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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 123
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Rune 122
Tenth lines, Set IX (Sonnets 113-126)

                         Rune 122

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

     The most sweet favor or deformed’st creature,
     And my great mind most kingly drinks it up!
     Might I not then say now I love you best
 4  Within his bending sickle’s compass? Come,
     And, on just proof, surmise. Accumulate
     The ills that were not, grew to faults—assured
     That better is by evil still made better.
 8  (My deepest sense, how hard true sorrow hits!)
      At my abuses, reckon up their own.
      Nor need I tallies thy dear love to score,
      Not wondering at the present, nor the past,
12 Which works on leases of short numbered hours;
     And, take thou my oblation poor but free,
     She may detain but not still keep her treasure.
     Glosses: 3) best puns on beast; 4) his = my...mind’s (see 2); bending sickle’s compass suggests Round, i.e., Rune; 8) how hard may be a topical pun on Howard; 9) their (ambig.) points to ills (6), creatures (see 1); their own puns on “the (thy) rown (...round, rune)”; 10) Nor need I tallies puns, “Nor needed Alice/...allies” (with Nor reversing to a pun on rune); 13) oblation = offering (compare present, a pun in 11); 14) She = (10), but, as an incipient form of the Dark Lady (who dominates Sets X and XI) pointing to punning forms of Alice (10), Witch (12), and Anne (13).

    122. Reckon Up the Rune 
     (The “Ills to Hathaway” Rune)

     The sweetest aspect offered, the most deformed creation—
     my expansive, kinglike mind drinks up both!
     Do I not, then, have enough experience to say I love you best (if not “I love you, beast”)
of all things within the arced swath my mind cuts? Approach,
     and, after adequate demonstration, reach your own conclusion. Catalog
     all the “flaws” of mine that once did not exist, later enlarged to faults—resting assuring
     that experience with evil can temper and mature what’s already better than good.
  8 (How hard real repentance hits me at bottom! To be honest, evil doesn’t improve, it hurts.)
     For balance, add up not only my errors but also the abuses I’ve suffered, and compare me to the broad range of humans, to those well-favored and those deformed.
     I need no scorecards to rate your dear love.
     I have no questions about present or past,
12 each operating on a system that grants life hour by hour;
     and, if you take my offering, a poor thing but freely given,
     your love may enjoy her treasure awhile without keeping it from me or others forever.


          Here in Rune 122 Will defends the all-inclusive if “flawed” Runes and pleads that the unnamed auditor/muse tally their worth fairly and see this “oblation”—the poet’s offering—in sympathetic terms that might eventually bring returned affection. The poem cultivates diction about time and about gameplaying and scoring; about harvest; about religion, sinfulness, and godlikeness; and about unnatural wonders that are apt analogues for the Runes.

          “Kingly drinks it up” (2) and “take thou my oblation” (13) suggest the Eucharist and point up other vaguely religious diction. Will’s all-encompassing “mind” (2) seems godlike, admits even the vilest (1), is omnipotent in its “reaping” (3-4), and is generously charitable (13). “Better improved by evil” (7) suggests the Passion. More obtusely—because “tally” (10) suggests a rod or notched stick and thus an Acrostic and, concurrently, the Cross—even Will’s “tally” on which “Love [was] scored [i.e., 1) “won after being contested” and 2) “wounded by cutting”]” (10) are wittily “biblical,” even marginally sacrilegious. “Faults azured” (6) puns on “sins taken to heaven,” suggesting the Ascension.

           In this runic context the famous phrase “his bending sickle’s compass” (4) refers back to “my great mind,” with a sickle suggesting both the mind’s swath and the arced or orbic curvature of the human brain.

           Epithets such as “deformed’st creature” (1), “my abuses” (9), and “oblation poor but free” (13) describe the Q texts. The interest in tallying and “keeping count” point to the numerical complexity of Q. “Sweet” and “deformed” (1) gesture toward Sonnets and Runes. A “just proof” (5) would be an accurate text. The pun “reckon up the rown/round/rune” (9) finds immediate reiteration in plays on “Rune” (see Nor... in 10, reversed) and “Knot” (initial in 11). “Witch-works on leaves [i.e., pages], effort numbered, O’s [i.e., the round or rune is...] worse” (12) also describes the Runes.

           The text proposes several solutions to the identity of the riddlic “She” that “may detain but not still keep her treasure” (14). This pronoun may refer to “thy dear love” (10), itself ambiguously suggesting “my love for you” and “these writings expressing that love”—i.e., my gift, the present (11), my oblation (13). Differently, “Anne, take thou my oblation…” (13) casts the text as an apostrophe to the wife, with coy wit about her obesity in “grew to faults” (6) and in the acrostic (see below). Too, “she” is Will’s Perverse Ms., whose deformed creatures, the Runes, are destined to wriggle free, as we now see them doing! As a “real woman,” Q’s Perverse Mistress always points to Anne Hathaway, necessarily tangled in the triangular mix of any relationship that Will pursues--including the one he cultivates with any addressed reader.

           Anne-berating puns here—headlined by “The Ills to Hathaway Rune odd grew” (6)— include “Anne, migrate...” (2), “Anne, unjust...” (5), “Anne take, Tommy...” (12), “Anne, take Anne [ = et = and] home...”; and, “She, my dead Anne, body in ode still (...bawdy in odes, till...)...” (14). More overt is Will’s ironic pun, “Anne, take thou my oblation, poor but free” (13). (Sonnets editor Stephen Booth reports as reputable the prior suggestion that an initial “And...” in a Q line puns on “Anne.”)

           Line 12 encodes such bawdy puns as this variant: “Witch-whore, kiss one, lie: A soft, f--king homme bred (...bared) whores. (And see below.)

Sample Puns

          1) we desirer disarmed
          1-2) The moist, sweet ass aver, our deaf whore amid fits read, you runed; garret (garrotte) your end; Thomas T.’s witty favorite, Dis, harmed Shakespeare [ft], see creature end; you, random, migrate; our deformed’st creature, Anne; oft t’ serrate you, runes migrate
          2) Anne, damn ye; jellied rune, kiss, aye, tup; Tommy knight (Nate) moist kingly drinks
          2-3) in glittery inks, I tup midget John (…my jetting oat); encased, 5:00 p.m. I jet
          3) Mighty knot thin is, I know; My jetty knot tense eye; thin, venal “O”; I love you, beast; eye loo; Hen S., anal oaf you be
          3-4) best wit, high, nice, be ending
          4) nice be ending if icicles come, pass
          4-5) mean don eye, you fit prose surmise; fickle ass, come, pay, f--k homme, and, done, eye (“I”) you Shakespeare; commend Don just; commend Anjou ass t’ process your ms.
          5) sir, misses, come I late; come ill, 8 [inches], the “I” listed, were not; I f--k you, my lady (laddie) [cf. Rune 1 gameboard, p. ]; Anne, done, is t’ prow Caesar; misses homme ill ate
          4-6) Witty John’s bending sickle’s come—past coming, done, used—proves your miss ass [mss.] humiliated
          5-6) ill, a title listed, weary; I Sikh homily hated; I Camilla title Stoat
          6) ill Southy, twiring [peeping] oat, grew; our knot grew two salts azured [nautical?]; T’ hell Southy, towering oat, grew—to faults azured; we rune ode, G-row to F [i.e., Row 6, this one] alt [i.e., lofty] is
          6-7) salty Caesar Ed thought bitterest bile; Root o’ faults, as you read Hat. bitter is, by a vial still made bitter; your debted better eye
          7) by vilest till, my debit err; That bed, hers, Isabel still made better
          7-8) t’ remedy pest, fence Howard; Mid a pest, sense Howard; ill-made butter mid pest sense; Maid Betty, term ye deep Shakespeare sense—how hard, true furrow it is 8 harder use Herodotus; sewer did ruse-error hide; warty “trough” whore owed
          8-9) I tease aye Tommy, buss his reeking V [pictographic crotch] pitty, I rown; My deep fit censored t’ rue so rowdy teased; True sorrow hits, eye Tommy abuse series, can you pity our rune; row-wit’s atomy, A/B, you see, sir; why, ’tis Adam above!
          9) maybe you Caesar see
          9-10) I, runer needy, t’ allies thy dura love to score; the rune nor needed Alice (allies)…to score; pity error, Winner [cf. Waster], needle-eye Southy; honoring Ed, I tall “I’s” tied
        10-11) thy dura’ll Ovid O’s careen (carry in, carry not); aye Southy’d eerie lotus core note, wondering at Hebrew’s end
        10-14) lewd “O’s” core know, twinned ring eye, T. Thorpe, resent not the paste which works on leaves, “O’s,” short, numbered whores, and take, Tom, you black-john [cf. “printer”], th’ “O” repute, sire (poor but free), easy made t’ end beauty—but not Shakespeare ill. Keep her treasure. (Keep hard eraser!)
        11) Note one dear inched Hebrew’s end; …wan, dour ingot, the priest; T.T., hubris end, North pay
        11-12) in jet appears Antenor, Thebes, to eye; into North passed witch; our Thebes-twitch (Witch) works on leaves
        12) W.H., I see whore kissing Levi’s overt, new, umber, dour ass
        12-13) a son leaves, overt, numbered hours ended; leave Esau’s fort in Umbria dour, sandy, take T. (tea) home; suffered in Umbria dour Santa Kate [i.e., Catherine]; bared (bird, Bard) orison did ache Tommy
        13) how mobile Zion; mobile’s I own, poor but free; O, you Mab lazy own; I see York’s on Levi’s…whore
        12-14) Witch, whore, kiss, on loo see soft fart, numb, red whores, Anne did ache, Tommy, “O” black sighing, poor butt is rash
        13-14) End take: Tommy “O” blazing, poor butt, freeze he may; butts rash mated Anne
        14) Shemite [Semite] t’ Annie bowed, an oat still, like a peer to reassure; lick aye peer-trash, U [V, i.e., groin] real; ill caper treasure; stalky appear trees Ural (tree virile); bawdy knot stalky appear, très virile


          The downward emphatic acrostic code—TAM WAT T M ANN WAS—repeats in an insistent phonic form Q’s pervasively recurring joke about the obesity of Will’s wife (the mother of twins): “Damn weighty m’ Anne was!” Other decodings in the mix include wit aimed at Will’s known printing agent, Thomas Thorpe: e.g., “Tom weighty man was,” “Tom weighed minnows,” “2:00 a.m., weighty m’ hand was,” and “Tom Wyatt (...Waite, etc.) mean (ptomaine [i.e., corpse]) was.” “Damn Anne Hathaway, an anus” occurs as TAM W [=IN = Anne] AT-T-W [= upside-down M]A N NWAS.

          The reverse (upward) code—SAWNN A MT T AW M AT—suggests, e.g., “Son named Ham’et,” “Saw a name, Tommy T.,” “Swan [a rival theatre], aye empty, to Wm. aid,” “Swan I empty, Tommy. Tee!”“Swan [a tavern] eye, empty o’ mead,” “Swan—aye empty I, Wm., ate,” “Sue named Tommy T.,” “Sue, Anne, named Tommy T.,” “Sue, Annie, empty o’ mate,” “Saw [Saying] named Tommy T.,” and “Saw Annie, empty o’ m’ 8 [inches].”

           As an anagram, the downward code reads TWAS AMMNNAAWTT (suggesting “’Twas Hamnet”).

           The full down/up hairpin letterstring code suggests, “Tom., why ‘T.T.’ [Thorpe’s signature in Q’s frontmatter], minus a Wen [an archaic W], empty ‘Tom,’ a ‘T.’...”; “Damn weighty m’ Anne was on empty Tommy T.,” “Tom weighty man was, own [recognize] empty Tommy T.,” “Damn weighty man Nassau named t’ awe maid,” and “Damn weighty, m’ Anne noose saw; Anne, named, omit.”

         The up/down hairpin offers further options for a decoder.

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