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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 147
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Rune 146
Sixth lines, Set XI (Sonnets 141-154)

                         Rune 146

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

     Nor-tender feeling, to base touches prone
     That have profaned their scarlet ornaments,
     Cries to catch her whose busy care is bent,
 4  Tempteth my better angel from my sight,
     Chiding, “That tongue (that ever-sweet)
     Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend,
     Angry that his prescriptions are not kept!”
 What means the world to say it is not so?
     On whom frown’st thou, that I do fawn upon,
     That in the very refuse of thy deeds
     My nobler part, to my gross, bodies treason.
12 When I break twenty, I am perjured most,
     A dateless, lively heat still to endure
     Which many legions of true hearts had warmed.
     Glosses: 1) Nor-... puns on “Inner...,” reversing to pun on rune—anticipating ...rone at the end of the line;; 2) scarlet ornaments (ambig.) = red lips or other body parts, showy clerical vestments (see profaned), the red seals on documents, etc.; 3) her = my better angel (see 4); 5) Chiding puns, “See hiding,” “C [i.e., 100] hiding”; 6) fading mansion = “deteriorating physical body,” suggesting the disappearing “S-penned” texts, the Runes; pun: “...a pun, thy fading mansion’s penned [i.e., written in ink; buried]”; 7) his = your [i.e., the auditor’s] tongue’s (see 5), with “your tongue” punning on “your writer, Will”; 9) On whom puns, “On homme,” “O [i.e., round, rune]-gnome” = runic aphorism; Q’s froun’st puns on round, rown, rune; 11) My nobler part echoes my better angel in 4, with phallic wit in part and the pun “angle”; 12) break twenty (ambig.) = finish 20 poems (sonnets, runes) of the 28 total in Sets XI, rape 20, etc.; 13) heat puns on 8, the number of hidden poems left to write (i.e., still to endure) in the 154-rune cycle; 14) true hearts is a phallic pun: true [i.e., right-angled] “hards.”  

     146. Base Touches

     Rough affection—prone to base touches
     that have profaned lips (and other body ornaments)—
     tries rhetorically to ensnare my “better angel,” who’s busy, attentive, and careful,
  4 and in doing so drives her away,
     all the while criticizing and accusing me by saying, “You exercise your sugar’d tongue
     inflating yourself and creating that doomed house of cards you call your Sonnets,
     angry that your prescriptions lack the power to order reality!”
  8 How can anyone disagree with her?
     I fawn over the same creature that you, my reader, now glare down upon in disapproval,
     so that, amid the very refuse you’ve rejected (but also helped to co-create),
     my nobler nature rather than my grosser self seems the real danger to the state.
12 When I starting talking “20”—saying I’m young, bragging about my endowment or sexual conquests, finishing this 20th text in these paired sets—I’m the biggest liar of all
     with an endless lively heat before me to endure,
     one that thousands of true hearts (and plumb, rightly angled “hards”) before me have kept blazing.


          Typically mysterious and coy, here in Rune 146 Will mentions “breaking 20” (12), as he puts it. Exactly what he means might be almost anything—reaching the age of 20, defeating 20 enemies, violating 20 regulations, or violating 20 other people. In one sense, at least, we know that he is referring to his own writing project, since, at this point in Set XI, he is finishing the 20th rune of the 28 that are to be hidden in Sets X-XI, the so-called Dark Lady sets.

          My own guess is that these terminal sets in Q were composed earliest, in the 1590s, as a separate pair, with the visible Sonnets now numbered 127-140 (Set I) and 141-154 (Set II) existing as a two-part, 28-poem series. The pun here helps convince me that this may have been true, or at least that Will regarded Sets X-XI as something like a separate entity.

           While it admits other constructions, Rune 146 can be read as a comment about the Quarto project itself. As the text has it, the friend disparages the project while Will “fawns upon” it (see 9). Reinforcing the poem’s interest in writing itself, the phrase “scarlet ornaments” suggests rubrications or scribal illuminations (followed by “unworthy” text) and the red wax seals on private documents. “Fading mansion, S-penned” (6) suggests the runic text, which disappears as soon as it’s written down—as if composed in lemon juice. As the poet says, his “pre-scriptions” have indeede been “unkept,” until now.

           Somewhat more literally, the poem can also be read as a contentious comment about straight and/or divergent sex—as some puns suggest: e.g., “In whore tend, ‘ear’ [a Renaissance term for the pudendum] feeling…” (1) and “On womb frown’st thou, that I do fawn upon; / That is the very ‘refuse’ of thy deeds” (9-10). In this context, “breaking 20” suggests sexual violation of others, and “base touches, prone” (1) implies lewd sex. Perhaps, jokingly, Will means that the auditor has lost an erection which the persona lavishes attention on (see 6-11). In whatever case, Will’s “better angel” (4) or “nobler part” (11) seems to lose in a tug-of-war with his “gross” side (11), condemning him to a common, parboiled fate (12-14).

           The “her” of 3 seems here a false lead: In one sense “she” refers syntactically to Will’s “better nature,” not some “real” female.

           Vaguely religious diction and the off-to-hell ending of the poem give this hazy scenario the aroma of a perverse morality play. This diction includes such dichotomies as angel/devil, good-and-bad angels, and noble and gross “parts.” The “fading mansion” line (6) sees vaguely biblical, suggesting “whited sepulchre.” Because scarlet ornaments (2) might mean ostentious clerical vestments, lines 1-2 momentarily depict bishops compulsively groping (somebody) under showy robes. Imagery of temptation (see 4, 11) and of hell (see 13-14) colors the poem.

           Phallic puns, not fully consistent or logical, include “I’s bent”; “see arse, be in it” (3); “better angle” (4); “‘man-O’ be lair, part o’ my gross body” (11); and “true hearts/hards” (14), suggesting erections. (The heart-shape of the glans amplifies the pun.)

           Whatever it means, “breaking 20” (20) is a joke about Bad Will’s prowess. The low pun “When I breaked wind...” is concurrent.

           Some of the energy of the poem is surely family-directed, with Will’s marriage to Anne a likely subtopic. Lines 7-8, e.g., pun, “Angry that his prescriptions [i.e., Will’s marriage vows?] are not kept, / Anne [W = IN] Hat., m’ Anne S., t’ you, Earl, did evade eyes. Not so?” (Maybe the auditor here Will’s early patron, the Earl of Southampton.) The idea that Will’s “gross” part overcame his nobler, that the “fawned-upon” auditor was somehow involved, that the poet’s fawning was illicit, and that Will was “perjured most when he ‘broke twenty’”—all these details suggest a personal scenario and a kind of mea culpa tinged with pleasure in self-rationalization. (Will married late in 1582 at age 18 and was the father of Susanna before he was 20. Personal information is lacking to explain exactly what kind of “perjury” he might have committed upon reaching that age.)

           Balanced, interconnected puns include “nobler part” and “[t]reason” (11); “Leg[ions]” and “[w]arm’d”(14); and “[S.] penned” (6) and “his prescriptions” (7). The poet’s last word, “...warm’d” (14), phonicaly reiterates the opening of the upward acrostic codeline, WAWMT....

Sample Puns

          1) Northern, dear sea lion, to base, touches pier wan; North enters Ealing to be a fetus; B-fit [i.e., stanza], O you see; Toby I see; North endears Ely in jet (Eli, inched); inch tups Anne [et], ouch! O huge, ass prone; assed, O, you cheese supper own; An oar tender ass healing, tup of 8 huge ass prowing
          1-2) boeuf, touché, sperantia, to hope; you jasper want; is the [p] rune t’ Hathaway? our letter, in Amiens (an Amen) ’tis serious
          2) roving debtor, f--k our lady whore; They the opera faint hear; Hooper often did Harry’s car let; Peer o’ Night, Hathaway prow; Hathaway appear, opened t’ Harry S., see her lady-ornaments; hairy ass see, or let our name end, ass; whoring, aye men tease; the vapor often did harass Carl
          2-3) tournament scurries, toga’d cheer; here scarlet ornaments Christ (Cristos); Auntie’s series toga’d see; Harry’s scarlet whore name
          3) toga’d cherries buss I, caress; Christ O see, edge, hero’s buff ass Harry’s bent; Series two catch here, W.H., O sea busies air; catch round
          3-4) see Harry’s bane, T.T.; sea, Harry’s bent, tempteth; you see Christ being tempted, hymn ye better end (him ye bite, a rune, Aaron jealous)
          4) in jealous Rome-ms. (miss), I jet; Tempteth my bitter angle—fair homme, miss, I jet!
          4-5) angels roam, my f--k t’ chide
          5) See hiding jet, Hat.-tongued Hathaway refute (our feud, our sweety, ever sweaty)
          5-6) Shitting jetted on Jew, the Tower’s witty dust [cf. Southy] tupping this aye
          6) “Hugh” points at “John” germane [suggesting Hugh-John]; Isaiah, dying, menace John’s pen (…Io nice); you Pontius adding, gem aye in Zion is pent; you pun, thief adding; m’ Anne S., I own, I’ve penned
          6-7) thy sad inch, man’s “I”, unspay, ending Herodotus’ preface wry; fie on spent, angry thought, Hesperus see, wry pet (ribbed) John serene
          7) Hang Herodotus, peers, rape Zion siren (serene), oat
          7-9) a rune ought keep to Hat., my Annie S., the W., Earl, did, O, sate eyes, an oat, foe on whom frown’st thou; had my Aeneas the world to fight?
          8) Hat., my Anne S., the ewer-lady (Hosea ’tis not); Earl did owe citizen aught; What means it, H’y W., Earl? Did O sate eyes?
          8-9) two sight aye snot fon; fon W.H., surround Shakespeare [ft]
          9) Shakespeare touted ideas aye vain; O-gnome of rune, Shakespeare doubted aye. Does Anne? (A pun!)
          9-10) eye divine weapon, thought, end your year’s use (endure your Sue’s ease); Dose Anne upon that end, Harry, her ass use oft
        10-11) oft hideous, my nob’ll err (men, up, leer); Hid eds. my noble repartee; …my nobler parti-tome, why?
        11) Lear-part Tommy gruff bodies; Tommy, gross, bawdy ass, driven; T.T., homage (image) row’s bawdy history: Avon; Eros, bawd, ease teary Avon
        11-12) history Sue knew; I saw noon; Esau knew neighbor cat waned; tamper jarred moist, hated, aloof Lyly; my gross, bawdy history eye, fon W.H.; Sue—new, anal, bare—eye; odd hysteria’s on W.H.
        12) W.H. anal, barracked one time, peer erred; W., Hen., I breaked wind, why? I aye may be error’d, dim oft; When I bare ache, twinned, ye eye; W., Hen., I bury a cat; I barricade wind; windy yam perrier [discharging device] dim owe
        12-13) in temper I erred, my host ate, eight laughed (left); twin-time peer averred, moist eyed
        13) Add a tale of fellow; Eli, you lied; A.D. 8, left, lowly 8 still to endure; Atlas silly elides (elates) dildo; Livy lied, fiddled Owen dour; offal (a feel) availed ass to ill; Atlas low lady’s till twin(n)ed
        13-14) leaded fiddle-tone dour, W.H., I chime; dildo endure, W.H., each man you’ll egg on, soft or hard, shit-warmed; you rouge manually, John
        14) Witch, m’ Annie, legions of true hards had warmed; my Annie leg, I own, is oft reared, shit-warmed; legions [echoing the “Roman” motif in “A.D. 8”]; she A.D. war made; oft reared, she odd were made; in elegance, O (an elegant Sue) Stuart shadow harmed; my anal John, soft, reared ass, hate-warmed; oft rue arty (hard) shit warmed; oft rue hard ass (artist) had wormed

Acrostic Wit

          The emphatic downward capital-letter acrostic—N T C T CD AWOTM W AW—suggests such potential meanings as these: “Enticed, see day-woe (Deo) tomorrow,” “Untasty seed, Adam woe,” “Indicate sad autumn woe,” “Indic’d see ‘Daw,’ ‘Ode,’ ‘Mew,’ ‘Awe’,” “Intact seed, autumn woe,” “In tease, ’tis day, woe tomorrow,” “In tease, ’tis dowdy hymn,” “Intact seat (Enticed seed...) I would mew [i.e., bury, confine] aye,” and “Enticed City: Whoa, Tom, Whoa!”

           One mock Latin reading (I confess that my Latin grammar is shaky) is this:“In teste sedeo (sedo) temo,” suggesting, maybe, “Unwitnessed, a (wagon) tongue to stay put (allay, calm),” with phallic overtones, perhaps alluding to the linked Q texts. (The pun “See hiding, that tongue” occurs in line 5, perhaps a directive to the player.)

          Pictographically, the acrostic codeline itself might depict a “wagon tongue.”

           The upward (reverse) codeline—WAWM TOWAD CT CTN—conveys such “messages” as these: “Warm toad[y] cede Satan,” “Why whim toward seat, seeding?” “Why whim (Wm.) toward City, Satan?” “Weigh, Wm., toward seat, city end,” “Woe, my toady, City sighting,” and “Weigh, Wm., 2 A.D., 100, t’ 110.”

           The down/up hairpin suggests, e.g., “Intact seed autumn warmed, two odd seed seeding.” The “two odd seed” suggest the Sonnets and Runes, with the latter in a nascent state, waiting to be warmed back to life.

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