “inkwell.” And “Dis-pair” (14) puns on “separate two [texts]” and "hellish pair” (since Dis is the capital of Dante’s Hell). The “she-knot” (12) of the text, then, is the “mistress” text herself, crazy mystery-sighs with ink-black “I’s,” a creature merging in Will’s mind with the auditor/muse’s own features (6). The line-pun “Then in thin, umber [black lines] let me pass untold [i.e., unrecognized, metrically uncounted]” (10) restates the phrase “my Mysteries’ ‘I’s’ are raven black” (1).
          Rune 137—however one “ill-wrests the text—offers another specific example of rampant Mistress/Mysteries puns: The creature of 1-4 works best as an analogue and conceit for the text itself, which is both appealing and “not [created] fair” (1). Line 2 suggests perusing something on the page; “In proof” (3) suggests “in print”; and “ill-wresting” (14) suggests wrongly interpreting (OED). By reconstructing the sequestered part of the poet’s project, one of the “mysteries,” the auditor can “add to thy Will” (9), but if no champion embraces and “takes hold” (10), the work may be illusory (11). Puns such as “Whore keeps me” (7) and the ambiguous "she" (13) also suggest the perverse text. The last line puns, “Now this ill-wresting, world [or, ‘wrong interpretation whirled’]: Is G-rown [the G-line, the archaic ‘ge-’ in ‘gerowned’] forbade?” Such “row” plays echo the one in the famous line “My Mistress, when she walks, treads on the G-row end [i.e., end of line 7],” “…on thick rune (rown/round),” and “…on the ground [as in ‘ground bass,’ a running continuo line undergirding a melody]” (see Sonnet 130.12).
          Set X shows other features besides the “new” Mistress. Substantively, it houses the infamous Will-punning sonnets (Nos. 135-136), two texts that cut across the 14 runes, initiating their playful sestets. Some details are more technical or pictographic. The set’s last line, e.g., “goes wide” into the blank space at bottom right, punning “Be arty, nice, straight (Burden aye is straight), though th’ web, rude art (our ode-art), goes wide” (Sonnet 140.14). As if to balance this righthand deviancy, one “Anne” line “goes wide” to the left, concurrent with the puns “Ann did hence this slander ascertain…” and “Eying, did Hen see this slander?” (Sonnet 131.14). Horizontal acrostics insistent on the spread spell out IHTM (suggesting “Item”) and WIT, while interwoven verticals generate TT, TBTB (compare“To be, to be”), and MSW (compare Ms. 10, Set 10, reinforced with IO in Sonnets 136-139). The horizontal string IH TM TT B SWIT… (see acrostic wit, Rune 127) suggests “Aye Tom, T.T., be Swede (sweet)….” The ending …I TWOB suggests “Eye 2 up,” “Eye top,” “I tup.” The strings TW, TIO, TW all encode “two,” pointing inscrutably to various dualities in Q including the paired Sets X and XI, functioning coordinately.

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                        Rune 127

     (First lines, Set X: Sonnets 127-140)

     In the old age, black was not counted fair.
     How oft when thou, my music, music playest—
     Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame—
 4  My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.
     Thou art as tyrannous, so, as thou art,
     Thine eyes I love, and they—as pitying me—
     Beshrew that heart that makes my heart to groan.
 8  So now I have confessed that he is thine:
     Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy Will ,
     If thy soul check thee that I come so near.
     Thou blind fool, love, what dost thou to mine eyes
12 When my love swears that she is made of truth?
     O, call not me to justify the wrong;
     Be wise as thou art cruel: Do not press.
     Glosses: 1) counted (a pudendal pun) suggests “metered”; 3) spirit (Q Spirit) is a namepun on “....speare”; waste puns on waist; shame puns visually on fame; 4) mistress’ eyes puns on “mystery-sighs” and on printed “mss. I’s”; nothing puns on the pudendum; sun puns on son; 5) so suggests Sue (i.e., Susanna, Will’s daughter); 7) Beshrew = Curse; heart puns on art (see 5, twice in both lines); 8) So (again) puns on Sue; he = my heart (see 7, 5); the line may joke that Dr. John Hall is “Sue’s”; 9) Whoever hath her wish puns, “Whore Hath-her-wi[fe],” with a nameplay on Will; hast puns on haste; 10) If = Even if; check = may rebuke (suggesting, “Checkmate!”); 11) mine eyes puns on “m’ Annie S.”; 12) made puns on maid; 13) justify is a printing term; 14) wise is an eyepun on wife; do not press suggests, “Don’t print [this]!”

                         Rune 128

     (Second lines, Set X: Sonnets 127-140)

     Whore if it were, it bore not Beauty’s name
     Upon that Blessed Wood whose motion—Zounds!—
     Is loosed in action, and, till action, lust.
 4  Coral is far more red than her lips, red
     As those whose beauties proudly make them cruel,
     Knowing thy heart. Torment me with disdain
     For that deep wound it gives, my friend—and me,
 8  And I, myself, am mortgaged to thy will,
     And Will to boot, and Will in overplus.
     Swear to thy blind fool that I was thy Will
     That they behold and see not what they see.
12 I do believe her, though I know she lies.
     That thy unkindness lays upon my heart,
     My tongue-tied patience, with too much disdain.
     Glosses: 1) Whore (Q Or) puns on Oar, O’er; 2) Zounds (Q sounds) = the oath “His [Christ’s] Wounds!” 3) Is loosed (Q lust) puns, “I sluiced” (i.e., let flow); 4) red is a pun about lip-reading the mute “mistress”; 6) heart puns routinely on art, hard (phallic); 11) they (pun: th’ eye) = the speaker’s three “selves” (see 8); 13) heart puns on art (see 6); 14) tongue-tied points back to l. 4; and with...disdain echoes 6.

                         Rune 129

     (Third lines, Set X: Sonnets 127-140)

     But now is black, beauty’s successive heir,
     With thy sweet fingers when thou gently sway’st;
     Is perjured, murd’rous, bloody full of blame!
 4  If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun!
     For, well thou know’st, two, my dear doting heart,
     Have put on black, and loving mourners be.
     Is’t not enough to torture me alone?
 8  My self I’ll forfeit, so that other mine,
     More than enough, am I that vex thee still—
     And Will, thy soul knows, is admitted there.    
     They know what beauty is, see where it lies.
12 That she might think me some untutored youth,
     Wound me, not with thine eye, but with thy tongue,
     Lest sorrow lend me words, and words express.
     Glosses: 4) her = beauty’s...heir’s = black’s (see 1); 5) well suggests inkwell; two suggests eyes, Sonnets/Runes; heart puns on art; 10) admitted = acknowledged to be present; 11) They = Eyes (pun: Th’ eye), My selves, The public sonnets; 14) Lest puns on Leaf’d, Least.

         Rune 130
     (Fourth lines, Set X: Sonnets 127-140)

     And, Beauty, slandered with a bastard shame,
     The wiry concord that mine ear confounds,
     Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust!
 4  (If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head)—
     Thou art the fairest and most precious jewel,
     Looking with pretty ruth upon my pain;
     But slave to slav’ry my sweet’st friend must be.
 8  Thou wilt? Restore to be my comfort still,
     To thy sweet Will making addition thus.
     Thus far, for love, my lovesuit sweet fulfill;
     Yet what the best is, take the worst to be.
12 Unlearnèd in the world’s false subtleties,
     Use power with power, and slay me not by art,
     The manner of my pity-wanting pain.
     Glosses: 2) wiry concord = the “string music” of these lines; 5) Thou = You, my friend (see 7), art (see 13); 6) ruth = compassion; 8) puns: You wilt...; rest oar (phallic); 9) Will puns on sexual desire; addition puns on numbers.

                         Rune 131

     (Fifth lines, Set X: Sonnets 127-140)

     For since each hand hath put on nature’s power,
     Do I envy those Jacks that nimble leap,
     Enjoyed no sooner but despisèd straight?
 4  I have seen “roses damasked, red and white”—
     Yet, in good faith, some say that. Thee behold,
     And, truly not the morning sun of heaven,
     Me from myself thy cruel eye hath taken.
 8  But thou will’t not, nor he will not be free.
     Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacíous,
     Will will fulfill the treasure of thy love,
     If eyes corrupt by over-partial looks.
12 Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
     Tell me thou lov’st elsewhere; but, in my sight,
     If I might teach thee wit, better it were.
    Glosses: 1) each hand suggests “double composition”; 1-3) suggesting both masturbation and a card game; 8) will puns on Will (with nameplays 7-10); 9) Wilt (also Will’t); 12) she suggests thy love (see 10); 14) I puns on eye (see 4, 7, 11, etc.), with innuendo throughout the text about testicles and “I’s,” pictographically phallic.

                         Rune 132

     (Sixth lines, Set X: Sonnet 127-140)

     Fairing the foul with art’s false borrowed face
     To kiss the tender inward of thy hand,
     Past-reason hunted, and no sooner had.
 4  But no such roses see I in her cheeks:
     Thy face hath not the power; to make love groan
     Better becomes the gray cheeks of th’ East.
     And my next self thou harder hast engrossed,
 8  For thou art covetous, and he is kind.
     Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine—
     I fill it full with wills; and my will, one,
     Be anchored in the bay where all men ride.
12 Although she knows my days are past the best,
     Dear heart, forbear to glance thine eye aside;
     Though not to love, yet love to tell me so.
     Glosses: 3) Past-reason = Madness (identified with the Runes); 4) Q such is always a bawdy eyepun on “f--k”; her = past-reason’s (see 3); cheeks suggests “checks” = acrostic grids, deterrents; 7) my next self = a persona identified with the Sonnets (see 3, 10-11); 9) Not once: i.e., Over and over; 12) she suggests art (1, 13), thine eye (13), and past-reason (3); 13) heart puns routinely on art; 14) The line puns, e.g., “Th’ ‘O’ [i.e., round or rune]-knot to love, yet love total ms., O.”

                         Rune 133
     (Seventh lines, Set X: Sonnets 127-140)

Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,
     Whilst my poor lips, which should that harvest, reap
     Past reason, hated as a swallowed bait,
 4  And in some perfumes is there more delight.
     To say they err, I dare not be so bold,
     Nor that full star that ushers in the even;
     Of him, myself, and thee I am forsaken.
 8  He learned but surety-like to write for me:
     Shall Will in others seem right gracious?
     In things of great receipt with ease we prove.
     Why of eyes’ falsehood hast thou forgèd hooks?
12 Simply, I credit her false-speaking tongue.
     What? Need’st thou wound with cunning when thy might
     (As testy sick men, when their death’s) be near?
     Glosses: 3) Past reason = Passed-down lore, “paste” ideas; 5) they = my...lips (2); so bold puns on sibyl (prophetess); 6) = Hesperus; 7) thee I am puns on “theme”; 8) surety-like: i.e., as guarantor or proxy; 9) in others: i.e., as represented by any other; 10) receipt = import; 12) her = falsehood’s (11); when thy puns on windy; 14) death’s = death is.

                         Rune 134
     (Eighth lines, Set X: Sonnets 127-140)

     Beauty’s profaned (if not, lives in disgrace)
     At the woods’ boldness, by the blushing stand,
     On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
 4  Then (in the breath that from my mistress reeks,
     Although I swear it) to myself alone
     Doth half that glory—to the sober West
     A torment thrice, threefold thus to be crossed
 8  Under that bond that Him as fast doth bind,
     And in my Will no fair acceptance shine
     Among a number: One is reckoned none
     Whereto the judgment of my heart is tied
12 On both sides. Thus is simple truth suppressed,
     Is more. Then my o’er-pressed defense can bide
     No news, but health from their physicians know.
    Glosses: 1) Beauty’s (Q But is) puns on “Butt is...”; 2) woods’ = crosses’; stand = raised platform, ambush; 3) taker = recipient (of torture), punning on “tacker” (tack = stain); 3-4) mad / Then puns on maiden; 6) Doth half = (Beauty) doth divide; that glory may be ironic; the West = Western world; 7) thus to be crossed suggests Christ’s Crucifixion between two thieves; 8) Him implies Christ; Him as puns on Ham[net] S.; 12) Thus puns “th’ huss” (suggesting “profaned” Beauty); 13) o’er-pressed is a printing pun (see suppressed in 12) that also suggests torture; 14) their suggests “defense’s” (i.e.,“ defenses’”) and may refer to the two “buffering” thieves at the Crucifixion (see both sides in 12).

                         Rune 135

     (Ninth lines, Set X: Sonnets 127-140)

     Therefore my mistress’ eyes are raven black;
     Two be so. Tickled, they would change their state,
     Made in pursuit, and in possession. So
 4  I love to hear her speak; yet (well I know—
     And, to be sure, that is not false, I swear)
     As those two mourning eyes become thy face,
     Prison my heart in thy steel bosom’s ward,
 8  The statute of thy beauty thou wilt take.
     The sea, all water, yet receives rain still;
     Then in the number let me pass untold.
     Why should my heart think that a several plot?
12 But wherefore says she not she is unjust,
     Let me excuse thee—ah, my love well knows—
     For if I should despair, I should grow mad.
     Glosses: 1) puns: “There, fore” (i.e., frontally); mystery’s, mss.’; rune, raving; 2) Two be (Q to be)... pun on “To be...,” “Toby so ticked th’ eye”; 3) puns: Mad, Maiden, and Sue (i.e., Susanna, Will’s daughter); 4) well, a pudendal pun, suggests an inkwell (and black ink), Will, and “will” as sexual drive; 5) And puns on Anne; 6) become = merge with, flatter; 7) heart puns on art (see 11); 11) several echoes number (10) and the pun “dis-pair” (14) and, as an adj., suggests “severing,” i.e., cutting; 13) puns here echo those in 4; 14) dis-pair puns on “separate,” “divorce”; mad (Q madde) echoes Made in 3.

                         Rune 136

     (Tenth lines, Set X: Sonnets 127-140)

     Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem;
     And situation with those, dancing chips—
     Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme.
 4  That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
     A thousand groans! But thinking on thy face,
     O, let it then as well beseem thy heart.
     But then, my friend’s heart, let my poor heart bail,
 8  Thou usurer that put’st forth all to use
      And in abundance addeth to his store,
     Though in thy store’s account I one must be—
     Which my heart knows. The wide world’s commonplace;
12 And wherefore say not I that I am old,
     Her pretty? Looks have been mine enemies,
     And, in my madness, might speak ill of thee.
     Glosses: 1) Her points to my poor heart/art (7, see 11); 2) chips (v.) = reduces to bits, i.e., cuts down (on dancing); 4) puns: “a farmer-pleasing sound; sour, Moor-pleasing...”;5) pun: growings, groins; 6) beseem puns on beseam (compare suited, seem/seam in 1); 7) let = lend; 8) all puns on awl (phallic); 9) his store puns on history; 10) pun: e.g., “into hissed whore’s assy-cunt [a phallic] ‘I’ wan muffed be”; 11) my heart encodes puns on art (see 6, 7), hard, merd; 13) pretty may denote clever, crafty (adj.), pretty one (sb.); 14) pun: e.g., “End in my maiden ass, midget’s pickle lofty.”

                        Rune 137

     (Eleventh lines, Set X: Sonnets 127-140)

     At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,
     O’er whom their fingers walk with gentle gait,
     A bliss in proof, and proud, and very woe—
 4  I grant eye never saw a goddess go.
     One on another’s neck, do witness bear
     To mourn for me, since mourning doth thee grace;
     Whoe’er keeps me, let my heart be his guard
 8  And sue a friend came debtor for my sake.
     So thou, being rich in Will, add to thy Will.
     For nothing hold me; so, it please thee, hold,
     Or mine eyes, seeing this, say this is not.
12 O, love’s best habit is in seeming trust;
     And therefore from my face she turns my foes,
     Now this ill-wresting world is grown so bad.
     Glosses: 1) pun: “At f--k, W.H. owe [i.e., acknowledge, recognize]...”; 2) walk...gait = peruse a perverse text (pun: “genital gate/gaiety”); 3) in proof = in print; puns: “Anne ‘prowed’ [phallic]”; woe puns on “wo[man]”; 4) eye (Q I): also “I”; 4-5) go / One puns on John; another puns on “an oather” (i.e., a sworn coterie member); 7) Whoe’er puns on Whore; my heart pun on “,” merd; 7-8) guard/ And puns on guardian, garden; And sue puns, “Anne, Sue”; sue = pursue, follow; came = become; 9) pun: “Southy, O you... [suggesting Southampton]”; Will suggests sexual drive; 10) pun: “holed ms. O [owe]”; 11) pun: “this [text] is [a] knot”; is a not suggests “...does not exit”; 12) pun: “seeming/seaming t’rust” (see mine in 11, ill-wresting in 14); 13) she = love (see 12) or the “mistress” suggested in 1-4; 14) ill-wresting = wrongly-construing (a text, etc.).

                      Rune 138
     (Twelfth lines, Set X: Sonnets 127-140)

     Sland’ring creation with a false esteem;
     Making dead wood more blest, then living lips;
     Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream—
 4  My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
     Thy black is fairest in my judgment’s place
     And suit; thy pity like in every part,
     Thou canst not then use rigor in my jail.
 8  So, hymn I loose, through my unkind abuse—
     One will of mine to make thy large Will more,
     That nothing me a something, sweet to thee,
     To put fair truth upon so foul a face
12 And age in love. Love’s not to have years told,
     That they elsewhere might dart, their injuries
     Mad slanderers by mad ears believèd be.
     Glosses: 1) a false esteem puns, “a false S- [ass-]team,” suggesting Sonnets/Runes; 4) pun: “My Master S., W. H.[Hen.] S., he...,” suggesting Southampton; 6) pun: “lickin’ every part”; 7) my jail suggests “My Isle,” i.e., England; 8) hymn (Q him); 9) will (the first time) = intention, purpose; 11) foul puns on fowl, making the line suggest Greene’s pejorative epithet for Will, “upstart crow”; 13) they = years (in 12); their puns on “th’ ear”; 14) Mad slanderers echoes 1.

                         Rune 139
     (Thirteenth lines, Set X: Sonnets 127-140)

     Yet so they mourn, becoming of their woe,
     Since saucy Jacks so happy are in this;
     All this the world well knows, yet none knows well.
 4  And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare:
     In nothing art thou black, save in thy deeds.
     Then will I swear Beauty herself is black,
     And yet thou will’t; for I, being pent in thee,
 8  Hymn have I lost—thou hast both him and me.
     Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill;
     Make but my name thy love, and love that still.
     In things right true my heart and eyes have erred;
12 Therefore I lie. With her (and she with me
     Yet) do not so. But sense I am ne’er slain
     That I may not be so, nor thou belied.
     Glosses: 1) they/their refer to saucy Jacks (in 2), i.e., tearful upstarts, but with phallic innuendo; pun: Southy (i.e., Southampton); 2) puns: “sauce ejects,” “soppier”; 3) puns: awl (phallic), well (pudendal); 4) as rare puns, “ass, rear,” “ass or ear [bawdily suggestive]”; 5) nothing is a pudendal pun; black (see 1) suggests mourning garb; 6) will puns on Will (see well in 3; will’t in 7; me in 8; my name in 10); 7) for I is a phallic pun, “fore-‘I’”; 8) Hymn (Q Him) suggests Ham[net], Will’s dead son; 7-8) a rhymed couplet; 9) beseechers = petitioners, rhetoricians; 9-10) another rhymed couplet; 11) things right true (pun: “...rigid tear you”) is a phallic pun, suggesting “penises at right angles”; heart puns on hard, and eyes suggests testicles; 12) her points to Beauty (6), thy love (10); With her embeds the phallic pun “wither”; 13) sense (Q since) = perceive, detect; 14) I puns on eye, phallic “I”; belied puns on “bellied.”

                        Rune 140
     (Fourteenth lines, Set X: Sonnets 127-140)

     That every tongue says Beauty should look so,
     Give them their fingers, me thy lips to kiss,
     To shun—the heaven that leads men to this hell—
 4  As any she belied with false compare.
     And thence this slander, as I think, proceeds,
     And all they foul that, thy complexion. Lack,
     Perforce, am thine, and all that is in me;
 8  He pays the whole—and yet am I not free?
     Think all but one, and me in that one, Will,
     And then thou lovest me, for my name is Will!
     And to this false plague are they now transferred,
12 And in our faults, by lies, we flattered be.
     Kill me outright with looks, and rid my pain:
     Bear thine eyes straight, though thy proud heart go wide.
     Glosses: 1) That = Given that, Because; the string ...hat euery ton... encodes “Hathaway, written (...wry ton),” and lines 5, 6, 10, 11, and 12 start with puns on Anne; 1-2) puns: ...Look: Sue, Judy, Ham[ne]t, heirs (John [= in] jeers)—a rare line-up of Will’s children’s names, with the son-in-law’s, John [Hall]’s; 4) any she = any female; pun: Ass, Annie S., hip, belly eyed, with faults (...sauce); 5) thence suggests “from idealism and false comparison”; 6) all they points back to every tongue in 1; Lack (Q Iacke), a personification, also suggests Jack and thus John; 8) I am not puns on Hamnet (see 2), with the poignant suggestion “I, Will, am no more”; 9) but = merely; 14) go wide puns on “Judy,” i.e., Judith; closing pun: “...thou, jetty parody, art Judy.”
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Set XI: Runes 141-154

—Notes on Set XI—

          This the second of the Perverse Mistress sets pairs with Set X to comprise a formal “couplet” close to Will’s grand design, Q’s Megasonnet; texts in Set XI (at the far right in that imaginative construct) effectively add “‘unstressed’ syllables” across the board, packing the structure full. Readers have long recognized that the last 28 sonnets in Q are somehow of a different order from the rest. (For my own speculations about the origin and dating of the two final sets and about how they fit into the overall scheme, click on this linke.) As a further terminal add-on to the predominant Dark Lady materials in Sets X-XI, the last two overt sonnets in the last set function visually on the spread as a “couplet” close, exhibiting a conventional shift of subject matter in textual units 13-14, and concurrently rounding off the whole of Q with a bit of allusive formality.
          In fact, the conventionally mythological materials about Cupid and Diana in Sonnets 153-154, which have been critically lamented as a lapse, exert a strong substantive influence on the 14 runes that emerge in Set XI, cutting across all the runic texts in strategic final positions. The magic of contextual significations—and especially of pre-positioned pronouns pointing downward to elements in the runic couplets—allows many thematic variations in Set XI, not all of them with a Cupid/Diana tinge. Runes 141 and 142, as examples, seem momentarily to erase the concept that Will’s “mistress” automatically means his “mysteries,” the Q texts, but do not shift firmly into mythological gear either. Overall, the “different” subject matter in Sonnets 153-154 has the practical effect on the set of generating variety, especially in what “she” can mean in the runes. In Rune 141, e.g., the “careful housewife” conceit dominates—perhaps a kenning for Will himself, running back and forth between Sonnets and Runes, as if between husband and lover. Still, the notion that “she” means “mistress/mysteries” is pervasive enough throughout Sets X-XI to serve as an assumed hypothesis for any reader unless contextual evidence in a given rune points in some other direction. The Cupid/Diana stuff, for one thing, triggers a good bit about “brands” as quills.
          Like the “couplet” pair 153-154, Sonnet 145—with its perversely tetrameter lines—also has across-the-board effects in Set XI, if only to add one shortened line to every rune. Rune 142 wittily butts a “stuttering” six-stressed line (Sonnet 146.2) up against one of these tetrameter lines to generate an ironic “regularity” in the linked lines, showing one of hundreds of instances where authorized “error” proves playfully functional. In this particular case, given the reiterated content “my sinful earth” (Sonnet 146.1-2, punning “err-theme”), one reads the “error” as a mea culpa in the medieval tradition—a reminder that only God, and certainly not Will, creates perfection.
          Sonnet 144 here has gone far toward defining received opinions about the “love triangle” in Shakespeare’s sonnets—poet, male friend, perverse mistress. Reading the text in the light of what we now know about the suppressed runes allows other ways to view the implicit dramatic situation that frames the Q texts.
          As usual, Will’s own self-imposed predicament seems to be the dominant subject of the set, if indeed it has one.
          Notable in the runes of this set are the “numbers” reference (to 28) in Rune 146.12 and the re-assertion in Rune 151 of the theme of immortality through verse.

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                         Rune 141

     (First lines, Set XI: Sonnets 141-154)

     In faith I do not love thee; with mine eyes
     Love is my sin, and thy dear virtue, hate.
     Low as a careful housewife runs to catch
 4  Two loves, I have—of comfort and despair—
     Those lips that love’s own hand did make
     Poor soul, the center of my sinful earth:
     My love is as a fever longing still!
 8  O me! What eyes hath love put in my head!
     Canst thou, O cruel, say I love thee not?
     O, from what power hast thou this pow’rful might?
     Love is too young to know what conscience is:
12 In loving thee, thou know’st, I am forsworn
     Cupid, laid by his brand and fell asleep,
     The little love-god lying once asleep.
     Glosses: 1) mine eyes puns on “m’ Annie S.,” with and, hate, and hath in 2-13 being other namepuns on Anne Hathaway Shakespeare; 3) runs (Q runnes) puns on runes; catch is a related pun, since catch = round (OED 1601), and round/rune/O are punningly interchangeable; 4) have puns on halve (and I have on “eye half”), pointing to the bifurcation of visible Sonnets/hidden Runes; 5) pun: “...that low sound Anne did make”; make (sb.) = mate; 8) eyes echoes mine eyes in 1; hath love is an eyepun on Hathaway; 8-10) O = round/rune; thee not puns on “the knot,” suggesting riddle or rune; 9) Canst puns on “See Anne Shakespeare [st = the family name cipher]”; 10) might puns on mite/midget (see young in 10); 11) conscience echoes In faith in 1 and puns on “cunt-science”; 12) forsworn = perjured; 13) brand = torch, mark (of infamy); 14) lying puns on “telling falsehoods” (see 12); once puns on “wands.”

                          Rune 142

     (Second lines, Set XI: Sonnets 141-154)

     Fore they in thee a thousand errors note
     (Hate of my sin, grounded on sinful loving),
     One of her feathered creatures broke away
 4  (Which, like to spirits, do suggest me still),
     Breathed forth the sound that said, “I hate / My sin-
     ful earth, these rebel powers that thee array
     Fore, that which longer nurseth the disease
 8  Which have no correspondence with true sight
     When I, against myself, with thee partake
     With insufficiency, my heart to sway
     Yet who knows not. Conscience is born of Love,
12 But thou art twice forsworn, to me love swearing.”
     A maid of Dian’s this advantage found,
     Laid by his side: his heart-inflaming brand.
     Glosses: 1) Fore they i... puns on “41,” and the linepun suggests,“[Rune 1]41 ended, housing D [= 1000] errors in ode...”; 3) the line supplies the missing “One” in  “141” (see the pun in 1); her = Diana’s maids (see 13), with One of her feathered creatures = an arrow (echoing the pun error/arrow sent... in 1); 4) pun: “Witchlike, two...” (Q two); 5) this line, line 5, the “E-row” (about an arrow) has a metrical “error,” with a metrically long line (Sonnet 146.2) compensating for the short one (Sonnet 145.2); 7) which puns on Witch (see 4, 8); 9) partake = participate; 10) heart puns on art (see art twice forsworn in 12); 11) Conscience puns on “Cunt-science”; 12) forsworn = perjured, punning on “force-worn”; 14) his = Love’s (see 11), Cupid’s.

                          Rune 143
     (Third lines, Set XI: Sonnets 141-154)

     But ’tis my heart that loves what th’ eye despise
     (O, but with mine compare thou thine own state!),
     Sets down her babe, and makes all swift dispatch:
 4  The better angel is a man right fair.
     To me that languished for her sake:
     “Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
     Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill?
 8  Or, if they have, where is my judgment fled?
     Do I not think on thee when I forgot
     To make me? Give the lie to my true sight
     Then, gentle cheater; urge not my amiss,
12 In act thy bed-vow broke, and new faith torn.”
     And his love-kindling fire did quickly steep
     While many nymphs that vowed, chaste life to keep.
     Glosses: 1) pun: Butt, ’tis my heart, Bawdy’s my art; th’ eye (Q they); 3) her = my heart’s (see 1); 4) angel puns on angle (see right); 5) To me puns on Tome and on Tommy, likely Thomas Thorpe, Will’s printing agent; her (ambig.) = my heart’s, the babe’s (see 1, 3); 8) they = others (implied), punning on “th’ eye”; 10) make me suggests “mate myself”; lie suggests bedmate, slope (i.e., inclination); Q giue the puns on Judy, short for Judith, Will’s daughter; 11) gentle cheater = the poet’s heart or “hard” (pun: thin, genital seeder/cheater; 13) his has phallic overtones (see steep as “cause to angle up”); 13-14) a rhymed-couplet close (see half-rhymes in Rune 142.13-14, 144.13-14).

                         Rune 144
     (Fourth lines, Set XI: Sonnets 141-154)

     Who in despite of view is pleased to dote—
     And thou—shalt find it merits not reproving:
     In púrsuit of the thing she would have, stay
 4  The worser spirit—a woman colored ill
     But when she saw my woeful state
     Painting thy outward walls so costly gay
     Th’ uncertain, sickly appetite to please
 8  That censures falsely. What they see aright
     Am of myself, all tyrant for thy sake.
     And, swear that brightness doth not grace the day,
     Least guilty of my faults thy sweet self prove
12 In vowing new hate. After, new love—bearing
     In a cold valley-fountain of that ground—
     Came tripping by, but in her maiden hand.
     Glosses: 1) Who in despite of view = Whoever, despite what is visible,...; 2) it (ambig.) = doting, what’s seen (see 1), this text; reproving puns on re-proofing; 3) stay = allow to remain as is, support; 4) colored ill = turned ill-tempered (pun: printed badly, in black ink); the pun “collared ill” adumbrates an ugly, uncomfortable contemporary ruff; 5) But = Only; state may suggest “condition of the ms.”; 8) they (punning “th’ eye” = people with such “appetites”; 11) prove echoes reproving in 2 and suggests “proof”; 12) bearing = moving, extending; 13) a cold...ground suggests “a fault” (see 11) in the poet’s textual ground, playing on groan and “round/rune”; 14) maiden hand suggests a schoolgirl script, with but...hand punning, e.g., “butt in her midden [i.e., dunghill] handy.”

                         Rune 145

     (Fifth lines, Set XI: Sonnets 141-154)

     Nor are mine ears with thy tongue’s tune delighted—
     Or, if it do, not from those lips of thine
     Whilst her neglected child holds her in chase.
 4  To win me soon to hell, my female evil
     Straight in her heart did mercy come.
     Why so large cost, having so short a lease
     My reason, the physician to my love
 8  If that be fair whereon my false eyes dote?
     Who hateth thee that I do call my friend?
     Whence hast thou this becoming of things ill?
     For, thou betraying, me I do betray;
12 But why, of two oaths’ breach, do I accuse thee—
     Which borrowed from this holy fire of love,
     The fairest votary, took up that fire?
     Glosses: 2) if it do = if the tune delights; 3) Whilst puns on Will Shakespeare, with st the family name cipher; a larger pun is “‘Will Shakespeare’ here in a glazed ed[ition] see held...”; 3) a chase is a printing mechanism, an iron frame holding the type in place; 3-4) pun: “...herein see haste own me: Sandell [and] my female evil [i.e., Anne]...,” a likely allusion to Will’s hasty marriage and to Fulke Sandells, a Stratfordian who posted Will’s marriage bond; see, as related elements, neglected child in 3; the pun marry in 7; I do —with “Hath.-puns”—in 9, 11; and oaths in 12; 5) did mercy come = did mercy become; 6) eyepun: “halving so short a leaf [i.e., page]”; 7) pun: “Marry, son the physician [i.e., Dr. John Hall], to my love [i.e., Susanna, Will’s daughter]”; 9) pun: “That ‘I do’ see, Hall, my friend”; 10) hast puns on haste; 12) two oaths suggests the marriage and Hippocratic oaths, further implicating Dr. Hall, Will’s son-in-law; 13) Which puns on Witch (see 4); 14) ..., took = “[and] took....”

                         Rune 146

     (Sixth lines, Set XI: Sonnets 141-154)

     Nor-tender feeling, to base touches prone
     That have profaned their scarlet ornaments,
     Cries to catch her whose busy care is bent,
 4  Tempteth my better angel from my sight,
     Chiding, “That tongue (that ever-sweet)
     Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend,
     Angry that his prescriptions are not kept!”
 What means the world to say it is not so?
     On whom frown’st thou, that I do fawn upon,
     That in the very refuse of thy deeds
     My nobler part, to my gross, bodies treason.
12 When I break twenty, I am perjured most,
     A dateless, lively heat still to endure
     Which many legions of true hearts had warmed.
     Glosses: 1) Nor-... puns on “Inner...,” reversing to pun on rune; 2) scarlet ornaments (ambig.) = red lips, other body parts; 3) her = my better angel (see 4); 5) Chiding puns, “See hiding,” “C [i.e., 100] hiding”; 6) fading mansion = deteriorating body, body of writings (esp. the Runes, which disappear as they are created); pun: “...a pun, thy fading mansion’s penned [i.e., written in ink; buried]”; 7) his = your tongue’s (see 5); 9) On whom puns, “On homme,” “O [i.e., round, rune]-gnome” = runic aphorism; 11) My nobler part echoes my better angel in 4; 12) break twenty (ambig.) = finish 20 poems (sonnets, runes) of the 28 total in Sets XI, rape 20, etc.; 13) heat puns on 8 [more overt poems—or hidden ones, or both—left to write in Set XI]; 14) true hearts is a phallic pun: true [i.e., right-angled] “hards.”

                         Rune 147

     (Seventh lines, Set XI: Sonnets 141-154)

     Nor taste nor smell desire to be invited
     And sealed, false bonds of love, as oft as mine
     To follow that which flies before her face
 4  And would corrupt my saint. To be a devil
     Was used in giving gentle dome:
     “Shall worms, inheritors of this excess...?”
     Hath left me, and I, disparate, now approve
 8  If it be not. Then love doth well denote,
      Nay? If thou lowerest on me, do I not spend?
     There is such strength and warrantise of skill,
     My soul doth tell my body that he may;
12 For all my vows are oaths but to misuse thee:
     And grew a seething bath which yet men prove,
     And so, the General of hot desire.
     Glosses: 3) her = my saint’s (see 4); 4) And puns routinely on Anne (see 2, 13-14), linked with “Hath.-puns”; 5) used (Q vfde) puns on vice, wifed, whiffed, viz.’d (i.e., cited as an example); 7) pun: “Hath. left me, Anne died, I, ...speare, Hate. now approve”; 8) well suggests inkwell, the pudendum; 9) lowerest, also lourest (i.e., frown, scowl); spend = expend, produce; 10) There is puns, “T' Harry S.,” i.e., Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton; warrantise = sanction, authorization; 12-14) family namepuns: Hall, Anne, Witch, Sue, “Hath-witch, “Hathaway see hide, my Anne” (with puns on Goneril and “Southy”).

                         Rune 148

     (Eighth lines, Set XI: Sonnets 141-154)

     To any, sensual feast with thee alone
     Robbed others’ beds’ revénues of their rents.
     Not prizing her poor infant’s discontent,
 4  Wooing his purity with her foul pride
     And, taught it, th’ hussy knew to greet,
     Eat up thy charge. Is this thy body’s end?
     Desire is death, which physic did except.
 8  Love’s eye is not so true as all men’s. Know
     Revenge upon my self with present moan,
     That in my mind thy worst all best exceeds.
     Triumph in love; flesh stays no farther reason,
12 And all my honest faith in thee is lost
     Against strange maladies. A sovereign cure
     Was sleeping, by a virgin hand disarmed.
     Glosses: 1) To any, sensual feast puns, “To Annie S.,” “Two, Annie S. and Sue Hall, see...”; 4) his is phallically suggestive; with her puns on wither; 5) puns: “Anne-twat ate thus”; “taut-‘I’”; “totted”; th’ hussy knew (Q thus a new); 6) Eat = Ate; charge = discharge, child; end = goal, death; 7) physic = medicine; 8) eye puns on “I,” and all men puns on “‘awl’-men” (phallic); as all men’s puns, “eye S. Hall mense (, see...)”; 10) That = You who; 11) stays = supports, awaits; 13) cure puns on curate; 13-14) A...cure / Was sleeping = Sleep used to be a...cure; a virgin hand puns, “a virgin Anne”; disarmed is an eyepun on deformed.

                         Rune 149

     (Ninth lines, Set XI: Sonnets 141-154)

     But my five wits, nor my five senses, can
     Be it: lawful. I love thee as thou lov’st those—
     So run’st thou after that which flies from thee.
 4  And whether that my angel be turned fiend
     I hate, she altered with an end;
     Then, soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss.
     Past cure I am, now reason is past care.
 8  How can it—O, how can love’s eye be true?
     What merit do I in my self respect?
     Who taught thee how to make me love thee more?
     But rising at thy name doth point out thee.
12 Fore, I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness.
     But at my mistress’ eye love’s brand new fired;
     This brand she quenchèd in a cool well by.
     Glosses: 1) But = Only; nor = not; 3) puns: Sue, runest, “the Hat.-witch S.”; 4) pun: Anne, “inch-hell”; 5) puns: A. Hate (paralleling Anne Hathaway), S. Hall, altared, Witty Anne; 7) cure suggests pastoral care, curé (OED 1655); 8) puns: see Anne; “I” (phallic) be “plumb”; 11) But = Mere; pun: “Butt rising, a thin aim doth point...”; 14) puns: “th’ eyes bare Anne,” “This be a rune,”Will.

                         Rune 150

     (Tenth lines, Set XI: Sonnets 141-154)

     Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee
     Whom thine eyes woo as mine importune thee
     Whilst I, thy babe, chase thee, afar behind.
 4  Suspect I may—yet not directly tell,
     That followed it as gentle day
     And let that pine to aggravate thy store,
     And, frantic mad with evermore unrest
 8  That is so vexed with watching and with tears;
     That is so proud thy service to despise
     The more I hear and see, just cause of hate—
     As his triumphant prize—proud of this pride,
12 Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy—
     The boy for trial needs would touch my breast,
     Which from love’s fire took heat perpetual.
     Glosses: 3) Whilst I puns, Will Shakespeare [ = st, the family name cipher]; 5) That = I, who; it = my heart (see 1); 6) that = gentle day (see 5), i.e., a peaceful life; also, “my heart”; 11) pride (see proud in 9); 13) breast (see foolish heart in 1);

                         Rune 151

     (Eleventh lines, Set XI: Sonnets 141-154)

     Who leaves unswayed, the likeness of a man,
     Root pity in thy heart. That, when it grows—
     But if thou catch thy hope—turn back to me;
 4  But being both from me, both to each friend,
     Doth follow night. Who like a fiend
     Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross,
     My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are!
 8  No marvel, then, though I mistake my view
     When all my best doth worship thy defect,
     O, though I love what others do abhor,
     He is contented thy poor drudge to be,
12 And, to enlighten thee, gave eyes to blindness.
     I, sick withal, the help of bath desired,
     Growing a bath and healthful remedy.
     Glosses: 1) pun: You who didn’t inspire pages of verse...; 2) That = pity; 3) But = Only; 4) both (the first time) = you and your pity; both (the second time) = you and I; 5) night puns on Knight; 10) puns: eye, pudendal or anal “O,” phallic “I”; 11) He suggests night, friend (see 4-5), my best (see 9); 12) puns: to (twice) = two (eyes); eyes = ayes; 13) I puns on Eye; 14) Growing echoes leaves (1), Root, grows (2); bath and...remedy allude to “your pity” (see 2).

                         Rune 152

     (Twelfth lines, Set XI: Sonnets 141-154)

     Thy proud heart’s slave and vassal, wretch-to-be,
     Thy pity may deserve. To pitied be
     And play the mother’s part, kiss me, be kind.
 4  I guess one angel in another’s hell
     From heaven to hell is flown away,
     Within be fed, without be rich no more,
     At random from the truth, vainly expressed.
 8  The sun itself sees not, till heaven clears.
     Commanded by the motion of thine eyes,
     With others thou shouldst not abhor my state;
     To stand in thy affairs, fall by thy side,
12 Or made them swear against the thing they see
     And thither hide: A sad, distempered guest
     For men diseased, but I my mistress thrall.
     Glosses:1-2) a rhymed couplet (see also Rune 150); 7) At random (Q randon) = At great speed, without fixed principle; 10) puns: “oathers,” i.e., oath-bound coterie members; “knot,” i.e., riddle; “ms. state”; 11) thy side puns on “this hide” (see 13); 12) them = thine eyes (see 9); puns: “O’er, my dead Ham S. were...”; “hymn Sue ‘ear’ against ‘the thing’”; “the thin Judy see”; 12-13) pun: “...eye in jet [i.e., see in black ink] heavy / Anne....”13) guest suggests gift, gust; 14) but = only; mistress suggests mss., mysteries.

                         Rune 153

      (Thirteenth lines, Set XI: Sonnets 141-154)

     Only my plague thus far I count my gain.
     If thou dost seek to have what thou dost hide,
     So will I pray that thou mayst have thy Will,
 4  Yet this shall I ne’er know, but live in doubt
     I hate—from “Hathaway.” She threw
     (So shalt thou) feed on death, that feeds on men.
     Fore, I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright.
 8  O, cunning love, with tears thou keepst me blind!
     But love, hate on, for now I know thy mind.
     If thy unworthiness raised love in me,
     No want of conscience hold it that I call
12 “For I have sworn thee fair!” more perjured eye
     But found no cure. The bath for my help, lies,
     Came there for cure, and this by that I prove.
     Glosses: 1) pun: th’ hussy’s hairy cunt, Make [i.e., Mate] Anne; 2) thou (twice) puns on “th’ O ” (i.e., the round, rune); have puns on halve (i.e., divide into Sonnets/Runes); hide (v.) puns on “put on hide [parchment],” (i.e., write down); 3) So will puns on “Sue, Will” and “swill”; have puns on halve; 4) shall I ne’er puns, “S. Hall eye (aye) near,” suggesting Susanna Hall, Will’s daughter; 5) She threw puns, “Shit rue”; 6) So shalt puns, “Sue, S. Hall...”; 7) and puns on Anne (the line addressing Sue, Susanna); 11) conscience puns on “cunt-science”; I call puns, “I see Hall”; 12) For I have sworn thee fair echoes 7; puns: Fore (i.e., previously), aye; 13) lies = dissembling, duplicity, as in the Runes; 14) puns: “Came t’ Harry S. [suggesting Southampton] for cure”; “Anne died”; you runed this; “Anne This-by-That [suggesting that she’s big, like a room with dimensions to measure] I prow.”

                          Rune 154

     (Fourteenth lines, Set XI: Sonnets 141-154)

     That “she” that makes me sin, awards me pain,
     By self-example may’st thou be denied
     If thou turn back and my loud crying still
 4  Till my bad angel fire my good one out
     And—saved my life, saying “Not you,”
     And death once dead—there’s no more dying then.
     Who art as black as hell, as dark as night
 8  Lest eyes, well seeing, thy foul faults should find,
     Those that can see, thou lov’st; and I am blind—
     More worthy I to be beloved of thee,
     Her love, for whose dear love I rise, and fall
12 To swear against the truth so foul a lie.
     Where Cupid got new fire, my mistress’ eye,
     Love’s fire heats water, water cools not love.
     Glosses: 8) Lest puns on Least and “Leaf’d” (i.e., put on leaves, pages); well puns on inkwell, pudendum, Will; 10) I puns on eye; 13) my mistress’ eye (a pudendal play) puns on “my mystery-sigh”; 13-14) puns: e.g., “my mysteries, aye / low (...allow), suffer, hate...”; “I, low, serrate Sue aye...” ; 14) water suggests the poet’s tears or ink; puns: ...snot allow (etc.).

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