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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 IX, Runes 113-126: Texts and Comments 
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 121
Return to the Index of Set IX

Rune 120
Eighth lines, Set IX (Sonnets 113-126)

                         Rune 120

     (Eighth lines, Set IX: Sonnets 113-126)

     Nor his own vision holds what it doth catch:
     As fast as objects to his beams assemble,
     Divert strong minds to th’ course of altering things
 4  Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
     Which should transport me farthest from your sight:
     To be diseased ere that there was true needing
      In the distraction of this madding fever?
 8  To weigh how once I suffered in your crime?
     Which in their wills count bad what I think good
     Of thee, thy record never can be missed.
     Then think that we before have heard them told
12 Whereto th’ inviting time our fashion calls:
     Pitiful thrivers, in their gazing spent,
     May time disgrace, and wretched minute kill!
     Glosses: 1) Nor puns on Inner,“In whore,” “An oar,” and (in reverse) “rune”; his suggests a strong mind (see 3); 3) course puns on corse (i.e., corpse); 4) his suggests mind (and thus, rational man), course (3), with phallic innuendo in height; 7) madding = maddening, raving; 9) Which = Whoever; wills... = determinations, punning on “Will S.,” Count Bad; 10) missed (Q mist), with the visual equivalent f = long s, puns on misty (i.e., obscure), “ms.’d” (i.e., written down), “my fit [i.e., stanza],”and “me, Shakespeare [st = the family name cipher]”; 11) them = those who judge (see 9-10).

     120. Altering Things

     Not even the vision of a strong mind holds onto what it catches sight of:
     As fast as objects group before his eyes,
     such a mind may be swayed by powerful influences or distracted by other developments
  4 of questionable value, however objective they may be, however fixed that thinker’s stature.
     Which would take me the farthest from your range of vision—
     for me to become sick before my time, needlessly,
     driven to distraction by this feverish madness,
  8 or to tally up and brood on how I once suffered in the context of your criminal behavior?
     No matter who officially evaluates as bad what I regard as good
     about you, your true record can never become obscured.
     So imagine that we of a previous time have overheard any of those who would set themselves up as your critics being informed about
12 what kinds of good times attract our sort of man in this era:
     May such pitiful men, their lives wasted in voyeurism,
     be disgraced by time and destroyed by the anguish of minute preoccupations!


        Surely it’s a mark of the cornucopic potential of Will’s diction and of the playfulness inherent in the English code system itself—and is not an indicator of the poet’s supernatural foreknowledge—that the first words in Rune 120, Nor his, pun on the name of the Tennessee town in which, some 400 years later, that text was first published in a readable form. Playful “Norris wit” in the opening line(s) includes such puns as these: “Norris’ own vision holds what it doth catch”; “Norris’ own vice I own [i.e., acknowledge]...”; “Norris’ own evasion old is weighed...,” and “Norris own [i.e., acknowledge] anew: Eye Zion, halls whited. O, these ages fast! I sob....”

        One must chalk all such anachronistic wit up to me, as a reader/player of the Runes, and not to Will as author. Most other sorts of puns, however, I take as potentially calculated—given that Will was a genius, and his Great Mind (as he calls it in Sonnet 114.10) could register witty overlays of meanings concurrently and perhaps instantaneously.

        Likely, I think, “Norris” is also a topical nameplay, so that the “Norris wit” is indeed authorized. (See, e.g., Akrigg’s index to his biography of Southampton.)

        Taken as a somewhat more straightforward poem, Rune 120 describes the “vision” of men of Will’s age and our own. The poem hints at orgiastic behavior (12), expects voyeurism (13), and—in anticipation of our judgmental attitude (9)—curses those of us who now idly engage in it (14). The poet’s muse seems to be one of “strong minds” of his circle (3), but “his own vision” (1) may also mean Will’s—and ours.

        No one can fully “catch” the Runes, says the text, because they are as mutable as time or readers’ moods. (A “catch” [1601] is a musical “round.”) Such instability indeed “spends” us (13), threatening ridicule from posterity—and maybe even madness. The very effect of the poem we’re wrestling with illustrates the poet’s thesis.

        The rune cultivates interlinked imagery and puns about sight, measurement or documentation, money, legal transactions, and sickness. One buried hint is that one can be “transported” (5) for being either crazy (6-7) or implicated in a crime (see 8). Line 4 suggests measuring a criminal for torturous hardware and thus links with “holds: (1), “alt-ring” (3, i.e., a high noose), and “pent” (13).

        Other crafty clusters of linked terms add coherence: e.g., 1) divert, diseased, distraction, and disgrace; and 2) minds, distraction, madding, and think (twice).

        Nautical puns, elaborately cultivated, include “An oar,” “holds what it doth catch,” “course,” “mends, taut,” “shoal’d,” “transport me farthest,” “weigh,” “sea-rhyme,” “mist,” “full th’ rivers,” and the endpuns “nautical,” “Hatteras,” and “keel.” The first line embeds the puns “an oar,” “hold is sweaty,” and “O, th’ catch.” “Tub, eddy ceased” is a pun in 6. The complex pun “My tie, medias grace, end wretched...” (14) houses phonic plays on medias res—i.e., “in the middle of things,” where epics traditionally start—and also on “Matey, mate, aye,” “My eddy,” “Mate eye,” “My weighty [code Y-TI] mate,” “gray sea,” and “eye sand, rat see.”

        “Wretched my nautical eye” and “...wretch, dim ye ‘nautical’ eye” are Will’s parting puns (14).

        Notable epithets include “Will S., Count Bad” (9), “altering things” (3) and “this madding fever” (7). “Your crime” (8) might be homosexuality, since the muse’s “record never can be ‘Missed’” (10)—but the reference might also be to Southampton’s refusal to marry in the 1590s or to his later imprisonment in The Tower for treason.

        Phallic humor colors such word groupings as , e.g., “his height be taken” (4); “true [i.e., right-angled] kneading” (6); and “Pitiful thrivers…spent” (13). “Thy ‘record’ in ‘ewer’ can be missed” (10) may be a “small penis” joke. Line 1 may pun, “An ‘oar’ I saw, a new ass I own, hole sweet (... sweaty)....” Puns on “in you (...ewe),” “new” and “old,” and “Swede” (possibly a conventional epithet for Thomas Thorpe, Will’s printing agent—these further blur the wit.

           Two overlaid puns in crime (8)—serum and “sea-rhyme”—may show Will aiming wit concurrently at his son-in-law Dr. Hall, a physician, and at Southampton, his only known patron, an ex-seaman. How, indeed, the eye is diverted by “altering things” (see 1-3).

Sample Puns

          1) In orison [i.e., prayer] wise aye John Hall suited dowdy catches [i.e., rounds, runes]; Norris [see Akrigg index] owns John Hall’s wit (…Sue); old Swede eyed; Know reason, wife join, hold Sue; cat see; whiff John Hall, Sue H.
          1-2) In orison, wife John Hall dissuaded etiquette, chases ass; chase fast ass; W.H. aided oath, catachresis [: = r] aye
          2) A sophist ass objects; obese; a fit, a sob I see; behemoths
          2-3) “Miss,” “a femme” be lady words to wrong men; thespian asses ambled; bloody words t’ wrong my Andes (Indies); A sophist, Aesop, jacks, Thisbe, a ms.-ass, ambled; Jack t’ [John?] Stow hies, by a ms.’s hymn bloody, I’ve heard
          3) wrong, mendacity, oath see, our sea of altering (see o’ faltering) things; see our fief
          3-4) the cursive (curses) altering thy inches, W.H.; in Dis too-thick whore see, awful, trying th’ hinges, hoof warty
          4) W.H., O, fjord sunken own; earth’s sun know, kneel; sunken O’Neill the huge “I’s” height bit, aching; know, in altos, high jet
          4-5) new hitches halt runes; bitty, aching W.H., I see his hole did rain of port, messier (monsieur)
          5) holed runes bored me, sir, this tease Romy, whore-f--ked
          5-6) fair homme, you recite “To be”—disaster t’ Hathaway strewing (stirring)
          6) “To be” diseased ear, thought Harry W.; T.T., hear Waster neigh; the ruse truant eye
          6-7) kneading gin [i.e., device, engine], Thetis racked John, oft his maiden-giver; To be deaf as dirt, Hathaway’s t’ rune, heeding John; t’ rune, Ed, inch in t’ heady fit
          7) John the deaf raised aye; fewer
          7-8) this “mating of Eve” read away; oaf, thy “summit” in Jesu erred; this maiden Jesu erred; right away, John sees you; farty Hugh-John seas you’ve fared
          8) Owen sees you ferret in York-rhyme; Two eye John cease, afeared
          8-9) die, nurse, wry muse, enter Will’s cunt; see rhyme witch inter; in York, see wry, amusing Terrell
          9) Will’s Count Bad, W.H. eyed in cake (keg) odd; Will’s cunt be a twat, I think; Inter Will as Count Bad; W.H. ate “I” thin; hairy, Will’s cunt be oddity (aye dowdy)—thin keg odd
          9-10) I, th’ Ink God of Theatre; the Ink Goddess, theatre guardian (Gordian); I think good of theatre: A sword newer canopy missed
          9-11) ode, oft heady, recording your sane B.M.’s aye, fitting th’ ink
        10) a sword in her, see Anne be missed
        10-11) in hurricane be misty hint, inked; new Ark eye in beams, T.T.; is Titan thin?
        11) in Kate eye two before (I, too, be sore)
        11-12) half-hard the metal dour, too thin, white in jet; be foe (Sue) revered, Ham told W.H.
        12) in jet emirs I shun
        12-13) emir says I owe Anne gallows (callous) pity; I owe Nicholas pity; Ashen, see Hall’s pitiful ladder [i.e., acrostic], Jew, or scent Harry, gay Zed [Z], inch spent, my time [i.e., meter] disgrace and wretched minute [i.e., records] kill; eye uncle’s pate, eisell there eye
        13) Psalter eye, voicing t’ Harry a zing; Rivers in there gay see, John; there Ivor sinned; th’ Iraqis eye, in jest penned; our center’s gay; eye you our centaurs gay; hazy inches penned; integer “A-Z’ing” is penned
        13-14) gazing ass, pen “Tommy” t’ eye medias (g)res
        14) Madam dies—gray scene; Mighty my deaf, gray sea, Anne, dour; Mighty, I Maid’s grace endured; sea hid my night-keel; my item dies, gray; gray Seine, dour t’ see; if Grey see Anne dour touch demon (Damon), you I’d kill; rat, see head, my “Y” [pictographic groin] nautical; Anne dour at Academy, knight, kill

Acrostic Wit

          The downward codelineN AD WW T I TW O TW PM—suggests, e.g., these readings: “In a duet, eye two (In odd-witted woe), 2:00 p.m.,” “In A.D., wit, eye (Night-wit eye,) 2:02 p.m.,” “Knight wood, I taught W. th’ [P = th] hymn,” “Nat [Field?], witty twat, wipe ’im,” “An odd wit eye, two t’ whip ’im,” “In odd wit I taught ‘Whip ‘em!,” “In odd-witted woe...,” “Night, wedded woe...,” “In A.D. wed, 122, p.m.,” “Night wet, eye tot (...toad), wipe [h]im,” “An odd, wet eye--two, t’ wipe ’em,” “An odd, wet eye—two, t’ wipe ’em,” “An adieu tidy would wipe ’em,” and/or “...would weep homme.”

          The upward (reverse) codeline—MPWT O WTI TWW DAN—suggests (as samples) these encryptions: “Impute ‘O’ witty t’ Dan(e),” “Impute ‘O’ wit aye t’ Widow Anne,” “My puta, wedded, wooden,” “My ‘phew!’ twat…” “M’ putto [cf. ‘poot,’ fart] witty tooting,” “My putto—wet [as in a spouting fountain] it wouldn’t,” and “Impute ode aye t’ Witan (Wit [Widow] Anne, wedding).” An “O” is a pictographic round, and thus a rune; a putto may be a urinating fountain statue.

           Suggestive wit lurks in the linked codestrings WT, TWOT, TOWT, and TWWD. “Wet/Wed” and “twat” inhere in these codeforms, along with other potentialities.

Proceed to Rune 121
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