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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 X, Runes 127-140: Texts and Comments 
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2004, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 130
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Rune 129
Third lines, Set X (Sonnets 127-140)

                         Rune 129

     (Third lines, Set X: Sonnets 127-140)

     But now is black, beauty’s successive heir,
     With thy sweet fingers when thou gently sway’st;
     Is perjured, murd’rous, bloody full of blame!
 4  If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun!
     For, well thou know’st, two, my dear doting heart,
     Have put on black, and loving mourners be.
     Is’t not enough to torture me alone?
 8  My self I’ll forfeit, so that other mine,
     More than enough, am I that vex thee still—
     And Will, thy soul knows, is admitted there.    
     They know what beauty is, see where it lies.
12 That she might think me some untutored youth,
     Wound me, not with thine eye, but with thy tongue,
     Lest sorrow lend me words, and words express.
     Glosses: 4) her = beauty’s...heir’s = black’s (see 1); 5) well suggests inkwell; two suggests eyes, Sonnets/Runes; heart puns on art; 10) admitted = acknowledged to be present; 11) They = Eyes (pun: Th’ eye), My selves, The public sonnets; 14) Lest (Q Least) puns on least, leased, and “leafed,” i.e., paginated, imprinted.

     129. Two Beauties

     Just now inky blackness, off-and-on the heir to beauty, is
     at hand as you, in a leisurely, gentlemanly fashion, finger your options in these mss.;
     the black beauty (if not the whole of what you delve into) is spurious, bloody, guilt-ridden.
  4 As sure as snow is white, the bosom of this “perverse mistress” is defiled!
     For, as you Well know—my dear, doting heart—two entities
     have dressed in inkiness here, appropriating darkness like loving mourners.
     Isn’t that enough to torture me, a single poet?
  8 I’ll give up my honest self, these runes, so that my other “mine” of mine, the visible sonnets,
     an adequate if also vexing ms., is what I become—
     a sphere in which people already acknowledge my presence.
     Eyes—mine and everybody’s—and the public texts, too, know what and where beauty is.
In order that beauty can go on regarding me as the ignorant youth I appear to be because of of all the “errors” in my public texts,
     speak ill of me, but go on looking at me favorably,
     so that I don’t ever acquire such rhetoric as real personal sorrow might inspire (and thus be revealed as fully literate).


          To recapitulate a moment: Sets X and XI in Q house the infamous Dark Lady or Perverse Mistress poems. Thus these sets add new challenges and a puzzling dominant “character” (often prefigured earlier) to Q’s implicit dramatic interrelationships among poet/persona, friend/auditor, and “mistress.” As students of Shakespeare know, this “mistress” partly parodies several centuries’ worth of idealized females whom Renaissance poets conventionally honored with poem cycles.

          Though some “real” Dark Lady may have existed, my own deduction is that she is essentially figurative, a conceit for his own torturous contrivances—for the Q lines and texts themselves and especially for the “peer-verse” Runes: The Mistress is, in short, both Q’s mss. and her Mysteries. Will’s puns about writing and printing typically conflate “ms(s).” and “Mistress.” Other concurrent coterie puns are “mystery sighs,” “ms. duress,” “ms. distress,” “ms. dress,” and “misty heiress.”

           By introducing a strangely intervening “female,” one purpose these two closing sets serve is to mask the homophile odor of the overt Sonnets, so unconventional for being love poems written mostly to a man. Winking innuendoes about some down-and-dirty “mistress” that Will and his “friend” share an interest in are well-known as ambiguous features of the Dark Lady poems.

           The antithesis of light and lyric beauty, Will’s Mistress is a creature of inky blackness whose “‘I’s” are nothing like the sun” (Sonnet 130.1): Printed “I’s” are straight and black, while the sun is round and bright (like an “O”).

           In addition to the “new” Mistress, Set X introduces the infamous Will-punning sonnets (Nos. 135-136), two namepun texts that cut across the 14 runes, initiating their playful sestets.

           In Rune 129 specifically, Will’s inky-black Sonnets and Runes are like Beauty and Her “dark” alter-ego—Her “heir” and “murderer.” These two figures, further, are analogs (and potential companions) for the poet’s “self” and his “other mine,” a dark place full of treasure—a “vexing” mine that, as the poet concludes, is “Will’s place” (8-10). The poet seems to prefer to avoid the real Beauty and argues, torturously, that he’s less likely to be paired off with her if his rhetoric remains “untutored” by “sorrow” and thus less mature (12-14). By favoring the poet with a sympathetic vision even while saying harsh things, the listening friend or player (2, 13) can advance the poet’s plan.

           Plays on printing include “Black [is now] beauty’s successive hair […cipher]” (1)—like a thin line of print. Swaying fingers” (see 2) suggest a hand moving from line to line. Puns on “well” (5, 10) link with “mighty th’ inky ms. o’ my untutored youth” (12), with such puns on “knot” as “eye fit [stanza] knotty (...naughty), two...” (7), and “Wound [spiraled, rounded] me knot-wit” (13); and with the plays “leaf’d,” “X-pressed” (i.e., acrostic-printed), and “sand(y) words” (14, suggesting erasure, punning on sans). The acrostic HIMM (6-9), punning on “hymn,” points to line 2 (suggesting playing an instrument) and to the (sexually suggestive) pun on “bad singing” in “wounding…with thy tongue” (13). (See Acrostic Wit, below.)

           Innuendo in 1-4 elicits bawdy images of public hair, dark nipples, sexual motion, and groping caresses. Such puns as “...f--ks see you here” (1) link with plays on wounds, torture, knowing, lying, mite, tongues, “Will” (10) as carnal desire, and “fore-well” (5) and “…her mine” (8) as pudendal metaphors.

           Other coterie puns include “tease, focus cipher witty” (1-2) and “dual, this old gnosis [OED 1703, special knowledge of spiritual mysteries, cf. gnostic 1585] admitted [i.e., conceded] th’ ear” (10). As a comic catalog of body parts, the rune houses “fore-feet” (8) and a nose (10).

           One directive joshes Thorpe, the T.T. of Q’s frontmatter, Will’s known printing agent and collaborator in effecting Q’s string of jot-and-tittle tricks: “Thomas old nose [i.e., smell (imper. v.)], eye sodomite editor, thick, naughty, bawdy, a sewer...” (10-11).

Sample Puns

          1) Butt; Bawdy nose be lazy (lacy), keep out aye; “I’s” be jack-beauties; a Sikh be odious; teases you see; But now eye subject: Bawdy ass f--ks five here; see cipher witty
          1-2) Harry W. eyed it; …witty is; see Southy, I rooted his wet ass; f--k’s favor you eyed
          2) Witty ass, witty ass injures W., Hen, the huge Anne t’ leave W. A. [I.] Shakespeare; wits injure swain; few eat ass in Jersey; huge end lies waste; thou, gent, life waste; end life, wife
          2-3) W., Hen., thou, genitally fused, I “speared”; wise despair I heard; half-way Shakespeare [ft, the name cipher] eye “speared,” immured (…I “spear” averred)
          3) O, you sibyl odd, ye solace be; Eye speared merd-rows, bloody fool, O’s be lame; merd-rows be lewd
          3-4) bloody philosophy lame is; amazing O be
          4) eye T. Wyatt in here; I asses know, bitty W.H., yet “Hen.” here; bare Shakespeare-ass, a red one; Why, I, too, hit (hid) Hen here; whiten Hebrew’s teaser dun; white whiten; à Meissen, up you hie, to wait (white); n’er be rest certain
          4-5) …sore well thou know’st; our dun furrow’ll thou know; dun, sorrel talk in O is t’ Tommy dirty
          5-6) Tommy—dear, doting, hard, half puta; my dirty ode injured halberd; redoubt, John, guard, halberd on, be Jack Handy
          6) Half puta, in black, Anne dull avenge, my urn or an arse be; aye see candy, loin; see candle, avenge my horn; O, nibble a Sikh, and lowing, mourn
          6-7) be I (by, buy) Shakespeare, knot ye know, two torture m’ awl wan; my horn-recipe eye, fitting odd enough to torture me; O, you earn arse-beef t’ gnaw
          7-8) jetted ordure-meal wan may feel silly, forced, fetid, oather mine; all owe Nemesis [l = I] ill
          8-9) Missile see, ill, sore, Southy taught her, m’ Annie, more than enough, a mighty Hat. vexed he still (his till); sotted o’ the Roman, Mauritania gamy eyed Hath’way; that vexed thief t’ ill; my enamored Hen know
          8-10) Hermione, my whore, thin enough, emitted waxed heft ill and dual
          9) Ham’et Hat vexed; eye the two exits; to exit, hiss
          9-10) ill and dual, this old, aching O assist; I land—Will, laddie’s old leek; gnome eye that vex th’ fiddling; island wilty heavily ken; island will ladies o’ Lincoln owe
        10) licking O’s, eye sodomite editor; dual, this O you lick (like), an oasis, Adam eye, T.T., editor; Adam eyed adder (Adair); Anne, Will; Anne dual, thy foul nose is admitted t’ Harry; …eye sad, mitted [i.e., gloved], hairy; we seized empty editor
        10-11) Harry the yak gnawed; the retinue had bawdy asses
        11) naughty, bawdy, is sewer; Th’ eye (“I”) naughty, bawdy is, sewery; see W., Harry, idle, yes; fury idle is
        11-12) see, W., Harry, Italy, state fame I jet
        12) mighty th’ ink-ms., homme; windy; omen tutored youth; That ass (The tiff) imaged th’ ink, my foam-event; O minted hardy youth; th’ Inca may (so mean to you) dirty ode
        13) Wound [up is] my knot witty, nigh, beauty witty, too; O, you in Damon (demon) owed whited hiney, butt, with thy tongue. [The line jokes about oral sex.]
        13-14) eye titty t’ own, jealous ’tis; hung least; bawdy, thy tongue laced furrow (left sorrow)
        14) Leased, Leaf’d furrow’ll end, mew hoards; Anne, Dieu or Dis express; Laugh,’tis our Roland; Roland, mew hoards; hoards endured sex; endured sex Paris (Percy); sex peers see

Acrostic Wit

          The emphatic downward acrostic codeline—B WIIF HIMM ATT WL—suggests, e.g., “Bewife him at will,” “Be wife high, mate well,” “Be wife-hymn my titty-well,” “Boy I fame at will,” “Boy, femme—eye T.T., Will,” “Bewhiff Ham[n]et, Will,” “Bewhiff Ham[l]et well,” “Be Will [I = L] femme, mate, tool,” “Be Will of him (...hymn; ...Ham) a tool,” “Be wife, Ham’et, Will,” “8, whiff Ham’et tool,” and “8 whiff him at will,”

          The upward (reverse) code—LWTT AMM IH F IIW B—houses potentialities on the order of these sample readings : “Ludim [an African people (Biblical)] may few be,” “Lewd am I, if you be,” “Lute t’ Ham[net] I have to [II = 2 = TWO] be,” “Lewd ham [Ham] I have to wipe [whip],” “Lewd hommes [F=S] you be,” “Loo, Tom I have to wipe,” “Lewd May few be,” and “Laud May, eye few bee[with no ‘s’].”

           Such encodings as “Loud [ironic] aye May, Friday [=F], the 12th [=IIVV], be” are also possible; IIVV might mean 8 (10 - 2), 10 (1 + 4 + 5), or 12 (2 + 5 + 5).

           The up/down hairpin suggests, e.g., “Laud Ham aye if you bewhiff Ham at all,” “Ludim eye few. Wait (Wyatt…): Bewhiff Ham at will,” and “Lewd am I if I whip Wife H. Eye mate well (...Eye my tool).”

           The down/up hairpin suggests other variant “messages.” As usual, the acrostic code is calculated to provoke indeterminate wit.

Proceed to Rune 130
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