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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 III, Runes 29-42: Texts and Comments 
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

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Rune 36
Eighth lines, Set III (Sonnets 29-42)

                          Rune 36

     (Eighth lines, Set III: Sonnets 29-42)

    With what I most enjoy contented least,
     And moan th’ expense of many a vanished sight—
     But things removed that hidden in there lie;
 4  Exceeded by the height of happier men,
     Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace
     That heals the wound and cures not the disgrace,
     Excusing their sins more than their sins are;
 8  Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love’s delight:
     I make my love engrafted to this store
     When thou thyself dost give invention light—
     That due to thee, which thou deserv’st alone,
12 By willful taste of what thyself refusest;
     Will sourly leave her till he have prevailed,
     Suff’ring, “My friend, for my sake too, approve her.”
      Glosses: 1-2) With... / ...mone = with moan[ing] being...; 3) But = Merely; there = in th’ ear, in th’ air (i.e., song); 7) their (twice) points back to “these poems” (see 1, 3), things (3), and men (4); 8) it = my writing (see 1, 9); 11) due puns on deux, “two,” suggesting the double-layered, duplicitous Q texts; 12) By = By means of; 13) leave puns on “may (should..., will...) leaf” (i.e., “may inscribe on leaves”); her points back to delight (8) and to this store (9), denoting “this verse storehouse” while punning “th’ history” and “th’ hissed whore.”

      36. With What I Most Enjoy Contented Least

     Enjoying least what I like best, this favorite project having less substance than anything I do,
     and with lamentation being the price I pay for burying these poems as I compose them,
     things merely dislocated and withheld but still lying down there “in th’ air”;
  4 surpassed in stature and repute by men more satisfied and successful;
     moving like a shadow toward death with this shameful project and all that it hides,
     an exercise that patches up a wound but brings no cure, the project
     spending too much time apologizing for the flaws in its hidden components—
  8 even so, this work so lacking in grace snatches (and hides) sweet hours from love’s delight:
     I embed my lover in this trove and make love to her as if we were inseparable mates
     when you yourself, my love, provide light for such invention in this darkness—    
     the light, and also what it allows to be created, being yours alone—
12 as I “willfully” taste a mistress you yourself refuse.
     Until he’s finished, I dictate that Will moodily go on generating leaves to make her “ear” fruitful, in the process dissociating himself leaf-by-leaf from his accruing “ms.”
     and all the while pleading, “My friend, for my sake, approve her, too.”


          One fruitful approach to deciphering this ostensible lament is to focus on the frustrations that the on-going Q project is bringing its author, reading “what I most enjoy” (1) as “these playful hidden poems I’m engaged in creating.” Like Rune 32, this text houses a series of apposite poetic figures that name the cycle or its components, including these buried runic poems—e.g., “what I…enjoy,” “vanished sight,” “things removed,” “this disgrace,” “this store,” “invention,” and “what thyself refusest.”

              The poet can compare his verse storage project with a harvest because both generate “leaves.” This pun triggers a tenuous organic link that starts with the opening pun “Wit—what I most enjoy, contented [i.e., full of ‘content’], leaf’d [i.e., ‘paged’].” The parallel persists in such puns as “th’ ear-ly X [i.e., acrostic?], seeded [see, dead]” (3-4); “engrafted to this store” (9); “willful taste” (12); “sourly”; and, again, “leaf” (13). “Taste” and “sourly” suggest unripe fruit—both “sinful” disgraces (6-7) and garbage-like “refuse” (12). Even the scenario at the close here (12-14) hints at an Edenic bellyache from eating Eve’s green apple. “Light” is an expedient (8, 10) for the “growth” of “leaves” in the ms. (a play on “miss’), while darkness links with their loss (2, 3, 5)—through lack of inspiration and also through the storage of “leaved” texts.

          Since Will is always bent on obfuscation, he doesn’t work his crop in open fields.

          The troublesome Eve-like female—the “she” of 13—sneaks in at the phrase “this disgrace” (5-6). Pejorative sexual epithets in line 1 for a female—i.e., “with t**t” and “c**t-ended”—indirectly prefigure this woman, a Dark Lady that (I suggest) is partly or wholly a figurative conceit for the poet’s perverse cycle: “She” is “Dis-grace,” with the prefix “dis-” or “dys-” connoting a range of perversities. Divine grace would “excuse…sins,” but “Disgrace” (6) brings no cure. “Dis,” Hell’s capital in Dante’s Divine Comedy, turns her name into an oxymoron. Because she is female, the poet can “make…love engrafted” to her (9); however, she exists not just for the poet’s sake but also for the auditor/friend’s pleasure (11, 14). Thus (like more overt forms of the Dark Lady of the Sonnets) she occupies a medial role, as perverse “lover” of both poet and muse.

          The pun on “he-half” in “Will, sourly ‘leave’ her till ‘he-half’ prevailed” (13) suggests a struggle between Disgrace (as an emblem for the runic subtext) and the poet (embodied in the visible, “lighted” sonnets). This dichotomy is central to the poem’s strained wit. “He-half”/”she-half” also suggests a divided sexual nature. In fact, one comic suggestion is that “vanished sight” (2) may not mean a lost Eve or Eden but rather a “[phallic] thing removed” (3). (Plays on “thing” as penis were overt Renaissance cliches.) Though this deplorable wound isn’t healed (6), some kind of “engrafting” (9) or “willful tasting” (12) might replace the “loss”—which may just mean an instance of temporary hiding that creates the illusion of “removal.” The playful set of “medical” puns about suffering (14) includes “moan” (2), “things removed” (3), and “sorely livered” (13).

          The lament opens with the pun “Wit...” and closes with authorized nameplays on the poet himself: “By wil-,” “willful,” and “Will” (12-13).

           While any vague “she” in Q (see 13-14) may point toward Anne (Hathaway), the pun on “Sue’s ring…,” just after “…veiled” (13-14) also suggests that Susanna Shakespeare’s husband, Will’s son-in-law Dr. John Hall, may be the “friend” who could “for my sake, tup [this verb for intercourse occurs in Othello], ‘prow’ her”—while also enjoying his father-in-law’s “medical” wit as a primary reader/player. (It makes sense to imagine Will preparing the Q cycle for publication ca. 1605-1609 with his own retirement to Stratford in mind and envisioning his university-educated son-in-law as an intimate participant in Q’s literate, in-group games.)

          “And mone...” (2) puns “Anne, demon” and “Endymion.” The end of line 2 encodes scatological wit that merges with jokes in 3-4 about relative male endowments. One pun (of many potentialities here) suggests a family scenario: “...oft my naive Annie shits, I get [jet] / bawdy [body] inches that hidden in there lie, / exceeded by the [bitty] height of happier men.” Linked puns on “leased” and “money” (1-2) are “economic.”
         Q’s form thy selfe (e.g., 10, 12) always puns, e.g., “this elf,” “this else,” “thistle see,” “this leaf [laugh], and “thy cell see.” Due (11) puns on dieu, god.

         Exact rhymes in lines 5-6 (...disgrace: / ...disgrace:) here match another pair (...face, /...face,) in Rune 34.

Sample Puns

           1) Wet twat, aye muffed, innocent end; tattle eased; Tottel; Wight; Wyatt; with white “I” moist, annoy cunt-end; juicy Annie ended life; Witty W.H. eyed aye m’ O fitting, jocund, Ed left (laughed); eye Thomas—tan, jocund—t’ addle Ovid; idle             1-2) idolized Endymion; many “Avons” hit sight; many “Avon Ovid” sight; site
            2) Anne, demon; Endymion’d hex pen; seize m’ Annie; pensive m’ Annie; money, th’ expense of m’ Annie, a vanished sight
            2-3) m’ Annie, Avon I shed (shit), f--ked; see oaf, m’ Annie, Avon, a fit sight; In “demonetics,” pen seize; pensive, m’ Annie—Avon Ovid—sieged Beauty
            3) Butt, high inches are moot (mute, mowed); But high inches rim odd had hidden, end hairy; Bawdy inches, rhyme odd; ode t’ Hat. hidden; dead Hat. hidden in th’ air lies
            3-4) end hairy leaks seed, a debit; into Harry’ll (Ariel) “I” “exceed”; debated O-shape, eye ermine
            4) Exceeding bitty height (Betty hied); ex-seeded height [phallic]; eye jet o’ fey pier (vapor), my end
            4-5) peer minced
            5) Steel in gun (Stealing engine), scene tough, taut (taught, to wit)
            5-6) Terminal colons suggest spots—cf. “X-seed”; hissed f--ker I see (icy) that heals the wound
            6) Th’ tail Southy wounding; T’ Hat., Hall’s th’ wound and cure; answer reason, haughty disgrace
            6-7) Dane-dick, you’re snotty, deaf, gray, sexes (sixes—in line 6) you sing t’ harass (her ass)
            7) m’ “O” red inters censored oath; F-ing serried [shoulder-to-shoulder], oathed fiddles; seriate; X-cues [i.e., acrostic hints] in jet [effusion, black ink] hear; Moor, fins [phallic]; there Finns moored in th’ air
            7-8) sense a riot (a ready oath)
            8) Why Edith? Fiddle, sweet whore; arise from loo’s delight; Rome
            9) Eye make [mate]mellow; history; Eye m’ ache, meal, oven gray, fitted to this story
            9-10) I make m’ love, John, grafted to this fit, a rune
          10) dusty Jew invent, eye on laddie; W.H., endowed high; hint, O, you the eisell [i.e., vinegar] see; John wins, I own
          10-11) tunneled, the duet o’ the witch
          11) T’ Hat, dowdy witch, thou deservest awl wan; O, you’d Sirius use, tall, wan
          12) Will, fool, tastes W.H.; By (Buy) Will S.; Biles you’ll taste; O, few a Titus leaf re-sew
          12-13) Bile, full tasty o’ sweat, th’ eisell sour sufficed
          13) Will S. hourly leaf hurt ill; he, happier, wailed; “he-half” prevailed; prowled; liver; Well, Sue, you really Livy heard (hurt), ill he Hooper veiled; he hopper vile adds
          14) Sue S. offering, my friend; for my sake, top, aye, prow her; Sue’s ring, ms. wry end; tup our whore; prow, fore; ape, roar; m’ f--ked “O” approve here; for Miss, a cat; up or over; foe remiss ached

Acrostic Wit

          The downward acrostic codeline—WA BEST EY IW TB WS—suggests such decodings as these: “We best ye, witty be W.S.,” “We be astute, be wise,” “Weigh (Why...) beasty ewe t’ abuse,” “Wee beasty...,” “We best taught Bess [likely the Queen or Will’s new granddaughter, Elizabeth],” “Way best taught Bess,” “We be Shakespeare, I you tup. W.S.,” “Way best t’ eye, you t’ be W.S. (wise),” “Wipest eye you t’ be wise,” and “Why pissed I? I wet (pun: wit) be, W.S.”         

           The upward codeline—SW BT WIYETS E BAW—suggests, e.g., “Swept wide as a bow,” “Sue bet Wyatt [wight = creature] is a boy,” “Sweet [B=8] Wyatt’s a boy” (Wyatt was an earlier English sonneteer), “Sue bed (bid), wide, seepy ‘O’,” “Sue bet Waite is a boy,” “Swapped, why, Anne [= ET= and] is a boy,” “Swept, why, it’s a bow,” and “Sweet, white, assy boy.” SW, SE, and BAW (bow) look “nautical,” suggesting, e.g., “SW beat white sea, bow” and “SW 8, t’ white sea, bow.”

           One letter/number substitution in the code yields a phonic SATAN: ...SE-8-A-VV = SE[EIGHT]A[TEN]. In fact, SW always encodes S-VV or S-10 and thus “Satan.” SWmay also equal S IN = S., Anne = Ass Anne = Ass John [i.e., In. = Jn.].

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