Return to Index Page: Shakespeare’s Lost Sonnets

Shakespeare’s Lost Sonnets: A Restoration of the Runes
by Roy Neil Graves, Professor of English
The University of Tennessee at Martin

Set V, Runes 57-70: Texts and Comments 
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 58
Return to the Index of Set V

Rune 57
First lines, Set V (Sonnets 57-70)

                         Rune 57

     (First lines, Set V: Sonnet 57-70)

     Being your slave, what should I do but tend
     That God forbid, that made me first your slave?
     If there be nothing new, but that which is,
 4  Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
     Is it thy will thy image should keep open
     (Sin of self-love possesseth all) mine eye,
     Against my love shall be as I am now
 8  When I have seen by time’s fell hand defaced
     Sense brass? Nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
     Tired with all these, for restful death I cry!
     Ah, wherefore with infection should he live?
12 Thus is his cheek the map of days outworn,
     Those parts of thee that the world’s eye doth view;
     That thou are blamed shall not be thy defect.
     Glosses: 2) That = That which; 7) Against = Until; 8) fell = savage; 9) brass suggests “insensible” (ME) and “impudent” (1642); cheek, suggesting both “buttock” and “mouthings,” is a variant of “check,” the side “ring” of a harness, and thus a pun on “round/rune”; 10) Tired puns on “Attired”; 11) he (with bawdy overtones) = death, sense, the poet, the friend, and/or “penis” (with the pictographic phallic pun “‘I’ see awry” in 10). Family namepuns include, e.g., Anne [= w = IN] Hat.; S[ue] Hall (1); “Judy S., our bitty Hat.-maid” (2); Hat., witch S. (3); make (i.e., mate), in 4; thy Will (5); Hall, m’ Annie (6); “a gay Anne Shakespeare” (st = the family name cipher); S. Hall; Bess; Ham (7); and S. Hall (14).

     57. The Map of Days Outworn

     Being your slave, what choice do I have here but to attend to
     the thing forbidden by heaven that first enslaved me.
     If there is nothing new in the world, just what there is,
  4 like waves moving toward the pebbled shore,
     do you want your image to go on filling
     (everybody is controlled by sinful egotism) my eye
     until my love reaches the stage I have already reached
  8 as one who has seen ruthless time claw away at
     “imperishable” wit and bold perception? Not being stone, earth, or infinite sea,
     and bored with all these, the elemental conceits of my verse, I cry out for restful death!
     Ah, why should a man live with such infection,
making his cheeks look like wrinkled maps from worn-out days,
     especially if such components are to become the parts of you that are revealed to the world?
     It’s not your fault if you look blemished here in these poems.



          This lament—the first-line series in Set V, with emphatic capitals—records Will’s on-going struggle to pay tribute to his unnamed muse and friend. (“You” [1-2] might also mean the poet’s hard, captivating writing project.) As a devoted writer (1-2) turning over a new leaf in a new set, the poet finds himself lacking new “imagery” (3-4). Further, Will’s devotion is itself illicit: “That [which] God forbid” hints vaguely at homoeroticism (2). The “sin of self-love” (6) is suggestive in an allied way, as is “sense brass” (9), which translates, coyly, “hardened sensuality.” In a mock-dramatic tone, Will dramatizes himself as being in a deteriorated state, longing for death (7-10), and apologizing to his friend and to the world for doing a bad job as poet (11-14).

          Another take on the poem is to imagine the poet “tending” (1) the friend’s “image” (5) by gazing on it as if it were a map (12)—its waters predictably hitting the shorelines (4)—until he is sleepy-eyed (5-6), “tired,” and needing rest (10) after an “outworn” day (12). Seeing the poet in this posture helps explain the elemental images of “earth” and “boundless sea” (9) and the map figure (12)—where, jokingly, the globe may be the friend’s exposed “cheek.”

          Interwoven imagery touches on perversion, sickness, physical deterioration, enslavement, and geography. Such puns as “slave/salve,” “tend/tanned” (1-2), and “should he/faulty” (11, see 1) help link some of these topics: e.g., “Wrinkles” (12) and “infection” (11, hinting at V.D.), both need “salve.” Low humor is also at play in puns such as “eye/I,” “fore/sore,” “all/awl,” “but/butt,” “as/ass,” “brass/bare ass,” “blamed/be-lamed,” “like/lick,” and “parts.” A typical sub-textual pun is “…I see r/ear sore, witty infection, faulty, livi/d hussy’s cheek…” (10-12).

          One implied situation, then, shows a devoted writer (1-2) who finds himself lacking new “imagery” (3-6)—a “natural” concern for a writer turning over a new leaf. The tone is desperate. Will dramatizes himself as being in a deteriorated state like senility (7-8) and longing for death (9-10). Though this situation explains why the muse is imperfectly represented by work of poor quality (11-14), the friend may be flawed for being self-centered (6). Even the devotion is itself illicit (2). Though “God forbid” might be an incidental oath, it has the force of a substantive (e.g., “that God-forbidden thing”) and suggests homoerotic love or, jokingly, either the friend’s or poet’s male member.

          Homogenital bawdry begins with the opening pun, “Being your slave, what should I do butt-end / That God forbid, that made me first your slave?” Puns on “be inch,” “salve,” “ass-holed, I do butt in,” “fore,” “Hat., S. Hall, die,” and “that maid me first” enrich the phallic joke. Other plays add bawdy complexity: e.g., “Is it thy will thy image, ass-holed, keep open [asshole dicky peep in] / Scene awful, feel of pussy, fatal ‘mine’ aye?” (5-6). “Tired with Hall” (10) and “Sin of self-love possesseth Hall” (6) are concurrent puns. The words “should” (1, 5, 11 and “shall” (6, 14) allow puns both on “S. Hall” and “ass-hole(d).”

           “Sin of self-love” (6) implies autoeroticism, and many other details suggest phallic or homoerotic activity. “Pebbled shore” and the pun in “mate, two-wards” (4) may joke about testicles—and the whole line, about the rhythm of sex. Other broad puns include “keeping open” (5); “awl,” “mine eye/ ‘I’” (6); “Against my love” and “I” (7); “bare ass,” and “Sense brass” (9) as “Hardened feeling”; “Tired,” “death,” and “I” (10); “fore,” “infection” (suggesting V.D.) and the ambiguous “he” as “male member” (11); “his cheek” and “outworn” (12) as—comically—a wrinkled, exposed, and overworked rear end; and “parts” and “eye/‘I’” (13). Such covert details jokingly point to “God-forbidden” sexual bondage and off-limits sex between males, with images of fatigue and sexual ailments helping to link diverging figures.

           In “thy Will” (5) the poet puns on himself, thereafter talking about his own situation. (“Will” means “strong sexual desire” [Partridge 221].) In this implicit dramatic scenario, the poet “tends” (1) the “image” (5) of the friend by gazing on it as if it were a map (12)—its waters predictably hitting the shorelines (4)—until he is “Tired” (10) and sleepy-eyed (5-6) after a “day outworn” (12) and wishes for “rest” (10). This posture rationalizes the elemental images of “earth” and “boundless sea” (9) and also explains the map figure (12), where comically the globe may be the friend’s exposed rear “cheek.” (OED shows “cheek” associated with effrontery much past Will’s day [1840], but the double meaning of “cheeks” must be very old.) “Cheek” may also mean “check,” and especially the side “ring” of a harness—and thus suggests “round.

           Biographically, the poem’s interest in sodomy fits what many have long suspected about Shakespeare and Southampton. (Akrigg, e.g., says that “nothing would be less surprising than to learn that during certain periods of his early life Southampton passed through homosexual phases” [182]; Akrigg also concludes, “One is forced to suspect that some element of homosexuality lay at the root of [Shakespeare’s] trouble,” and that “the love which he felt for Southampton may well have been the most intense emotion of his life” [237].) The interest in “infection” also seems to angle the poem toward the son-in-law, Dr. Hall. In each case (if what we are detecting is right), the mood of the reader allows the materials to be passed off as joke-like, and Will’s “serious” pain, if any at all, lies hidden under a mask of irony.

           Yet another slant on unriddling the rune sees the poet as an “enslaved” footman standing publicly outside the friend’s quarters, bored with the world he sees, sleepy and anxious for rest. The ambiguous “he” (11) allows one to read 12-13 as references to the poet or his poems, the “public” part of the friend. “Infection” (11) puns on “in-faction” as coterie and on “in-section” as buried verse segment or “round”—with “end-section” a further bawdy pun.

          Covert, ambiguous family wit includes such puns as “which/witch”; “thus/th’huss”: “mine eye/m’Annie”; “shall/should/S.Hall” (Susanna Hall, the poet’s daughter); “all/ Hall”; and “make” as its variant “mate.” The problems a reader hits in trying a serious construction of the text sometimes have comic “solutions.” For example, an anti-Anne pun helps “solve” the syntactic problem in line 8: “…I have seen, betimes, Fell [i.e., Savage, Fierce, Ruthless] Anne deceased (…defaced, diseased).” “Against” (7) yields the pun “A gay Anne Shakespeare” because “long s + t” is, I’ve deduced, a Shakespeare name cipher, with S “holding” a spear-like t and “shaking” it. (This name cipher is an idea of my own, unsanctioned by other critics.) “Will” (which puns on “sexual desire”) is a namepun that makes line 5 ask, “Am I, Will, the one who must keep your image alive?” Line 14 embeds plays on “Hathaway” (Q Hat thou a…) and “Betty” (Q be thy)—perhaps Elizabeth Hall, Will’s granddaughter (b. 1608).

           Indeed, grandfatherly wit focusing on young Elizabeth and her mother, Susanna, seems to inhere in the acrostic codeline: e.g., “Bitty Lisa, wise tot” and/or “Betty Lisa W.S. taught.” One way to read such wit is as a comic commentary—flattering to Dr. Hall—on Eisa’s “early initiation” into the coterie because of her advanced wisdom. The poet seems to take credit for letting Sue’s eyes rest, presumably by keeping her out of the coterie loop.

         Clusters of initial words (as well as emphatic letters) in Q often seem contrived to generate wit. Here the initial cluster of 10 capital letters in 10-14 play on “Hathaway”—e.g., with words suggesting “Th’ huss” (12), “T’ Hath-o-v” (14), and with four second-line H’s. The anagram HHATTTTHH-Y is one arrangement. The doubly emphatic, nearly centered string “VVH” (8) reiterates the dedicatory page initials, standing at will for both H. Wriothesley and IN. Hall.

          The overlaid initial play on “baggy eyes” in line 8 seems more eye-catching to a “beetle-eyed” observer. (The Droeshout portrait of Will prefacing the First Folio—a version of which is at right—shows puffy eyes. Since all my own pictures, from babyhood onward, betray the same facial feature, I understand how one’s puffy eyes can become a small preoccupation central to one’s self-image.) Will’s joke here is reminiscent of the “wide-eyed” joke in the emphatic-line text that initiates Set III (cf. Rune 29.6), and it uses the same oversized VV as a pictographic pun.
          Here Will clues us into the “eye-wit” with plays on “Eyesight,” “Will’s image,” and “keeping open” (5); with the linepun “Sign of self, low, puffy, subtle mine eye” (6); with the play “be as I, A.M. know” (7), suggesting a poet who’s stayed up into the morning hours; and with the fuller pun “Be as I am now / VV [i.e., baggy eyed] enough, e’en by time’s fell hand defaced” (7-8).
          Other puns decorate this baroque baggy-eyes joke: “I [Eye] m[y] age should keep open,” “low [jaw...] possesseth all mine eye,” “Tired…, I cry,” “his cheek the map of days outworn,” “the world S.-eye doth view,” and “defect. ” Relevant readings of the emphatic acrostic codeline BTIL IS A WS TATTT include “Beetle eyes, a wise tete,” “Beetle eyes eye W.S. tete,” “Beetle eyes eye W.’s tete,” “Beetle eyes I wasted,” “Beetle eyes? Aye: W. S. t’ hate,” and “Beetle-eye saw S.-tete”—or “...Ass-tete.”
          The line “My heavy eyelids [hasten] to the weary night,” nearby in Rune 58.5, sketches out much the same image of the tired poet.

The initial emphatic VV in line 8
Will’s baggy eyes,
and the acrostic
encodes“beetle eyes,”
which one observes in the
“W.S. [wise...] tete.”

         Concurrently, the double-columned acrostic encodes, e.g., “Beetle-eye saw state [likely a printing term] evasive aye,” with “evasive state” a metaphor for the elusive Runes. (See below.)

Sample Puns

           1) Be injurious, ludus, all day, début t[o] end; you’re slowed, asshole, die; W.H. eyed faulty (eye twofold) idea; John ate S.Hall, die o’ butt-end; what if Hall die? Being your fool, Ovid folded
           1-2) Hat.’s holiday bawdy ended; our salute, S. Hall, die, obit ended; “I do”; I do beauty end
           2) That good sorbet dead Hat. made me, Sir, stir slow (is terse, low); Tommy, demise eye; Hat. got sore, bedded, made me, sir, Shakespeare, your salve (your arse halve); God of orbit that made me; th’ timid miss arise to your flow; May lst you resolve; Tower is low
           3) Eye “feetier” B [metrical], nothing new, bawdy eye-twitches; eye Father [cf. God (2)] be nothing; eye fit, Arabian ode, engine you bought had witches
           3-4) nothing new but that witches like (lick) ass; new, butted W.H. I chisel
           4) was my Cato wordy, Southy? I kissed you, heavy smack toward ass (Southy)
           4-5) make towards the Bible, deaf whore, eye City willed, High Images; forest eye, T.T.; Like ass, the Wife S. my cat-whore; “awesome ache,” two words the Papal Dis Whore aye said
           5) Eye (I, Aye) City Will; time ages Hall; thyme; hold dicky, pee; you eye Lethe, eye Magus
           5-6) images hold key, Pepin is enough; hold dicky, Pope, in sin of self-love; O, pen is enough of hell, Selah 6 self-love possesseth awl, mine “I”; Sinai’s seal see low; see low pussy; is Seth a leman (lemon) aye
           6-7) pose Isaiah, Ptolemy in aging fit; fiddle (fetal, fatal) m’ Annie H[athaway], Anne Shakespeare [st], my Hell-oval (offal)
           7) m’ love’s Hall, Bessie (Libbie, I say), a minnow; Simon; eye Siam now (in “O”)
           7-8) Owen; S. Hall be as I, a Minoan; a Minoan I’ve (half) seen
           8) seen, bitty missile (missal); W., Hen., eye, half-seen… defaced; enough Annie; seen bitty, Miss Helen defaced; Betty I miss; eye ms. slant, defaced (diseased); Tom is fellow indeed sauced; eye half-seen epitomes of Helen, dead, effaced
           8-9) eisell handy sauced sin; a sedes in sea be rough; Anne, dead, face Dis
           9) Ass John, zebras now raced wan in our earth, in our boundless sea; Sin see braving whore, Shakespeare [= st] on ’er earthy—honor bound, lass see; Sense Paris, Norsed honor (Norse wan know, rare, thinner); lass; laugh
           9-10) “Our boundless satyr,” read Wit Hall
         10) Tired wit Hall, the Caesar, rests; halt, heifer, rest, fool; thicker “Y”; heath I see wry
         10-11) eye zero, Hereford, insect; you, lady (laddie), ate “hickory oar,” sore with infection (soar with an affection)
         11) Aware (A weary) forehead, John’s, eased aye on asshole; Ah, W., Harry, foe, rude infection faulty, live; Aye Hereford infection foiled
         11-12) see, Zion, faulty hell Ovid uses, is checked; livid, you sigh, Scheisse see
         12) Th’ huss eyes his cheek…; hiss Hecate; see Hecate, maybe o’ Phidias, odd, worn
         12-13) woe ornate
         13) at the world’s [Mt.] Ida, O, th’ view
         13-14) hue earl decideth, heavy-witted; Thou see part soft head, Hathaway, our lady’s “eye” doughty view; Earl sighteth, viewed Hathaway rib, lame, deaf, all knotty, bitty defect
         14) Th.. Thorpe lay ’mid S.Hall (mid-fall) an odd bed, Thetis’s, tee! (eased, act, seat, seed); S. Hall, note Betty (bitty) deaf act; thou Arab lame, deaf, Hall, an oat be

Acrostic Wit

          The visibly emphatic acrostic—BTI LISA WS TATTT—may be about Will’ granddaughter. The codeline suggests such readings as, e.g., “Bitty Lisa, wise tot,” “Bit Elisa was taught (tot),” “Bitty Lisa wasted titty,” and “Bitty Elisa W. S. taught.” ILISA-BT (cf. “Elizabeth”) is an anagram of the initial 7 letters. Will’s granddaughter Elizabeth Hall was b. 2/1608.

          Another reading of the codeline may allude to politics or to printing: “Beetle-eye saw state.”

          Will’s own facial features (see above) are the subject of still other readings, surely crafty and contrived: e.g., “Beetle eyes I wasted,” “Beetle eyes eye W. stat [at once],” “Beetle eye saw Shakespeare [ = ST, the name cipher] & [i.e., et] T.T.,” “Beetle eye saw Shakespeare eat T.T.,” “Beetle-eye saw sainted T.T.,”and “Beetle eyes aye wasted T.T.” Here as elsewhere, T.T. is Thomas Thorpe, Will’s printing agent and collaborator in the eye-straining, jot-and-tittle Q project.

          In another, concurrent sense, the “beetle eyes” are also our own here, as we go searching after clues.

          The upward reverse of this emphatic codeline—TT TAT SW A SILI TB—suggests such readings as “T.T. [i.e., Thomas Thorpe, the printing agent who helped Will effect his scheme] taught Sue a silly ‘To be’ (Salve Tibi)” and “Titty taut sways ill, aye t’ be (…eye tip).”

          First-line texts such as this one generate a doubly complex acrostic codeline because of the secondary initial capitals in each line. The full down/up “hairpin”version of this code—BTI LISA V[V]S TAT TT TT TATS VVASIL IT BE—suggests (as one of some eight possible permutations including up/down, down/down, and up/up letterstrings, each with different starting points) such readings as these: “Elizabeth (Betty Lisa, Bitty Lisa), wise tot, titty tastes, Wassail it be” and “Bitty Lisa W.S. taught Titus, wassail, aye to be (…hated [B=8].” Portions of the letterstring also suggest “Cecil” (code SVVASIL) and “weasel” (VVASIL).

          One double-columned “ladder” version of the acrostic (i.e., the down/down version starting at the most obvious place, top left) —BTIL I SAV STATT EHFISIGV IYHHHH—suggests, e.g., “Beetle-eye saw state [likely a printing term] evasive aye”—with “evasive state” a kenning for the elusive runes. The reverse of this same code—HHHHYIVG IS IFHETTAT SVA S I LIT B—suggests, e.g., “Heavy eyes evaded Sue as I let be,” “…Sue’s eyelid be…,” and “Heavy guys evaded Savior as I let be.” Various codeline components also suggest “Jesus” (F=S), “fated,” “fetid,” “Head,” “Swiss,” “silly ‘To be’,” “vessel,” “vassal,” “vacillate,” and “elated” (B=8).

Proceed to Rune 58
Return to the Index of Set V
Return to Index Page: Shakespeare’s Lost Sonnets