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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 XI, Runes 141-154: Texts and Comments 
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2004, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 144
Return to the Index of Set XI

Rune 143
Third lines, Set XI (Sonnets 141-154)

                          Rune 143
     (Third lines, Set XI: Sonnets 141-154)

     But ’tis my heart that loves what th’ eye despise
     (O, but with mine compare thou thine own state!),
     Sets down her babe, and makes all swift dispatch:
 4  The better angel is a man right fair.
     To me that languished for her sake:
     “Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
     Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill?
 8  Or, if they have, where is my judgment fled?
     Do I not think on thee when I forgot
     To make me? Give the lie to my true sight
     Then, gentle cheater; urge not my amiss,
12 In act thy bed-vow broke, and new faith torn.”
     And his love-kindling fire did quickly steep
     While many nymphs that vowed, chaste life to keep.
     Glosses: 1) puns: e.g., Butt, ’tis my heart; Bawdy’s my art; th’ eye: Q shows they; 3) her = my heart’s (see 1); 4) angel puns on “angle,” linking with man and right to suggest “erect,” a phallic joke; 5) To me puns on Tome and on Tommy, likely Thomas Thorpe, Will’s printing agent; her (ambig.) = “my heart’s” or “my art’s” (see 1), “the babe’s” (see 3); 8) they vaguely suggests “others” and puns on “th’ eye” (as in 1); 10) make = mate, a Renaissance denotation, with make me punning “make myself”; lie suggests “slope” (i.e., inclination, angle), suggesting “bedmate”; Q giue the puns on Judy, short for Judith, Will’s daughter; 11) gentle cheater = the poet’s heart or “hard,” with the puns “genital cheater,” “...seeder,” and “...cheddar”; 13) his is a phallic reference, echoing “man right fair” in 4, “genital seeder” in 11; steep suggests “cause to angle upward”; 13-14) note the rhymed-couplet close (and see half-rhymes in Rune 142.13-14, 144.13-14); 14) many puns on “man-y,” manlike or man-focused.

    143. The Better Angel

     It’s only my heart, not my mind, that, loving what appears despicable,
     (O, how much more blessed is your condition than mine!)
     discards her babe—this bastard offspring that you see, bereft—and runs like a fleet messenger
  4 toward a better angel, a man who’s quite handsome.
     I address myself, long the victim of unproductive suffering for my heart’s (and art’s) sake:
     Why do you languish and suffer emptiness in your breast,
     drawing nourishment from what’s sick and wrong?

  8 To put it differently, if others still have good sense, where has mine run off to?
     Do I not contemplate my condition—my heart, my judgment, my art—when I’ve neglected
     my duplicitous undertaking (or sexual coupling)? Let my true sight follow its inclination,
     then, gentle cheater—and don’t urge me, yourself, to go astray,

12 your bed-vow broken in actuality, and new faith violated.
     At this point the “gentle cheater’s” love-kindling fire quickly dampened (or arced upward?)
     while many (or “man-y”?) nymphs vowed this: to keep their lives chaste (or “chased”).


          The text of Rune 143 is typically ambiguous. One reading of its scenario shows Will’s heart (or art) as a fallen woman who “sets down” her illegitimate “little angel” (3) to go after some “better” one—or maybe a better “angle” (4)—and in so doing lets the poet offer a muddy moral “lesson” to other “nymphs” (14, see 2) and to the poet’s own “gentle cheater” (11).

          Concurrently, a series of insistent phallic puns encourages a cruder reading of the poem: Will’s “hard” is like a loose woman who discards her “little angle” (3) to seek a better one, something closer to a “right” angle (see 4), something livelier and steeper (see 13). Thus the speaker’s “thin, genital cheater” (or “...seeder”) deserves moral instruction at the end for having strayed. Line 13 suggests a passionate male response, with “quickly steep” suggesting “hastily angle upward.”

          Another pun—the one on “th’ eye” in they (Q 1, 8)—also allows alternatives of interpretation.

          One interpretation of the sophistical self-address here (6-12) would have the poet subdividing his “heart” (1) and mind (8-9) and equating his “eye” (1)—or maybe his phallic “I”—with his “true [suggesting erect, plumb] sight [or, punningly, ‘seed’]” (10). His “two angels” ambiguously parallel several polarities: e.g., duty and passion, head and heart, and Sonnets and Runes, with the Runes likened to a babe that a woman discards in seeking her “better angel” (or “better / bitter angle”).

          If the “cheater” is Will’s heart and is female (3, 5), it also seems paradoxically to be a “‘hard’ genital cheater” and a “he” (see 13). (In addition to the pun heart / hard, the shape of the glans links “heart” with phallus.) Tediously, other puns beside heart / hard and they / th’ eye pile themselves on the confusion: e.g., better / bitter; angel / angle; all / awl; amiss / a ms. / aims; feeding / seeding; fair / fare / sour; and chaste / chased. “Bawdy is my hard / heart” and “bitter angle” illustrate combined patterns.

           Interlinked diction to create image clusters is one principal means that Will uses to unify individual runic poems, where maintaining logical coherence is difficult as best, and where an associational pattern tends to replace strict logic. Here, e.g., “angel” (4) provides a topical center (and a trigger) for “religious” diction such as better, right, suffer, judgment, true sight, amiss, faith, and chaste life. Concurrently, the punning form “angle” explains such diction as low (e.g., 1, 13), right (4), lie and true (10), verge (11), and steep (13).

           Topically connected words and puns about judgment (see 8), courts, and legal processes include state, sets down, fair, forgot and give the lie (suggesting courtroom testimony), cheater, vow, vowed, and keep (as “dungeon”). Still other clusters of diction hover around the topics of things buried; of mating; and (as usual in the Runes) of printing and writing; this last cluster, one whose variants swarm about in Q, includes terms such as art, state, sets down, write, tome that languished, pen, lead, knot, th’ ink, a ms., torn, and chased leaf (as “engraved page”).

           Meanwhile, disparaging jokes direct themselves toward Thomas Thorpe, known to be the “T.T.” who signed the teasing dedication page of the 1609 Sonnets. Scholars know that T.T. was a smalltime entrepreneur without a printshop of his own. Here, e.g., To me puns on “tome,” with To me th... punning “Tommy Th[orpe]” (5). An extended tongue-in-cheek joke in 10-12 disparages Thorpe (who was no doubt Will’s cooperative co-conspirator in the Q project) as avaricious, lying, careless, and unreliable: One form of this pun runs, “Tommy came, Jew Th[orpe]: Allied omitter you sight. Th., ungentle cheater, your gin [i.e., your engine, your press] ought my ‘a-ms.” enact, Th’p, ed[itor]....” And so on.

           One “family joke” aimed at Thorpe alludes to Will’s daughter Judith: “To make my Judy lie, Tommy T., ruse I jet” (10). The early part of the line puns “Tommy [Tummy] ache....” Other “T.T.” humor lurks in the acrostic codeline (see below). Such wit is pervasive in Q.

           Crafty puns in the opening lines also disparage Anne, the wife, as the poet’s perverse muse: e.g., “Body [etc.] is ‘merdy’ Hath-I-way’s, Anne [= w = IN] Hath-the-Y despise, O bawdy Anne I’d hymn: Anne, come....” (Merd is an anglicized French word for excrement.)

           Other plays on Anne and Will lurk in the early code elements of 12-14: e.g., “Anne, aye see, T.Thorpe, ed.” (12); “Anne dies: Look, Anne dying...” (13); and, e.g., “Will’s Tom (...tome) ‘Annie, Annie’ hymns...” (14).

           The iambic pun “...gentle seeder, urging autumn yams” (11) illustrates the capacity of the poem to cultivate a “feeding” motif (see 7), echoed in linked puns such as patch, earth, steep, and Cheddar (11), a cheese named after the town (OED 1666).

           The poem ends on a rhymed couplet, in a scheme that is necessarily unrhymed, given the complex pattern by which the visible Sonnets embed the Runes.

Sample Puns

          1) Bawdy’s my art; …is merded loo sweet; Butt, tease my hard, that low ass, W.H. ate th’ high, deaf pussy; I Dis pave; Body’s merd t’ Hathaway’s sweet; Swede hates piss; whited “I’s” piss; owe sweet Thetis piss
          1-2) I see obit witty, my Annie’s; eye fey “O,” butt wide, m’ Annie’s
          2) eye neck empire; come, parrot, hoot; with my niece homme paired; m’ Annie compared you t’ hiney, onus t’ hate; …hiney o’ Winstead; eye nouns to hate (nun’s teat; …tetes)
          2-3) a redoubt, Annie owns Titus, Anne S. done (don, dun) her piping t’ make us all fuse t’ Dis; many count arty hooting Owen’s Titus, it’s (set) down; a redoubt I knew nested ass; thy new, nested set is down here; come, peer, Tho. Th., a nun Shakespeare ate, ass et is, downy (tawny) herb, a bean dim, I kiss awl (Hall)
          3) my case’ll few eye; Is Anne [et] S. done here? Is Donne here? Anne, make [i.e., mate]; Anne, dim, aches; her babe Anne makes Hall’s wife t’ dispatch
          3-4) I spayed cat, helped turn jellies, Amen (jelly, semen); did Aesop aye touch Hebe, T.T., or angels?
          4) Thebèd tarantulas aye may in rigid ass err; lazy manner eye (lazy man awry), jet of Harry; The bitter “angle” eye, semen (aye, seaman)
          4-5) eye, seaman, rigid (wry jet, right) fare: Tomatoed land gushed for Harry’s ache; eye seaman right of Harry: Tommy T.; eying right fair tome that languished, sir, hear fake; eye semen, wry dessert o’ “meated” land
          5-6) Tomatoed land Jews hid, forests acute (aye queued), dusty, topping weedy Nantes; ’tis our heresy I queued; Tommy T. had land gifted
          5-7) F--k Widow S., T.T., helping Widow Nan diffuse our dirty, heavy, dungeoned Hat-witch
          6) Widow Shakespeare, thou opine (open), Wet Hen, Anne
          6-7) Seeding on it, Hat-witch doth preserve th’ hill (tale, tail); …doth prefer you to hell; peer, see Ruth ill (Rood Hill [rude hell]); witty John handy, suffer dirty feet
          7) Seed-engined Hathaway shitteth preserved hell; “Seed engine” t’ Hat. wedged, O th’ peers rude hail; wicked oath peers rued
          7-8) in John that witch doth ’ppear, Pharaoh tailors th’ eye heavy; pierce her, utile (vital) whore, if th’ “I” have worries
          7-9) iller (Whore), I fed Hathaway rice, made gummy, and fled (flayed) Dough-knot
          8) Oreste[s]; Whore, eye Southy, W.H., Harry S. may judge my ends, laddie owe I knot, th’ ink on the W., Hen.; Our “I’s” to “I” you, W., Harry, aye is my judgment ass-led
          8-9) fled duenna T.T.; Hathaway, Rice Made Gummy, Anne, Tasseled Dough-knot
          9) Eye in Cannes th’ whinny’s argot; naughty John can’t hew heinous argot; naughty in Chianti, W., Hen, I soar; Deux, Dieu eye knotty
          9-10) can’t you heinous argot, too, make? In cunty W.H., an eyesore, good Tommy came; a nicer God to me came; when ever-good Tommy came, Judy hell eyed (allied, allayed “O”); [in] Chianti, whey nicer Giotto make
        10) My Jew, the Lady o’ Miter, you sight; Two [suggesting Sonnets/Runes] make me giddy; Jew, to hell aye; eye you Italy, Tommy; Tom, I came; my girdle eye; tomato refect
        10-11) refecting Gentile see eat her V (her virgin O); the lady…used thin, genital cheater; To make, m’ Judy laid Tommy
        11) genital shitter, Virgin owe, Tommy; a terror, G-knot maims; genital seeder (see, he’d [head] err); rouge not my A-ms.; you Regina, Tommy, eye
        11-12) Note my amiss (Amos) enact Hipped Woe, bare “O” eye, cunt new, fey that urn
        12) Enact thy bed-vow, burrow “I” (eye); Eye naked type, Ed, viper oaken; kin, Dane you sighted (sated); in din you sighted horn (sight adorn)
        12-13) you B-row, a keen din, use, eye th’ turn [line-end, cf. “verse”]; a kind, new faith tore Nantes
        13) Andes low can delay inches’ ire; inches ire died quick—hell, ye have to pee; lo, vacant line-jest I read; eye ready (reedy) dick-use kill y’ ass
        13-14) …you sated horny Anne; Anne dies, love-kindling fire died quickly, Shakespeare appeals t’ many (apples to m’ Annie)
        14) m’ Annie nymphs thought wood [crazy], see a Shakespeare leaf to keep; Will Shakespeare, many nigh m’ feast, Hath-way ode, chaste leaf [i.e., page] to keep; chaste leaf (Lizzie, Lisa) took a pee; Will S. may Annie name Feisty Hat’way odd; I seed (sate) oak, pee; my nine (inane) hymns thought you odd; that wood castle, aye, is Edo Keep; Will’s demon Y name “Vested V”; nigh Memphis the toad chased lice (to keep); chased leaf, too, keep

Acrostic Wit

          As usual, the emphatic lefthand capital-letter acrostic here forms a gamy codeline with potential “readings” manipulated by the Bard. The downward acrostic codeline—BOSTT WF OD TT IAW—has prominent elements suggesting “bossed” (i.e., embossed) and also features the initials TT. (TT, Will’s printer’s initials, also suggests titty and, as two Taus, paired “crosses,” suggesting Sonnets/Runes.) Concurrently, any W or paired Vs—as VV—can be pictographs that suggest dugs or sagging breasts, as well as fangs.) Other acrostic “readings” grow from the equation B = 8 = “ate,” here linked with suggested forms of “whiffed” (code WFOD) and “food” (FOD). Because f and “long s” look alike, F and S as capitals can become equivalents, yielding further potentials in the codeline.

           Possible decodings of the downward acrostic letterstring include, e.g.,“Bossed [suggesting ‘lumpy’] wife audit I owe,” “Beau is T.T., wifed, too,” “Hiatus [B=8], T.T., whiff…,” “Hiatus to foe, ditto,” “[Em]bossed teeth [=VV], food to jaw,” “Bossed titties [=VV] fetid t’ awe (…jaw),” “Boast, too, if ode taw i.e., [flog],” and “Be host to (Boast, too,...) ‘footy’ (...sooty) Io.” (The mythical goddess Io, who appeared as a heifer, might indeed be “footy” or “sooty.”)

           The upward codeline reverse—W AITT DO FW TT SOB—suggests such readings as “Widow of witty S.O.B.” (perhaps not anachronistic), “Wyatt does [F=S] wits ope (...await),” “Widow of wit, sob,” “Whited oaf-fangs [VV] titty sup,” “W. 8, doff, wit, ass up,” “Widow of W., titties up,” “…T.T., sup,” “We, T.T., do feud (sob!),” “Widow, food sup,” “Weighted of wit Sue be,” “White doe few, T.T., sob,” and “Waite, dead of feud, sob!” “Waite” and “feud” point to the death of a Mr. Waite, killed in the Essex rebellion (Akrigg 116). “Weighty” or “Widow” point to Anne Shakespeare, who often appears in Q’s buried wit as obese. Wyatt was a predecessor of Will’s who popularized the sonnet form.

           Many such topical readings in Q’s codelines and letterstrings seem likely to have been consciously encoded, given the multilayered and concurrent capabilities of Will’s “great mind,” as he calls it in Sonnet 114.10.

Proceed to Rune 144
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