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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 IX, Runes 113-126: Texts and Comments 
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 122
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Rune 121
Ninth lines, Set IX (Sonnets 113-126)

                         Rune 121

     (Ninth lines, Set IX: Sonnets 113-126)

     For if it see the rud’st or gentlest sight,
     O, ’tis the first, ’tis flatt’ry in my seeing!
     Alas, why fearing of time’s tyranny?
 4  Love’s not time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
     Book both my willfulness and errors down,
     Thus policy in love t’ anticipate.
     O, benefit of ill, now I find true,
 8  O, that our night of woe might have rememb’red!
      No, I am that I am, and they that level
     That poor retention could not so much hold,
     Thy registers and thee, I both defy!
12 It fears not policy, that heretic!
     No, let me be obsequious in thy heart,
     Yet fear her, O thou minion of her pleasure.
     Glosses: 1) it = my seeing (2); 5) errors puns on eros,“E-rows” (i.e., 5th lines of verses, as this one is); “E-row down” might be a clue to check the 5th vertical row out in the alphabetic grid of the poem; 6) policy = an artful, pragmatic strategy (see 12); 8) might... rememb’red = might have reconstituted itself, been patched together; 9) No, I am puns on Gnome (i.e., Proverb, Saying); No, I am t... puns, “Know [No] Ham[n?]et,” “...Ham[l?]et”; level = charge, accuse; 11) registers = written records, catalogs; 12) It = retention, registers (10-11) = (by metonymy) Will or his poems; 13) obsequious = dutiful, fawning; 14) fear her “O” is pudendal misogyny; her O puns on hero; minion = darling, favorite.

      121. The Poor Retainer

     Now, whether my vision catches the most common or most courtly sight,
     O, I respond like a fawning fool, as if it were the first thing I’d ever seen!
     Alas, why do people fear that tyrant Time?
  4 Love’s not time’s fool, though clown-like makeup and cheerfully ingenuous statements
     pencil down both my Willfulness and my errors,
     revealing the stratagems I’ll employ in any affair of the heart.
     O, now I discover some positive effects of imperfection,
  8 O, that this current subtextual melodrama might patch together in a reconstituted form.
     No, I am what I am; and those who underestimate me by charging
     that a poor retainer could not hold so much—
     either you or this written record of your nature—I show to be doubly wrong!
12 This retainer, the fool of Love, does not stand in awe of conventional prudence, that heretic!
     No, let me be servile and flattering in your heart.
     Yet you should fear your heart, O, since you’re her favorite, the darling of her pleasure.


          The shrill tone, rhetorical extravagances, clippings, elisions, and conceits about “playing the fool” in Rune 121 all suggest the chatter of a jester or fawning favorite who, as a lover, decides to be obsequious not to Time (4) but rather to his beloved’s Heart (13)—reminding us that he’s an artful “fool” we shouldn’t underestimate, and also rebutting critics of any age who say it’s impossible” that his “registers”—which we now see are the double cycles in Q—could “so much hold” (9-11).

           Will’s “[K]night of woe” in Q—his unnamed friend and muse—stays ambiguous. Here the pun “O, the Tower...” (8) seems aimed at Henry Wriothesley, the third earl of Southampton, Will’s only known patron. Thus “night of woe” suggests the nocturnal Essex rebellion, which failed on February 8th, 1601, and triggered Southampton’s prompt imprisonment in the Tower of London for complicity. (My guess is that Will devised some of the earlier Q texts—perhaps pieces that he revised as he prepared Q for publication—as pastime materials for Southampton during his incarceration ca. 1601-1603.)

           Some figures treat the speaking “retainer” as writer/poet: e.g., “time’s [i.e., meter’s] tyranny”; “Book…errors down,”; “Thy registers”; and “thy art” (13). Puns that play on Q’s composition process include “re-membered” (8, suggesting reconstituted); “O” as “round”; bene fit (7, punning on “good stanza”); “Gnome” (9, a saying); and “th’ [p = th] ‘leafure’” (14). The pun “…rosy lips and cheeks [suggesting Sonnets/Runes] Book both my willfulness and errors down…” (4-5) describes an error-ridden art authorized by “policy,” not accident. An “error” motif includes “rudest,” “fool,” “ill,” “woe,” and “poor.”

          Sonnets editor Stephen Booth notes that feare (3, 12, 14) plays on “fere”—“to make a partner of.” We see now that the pun alludes to Q’s conjoined doublets—a concept wittily echoed in puns on “Noe / Noah” (9, 13), whose Ark was another structure that, one would say, “could not so much hold” (10). Nautical puns—e.g., “sea,” “our rainy jet of woe,” “rose,” “poured in”—reinforce the coy allusion to The Flood.

           Line 4, with its odd form Lou’s, puns “Loo’s naughty mess is old” and “…naughty Miss Sue Hall.” The emphatic Heriticke (12) also hides puns, including “Herod I seek.” The string “both my willfulnesse and…” (5) jokes, “Bawdy mule, sullen ass, Anne,” with a Will nameplay overlaid. Comically, “our night of woe” (8) points to Will and Anne’s wedding day. The phrase “my Judy [Q mi ght ha ] you re-membered, / no Ham’et” (8-9) memorializes the twins. “So much hold” (10) puns “Sue, my child.”

           Concurrently, puns recur on forms of Thomas Thorpe, Will’s known printing agent and (as “T.T.”) the “signer” of two pages of Q’s frontmatter. These puns include Th.../ Th... (initial in 10-11) as well as the letterstrings tis t... (2); Times (3, 4, encoding “Tommy’s”); Thus (6, encoding “Thos.”); Tha t (8, 9, 10, 12); tha tIam,a; they th (9); and tha tHer (12). Tediously playful misspellings of “Thorpe” occur in Q as therud (1), though rof (4), Thy reg (11), and thy heart (13). Such letterstrings generate slippery Tommy-berating plays: e.g., “ seeing / a lass, wife hearing of Tommy’s tyranny, / lose not (...low snot, ...loose knot) Tommy’s soul....”

           Thousands of such quiet interchanges in Q suggest ongoing banter in Will’s head aimed at his collaborating printer during the tedious process of preparing the Q ms. for printing. After the prepublication contract, Will would have envisioned Thorpe (who of necessity was in on the poet’s joke) going over the Q lines jot-and-tittle at the typesetting process. Will’s opening pun “Forfeit fee, Thor[p]...” (1, with Q’s d an upside-down p) is part of this pattern of wit.

          “Why fearing of Tommy’s tyranny...” (3) suggests, with other jokes in Q, that “T.T.” is a slave-driver. Will jokes about Tommy’s active sex life and warns Thorpe about the dangers of women: “Yet fear her ‘O,’ Tommy, and none (...nun) offer pleasure” (14) use pictographic “O” as a routine cipher for a bodily orifice. Such concerns with Q’s printer link with all the other self-conscious wit here about writing the book and making it “hold” and record an implausible amount of matter.

Sample Puns

          1) Forest eyed satyr; fit origin, to laugh, to fight; See the rude Shakespeare [ft], our gentlest ass (S.); Forfeit see, the rude stork entails tease; see the rudest organ’d lass t’ fight; see the red sturgeon, to left; lift ass, eye God
          1-2) gentle ass, defy toady Southy, sir; See…our gentle Shakespeare f--ked “O,”…; sturgeon, to left, f--ked Otis
          2) Odd is the first to eye souffléd [cf. puffed] rune
          2-3) fits, of late, rain Massey angels; see English wife hearing of Tommy’s tyranny; “O” ’tis the furriest, t’ isolate wry enemas, angles wise
          3) A lass “Y” [pictographic crotch]; hearing ghost, eye mystery nigh; searing; fear “ring”; siring; syringe; fearing ghost, I missed (ms.’d) irony
          3-4) aye misty, our anal office naughty eye; t’ Iran, isle o’ wizened Tommy; All ass (A lass) W.H. is “earing,” ofttime is’t our Annie loose (our Annie Lou S.), not Tommy’s sullied whore; cheeks cf. effronteries? [1852]; eye Mister Anal O; why is earring ofttimes tiring, aloose, naughty miss?
          4) eye my souffléd whore, O vile, eye pissing dick; Lo, you snotty Tommy souffléd, huge hero; eye ms. sullied, how row-fillips end see
          4-5) ass, end-cheek, spoke, bawdy mule, sullen ass; Tommy’s solid hero, Philip Sand (Saint) see
          4-6) kiss Book, bawdy mule’s ulnas, see Andrewes, Donne (…see Andrewes downed, use pole [you spoil])
          5) book bought [overlapping “Tommy”]; eros; fiend; fender; ulnas; Sanders; sudden
          5-6) “My Will, fool, an ass,” Anne dear roars down, th’ huss-pole I see (pole icy) in loo
          6) pole I see in lewd antic; anal Ovid-end I see (sip); ye supple Lycean lute anticipate; T’s [i.e., T.T.] I paid
          6-7) antic, I paid “O-benefits”; eye pate o’ Ben; eye Nile of Eden to sip it up; “tup” Annie sights
          7) Open assy, tussling “O,” wife-end (Anne) t’ rue; gnoff; O penis eye, tough, ill, in O
          7-8) in O ascended Ruth; O bene fits of ill in “O” I sent rude Hat.—our night of woe, my jet, half re-membered [reconstituted, like the Runes]
          8) womb aye Judy remembered; O, the Tower, knight’s woe, mighty Vere may embered (ambered) know; to Swami get, hover; whore my hymn bared
          8-9) Judy, your ma’am bred (be red) gnome
          9) Hat-I-am, Anne; Gnome [i.e., proverb], that iamb, Anne ditty, that jewel; Nomad a diamond dyed, hated jewel; gnome, thoughty, emendated jewel
          9-10) Noah a mighty time indicted, leveled; I mandated Lowell t’ Hat.; lady departing shuns old knots o’ Massey halty; Tea Hat. poured in, t’ John cold; could knot so much hold?
        10-12) some huge, old theory eye, satyr (satire) sandy abode had, site eerie
        11) There Aegisthus and Thebèd heads eye; There jest errs, Anne died (ended); eye bow (bough), the daisy; Thetis eye
        11-12) oath decides Saracen ode policy
        12) policied Hat-er-I; Aye t’ Saracen oat poles ye tied, hurts keen
        12-13) Herod I seek; Hear it aye, see key; Here I tease ke[nneled]; Noel; I sighted erotic kin
        13) Noel, Anne [et] may be up; f--k you just Anne, thy hearty Anne [et], sear [fear] her “O”…; you, Jew, sinned here; Bob, seek, use entirety
        13-14) Noel o’ Tommy, Babe’s a queasier, naughtier Titus, harrier oat whom Anne owns, her pleasure; hear tight Zero; scentier; her diet sere, Hero t’ hominy enough, herbal, azure; hardy et Pharaoh…; Titus, our Herod home in on; entire Titus erred
        14) fear Herod; m’ Annie own; men aye owe no verbal “azure”; onus; O, you men, John offer pleasure; Sarah, Tommy, Anne, John offer pleasure; men, nuns here play; home eye in Iona’s verbalese; verbal heifer

Acrostic Wit

          The acrostic seems especially interesting and effective, with exact and near-exact spellings and provocative letterstrings.

          The downward acrostic code—FOAL B TOON TTINY—suggests, e.g., “Full be tune tiny” (echoed as “My registers hold much” [see 10-11]). Other readings include these: “Foal bit, O, on titty, hiney,” “Foe-awl (Foe’ll) be taunt tiny,” “Full be town too tiny,” and “Foal be two in T.T. hiney [i.e., Thorpe’ll give birth to twins—Sonnets/Runes].”

          The upward codestringY NITT NOO T B LAOF—houses such potential readings as “Ye need 10 ‘OO’ [i.e., eyes] to believe,” “Ye nigh T.T., naughty be leaf,” “Ye nigh T.T., not to believe,” “Ye night-knot, blaze [F=S],” “Yen eyed, naughty be laugh,” “Ye nigh T.T., Nota B., laugh,” “Why, knight, not to be? Believe...,”and “Ye nigh T.T., Nota b. leaf [i.e., page].” Will’s “pole icy” (6) is in one sense the slippery upward acrostic, where NOOT B suggests Nota bene, “…not to be,” and “notate [B = phonic 8].

Proceed to Rune 122
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