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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 131
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Rune 130
Fourth lines, Set X (Sonnets 127-140)

                          Rune 130

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

     And, Beauty, slandered with a bastard shame,
     The wiry concord that mine ear confounds,
     Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust!
 4  (If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head)—
     Thou art the fairest and most precious jewel,
     Looking with pretty ruth upon my pain;
     But slave to slav’ry my sweet’st friend must be.
 8  Thou wilt? Restore to be my comfort still,
     To thy sweet Will making addition thus.
     Thus far, for love, my lovesuit sweet fulfill;
     Yet what the best is, take the worst to be.
12 Unlearnèd in the world’s false subtleties,
     Use power with power, and slay me not by art,
     The manner of my pity-wanting pain.
     Glosses: 2) wiry concord = the “string music” of these lines; 5) Thou (ambig.) = You, my friend (see 7), Beauty (see 1), art (see 13); 6) ruth = compassion (see pity in 14); 8) puns: You wilt...; rest oar (phallic); whore; rest “O” red...; 9) Will puns on sexual desire; addition puns on numbers, suggesting the add-on Runes, with “numbers” a Renaissance term for metrics, making the poet an “adder.”

     130. Slay Me Not by Art

     Now, my handsome friend, even though your reputation is defamed by these verses—
     this confusing cacophony of “string music” now assaulting my ears,
     a wild, immoderate “ms.” lacking art, torturous, unreliable in her message,
  4 with inky filaments jetting out from her head (or maidenhead) like some Medusa—
     my friend, you’re still my “fairest and most precious jewel,”
     observing my torture with appealing compassion.
     Necessarily, a “sweetest friend” can’t escape being snarled in my own enslavement to this “ms.”
  8 Does hearing that make you go limp? Stiffen yourself, my friend, and thereby comfort me,
     enhancing the “numbers” that your dear Will is generating here by injecting that other, measurable thing, that fulfilling “addition” that you know I have in mind.
     To that extent, for love’s sake, consummate in the sweetest way the lovesuit that these verses undertake,
     construing the best of my efforts here (and of what we’ve shared) as the worst that will ever be between us.
12 Without artifice or subtlety,
     ravish me. In your execution, forego nuance. Don’t aim to impress me with overlays or indirection.
     Those are the modes of my own pitiful struggle here in this perverse enterprise.


          The implied dramatic situation in Rune 130 is a typically obscure triangle, and—as usual for a reader/player—deducing it is a riddlic exercise compounded by ambiguities in syntax, diction, and grammatical point of view. In rethinking this piece and redrafting these comments through several stages, my own conclusions (and the forms I’ve settled on for the edited text and paraphrase, above) have shifted decisively.

           Most likely, I now think, Will addresses his usual unnamed (male) friend as Beauty, with the whole Q project (a “ms.,” Will’s “Mysteries”) an embarrassing “bastard” offspring. But maybe Will is the “father,” the public Sonnets (i.e., Beauty) the “mother,” and the squawking Runes a Medusa-like “bastard addition” (1-2, 9). Maybe Will addresses the public Sonnets as Beauty, who has a perverse bastard twin, the Runes. Or maybe the poet speaks to any reader who is observing his “torture” (see 6) and, in trying to slash a way through this Gordian knot (with the pun “not” [3]), shares Will’s own frustrating “enslavement” to the Q texts (7).

           Because “sweet” (see 7, 9, 10) always puns in Q on “Swede,” apparently a recurring epithet for T.T. (Will’s known printing agent, Thomas Thorpe), the whole poem may be a private joke aimed at Q’s printer.

           The initial lines suggest not only Medusa but also Eve, “slandered” by a “wiry,” sneaky snake.

           In any case, the wit is about the ongoing Q project. As usual Will, with his “adder’s sense/sins” (see Sonnet 112.10), links wires, black lines, snakes, and “addition”—a coinage for “snake’s work” that plays on “numbers” and thus (in Renaissance parlance) on “metrics.” Will’s punning mind would have linked “snake” with its typographical twin, “Shake....” As an “adder,” Will “adds” confusing lines (see 2) as he creates Q. Since the Runes “slander” Beauty, an emblem of the visible Sonnets, “ Art” (see 13) makes a kind of figurative sense. “Wiry concord” (2) puns on a “linkage of inky lines”; and “making addition” (9) implies “adding lines.” Preoccupied with his “art” (5, 13) and its “rude” obverse, the poet links diction about pain, bondage, pity, and restoration as figures for various features of the Runes.

           Reading the text for puns and bawdy wit also helps to decipher it. The poem seems to suggest “ruthlessly” that the “slandered Beauty” may be the whole Q project, with the “saving” auditor—the poet’s primary but unnamed listener—his usual (male) muse, from whom the poet solicits “artless” ravishment, with puns on phallic bondage: e.g., “Thou wilt! Restore to beamy comfort, ass till, / To thy sweet Will making [i.e., mating] addition thus” (8-9). Such homophile bawdry begins early, since the black-haired “beauty” in 1-2 may be a threatening phallus—a “wiry concord” that “confounds [a pudendal pun] mine ear [a common pudendal pun in the Renaissance].” Concurrent puns in confounds include “cunt-sounds,” “countess wounds,” and “cunt of hounds.”

           The lines reek of suggestive plays including “head,” “moist…jewel,” “pain,” “muffed” (7), “Will” (routinely, “sex drive” and a namepun) and “wilt” (as “go limp”), “making addition” (suggesting getting bigger, adding inches), “fulfill my lovesuit (punning ‘…as you eat’),” and “dying.” Puns in 14 alone include “The man nears” (“...arose,” “...errs,” “...rough”), “eros,” “my pit, A-1,” “I want inch-pain,” and “[phallic] ‘I,’ wand, inch, bane.”The “man ner” (punning on “man near,” “man in her,” “man-err”) of the poet’s “pitty [Q pittie], wanting pain”—of his “holey” desire (14)—seems indeed to be a man who might execute the action that Will invites. Thus the whole poem seems an invitation to hard-driving sex.

           Alternately, one who hears “Anne, beauty (...body) slandered with a bastard fame” may read line 3 as vitriolic wife-disparagement and lines 9-10 as “Two, thy sweet Will making [mating] th’ Huss/y.”

           One pattern of imagery, focusing on maintenance or enlargement, comprises “grow” / “restore” / “mak[e] addition” / “fulfill” / “slay…not.” A mostly “clean” pun-cluster about fabric includes “wiry concord” (2), suggesting “threaded harmony”; “lovesuit,” “worsted,” “subtle-ties,” and “m[y] knot” (10-13); “Beauty’s laundered” (1); and “rude crewel knot tawdry fits Harry S. (...hairy ass)” (3). (“Harry S.” encodes Henry, earl of Southampton, Will’s only known patron.)

           Wrenched accents in 3 and 7 indeed “confound many an ear” (see 2), while lexical repetitions and echoes lace the poem.

           As usual, Q’s crafty lines are also letterstring codes calculated to convey many hidden meanings: e.g., “End be oddest, laundered wit, a base turd famed...” (1-2); “Anne débuted, Eisell [i.e., Vinegar] Anne, dirty, with a bastard (S., Ham’[n]et) heavy” (1-2); “The very consort Hat., m’ Annie, reckon: Font [etc.] is sage, extra-mirrored...” (1-3); “Aye, fair ass, beware: subtle, icy, queer is G-row [i.e., line 7]. Honor it!” (4); “T’ Howard [guardian of Henry Southampton], he’s ‘Harry S.’...” (5-6); and “Litotes [i.e., understatement] witty will make John [i.e., Dr. John Hall, Will’s son-in-law] giddy, jaundiced...” (8-9).

           Similarly, the sestet (i.e., 9-14) encodes these possibilities: “Th’ worst to banal ear neighed I” (10-11); “Sweaty fool, silly Anne [= et] What-the-beast, eye, staked...” (10-11); “To be venal, a rune, Ed. [i.e., Thomas Thorpe, Will’s printing agent and thus an entrepreneurial ‘editor’], endure, lead’s false subtleties use; poor wit, poor end, fit [i.e., stanza] eye, m’ knot buy, hearty man. Errors may be eyed, aye wan t’ eye, in Japan” (11-14); “Theme onerous: Maybe I, too, end in Japan” (14); “T[o] emend errors, maybe, T.T. [i.e., Thomas Thorpe], you end in Japan” (14); “Slay me not, buyer T.T., he-man rough, my paid T., wan T., Inch Thane [a printing joke?]” (14); and, concurrently, “the manure of my pit eye, way into Japan” (14).

         This expanded list suggests other punning potentialities in the line letterstrings, read as playfully ambiguous codes:

Sample Puns

          1) I in the boat eye [cf. closing pun]; Anne débuted, Eisell Anne dirty, the bastardess; beauty (bawdy-) slandered wit, a bastard fame; End be oddest, laundered wit; hand bodice laundered wet; the abbess-turd is home
          1-2) eye th’ abyssed tart famed; the abbess-turd famed her Y; Anne débuted, eye fool (full) Anne, dirty, with a bastard of Ham[n]et; a bastard shamed Harry—cunt, whore did it, m’ Annie, ’er cunt, sounds
           2) erase encore; I reason chorded; wry consort, th’ Ottoman ears (Harry S.)
           2-3) Hat., m’ Annie, reckons hound is savage
           2-4) Hat., m’ Annie, awry cunt, sounds soggy, extreme, rude, cruel… [through 4]
           3) Sue, eye Jack’s terror mirrored; merd; merry dicker you’ll (…a rule) note; Sue ejects tremor, you desire villain
           4) Of Harry S., beware; If Harry S. be Wriothes[ley], Black Wriothes., groan (G-rown) he read; black wires [i.e., printed lines of text] grow unread (honored); subtle, I see queue (I seek you), arse, groin—hear it (he read)
           4-5) blaze queer, suck runer—head to hard, the fairest end, moist, precious jewel
           5) T’ Howard [Southy’s guardian?], this Harry is tandem; …is 10’d, moist, precious jewel; Anne, the most precious Jew-well
           5-6) peer shows Lowell loo
           6) Loo-king; pretty Ruth, a pun
           6-7) in Judah peer’d tirrit upon my ebony butt flow (flout)
           6-8) maybe Annie-butt is low to flow awry (too flowery), my sweet Shakespeare friend, muffed be thou, thou wilt [go flaccid], restore (rest, whore) to be my consort still (ass-till)
           7) Butts laud, O’s lower ye may (Why?)
           7-8) ’tis rune dim you—fit, betooled—restore to be my comfort (my come’s whore t’ fiddle); t’ ass random, you’ve tupped Howell; beetle tears Tory Toby
           8) rest oar [phallic]
           8-9) Litotes witty will make John giddy
           9) Toothy is witty Will, making (May king) addition thus; Toothy, sweet, William, a king, A.D., died; a kin god; in God, I shun th’ huss; addition cf. metrics, numbers, the “added” runes, punning on “adders”; will sexual desire; inked, eye Xanthus
         10) Hussar, for love, Milos you tease; T’ you, sir, furlough mellow is; my loos you’d sweet fulfill
         10-11) Th’ worst to banal ear neighed I; Silly Anne [et] What-the-beast is t’ ache; silly Anne [et], Anne [W=IN] Hath-a-beast eye, Southy
         11) the beast I stake, the horse, T.T.
         11-12) the worst “To be” unlearned John t’ you hurled; to be venal, a rune, Ed, endure
         11-13) Hat., the beast, is t’ ache, the Whore Shakespeare, too, be unlearned in the world’s false subtleties, Wife poor, wit poor, Anne Shakespeare, amend bi-art [i.e., bifurcated verses]
         12) let’s sail seas (cease)
         12-13) Cecil see, subtle tease you see; you bit ill tease, you see poor wit; I sue (saw) zephyr; Sue, suppurate poor Anne, deaf, lame
         13) slay Maenad by art
         13-14) flay Maenad bare, T.T.; aye men ought, by art, the manner of my pit [cf. theatre floor, runic snake-pit] eye, wanting pain; hard theme eye in Nurse, my Pit eye; a ready man errs, maybe
         14) too, Anne (pied tune, twin) tinge pain; the manure of my pit eye; pity John, Auntie, in Japan; maybe, T.T., you end in Japan; maybe I, too, end in Japan;

Acrostic Wit

          The emphatic downward acrostic codeline—AT S ITL B TT TYVVT—suggests such decodings as these: “At his idol (at ass idol...; Aye t’ ass idle...) be T.T. tied,” “At sight, pound [=LB] T.T., tied,” “Aye, ’tis idle bitty wight (Betty wit [wet]),” “That’s little bitty wit [in baby talk],” “At sight, he’ll (hell) be tight (tidy),” “At ease (A tease), it’ll be tight (tied, tie-wit),” “At sight, pound titty, twat,” “I tease idle Betty wet,” “That’s little bitty wit [in baby talk],” “At site (I decide...), hell be tight,” and “A tease it’ll betide.”

          Here T-T and TYVVT suggest body-part bawdry. “Betty” might be Will’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Hall, born February 1608. The lettercode TT always echoes Q’s frontmatter initials, those of Thomas Thorpe, known to be Will’s printing agent for the Sonnets project.

          The upward (reverse) code—TVVYT TT BLT I STA—encodes similar body-part wit, suggesting, e.g., “Twat T.T. built, a sty,” “Tide-y titty bleeds tea,” “To wit, be laddie’s ass to eye,” “Too wet be lady’s ass to ‘I’,” “Tidy T.T., idle [B = phonic 8], tasty,” “Tidy T.T. bled iced tea,” “Twat, idle, tasty,” “Tight belt, I fit aye [S=F],” and “T[homas] Wyatt [the executed sonneteer] bloody is t’ eye.”

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