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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 2003, All Rights Reserved        

             

Click on a link below to see the text in paste-up, edited, and paraphrased forms, with sample puns and acrostic wit.
Rune 127
Rune 128
Rune 129
Rune 130
Rune 131
Rune 132
Rune 133
Rune 134
Rune 135
Rune 136
Rune 137
Rune 138
Rune 139
Rune 140

 
         Available here are Runes 127-140, each synoptically arranged in paste-up, edited, and paraphrased forms,
with my editorial comments and with editorial samples of puns in the lines and of gamy potential meanings that lie hidden in the emphatic acrostic codelines.

           Rune 127 emerges when you read “across” the set spread shown below so that you link up the sequence of 14 first lines. The other runes in the set emerge similarly: For example, Rune 128 is the sequence of second lines in the 14 visible sonnets shown below, Rune 129 is the sequence of third lines, and so on through Rune 140.

           Clicking on a rune number in one of the boxes above (Runes 127-140) will allow you to read and study an individual text carefully, comparing its edited form to the actual details of the Quarto lines and to my editorial paraphrase. All editorial materials represent carefully considered but necessarily incomplete approaches to the riddlic, gamelike texts hidden in Q.


Notes on Set X (Sonnets127-140): My Mistress’ Eyes

          By introducing the infamous Dark Lady or Perverse Mistress, texts in Sets X and XI add new challenges and a puzzling dominant “character” (often prefigured earlier) to Q’s implicit dramatic interrelationships among poet/persona, friend/auditor, and “mistress”—the last a witty perversion of several centuries’ worth of idealized females who were good at making the poems of European males drip in drool. While various hints in the Runes point to wife Anne, daughter Susanna, Mistress Alchemy, or even granddaughter Elizabeth as prototype(s) for this odd “female”—and while there may even have been some other “real” Dark Lady—the Mistress, I’m sure, is essentially figurative, a conceit for Will’s own torturous contrivances, for the poems themselves and especially the “peer-verse” Runes: The Mistress is Q’s Mysteries. Such overlaid coterie puns as “ms(s.),” “mystery sighs,” “ms. duress,” “ms. distress,” “ms. dress,” “misty heiress,” and “mystery see ye” help in some measure to decode Will’s cryptic assertions, heavy with “her” voice. The “mysteries,” too, are in part the poet’s guttural and suppressed vocabulary, which we have to work hard to make audible. Link: Index to Subtextual Terms.

          Though proving any theory about Q seems elusive, readers who broach the late Q poems reading “mistress” as “Q texts” will see how such a coterie insight opens up meaning and veers all the Q texts nearer sense. Commentaries (below) show some ways the Mistress/Mysteries conceit works in given cases—and Sonnets 127ff. can hereafter be similarly reconstrued at will.

           Because close variants of Sonnets 138 (in this set) and 144 (in Set XI) had appeared in 1599 in The Passionate Pilgrim (cf. Booth 476) and because these two texts thread across the horizontal warp of both sets, it seems likely that Sets X and XI were unitary products of the 1590s, originating as entertainment for Southampton’s circle and others, the same “sugared sonnets” that we know were circulating “among [Will’s] private friends” before 1598 (cf. Harrison 1032).

           By 1606-09 when, I deduce, Will reworked these two sets to cap his Megasonnet scheme (Link: How Will Wrote the Runes), he had come to make them serve the cycle as a perverse “vertical” couplet—a close that seemed, in his numbers box diagram, to “walk upon the ground” on two stemmy legs (cf. Sonnet 130.12) while showing a substantive “turn,” as a closing couplet might in a single text.

           Another purpose these couplet sets served in their new Q setting was to mask the homophile odor of the overt Sonnets (so unconventional for being love poems written mostly to a man) with good-old-boy misogyny and winking innuendoes about some shared, down-and-dirty mistress.

           The antithesis of light and lyric beauty, Will’s Mistress inhabits a siren’s world of darkness and is medial between poet and auditor. She is “that art that makes my heart to groan,” wounding both poet and auditor (cf. Sonnet 133.1-2). She is, or can be, “made,” though punningly she is also often a “hymn.” As a shared romancer, she toys with both Will’s and the friend’s affections, mistreats both by being temperamental and nearly impenetrable, and effectively holds both their futures and reputations in her manipulative hands. She is a creature of black (ink), though “in the old days” color would have been the norm; she is “c[o]unted”—fair or not—as women are (cf. Sonnet 127.1). Her voice is a “wiry concord that confounds the ear” (Sonnet 128.4). She is “ablest in proof and proofed, and very wo-” (Sonnet 129.11). Her “‘I’s” are nothing like the sun” (Sonnet 130.1), for printed “I’s” are straight and black, while the sun is round and bright (like an “O”). (Will’s gendered ambiguity about phallic “I’s” and pudendal “O’s” always defies reducibility.) Will’s “mystery sighs are nothing like this: One,” for everything in Q is multiple.

           A few details from particular texts may show how Will’s puns, especially about writing and printing, typically conflate “ms(s).” and “Mistress.” In Rune 135, “my Mysteries’ [printed] ‘I’s’ are rune-black” (1). “Two be so tickled they would change their state” (2) may (despite OED) allude to printing and the shift of “state” from ms. to book. “Made” (3) puns on “maid” while combining ideas of “madness” and “craftiness” that are echoed in “ravin[g]” (1) and madde (14). The “speaking” mistress is a product of the “[ink]well” (4, cf. 13). Will’s “heart / art” is to be imprisioned in “thy steel bosom’s word/ward”—suggesting “pen” and printing apparatus. “Water” (9) suggests ink, and “raine” puns again on “rune.” “Number” (10) can mean “verse text.” Line 11 puns “my art [merd], th’ ink(y) thought, a several plot,” suggesting divergent “story lines.” “Unjust” (12) varies what may be a printing term (cf. “justified text”) to suggest “irregular.” “Well” (13), a pudendal play befitting a “mistress,” puns on “inkwell.” And “Dis-pair” (14) puns on “separate two [texts]” and "hellish pair” (since Dis is the capital of Dante’s Hell). The “she-knot” (12) of the text, then, is the “mistress” text herself, crazy mystery-sighs with ink-black “I’s,” a creature merging in Will’s mind with the auditor/muse’s own features (6). The line-pun “Then in thin, umber [black lines] let me pass untold [i.e., unrecognized, metrically uncounted]” (10) restates the phrase “my Mysteries’ ‘I’s’ are raven black” (1).

           Rune 137—however one “ill-wrests the text—offers another specific example of rampant Mistress/Mysteries puns: The creature of 1-4 works best as an analogue and conceit for the text itself, which is both appealing and “not [created] fair” (1). Line 2 suggests perusing something on the page; “In proof” (3) suggests “in print”; and “ill-wresting” (14) suggests wrongly interpreting (OED). By reconstructing the sequestered part of the poet’s project, one of the “mysteries,” the auditor can “add to thy Will” (9), but if no champion embraces and “takes hold” (10), the work may be illusory (11). Puns such as “Whore keeps me” (7) and the ambiguous "she" (13) also suggest the perverse text. The last line puns, “Now this ill-wresting, world [or, ‘wrong interpretation whirled’]: Is G-rown [the G-line, the archaic ‘ge-’ in ‘gerowned’] forbade?” Such “row” plays echo the one in the famous line “My Mistress, when she walks, treads on the G-row end [i.e., end of line 7],” “…on thick rune (rown/round),” and “…on the ground [as in ‘ground bass,’ a running continuo line undergirding a melody]” (cf. Sonnet 130.12).

           Set X shows other features besides the “new” Mistress. Substantively, it houses the infamous Will-punning sonnets (Nos. 135-136), two texts that cut across the 14 runes, initiating their playful sestets. Some details are more technical or pictographic. The set’s last line, e.g., “goes wide” into the blank space at bottom right, punning “Be arty, nice, straight (Burden aye is straight), though th’ web, rude art (our ode-art), goes wide” (Sonnet 140.14). As if to balance this righthand deviancy, one “Anne” line “goes wide” to the left, concurrent with the puns “Anne did hence this slander ascertain…” and “Eying, did Hen see this slander?” (Sonnet 131.14).

           Horizontal acrostics insistent on the spread spell out IHTM (suggesting “Item”) and WIT, while interwoven verticals generate TT, TBTB (suggesting “To be, to be”), and MSW (suggesting “Ms. 10,” “Set 10,” reinforced with IO in Sonnets 136-139). The horizontal string IH TM TT B SWIT… (see the acrostic wit in Rune 127) suggests “Aye Tom, T.T., be Swede (sweet)….” The ending …I TWOB suggests “Eye 2 up,” “Eye top,” “I tup.” The strings TW, TIO, TW all encode “two,” pointing inscrutably to various dualities in Q including the paired Sets X and XI, functioning coordinately.

             

Click on a link below to see the text in paste-up, edited, and paraphrased forms, with sample puns and acrostic wit.
Rune 127
Rune 128
Rune 129
Rune 130
Rune 131
Rune 132
Rune 133
Rune 134
Rune 135
Rune 136
Rune 137
Rune 138
Rune 139
Rune 140
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