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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 V, Runes 57-70: Texts and Comments 
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

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Rune 70
Fourteenth lines, Set V (Sonnets 57-70)

                       Rune 70

     (Fourteenth lines, Set V: Sonnets 57-70)

     Though you do anything, he thinks no ill;
     Not blame, your pleasure—be it ill or well.
     To subjects, worse have given admiring praise,
 4  Praising thy worth despite his cruel hand
     From me far off, with others all too near,
     Painting my age with beauty of thy days.
     And they shall live (and he in them still green)
 8  But weep to have that which it fears to lose.
     That in black ink—my love—may still shine bright.
     Save that to die, I leave my love alone
     In days long since, before these last so bad,
12 To show false art what beauty was of yore.
     The folly’s this, that thou dost common grow;
     Then thou alone, kingdoms of hearts shouldst owe.
     Glosses: 3) To subjects puns on “Two subjects,” i.e., Runes/Sonnets (see “ill or well” in 2); 4) his = thy worth’s (ironic); 6) my age = my mature years, this era; 8) to have puns on “to halve,” suggesting the bifurcation of Sonnets/Runes; it = my age (see 6); 10) Save that to die puns on “Southy toad eye,” suggesting Southampton, Will’s known patron; I leave may mean “I write down on leaves”; 14) owe = own.

     70. What Beauty Was of Yore

     Whatever you do, one man thinks no ill of you;
     your choices of pursuits, bad or good, are to him beyond reproach.
     Worse writers have addressed their verse subjects with praise and admiration,
  4 praising your worthiness despite its merciless arm—
     which is far away from me, but all too intimate with others—
     painting this great era with the beauty of your days.
     Those days shall live, the man in their midst still fresh,
  8 but now the age cries to have what it also fears to lose.
     That man, my love, indelibly inscribed, may still shine bright.
     Right up until my death, I’ll “beleave” my book with this unique love that once existed
     in days long past, before these very bad recent ones,
12 to show up spurious art with real beauty from another time.
     The foolish part—from my angle—is that you thus become familiar;
     then you (rather than I) may command the hearts of many subjects.


          Read soberly, this contemplative lyric vows Will’s devotion to his imperfect muse. Its final conceit envisions some future time (like our own) when the Q texts isolate that friend as an antique beauty, a sovereign in all our thoughts. A loyal subject of his King of Hearts, Will implies that the friend is kingly, a trait that is both admired and feared. The implication of kingliness lies in such phrasing as “your pleasure,” “subjects,” “admiring praise,” “Praising thy worth,” “cruel hand,” “far off,” “shine bright,” “alone,” “thou alone,” “thou dost common grow” (suggesting “you are now uncommon”), and “kingdoms of hearts shouldst owe [acknowledge].” A pun on “noll” as “crown of the head” (1) is active.

          One punning joke in “subjects” (3) is that the poet’s “subject” is also a sovereign.

           The real “subject,” as usual, is Will—the modest “he” of line 1—who establishes his own role as court artist in such key words as “praise,” “painting,” “beauty,” “black ink,” and “art,” and in puns including “iller [ink]well” (2) and “to die, I leave” (10), punning “to engrave, I inscribe” (10). Plays on “leave” (7, 10) as “write on leaves” merge with organic diction including “green” (7) and “thou dost common grow” (13). The Q pages are like a “kingdom of hearts” (14) partly because real “leaves” (cf. L. folium, leaf) are heart-shaped. The punning coinage “foliest” (13, as folye is t...) suggests “maker of folios.” “Hearts” puns routinely on “arts.” (“Kingdom o’ Farts” is concurrent.)

           Parallel connectives—e.g., “my love,” “my love alone,” and “thou alone” (9, 10, 14)—help weave the textual fabric, as do the end rhymes ill/well (1-2), praise/days (3, 6, reversing rhymes in Rune 69), and grow/owe (13-14).

           Throughout, the reader/player struggles with typically ambiguous pronouns and substantives: “he” (1); “worse” (3, implying bad poets); ”his” (4, maybe “thy worth’s”); “others” (5); “they” (7, maybe “thy days”); “he” (7, maybe the friend’s “worth” again); “it” (8, maybe “my age”); “my love” (9); and “these last so bad” (11, either “days” in the poet’s life or our own).

           Typically, too, syntactic ambiguity allows unflattering terms such as “subjects worse,” “green,” and “common” to denigrate the muse in sideswipe blows, diametrically contradicting the ostensible drift of the text toward praising the muse. Bawdry also intrudes to undercut seriousness. The heart shape of the glans may have helped trigger the “hearts/hards” conceit.

           Amid the usual welter of personal and topical wit, the last line embeds a potential family-focused pun alluding to Sue and John Hall, Will’s daughter and son-in-law:,“Then t’ Hall wan kingdoms of hearts S. Hall dost owe.” Line 3 puns “Two subjects were Sue, John, admiring proof [...admiring Paris]” and “Two subjects, John [w = IN] or Sue, given admiring praise.”

           Sacrilege occurs in the odd opening parentheses: “Thou Judean, jetting (...yet hang).” “What Beauty was of yore” (12) and “kingdoms of hearts” (14) hint at Biblical parallels.

           The usual ambiguous hints about the identify of the auditor/muse persist. Possible candidates include Southy (the third Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley, Will’s only known patron); John Hall; Thomas Thorpe, Will’s printing agent, the “T.T.” of Q’s frontmatter; and even Hamnet, Will’s son, the twin who died in 1596. (In Q, no one possibility rules out any other.) Lines 7-8 may pun on “Ham S.”: “Eying [Aye in...] death, eisell [vinegar, bitterness, as in Sonnet 111.10] livened hint [‘something that may be laid hold of’ (OED)]: Ham[net?] S. [is s]till green beauty [...jeering, bawdy; ...body], wee pet o’ Hath—Hath’way....”

           Lines 3-4 may pun about Huchown (Hugh-John?), a lost contemporary of Chaucer’s once much discussed (even into the 20th century) as a major writer with an ambiguously specified canon that perhaps included medieval romances based on Trojan War materials: “Too, subject is war, see Hugh-John admiring Paris. / Paris, in jet hue, earth despites [i.e. despises].”

           One potential pun seems to joke about how the poet’s wife will perceive the wit about his patron (Southy) and printing agent (Thorpe): “T’ Hat.[i.e., Hathaway], in black ink, my love [mellow], may still shine buried [abridged] / Southy, T.T., odd, yellow, mellow, all wan” (9-10). One suggestion here is that “black ink,” not “Hat.,” is the poet’s “love.” Another is that Anne herself is not too “bright.” A better pun on “Hathaway” occurs (as hath tho u [= v]) in 13, where typically wife-berating wit implies that she was fat: “The fullest thighs t’ Hathaway do stick....”

Sample Puns

          1) Thou Jew, duenna; thing [phallic]; Hath., John, kiss, know ill; O, you Judah (Judy) eye, knight, in jet; neath undulating kiss, know ill; snow ill; thou God own yet in jet; Thou Giotto eye nigh
          1-2) Hath. inks no ill knot (Noel naughty); jetting keys Noeling ode
          2) Knot be lay, mere pleasure—be it ill or well; beat “I,” lower “well”; blame Europe; leisure; play if you’re Bede, ill or well
          2-3) eye mere play of your beetle, laurel, too; Betty, ill or well, two subjects were: ass, Eve
          3) Two subjects were Sue, John; you, biased, swore; see half-Jew in odd mire (…in A.D.); Ed., my ring press [suggesting “round print” or “printed round/rune”]; see Hugh-John, admiring peer (aye dimmer in jabber); our Seine admiring peer eyes
          3-4) aid my ring, peer, eye vapor, ice in jet; Peer ass inched high, “Y” wore; spy this serial hand
          4-5) Peer, aye I sing t’ Hugh or Thetis, bigot’s cruel hand defer; Israel ends Rome, miseries widowed her; oaf widowed her, sultan eerie;
          4-6) that “I” is piteous, cruel end, Fair homme, Sir of Wit, oather’s awl too near, panting, my aguèd beauty, oft hideous, endeth (in death)
          5-6) oathers’ altar (alto) near, painting (panting) Magi
          6-7) Anne, t’ taste olive Andean, them still green
          6-8) Magi eyed beau, tasty descent t’ heavily Andean theme, still green (…Andean Thames, t’ ill, green beauty)
          7) Andes holy (wholly) wend (wind) in them; anthem is still agreeing          
          7-8) Ham. Shakespeare, ill, green, but wee pet; Andean hymn is t’ ill Greene but weepy, twatted witch; I differ
          8) Bawdy we betouted, which I desire, ass, to love; But weepèd Ovid at witchèd ass ears to lose (love)
          8-9) witch, eye disarray, stylus that in black ink may low, misty, ill, shine bright; Ovid hating, blacken camel of my still
          9) T’ Hat., in black ink, my loamy Shakespeare ill find buried
          9-10) my still ass-hiney brayed “Southy, T.T.,” audial
        10) Southy toady (today) I leave my love-awl wan; Sue; Hat.; Hall; dial; Eve
        10-11) ill, eye female oval, Onan dies; today I leave malevolent ass lowing sense
        11) Andes long sense before thee, see lofty eyes up; Indies; long sin see before; fence; thief laughed; forbade
        11-12) Sue bade two shovels (cf. “bid…spades”), her twat bawdy was afore; W.H., a tub [i.e., ship?] ought you aye suffer
        12) Tough, useless art…; you Saul see, or twat bawdy
        12-14) wight, be you t’ oasis, your heady solace this, that thou Dos-Tankhamen [a play on Two-tankhamen?] garret into hovel wan, kingdom suffered, ass, fool, does, too
        13) Th’ solaced, hissed Hathaway; dust see, omen grow
        13-14) row, then, t’ Avalon
        14) dust owe; shared is shoal, deft tow

Acrostic Wit

          The downward (and most visibly emphatic) acrostic codeline—(N TP F PAB T SIT TT[T]—suggests such readings as these: “See in type if babe decide, T.T. [= Thomas Thorpe, Will’s printing agent],” “In type fib [i.e., a trivial falsehood] attested [B=8] T.T.,” “Sin, type of pap [i.e., nipple, infant food] t’ sate T.T.,” “Sin, type of babe, decided T.T.,” and “Seen, tip of pap to sight, titties.”

          Here the initial lefthand parenthesis mark functions conventionally, I think, as “I,” L,” and/or “C”—with the last meaning first to come to mind.

          The upward reverse of this same codeline—TTTISTBAPFPTN([T?]—suggests, e.g., these possibilities: “Titty taste, pap of patency,” “T.T., ’tis ‘To Be,’ a puff, pittance (…P.S. put in set),” “…baby vapid ends,” “T.T. is tied up [B=8] of th’ [p=th] tense (’tis babe of petting, see it?),” “T.T., taste pap of pity in sea...,”and “...’tis babe of petting, see it?”

          As always, the codestring TT suggests plays on “teat” and its diminutive form, titty or tiddy—with these “meanings” overlaid on Thomas Thorpe’s title-page initials. The confluence here of codestrings suggesting “taste” (TIST), “titty” (TT, T TI), “baby” (BA P)and “pap” (PAB) suggests the likelihood of authorized manipulation in the directions of breast-wit.

      End of Set V
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