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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        

Proceed to Rune 43
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Rune 42
Fourteenth lines, Set III (Sonnets 29-42)

                          Rune 42

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

     That then I scorn: To change my state with kings.
     All losses are restored, and sorrows end,
     And thou (all they) hast all the all of me.
 4  Theirs for their style I’ll read, his for his love.
      Suns of the world may stain—we heaven’s Son stained—
      And they are rich and ransom all ill deeds.
     To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me,
 8  As thou being mine, mine is thy good report.
     This wish I have, then ten times happy me:
     The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise
     By praising him here who doth hence remain.
12 Kill me with spites, yet we must not be foes.
     Thine by thy beauty being false to me,
     Sweet flattery, then, she loves but me alone.
      Glosses: 3) they points back to kings in 1; 4) Theirs = kings’ “states” (see 1); his in context (see 5) suggests “Christ’s”; 5) Q whé heauens sun stainteh seems intentionally error-ridden and is likely a conventional mea culpa line; 10) mine puns on “m’ Anne” (with Q wish an eyepun on wife); shall puns on S. Hall, Will’s daughter; 11) him suggests the auditor/friend, “hymn,” the poet, Christ, and/or Ham (i.e., Hamnet, the poet’s dead son); 13) Thine = Your spites (see 12).

      42. Sweet Flattery

     I wouldn’t, then, change my condition—or the state of this ms.—with that of kings.
     Everything lost is restored, here in this terminal poem of the set, and sorrows end,
     and you, all kings (and indeed all sorrows) rolled together, have all there is of me.
  4 I’ll study kings’ estates to learn about style, and Christ’s kingdom because of his love.
     Sun-like kings of the world can blot or bloody it as they wish (we humans have stained the very Sun of Heaven, and this flawed line is my mea culpa)
     and, being rich, such kings can ransom criminals just as Christ did on the Cross.
     In that spirit, I reassure you, sweet thief who robs me (not playfully, as Prince Hal might):
  8 Because you are mine, I’ll speak well of you.
     If I can do this, then I’m made ten times happier.
     Let me suffer the pain, and Flattery be all yours
     in this praise of anyone—you, me, my verse, or Christ—whom this text may immortalize with eternal admiration.

12 We must not be enemies, even if your spites wound me gravely.
     If your spiteful acts—offshoots of your beauty, which is their rationale—betray me,
     the mistress Flattery (whom I have offered to you) may reject you and love only me.


          In a set of laments, Set III, this last rune in that group seems upbeat, with Will in control.

          The riddlic dramatic situation in Rune 42 seems to involve the poet, his beautiful but vaguely “spiteful” auditor (unidentified, as usual), and several offstage characters: worldly kings (1, 4), Mistress Flattery (14, cf. 10), and Christ (5, cf. 4, 11). The earthly and heavenly kings are exemplary, while Sweet Flattery (I propose) stands for the poet’s perverse, unreliable verses—a variant Dark Mistress, a “ms.” (or “miss”) who, as intermediary, controls the fates of both Will and his friend. As we are still finding out, She is a creature who is not what She seems.

          One paradox is that the listening friend is also “all kings” (3). Another is that Will’s “state,” as the setting of the drama, is the realm he controls and is thus also his “ms.,” the Q cycle itself. Though OED does not confirm the idea, “state” in Q often suggests “stage of a ms.” In other respects Will’s diction shows a concern with the “domain” of writing: e.g., “read,” “style” (4), “stained” (5), “good report” (8), “praise” (10, 11), and “flattery” (14). “Re-stored” (2) suggests “refiled,” stashed away, as the Runes are.

          With some two dozen “th” sounds, the rune mimics a sycophant’s flattery by seeming to lisp. A tongue-in-cheek tone questions everything stated. Though acting in a kingly way on behalf of a miscreant (6-8), as Christ did at the Crucifixion, Will’s own role-playing seems smug and self-serving. He is ironically servile, conditionally offering Flattery to the friend and including, I suggest, a consciously marred line (5) as a mea culpa gesture toward “Heaven’s Sun.” (Medieval artists sometimes marred their works on purpose to show that only God creates perfection.)
         The mea culpa line (5) has an abbreviation of “when” that gives the line two readings: “We heaven’s Sun stained” and “when heaven’s sun staineth.” The first one works here, the latter, in the context of Sonnet 33—a “Christ number.” (Editor Stephen Booth’s line note to 33.14 says that “the suggestion of ‘heaven’s son’…floods [Sonnet 33] with vague and unharnessed suggestions of the incarnation and crucifixion.”)

          Puns in 10-11 link Will’s three children—and even the wife and “bitty” granddaughter, Elizabeth, born in 1608—in a vague, ambiguous apostrophe: “The pain be mine [m’ Annie], but thine, S. Hall, be the praise [...Betty appears], / By praising Ham, heir, Judith hence remain [...our man]” (10-11). Here pain, French for “bread,” may joke about Anne’s corpulence: “This wife I halve thin, ten times happy, may the pain be mine” (9-10).

          The four “me’s” terminating odd-numbered lines (see also Rune 41) may pun on May, the month, while showing “all of me” (3).

          Subtextual wit may also be about (and aimed at) Tommy Thorpe, Will’s known printing agent, the “T.T.” of Q’s title page. (See Acrostic Wit, below.) Puns here hint that Thorpe was a fair-complexioned, red-headed “Swede” with eight “tots.” (Insistent wit about T.T. as “Swede” recurs in Q.) Lines 9-11 allow the pun, “Thos.’s wife I often tend, Tommy’s happy mate helping be my nib [i.e., pen, secretary]. You, T.T., hence’ll be the press, by pressing hymn here....” This very full pun suggests an actual situation, with Thorpe and his wife befriending Will and helping him complete the Q project. The line “This wife I have [i.e., If I had this wife...], then ten times happy me” (9) may refer to the Thorpes and their (eight?) children. Another pun here might fit Thorpe, the “Swede,” and/or to Elizabeth I: “Th’ Heiress [Hairess, ...ears], for th’ hair style ill, red, high, suffers [...suffer his] losing soft hue..” (4-5). A further pun about T. T. may lie in 6-7: “O, me, a ‘lilty’ ed. [editor] is To. Th. at sweaty sewage sour....” The invitation to “enter our itching drain foamy” (6) resonates with players pulled into Q’s sinkhole.

          Though Q’s puns are rampant, overlaid, slippery, and to some degree self-generating, they accumulate provocatively. Since Will is the Genius Punster, I regard him a more likely source for most of them than myself.

           Will’s disparagement of his own wife here is typical: e.g., “M’ Annie’s thick odor poured this way, sh*tting ten times” (8-9) and “The pain be m’Anne, but thine, S. Hall, be the praise” (10). Many puns in Q show Anne as fat; some here suggest that Susanna Shakespeare Hall was, by contrast, a “thin” muse whom Will wanted to impress: e.g., “Thin, bitty beauty, being S. Hall, see tome’s [i.e., the Q cycle’s] witty flattery. Then [Thin,] she loves but me alone [...meal one]” (13-14). Playful jibes aimed at son-in-law John Hall include the pun “Hall owes arrears to hoard and defers end, aye in debt, Hall....” (2-3).

Sample Puns

           1) ms. state [printing], mis-state; That, then, is corn; I ask “O”-rune to change; touch Anne-[end-]gem; Isaac, horn to change; muff tight with thick inches; corny token gem; “yesterday” witty kin guess            
           2) Aye, law officer, arrest whore; Awl-love (low) is a rare store, dense our rosy end; All love is sorriest turd; furrow
           2-3) O’er Dan, Dis our rows ending
           3) Anne thou see, Hall, the eyes have tallied all (Hall, awl) of me; they all love me
           3-4) Anne did household tackle, hasty lady, aye loathsome t’ Harry S.
           4) Harry suffered hairy ass till ill, red his ass; Th’ ear’s for th’ heir; style ill read; hairstyle, ill, red [alluding to Elizabeth I?]; Tee! Harry S. fart hears (father, fodder, farter is); earthier style ill, errata’s forest low; slough
           4-5) high is forest, low, sun
           5) Sons; earl; whirl; May; whey; tainted; Q stainteh (reversed) heating, I ate ass
           5-7 Hugh-John [en]’s (hewn) fon fit Indian did Harry itch, and Darien is home (and Darien’s homme, a lilted ass, taught Hat. ass-wit)
Anne, th’ ear, itch, Anne ran [drained] foam; Hall ill, dead is
           6-7) Anne drains homme-awl—ill, dead, stout
           7) sweet (sweat), the sewage is hourly our O-piss (opus), fair homme ; robs = Europa’s
           7-8) Taut (Twat) Hat.—sweat-heavy witch, sour liar—abyss forms; our opus is Rome’s Theban gem
           8) Ass thou be in—gemmy, nay, [a] mine; As thou be in Gemini, mine is thy good report
           8-9) m’ Annie’s thick odor poured this way 9 eye you Eden 10 times
           9-10) I miss a payment, help Annie be mini-beauty, an evil Bede help her ass; eye haughty hint in Tommy’s happy maid          10) pain bread (F., cf. “loaves” [14, etc.]); The Pain be m’ Annie; The pee, Annie, be mine, but thin; beauty high nigh, S. Hall be; Betty praise (prays)
         10-11) This wife I halve thin, ten times happy me
         11) by praising hemorrhoid o’ th’ hen, seer m’ Annie; Piper eye, I sing hymn here; peer; answer m’ Annie
         11-12) By praising him, Harry, W. H., “O” [the rune] doth Hen.-sermon [Hen’s. ermine] kill; ode, oath, hence remain; Herod
         12) Column (cf. “thin, bitty” [13]) and “ladder” [14]); mewed (mute) is pity (his piety)—sighed whim used Knot B; knot be Sue’s; this pitty sight we muffed in ode; muff denote beef O’s
         13) Thin, bitty beauty be inch (pinch), false tome; Betty; thy beauty be inches, awl fit; S. Hall see, too (…see two)
         13-14) All see Tommy, Swede (sweet) of late reddens, he loves but me alone
         14) Sue, it’s (Ass, witty is…) ladder wry, thin, fey; loaf’s but meal wan; Sweet flattery t’ Hen.…; feel of ass, butt, m’ awl wan; fellow ass, be you Tommy alone

Acrostic Wit

           The downward acrostic codeline—TAAT SATAT T BKT S—suggests, e.g., “Tied, sated T. Becket is,” “T’ eye aye is hated T. Becket, Ass,” “Tight-seated T. Becket is,” “Tots 8, aye, T.T. begets,” “Tots 8 eye: T.T., 8 [B=8] kids,” “T.T.’s 8 (8, 8) kids!,” “Têtes à tête be cats (kids),” “…begat ass,” “Tot S. [cf. Susanna] a tot begats [suggesting the birth of Elizabeth Hall, Will’s granddaughter].”

           The upward reverse codeline—STK BT TATAS TAAT—suggests such readings, e.g., as these: “Stake bit Titus, tied,” “Steak Betty (…bit I…) tasted,” “Is ‘Ticket t’ Titus’ tidy?” “St. Katy [B=8]—i.e., St. Catherine—‘ta-ta’s’ t’ eight,” “St. Kitty Titus tied,” “St. Katy taught us t’ hate,” and “Stick bit at a State [suggesting Aaron’s rod, analogous to the acrostic line].”

           The code (almost palindromic, as many of the codelines are) houses potential up-and-down wit about “Titus,” T. Becket,” and “Têtes à tête,” while almost repeating “state,” (see line 1) as STAAT (up) and SATATT (down).

                         End of Set II
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