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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 I, Runes 1-14: Texts and Comments
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 13
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Rune 12:
Twelfth lines, Set I (Sonnets 1-14)

                         Rune 12

     And tender churl mak’st waste in niggarding,
     Proving his beauty by succession thine,
     Despite of wrinkles. This thy golden time,
 4  What ácceptable audit canst thou leave—
     Nor it nor no remembrance what it was
     Leaving thee, living in posterity?
     From his low tract, and look another way,
 8  Who, all in one, one pleasing note do sing,
      And, kept unused, the user so destroys it!
     Or, to thyself at least kind-hearted prove
     Which bounteous gift thou shouldst in bounty cherish,
12 And die as fast as they see others grow,
     And, barren, rage of death’s eternal cold!
     If from thyself to store thou wouldst convert!
1) tender churl = gentle miser, i.e., Beauty (see 2); 3) wrinkles = tricks or wiles, moral blemishes (OED); 7) his low tract = Beauty’s miserly teachings; 12) they (ambig.) points back to posterity (see 6) and wrinkles (see 3).

     12. A Sermon on Succession

     Now, Beauty, a soft-hearted miser, is a spendthrift even while hoarding,
     leaving you heir to his beauty,
     wrinkles notwithstanding—and all jokes aside. This being your golden time,
  4 consider what appropriate last account you can leave,
     so that neither that final reckoning nor people’s remembrance of it
     would ever be lost to you, since you’d go on living forever in memory.
     Turn from the low road of miserliness, Beauty’s worst anthem, and consider the higher way,
  8 my paragon, whose single voice sounds like a whole choir
     and who, by holding it back, kills not only that chorus but your voice itself.
     On second thought, go ahead (acting at the lowest level of self-regard) and decide
     which generously-given gift you should hold onto, in your state of wealth,
12 so that it (and you) can die as fast as posterity sees other gifts, not hoarded, multiply—and as fast as wrinkles breed wrinkles—
     and then, empty and childless, rage on in death’s eternal cold!
     If only you’d be less selfish and start providing for the future!


          Alternately flattering and chiding, here another of Will’s lectures to the listener-muse in Set I encourages less self-centeredness and more attention to the future. In the hypothetical “succession” of three generations—Beauty, the Auditor, and the Heir—all three seem to be male.

           Though the figures “tender churl” (1),”audit” (4), “low tract” (7), and “pleasing note” (8) sound unrelated, all fit the scenario of a church service and have connections with the “right worship” required of one who’s richly gifted. An allusion to the Parable of the Talents—in which a “bounteous gift” (11) is “kept unused” and lost (4, 9)—gives Will his text: “What acceptable Audit [i.e., Final Reckoning] can you leave?” The line that urges a “conversion to store” and away from selfishness (14) points ironically toward the Parable of the Rich Man, where “building bigger barns” meant losing all. In form and tone the rune is like a sermon or tract (see 7) exhorting the friend to right action. It asserts the situation (1-3), poses the question (4-6), offers good advice (7-9), and then sarcastically urges selfishness (10-13) before a rhetorical finish.

           The carefully modulated reasoning hangs on a frame of apt transitions and a good mix of directives and melancholy exclamations, embedding numerous homiletic details. The friend is guilty of selfishness and greed, and Will’s words focus on those “sins” (1, 9, 11-14). The poet’s “Audit” is the Last Judgment (fig. OED 1548)—conducted orally (as “audit” implies). “Low tract” (7) denotes an unprofitable moral guidebook, an unpolished (or mumbled or inarticulate) church anthem, or, punningly, a wrong “track” of action. With “convert” (14), the phrase “low tract” points to other tangentially relevant terms: “Succession” and “wrinkles” (2-3) suggest High Church precedent and pageantry; “look another way” (7) means “…up to heaven” (7); and “kindheartedness” (10) is a Christian trait. The listener’s “unsounded note” is like an unsung choral anthem (8-9). If the auditor’s withheld gift (11) is a song, then two other details are relevant: “golden time” (3, cf. rhythm) and the suggestion in “audit” of “something heard.” (In Sonnet 126.11-12, Audite contrasts with Quietus.) The punning epithet “Howling one” (8) depicts a bad singer.

           Scattered economic and legal jargon includes terms about wills and inheritance (e.g., “prove” 10); these terms connect with churchly elements because the friend’s “niggardliness” is his moral problem and because ecclesiastical rather than civil courts—including the highest Judgment—have an interest in how he deals with it.

           “Wrinkles” (3) suggests “humorous tricks” that include the usual gamy puns and bawdry as well as the leg-pulling Runegame itself. One insinuation is that a “wrinkled” male member should be “prowing his beauty” (2). “Beauty” puns on “bawdy” and “body.” Low puns also occur in “suck-session” (2), “post-erity” (6), and “from his low trac[k]” (7)—suggesting the bowels. (“One pleasing note” is an ironic, impolite pun.) “Low tract” is also a good epithet for a bawdy runic poem. Audit puns on “oddity,” and “leave” (4) can mean “write down.” Things “kept unused” are like the buried poems, which “die as fast as th’ eye [may] see others grow” (12). The element “bounty cherish” (11) is wit about plenitude in the poem’s longest line.

           Jokes about Anne and about John Hall (among others) are plentiful. As other critics have suggested, “And” (e.g., 1, 7, 9, 12, 13) puns on “Anne.” The suggestion that, in the Q Runegame, st = Shakespeare and “W = IN = Jn. = John” are my own: The digraph st in Q is always a potential “Shakespeare cipher”—with its “long s” seeming to hold its “spear-like t” by the handle and “shake” it. Thus the word “makst” (1) can pun on “Mate Shakespeare,” and “can’st” (4), on “see Anne Shakespeare” (here linked with the pun Oddity). “Who all in one...” (8) puns not only on “Holy nun/Howling one”—whom the line directs to “sing one pleasing note”—but also on “John Hall eye none,” a pun similar to the one on Q’s much-discussed dedicatory page.

           Line 9 illustrates the capacity of Q’s linear letterstrings to generate complex, ambiguous, allusive puns: “Hand ‘i cap [a game of chance?] to you, noosed thief, fierce odious Troy sight” (code: An-d-kep t v nvsde thev fers ode-s troye sit:). A concurrent pun is “...sod of Troy sight, oar, too...” (9-10). Line 12 puns “Handy asses eye if tasty satyrs [feathers] grow.” (See other puns below.)

Sample Puns

           1) Aye in debt, Anne…see; Intend dirge early, my cast was fit; Anne died, end dirge; hurl, Ma[t]e Shakespeare, wasting an egg hard; tender (monetary); Anne did end Rizzy, Earl
           1-3) Note bawdry about oral sex and sexual endowment of blacks
           2) “neger’d” inch prowing his beauty by f--ks, Zion thine; f--k session t’ hiney
           3) Dis-pit of wry ink; in clay “Southy, Southy,” jeweled, intime; Deaf pity; wrinkles tricks
           4) John [=W=IN], Hat. accept able Oddity, see Anne Shakespeare, th’ Oval Eve; W.H. ate ox apt, a bloody tease; leave leaf, page
           5) Nor rune (reversed); North, an oar, Noah remember; remember Anne, sweet it was; re-member Anne, see What-it-was
           6-7) Leaving, the loo-engine puffed, a ride from his low track
           7) “post”-terity (phallic); Form high, slow, traced Anne; direct Anne, Luke, another way; look—Anne Otherway
           8) Hole-in-one; awling-one (wand); John [=W] Hall, a nun wan, plays—inch, node—dosing; John Hall, an Onan; One pleasing note—Do—sing (Do as the first note in the scale OED 1754); note suggests a fart from “his low track” (see 7)
           8-9) John Hall…dosing handicapped ewe, unused the wife, or Sue
           9) Anne, dick up to unwifed thief, errs; Anne-dick, apt, unused, the user, Sue, destroys it; foe, destroy site
           9-10) sod of Troy sight, oar too
        10) Whore to This.’ll seed, leaf; leaf [page], taken t’ heart; hard, Ed., prow
        10-11) kind-hearted, prow Witch
        11) bone shows Jew’s titty
        11-12) S. Hall dost in bounty cherish Anne; see here, I shan’t die; bounty see (sea), hear a chantey
        12-13) Anne dies fast as defeat, her ass groaned barren rage
        13) Anne be a rune or (barren whore) a jest, a tease; …at His eternal cold; Saturn, all cold; Saturnal sea old
        14) Ephraim they’ve left, oft whored (…off to Red Hole [cf. Red Sea]); …O, history, thou would Shakespeare convert; …see on earth; “Will Shakespeare cunt” you heard; dust see on your tea; thistle see, toasty whore; Shakespeare “O,” riddled fit, convert

Acrostic Wit

          The downward emphatic acrostic codeline—A P DWN L F W A OWAAI—suggests, e.g., “A Bedouin live way away,” “A Bedouin love we, away,” and “Ape, dune live way away.” The string AP DWN (in the down code) suggests UP, DOWN. Other readings are “Up, down, love woe aye (...leaf-woe eye),” “Up, down—love we owe [acknowledge] aye,” “I paid one love way away [punning on ‘Hathaway’],” and “A Bedouin’ll few eye....” An AP (i.e., ape) could be a “satyr” (pun 12; OED).

          The upward codeline—IAAW O A WF L NWD PA—may be read, e.g., “You owe [i.e., admit] a wife’ll nude pay (be),” “…a wife’ll unwed be aye,” “I eye a woe awful, new, deep aye,” “Jaw [Chew] offal, newt pie,” and “Jaw of linèd Pa.”

          The down/up hairpin suggests, e.g., “Up, down leaf [i.e., page] we eye always [F=S]. Line would thee [P = thorn = TH] eye...,” with a downward turn at the end that tends to start a reader/player on a new interpretation of the code.

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