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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 146
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Rune 145
Fifth lines, Set XI (Sonnets 141-154)

                         Rune 145

     (Fifth lines, Set XI: Sonnets 141-154)

     Nor are mine ears with thy tongue’s tune delighted—
     Or, if it do, not from those lips of thine
     Whilst her neglected child holds her in chase.
 4  To win me soon to hell, my female evil
     Straight in her heart did mercy come.
     Why so large cost, having so short a lease
     My reason, the physician to my love
 8  If that be fair whereon my false eyes dote?
     Who hateth thee that I do call my friend?
     Whence hast thou this becoming of things ill?
     For, thou betraying, me I do betray;
12 But why, of two oaths’ breach, do I accuse thee—
     Which borrowed from this holy fire of love,
     The fairest votary, took up that fire?
     Glosses: 2) if it do = if the tune delights; 3) Whilst puns on Will Shakespeare, with st the family name cipher; a larger pun is “‘Will Shakespeare’ here in a glazed ed[ition] see held...”; 3) “to hold in chase” alludes to printing, since a chase is a printing mechanism, an iron frame holding the type in place; 3-4) pun: “...herein see haste own me: Sandell [and] my female evil [i.e., Anne]...,” a likely allusion to Will’s hasty marriage and to Fulke Sandells, a Stratfordian who posted Will’s marriage bond; see, as related elements, neglected child in 3; the pun marry in 7; I do —with “Hath.-puns”—in 9, 11; and oaths in 12; 5) heart puns on “art”; did mercy come = did mercy become; 6) eyepun: “halving so short a leaf [i.e., page],” alluding to the pattern in Q that bifurcates the Sonnets/Runes cycle(s) and also to line 5, which is atypically short; 7) pun: “Marry, son the physician [i.e., Dr. John Hall], to my love [i.e., Susanna, Will’s daughter]”; 9) pun: “That ‘I do’ see, Hall, my friend”; 10) hast puns on haste; 12) two oaths suggests the marriage and Hippocratic oaths, further implicating Dr. John Hall, Will’s son-in-law; 13) Which puns on Witch (see female evil in 4); 14) ..., took up = “[and] took up....”

     145. The Fairest Votary

     Neither, my pretty Sonnets, do my ears enjoy the lyrics you sing—
     or, if a tune delights, it’s not from your lips
     as long as my perverse ms., my “female evil,” has a wailing child that preoccupies her attention and keeps her running, she herself locked into the printer’s frame.
  4 Threatening to dominate and destroy me quickly, this perverse mistress
     appeared to me in a direct and moving scene of forgiveness.
     Why are the printer’s bill and other costs so high for a situation that allows such brief visits
     of my reason—the good doctor that alleviates my feverish love
  8 at times when what my misguided eyes see looks attractive?
     Pretty Sonnets, do others despise you whom I call my friend?
     Who gives you this “things are getting worse” line? How did you merit my progressive perversity? Where did you gain the grace to put a becoming face on such badness?
     If I reject you and your songs, or even reveal all your truths, I betray myself.
12 But why do I, doubly perjured in all this duplicity, blame you at all—
     you who first borrowed from this holy fire of love,
     as its fairest devotee, to carry the torch for me?


          As I read the text to try to make the most sense of it, the ambiguous scenario in Rune 145 shows the Quarto texts personified as a female who is having to chase her darting child—figuratively, the unruly Runes. This “female,” I propose, is one version of the poet’s “Perverse Ms.,” the much-discussed Dark Lady who dominates the last two sets of the visible texts, particularly Sonnets 127-152. This “mistress” intervenes to create a triangular relationship between herself, the poet, and his unnamed male muse--the provocative figure whom the Sonnets (and thus the Runes) purport to immortalize.

          Technically, Will puns in Rune 145 on a printing process to represent his “female” “held in chase”—i.e., in “the quadrangular iron frame in which pages of slips of type are locked up” (OED 1612). Many other clues suggest that Will’s “mistress” is also his inky “ms.,” his perverse manuscript. Here, particularly, the Ms. may be a figure for the whole manuscript, with the unruly child an emblem of her mischievous progeny, the Runes.

           In this figurative context, the poet’s punning question “Why so large cost, halving so short a leaf?” (6) translates, “Since each page in this small book (this quarto) does double work, once in the Sonnets and once in the Runes, why are my costs (emotional costs, printing costs) so high?” The “short leaf” here also points to line 5—an abnormally short line drawn from Sonnet 145, a tetrameter text that is anomalous in Q.

           The “female” here may also stand for Anne, the poet’s wife, now represented as “merciful” toward Will to lure him back home. Whether or not this reading holds up, Will’s topics in Rune 145 do gesture in various ways toward Stratford and toward his family: The poem refers, for example, to neglected offspring; to budgets; to houses; to a “twin, my son” (4); to “Judy” (pun, 1-2, 5); to “hate” (9); to a physician (7) and to “Hall, my friend” (9); to broken oaths (12); and, of course, to “M’ Annie” (1), who does seem, at least on one level, to be the “female evil” (4) and “Witch” (13) of the poem.

           Especially interesting here are various puns that point toward Dr. John Hall, Will’s son-in-law, a Stratford physician whom Susanna Shakespeare married early in June 1607.

           Various echoic vocabulary clusters add texture and a kind of technical coherence. For example, “becoming” (10) echoes “come” (5), and the “singer” of 1 may be the “votary” of 14—with both seeking Will’s approval. Other motifs include (dis)loyalty of devotees; tongues and lips; ears and things heard; and economics. Terms suggesting a race include “chase,” “win,” “straight” (3-5), “haste” (10), and “took up that fire” (14), as in the Olympics.

          As usual, the text is rife with with all kinds of puns and double entendres, encoded in its letterstrings in ways that insistently suggest authorized manipulation. Examples of such puns include these overlaid “hidden messages” encoded in line 1: “No rare minor is witty too”; “In ore our miner is weighted”; and “Rune [i.e., Nor reversed], our minor, is wedded” (1), suggesting the “marriage” (and thus the “mirage”) of Sonnets and Runes in Q.

           Other puns include these samples: “Semele vile strayed; in Herod did mercy come” (4-5); “Weasel or Jesus think Sue’s whored, alas!” (6); and “Marry a son—the physician, too--my love” (7) suggesting that the line covertly addresses the poet’s daughter Susanna and has in mind Dr. Hall, the son-in-law. Puns connected to this one include, e.g., “If thought be sour, we ruin Ms. Hall. Ceased ode” (8) and “That ‘I do’ see, Hall, my friend” (9).

           Sacrilege occurs in such puns as this one in 12-14: “Bawdy wife two oaths breached, owe I [i.e., I admit], as you see the huge Hebrew’d form. This holy is. I reveal, oh, the Fairest Wood [suggesting The Cross] awry to ‘hook up’ that Sire.”

           Even a letter-by-letter reverse of line 1—suggested because the opening word, Nor, reverses to pun on “rune”--seems to generate a code that conveys a “message,” perhaps one of many yet to be detected in the Q letterstrings. The reverse lettercode here is this: deth giled e nu tsgn u ot yhtht iwser aee nim er a roN. Decodings of it include, e.g., “Death, gild a new design: You owed wedded user a name or a rune”; “...I name her our own”; and “...Annie, mere, a rune (...our own).” Such codelines always allow other gamy interpretations, none of which cancel out any other in the poet’s ambiguous game.

Sample Puns

           1) Know rare mine (mind) eerie, sweet; Know our ermine arras, witty to you in jest; Not a rhyme Annie hears; In “O” rare, m’ Annie arrays wit; Know (in “O”) rear, m’ Annie-arse witty t’ own; m’ Annie, arse witty, ton, ingest you, knight; too, an idol I jetted
           1-2) Knight Lady Doris eyed; stunned lady (laddie) adores Edo, notice Rome, too
           2) O, rift’d “O”, knotty form, thou see; sea’ll I piss; Whorey Phaedo-knot formed Hosea-lisps t’ Annie; Awry Fido note
           2-3) fillip is oft high, new; O Southy, neigh, “‘Will Shakespeare,’ Harry neglected, see,” eyelid old sharing chase; Austin wills foreign eagles t’ Ed; Phillip’s oft eying Will’s tern, eagles
           3) laced “edge” will dolts herein chase
           3-4) Harry inches (in jest; injgest) to win, my sonnet old may seem all evil (may smell vile); John chased Owen; John chaste, O win my Sue, nettle my female level; see two enemies, wan Ptolemy, Semele vile; seeded child-hole t’ share inches, too (two); herein see hazy twin, my son, to hell
           3-5) eye Satan (Seton) ms., OO [=eyes], nigh Ptolemy’s Himalayas tirret inert
           4) sonnet, oil (hold) my fame; my son too, Hall; Two I name fon, Knight o’ Hell, my Female Evil (a vial); Sue, nettle my fame
           4-5) Sue natal, my female, you’ll stare at; a mall you eye; you eye Leicester again here; my simile vile is to write (read); female wills turd, inner art; Female Will S. tried inner art (hard); see “malevolist”; see Malvolio’s tirret (…is trading, is striating her heart)
           5) in Herod did mercy come; inherited Mersey see, homme; eye a jet, inherited mer; Stare at inner art, diadem or sick homme
           5-6) seek Amos, old Argos, oft; did America see O, muse—O largess o’ Shakespeare, half-inches o’ fortless mire? homme wise, owe large cost of inches overt; America, see, O, my weasel or Jesus; Strait eye, n’er arty, did Americas amuse all our guests, having foe shored, alive (halving so-shored olive)
           6) Wise “O” large coughed, heaving so farty a leaf (…olive); a farty laugh; foe large coughed heaven guffaws, hearty laugh; inches overt, awl, ease; foe is heartless; hone gesso, fart (…gesso shored) a leafy mirror; foe large, cuffed, avenge; Wassailer Jesus, thieving, suffered, alas
           6-7) (…a life miry); a leaf immersing thee; whore tallies Emerson tough; in Jesus’ whore, t’ olive mire avanti! I leave miry Avon, the visit I own, to my loo; having so short awl, a femur avant physician, Tommy love; a lazy Myra’s on the physician, too; so short a leaf mirrors Auntie; guffaw shard (short) a laugh mirrors
           6-8) love my Harry, a son, the physician to my “I”
           7) Marry a son, the physician, to my love
           7-8) The fist I shun, Tommy lusted, beefy, rearing; I shun Tommy-love if that be Pharaoh here on my saucy ass; my loo is that pissoir where enemies awl (Hall; all) seize; Tommy loves t’ hate Bess, a rare enemy; If thought be fair, we rune, my S. Hall see, eyes, dote; my low “I,” fatted (sated), be fair, W., Harry, on my saucy “I” sedate you, awed, ate [also, 8 inches]; my lowest thought be fair: W.H., a rune-missal see
           8-9) rearing muff, Hall seized O, tee, hooted oddity t’ Hat.; missal, if Alsace doubt you, hoe it (hoot); all see assed-oat Waite (wight) that, hated (heated), I do call my friend
           9) W.H. “O” hateth; heated I dose Hall, my [physician] friend; W.H., O, hateth that Hat. “I do,” see aisle, my friend; eye docile misery end
           9-10) hated ideas Hall may surrender hence; my friend W., Hen., seize T.T.; I deckle ms.-rune twins
         10) Shakespeare touts becoming often; see homme in gauze, thing’s ill; We incise T.T., haughty his beak
         10-11) W., Hen, ceased thou; homme-inches, things ill, soared; ill sword, halbert, range meadow, beat Rabbett (rabbit) wise; has Titus become engulfed in Jesse-livered hope?
         11-12) I daubed Rabbett (rabid) wife-twat, his breach doughy, as(s) you see; Forth, obit, range—meadow, bed-rape; I, to bed, raped wife, twat’s breach twice see; in game I do betray bawdiest twat; meadow, betray (better eye) beauty
         12) oft Wyatt’s bray see
         12-13) oft, Wyatt’s bare shadow, I accused you; O, the sober (“speary”) shadows you see, the huge Hebrew’d form t’ hiss
         12-14) Fetus H. borrowed from this holy series, ludus, air of twat awry
         13) this alias eye, rife, low
         13-14) aver, Oslo, this airiest twat awry t’ hook up t’ Hat.’s ire; thy soul aye is ire’s ludus
         14) Thesaurus taught a right hook (…twat awry took); The sourest twat aye, right, OO [= eyes], kept Hat. sour; arid; ewe-pit I desire; This aerie is too watery to hook up to Hat’s aerie; The fair Shakespeare wot [i.e., knew] a right hook? You bet! Hat’s ire.

Acrostic Wit

          The lefthand vertical acrostic code typically houses potential wit. Particularly its elements suggest plays on the poet’s daughter Susanna (with SW = Sue) and on “my wife” (code: MI WWF). The possible encoding Swami is also particularly interesting.

          The full downward code—NOWT SW MI WWF B WT—allows such playful decodings as these: “Note Sue, muse [F = S conventionally because f and “long s” look alike in Q], beauty,” “Now ’tis Wm. you whiff, bawdy,” “An oat’s [i.e., a knave’s] whim eye, whiff bawdy,” “Not Sue, my wife [i.e., Anne] be wit,” “Notice Wm.—I, W.—whiff beauty,” “Naughty is Wm.: Ewe whiff, bawdy,” “Nov. 5 [i.e., V], ’tis, whim you sight, witty [F=S, B=8],” “Night swim you whiff, body,” “Note Swami, whiff beauty,” “Note Swami, wise, bawdy,” “Naughty Swami, whiff bawdy,” “Note Swami, fangs [pictographic WW] of beauty,”and “Notice Wm., aye wise, bawdy.”

          The upward (reverse) acrostic code—TW B F WWIM WS TWON—has letterstrings that suggest jokes about Will’s familiar saw “To be...” (code TW B) and about the poet’s own name (codes WM and WIM = Wm., and WS = his initials). Possible decodings include these: “‘To be’ few amused—one,” “‘To be,’ few hymn—West, one,” “‘To be’ fame W.S. (tee!) won,” “Two be few, I’m wise t’ one,” “To whip (web) Femme W.S., twine,” “To wipe (whip) a few amused one,” “ ‘To be...’ of Wm. West won,” and “To Wyatt is [B=8, F=S] Wm. Weston.”

           The last readings illustrate potential topical wit, mostly lost to a remote audience such as we now comprise.

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