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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        

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Rune 126
Fourteenth lines, Set IX (Sonnets 113-126)

                         Rune 126

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

     My most true mind thus maketh mine untrue,
     That mine eye loves it, and doth first begin
     To give full growth to that which still doth grow:
I never writ, nor no man ever loved
     The constancy and virtue of your love.
     Drugs poison him that so fell sick of you,
     And gain by ill’s thrice more; then I have spent
 8  Mine ransoms—yours—and yours must ransom me.
     All men are bad; and, in their badness, reign
     Were to import forgetfulness in me.
     I will be true despite thy scythe. And thee?
12 Which dye for goodness? Who half-lived for crime
     When most impeached stands least in thy control.
     (                                                                           )
     Glosses: 1) mine = my (purely physical) mind (with a mind/mine pun, and with mine punning on m’ Anne, m’ Annie); 2) it suggests my...mind/mine, full growth (see 3); and puns on Anne; 4) loved (Q loued) puns on lowed (bellowed), allowed (admitted); 6) him puns on hymn; 7) gain by ill [i]s thrice more = gain is tripled by ill; 9) their puns on “th’ air”; reign = sway (of an abstract thing), punning on rain, “our Anne”; 11) I will puns, “I, Will,” etc., with nearby plays on Anne, Witch (11-12); 12) half-lived for crime puns “he slavèd for his rhyme,” “...force rhyme,” and “half-lewd sorcery hymn”; 13) stands leasts puns “Shakespeare [= st, the name cipher] end sliced” (alluding to the truncated end of Sonnet 126), and also on “... leased,” “...leafed”; 13-14) the pun in control on “cunt-roll” may be key to the pictographic last line, whose whiteness, a tabula rasa, may also be the “witch dye for goodness” (see 12). Perhaps the pictograph shows a “wen moist” (see 13), i.e., a damp swelling. One pun in 14 is “Wen moist, impeached, is t’ end: sliced end, thy cunt-roll.” This play suggests that Will may mean the pictograph to depict a pudendum, perhaps fat or gaping or sliced in half.

     126. What I Never Writ

     My highest reason—your rational spirit—naturally makes my limited mind seem faulty,
     preoccupying my vision, which makes a start
     at complete creation of something that is still growing.
  4 I have never captured in my writing (and no man in love has ever experienced)
     the constant virtue of your affection.
     One afflicted with loving you is poisoned by soporific agents,
     an illness effecting triple gains; thus I have paid
  8 my price—for you—and you must return the favor and gain my release.
     Given that all men are bad, the immaterial sway of your love
     would bring me forgetfulness.
     I, Will, will remain true despite the way you lay me low. And you?
12 What color is perfection? One (like this Rune-writer) who has misdirected half his efforts
      stands least under your influence when he is charged most directly with his deviancy.
     [Here where I “never writ” you may imagine seeing a pictographic opening implying various options: e.g., room for further growth; or evidence of my own “forgetfulness” and aberrant tendencies; or a ready sample of pure white, the “dye for goodness”; or even, maybe—as suggested immediately above in the mention of something wicked “standing in your control”—your “cunt-roll,” perhaps “leafed,” not unlike a cigarro.]


          In Will’s customarily tongue-in-cheek way, Rune 126 seems to be built partly on a head-and-heart dichotomy, with “my most true mind” (1) denoting Will’s “highest” knowledge—his love for the friend, who is, obliquely, Reason. Contrastively, Will himself is like Passion, lovesick and in error, while the corrective, “rational” muse stands for boundless “constancy and virtue” (4-5) and so can “ransom” (8) the poet, can “reign” over him (9), and can “control” him (14).

           Paradoxically, the friend’s domination also brings soporific sickness (7) and forgetfulness (10) while leaving Will without resources (7-8) and wielding a (suggestively phallic) scythe (11), an emblem of temporal limitation. As idealized “goodness” remote from badness, the unnamed muse is impossible for the poet to paint (12-13). (See comments below about how the “empty” closing line suggests the poet’s effort to “render” the ineffable.)

           In other senses, the poem comments on the Q project itself, with the more circumspect Sonnets analogous to Reason and the licentious Runes, to Passion. The Sonnets/Runes project is “that which still doth grow” (3), yet it fails to capture the truth (1, 4-5) even though “I, Will, be true” (11). Will has “half-lived for crime [punningly ‘…for his rhyme’)” (12) because half of his energies as writer have gone toward the Runes, which are deceptive and thus impeachable. Ironically, the Runes are in Q’s scheme necessarily unrhymed except coincidentally or in isolated contrived instances. (Here, such puns as “...fore, see rhyme” and “...half ludus, hoarse rhyme” [12] point to rhymes that Will has contrived here: e.g., 1 and 6; 3 and 5, and 8 and 10-11.)

           Contrastive word-clusters link things that are “true” (see 1, 11)—e.g., “constancy,” “virtue,” “import [i.e., meaning],” “goodness,” “control”—and things that are “untrue” (1)—e.g., “poison,” “sick,” “ill,” “spent,” “bad,” “badness,” “forgetfulness,” “scythe,” “crime,” and “impeached.” As paired puns on “erect / slanted,” the terms “True / untrue” underscore the fact that the printed text shows an italicized or slanted pair of end-ciphers.

           As in Rune 125, the final “empty” line here results from the riddlic close of visible Sonnet 126, which ends with two blank lines, each enclosed by italicized parentheses. Like many other typographic details in Q, these surely must have resulted from Will’s jot-and-tittle collaboration with Thomas Thorpe—Will’s known printing agent, the “T.T.” who signed Q’s cryptic, much-debated dedication. The mea culpa line-pun here “Where two [suggest] forgetfulness in me” (Rune 126.10) alludes to both of the empty lines that close Sonnet 126.

           We can see now that these two lines are not oversights but are, rather, part of the authorized plan of strained wit in Q. As a pictograph, the “empty” closing line here in Rune 126 has numerous ambiguous “meanings” including “country” bawdy of the sort that’s well known in Hamlet. In context, for example, the closing line may be a vacant symbol and “statement” of what has yet to grow (3); of what is “never writ nor…loved [‘lowed,’ i.e., ‘sounded’]” (4); and of the “white dye [standing] for goodness” (12). “Impeached” (13)—alluding to “flaw” (L., Fr.)—points to Will’s “error.” In other senses, the paired parentheses can be read as ciphers for “thy scythe, and thee” (11), for a “leaf’d [i.e., paginated, inscribed]…cunt-roll [cunt or hole]” (13), and so on. “This entre owls” (a pun in 13-14) line—in effect “hooted” but unspoken—is in truth a fruitful “mine” (see 1) from which a reader/player can proceed to dig up all kinds of trivial and “untrue” (i.e., unreliable) treasure.

           Surely Will’s only known patron—Henry Wriothesley, earl of Southampton—was in some sense or other (and at least during the 1590s stages of the composition of Q) one version of the unnamed muse/friend whom the poems acknowledge and taunt. Thus the curved “renderings” in visible Sonnet 126 may refer to Southampton’s mustache—also “cheeks” in one sense—as well as to “rendered” (i.e., depicted, divided) buttocks. (Whether Will’s only known patron looked better with a mustache or without was a hot topic during the 1590s in courtly circles. In 1592, a Latin poem by John Sanford had praised Southy’s beauty “although his mouth scarcely yet blooms with tender down” [qtd. G.P.V.Akrigg].) Here in Rune 126, “em-peached” (13) links with the pun “Two [empty lines] give full growth to that which still doth grow” (3). “W., Hen., my host [of poems] impeached...” (13) is a representative pun, a jibe aimed at Southy.

           Overlaid puns in lines 10-11 play on the names of two “Toms” important to Will—Thomas Thorpe, his printing agent, and Sir Thomas Wyatt, his sonnet-writing predecessor: e.g., “Were Tom Thort [sic, with p = th] forgetful, a nice enemy, / I, Will, be true despite this...,” “...despite Thos. Wyatt and thee,” and “...Thos. Wyatt eye in ditty.”

           Playfully, denigrating “medical” references to a man being “poisoned by you” (6), to “thy scythe” (see 11), and to one who “half-lived for serum” (in 12; OED 1672, “watery fluid,” from L.) also suggest Dr. John Hall, Will’s son-in-law the Stratford physician, as another intended auditor and butt of Will’s wit—though these jokes may also work as phallic (and homoerotic) wit poking fun at any randy male auditor. “Drugs poison Ham[n]et; Hat[haway] so fell sick o’ Sue—Anne, gay Anne, by ill’s thrice more..” (6-7) may be a throwaway “family pun” that Hall could have detected and laughed at. Part of the wit is about the poet’s wife’s obesity.

Sample Puns

           1) Mime of T.T. remanded us, mocked hymn in even; T.T., rue mandate; oft Roman did use my catamenia [menstrual discharge]; th’ master you minded; use my cat (Kate); rumen did you stomach, Tommy
           1-2) eye nun t’ rue that menial office; noon; m’ Annie you intruded, m’ Annie loves it; m’ Anne, dead huss, make [mate]; make the man, even, true, that mine “I” love, Southy
           2) nigh lucid end do th’ heifers tup again
           2-3) odes eye, our fit beacon talks
           2-4) Anne, Dido—the first, Big Anne (…which still doth grow) I never writ…; no mineral owed; Th. T., O, th’ Hat-witch still doth grow
           3) To Jews you’ll Jaroah-thought attach; that oathed witch’s till doth grow; G-row
           3-4) tilled o’ th’ groin, you erred
           4) In your written O, our gnome Anne ever loved; eye tenor, know manner lewd; omen you, earl, owed; no mineral, Ovid
           4-5) Eve reloadeth a cunt’s tan center t’ use yearly; The sun’s tan cinder; loud, thick, enough dancing diverts, you reel; if dancing diverts you, hosier, love th’ rug (our hug)
           5) weird, worse, your loo; Sandford [cf. Akrigg 35-36] was your lauder
           5-6) you reel of drugs; Sandford views your loved rug’s [suggesting “moustache’s”] poise
           5-7) The cunt’s t’ Anne sighing dirty vice, your lewd Row Gs poison hymn that’s awful
           6) poison hymn t’ Hat. is O; foe’s hells I seek; eye sick a few; that fossil’s Isaac; Drugs poison Hamnet, Hat., Sue fell sick
           6-7) I seek a few eying Dagon
           7) handy cannibal (Hannibal) is there, evermore thin
           7-8) half-spent Tom eye near Anne; moor th’ knave has penned mine errands
           8) Hymn in Iran saw Monsieur Sandy (Sanders); dour ass muffed our Anne is; Mine or Anne’s foam (sum) is yours; M’ Annie rune foams, yours endures, muffed our Anne foamy
           8-9) elementary be A.D.; …be a dandy nadir; foamy meal, men eye rabid; Monsieur S. endures hymn of trance; drain foamy male-men—aye our habit
           8-10) some mail men are battening; hairy body in Assyrian weir (word, weird)
           9) Alum in a rabbit eye; All men eye Rabbett indent here; eye rapid indenture;…and into air be Ed, an ass; Awl-men I ribbed; aye ribbed Anne dined here
           9-10) t’ Harry, “batten” is foreign word; there be a tennis rack new; “baton”; bad enough our Annie were; if foreign were Edo—eye my port soggy; weir; an ass-rain worried homme poured; rapid, handy, into her bad Nazarene, weird homme, poured forgetfulness; bad, an ass, Regan were, Tom; eye Dennis, rage inert; an Asser I gain, weird homme
         10) Weird “O”…; forget sullen ass, enemy
         10-11) you lines see, eying mule-bed rude
         11) Eye Willobie true (t’ rue); Dis, pity Thomas; bitter Jude I spied, Thos. Wyatt ended he
         11-12) pity Thos. Wyatt, handy to you; pity thy scythe and Dido, Hecate’s whore, goad; scythe ended huge, deaf whore; indict huge, deaf whore goading a suave, lewd f--ker
         12) W.H.-“I” cheats whore; W.H., I chide aye; forked Anne S.,Witch, die for (’fore) God, an ass who half-lived for crime; hoof livid; leaf’d, lewd; our God in a soul eye; eye shitty, forked niece, W.H., oval, eye ewe, divorce her
         12-13) divorcer I mew in muffed hymn; in Sue-hovel ivied, sorcery may wane; foresee wry, mewn, moist “I,” m’ page, ’tis tanned, slays ten (this entre owls)
         12-14) see rim, W. H., enema's tempest hits tanned slave t’ end his entrails
         13) eye m’ paged fit [i.e., stanza] and sell Easton (sail east on) this; paged, fit ancille eased into his entrails; Shakespeare, Anne dies, left in thy control; join thigh, cunt-roll; leaf’d
         13-14) left in his underhole is [the scatological pictograph “)” ] 14 [pictographic puns: see paraphrased text, Comments, and Acrostic Wit, above]

Acrostic Wit

          The emphatic downward codeline—M TT ITD A MAWIWW( suggests, e.g., “Empty titty I mawl (...eye today, m ‘O’ see),” “Mighty, th’ Dam awes,” “Hymn, T.T., edit, I amuse (...aye amuse),” “Him, T.T., I today mawl,” “M’ T.T., edit a.m. hawk (...a mock; ...amuck),” “M’ T.T. ‘I’d’ [i.e., ‘phallus’d’], I mock,” “Empty, t’ edit, amuse,” “M’ T.T. eyed a muse [...hammock],” and/or “Hymn T.T., ‘I’d,’ amuck.”

          The upward (reverse) codeline— (  WWIWAM AD TI TT M—can be read in such ways as these: “See Wm. added item [cf. the empty, ‘added’ line],” “...a dead item,” “See Wm.’d t’ T.T. hymn,” “Sue ‘Wm.’ (...whim) added t’ hymn,” “Swim aided Tom (...add ‘tide,’ Tom),” “See why Wm. edited hymn,” “Sue, Wm., aided Tom, ” “Sue, you eye mad T.T., Tom,” “See you (Sue) highway made t’ Adam,” “Swami did aid hymn,” “Swami diadem,” “Quem ad Titium [a Roman tribe]?” and/or “C+VV+VV+I+V [= 126, the rune number], vomited item.”

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