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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 X, Runes 127-140: Texts and Comments 
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2004, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 136
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Rune 135
Ninth lines, Set X (Sonnets 127-140)

                         Rune 135

     (Ninth lines, Set X: Sonnets 127-140)

     Therefore my mistress’ eyes are raven black;
     Two be so. Tickled, they would change their state,
     Made in pursuit, and in possession. So
 4  I love to hear her speak; yet (well I know—
     And, to be sure, that is not false, I swear)
     As those two mourning eyes become thy face,
     Prison my heart in thy steel bosom’s ward,
 8  The statute of thy beauty thou wilt take.
     The sea, all water, yet receives rain still;
     Then in the number let me pass untold.
     Why should my heart think that a several plot?
12 But wherefore says she not she is unjust,
     Let me excuse thee—ah, my love well knows—
     For if I should despair, I should grow mad.
     Glosses: 1) puns: fore (i.e., “in front”), “my mystery-sighs,” rune/round/raving, with black suggesting “inky”; Raven points to R. Greene’s “upstart Crow” attack on Will; 2) puns: Two (see eyes in 1); “‘To be...,’ saw [i.e., a saying, ‘seen’] tickled th’ eye wood [i.e., crazy], changed her state”; 2-3) pun: “Thirsty? Tea / made in pure Sudan...”; 3) puns: Mad (see 14); 4) well (see wilt in 8, well in 13): a pudendal pun, playing on inkwell, Will, “will” as sexual drive; 5) puns: And = Anne; “To be’s you read...” pointing to line 2; 6) become (ambig.) = become integral with, replace in perception, flatter; 7) pun (see 11): heart/art; 11) Q’s fhould (see14) puns on S. Hall, the poet’s daughter Sue; several: see number in 10, the pun “dis-pair” in 14), with “ art a ‘sever-all’ plot” punning on the bifurcated Sonnets/Runes; 13-14) puns: “...excuse the ‘animal O’ you well know is fore...” “Will knows,” with Fore... [Frontal, Initial in the line] echoing Therefore in 1; 14) despair puns on “separate,” “divorce” (as “dis-pair”); mad echoes line 3.

     135. A Several Plot

     There, up front, my mistress’ eyes—like the inky “I’s” of my mss. here, my “mystery sighs”—are raven-black,
     both of them. (As overlaid Sonnets and Runes, my “mystery sighs” are a dual project.) Excited, they would show color of the sort
     that aggressive passion and conquest generate. When she is in that heightened state,
  4 I love to hear her voice. Still, even as things are now (I know the well I write from,
     and, for sure, this black ink shows truth, I swear)
     as those two mourning eyes merge with the image of your gloomy face
     and imprison my heart in the chamber of your steel bosom,
  8 you’re sure to take the full limit that is your beauty’s right.
     The sea, an infinite liquid well, goes on receiving even more rain;
     just so, let me join the multitude unnoticed, a small drop in the inky depths.
     Why should my heart see that merger as a class action or subversive plot?
12 For whatever reason my ms. fails to admit her injustices,
     let me overlook yours—ah, my love knows that wellspring—
     for if I lost the hope you give me, I would go mad.


          Rune 135 is another in the ambiguous series of 28 visible sonnets and 28 hidden runes comprising Sets X-XI in the Q project—mostly focusing on Will’s infamous, riddlic Dark Lady. As I’ve said elsewhere, my deduction after finding the Runes is that this Perverse Ms. is principally a conceit for the poet’s printing project, his “ms.” or “mss. ” and particularly the hidden Runes, whose “I’s” are “nothing like the sun” because printed “I’s” are straight and inky black, whereas the sun is round and light-bearing, more like a typographic O. As his “Mystery sighs,” the Runes are indeed inky black (see 1 here).

          The idea of a “perverse female” who has a controlling medial relationship between the poet and his unnamed friend—his primary auditor/muse—is apt because the fates of both men are symbiotically interlinked with this fickle “Ms.” and her “Mystery Sighs.” Her “well” (a pudendal pun that also suggests “inkwell”), the inky darkness of her physical features, and the two-sidedness of her perverse nature are all characteristics that recommended her to the poet as a suitable metaphoric equivalent for the writing project he was undertaking. Too, she provides a suitable “female” cover to mask the homophile odor of the visible Sonnets, which often have the poet addressing his male friend in tones of deep affection—though coupled with frustration and implicit criticisms.

           Most Q texts gesture in some way or other toward this unnamed friend. Here, e.g., he seems to be the “thee” of lines 7-8, 13. All three figures in the shadowy drama here—poet, mistress, friend—seem to be “unjust[ified] plotters” needing “excuse” (11-13).

           Rauen in line 1 is a fairly convincing pun on “Rune.” Among many latent puns in 1-2 here is “Therefore my ‘Mystery Sighs,’ our Rune, blacked O [i.e., a round, a rune] be....” Like others in Q, the poem depends heavily on such tedious, suggestive puns as mad/made, well/will/Will, they/th’ eye, heart/hard/art, knows/nose, and fold/fhould (see 14). Such puns as Mistress’ Eyes/Mystery Sighs and plays on “To be...” as a “saw” that “tickled th’ eye” (see 2) are fully congruent with more apparent elements in the poet’s game of double entendre. Most puns of this order distract the mind rather than advancing the straightline sense of the text.

           Typical puns on writing and printing include these:

          1) “Th’ airy form y’ miss,” “I’s,” “mss.,” “our Rune black,” inkiness;
           2) change their state, suggesting “shift printed forms,” “shift from sonnets to runes”;
           4) speak, well (see 13);
           7) art (see 11); “Peer, eye fon, mere, tinty, steel boss [i.e., a protuberance, something embossed] o’ ms. weird (...warty),” describing inked typebits;
         10) number (playing on “metrics”);
         11) plot; “Merdy th’ inky thoughts you see--our old plot”;
         12) knot...unjust (suggesting “puzzle unjustified,” a printing term); and
         13) “X’s theme ye allow.” The last line puns, “Of orifice old [suggesting an O], ‘Dis-pair’ [i.e., hellish pair, Sonnets/Runes] I sold, G-row [i.e., line 7] made.”

           Puns on Wyatt (e.g., in yet [4, 9], and in the acrostic string WB = W8 [see below]) complement those on Will as allusive references to sonneteers of two ages.

           Family wit includes these puns: 3) “Maiden,” “John” [= In./Jn.], Sue [i.e., Mrs. John Hall]; 3-4) “...Sue, I love to hear her speak,” linking with such bawdry as “Maiden [Midden = dunghill] John pursued—Anne...” and “John, position Sue, ‘I’ low to harass...”; 4-5) “Piquèd ‘well’ I know, Anne died obese, your Anne [= et] Hat. is not…”; 11-12) “Why, S. Hall (Wise Hall...), think that a several plot?” and “I Sue see, our ‘Hall’ plot bawdy...” ; and 14) “If ‘O’ [i.e., round, rune] arises, Hall despairs, Hall’d grow mad!”

           Coded topical allusions to Southampton (Will’s only known patron, often suggested as the handsome friend of the Sonnets) also accumulate—in “ward,” the sea analogue (for Southy had a naval background), “prison,” and “plot” (7-11)--so that “she” (12) may suggest Elizabeth I. Line 12 is a Southy putdown: “Bawdy W., Harry’s whore-face veined: Scheisse you nosed?” (12). Line 14 houses another dig: e.g., “Foe Rizzy’s hole did I spay (spy)--Harry S., hole digger, ‘O’-mate.”

           “‘To be...’ saw tickled th’ eye...” (2) alludes to the line from Hamlet, already an old saw by 1609. (And see the acrostic code, below.) Q’s To be... (2) overruns the “2B” gameboard slot (i.e., 2nd element, 2nd row).

           Legal terms vaguely amplify the “document” motif and highlight diction that links plots, injustice, justification, and determination of madness. Statute (8) conflates “written text” and “legal action,” while related legalese include change their state, (2), possession (3), I swear (5), Prison, ward (7), seal (9), plot (11), unjust (12), and excuse (13).

           Numerical wit inheres, e.g., in four (1, 14), two (2, 6), number, untold (10, i.e., “untallied”), several (11), and “di-S.-pair” (14).

           Other echoic linkages include Therefore/wherefore/For (1, 12, 14); Made/madde (3, 14); Rauen/raine (1, 9); “well I know” / “well knowes” (4, 13); the end-words so/know/knowes and vntold/vniust; “to hear her speak” / “says she” (4, 12); “To be so” / “to be sure” (2, 5); and the recurring “my heart” (7, 11).

           Line 14 ingeniously uses the gamy clue “G-row” to urge a shorthand interpolation of the poet’s G-row (i.e., line 7): “For if I should despair, I should [prison my heart in thy steel bosom’s ward], mad.”

Sample Puns

          1) my mystery-sighs are rune-black; raving; Raven may point to R. Greene’s “upstart Crow” attack; T’ Harry W., our mime aye stirs, fey siren be Jack
          1-2) our raven be jacked opposite ankle
          2) Toby sought eke Lady Wood’s hanged heir; vertical did he ewe hold; Two be foe to heckle death aye; change their state suggests “shift printed forms,” “shift from sonnets to runes”; deacon, get hearse t’ hate
          2-3) see hanged Heir S. t’ hate my Eden pure; see hanged arrested maiden pure; t’ Hall (the Yule) deacon jetters tied maiden; timid John pursued Anne in pussy; Maiden purse you tend, in pussy-science old Ovid o’er her (“oarer”) is piquèd [not well], well in O
          3) Mad John pursue, Anne, t’ John poses, eye on his “O”
          3-4) I own fellatio’s rarest peak; Anne in possession, Sue I love, to hear her speak; I own solo veto here; in pussy, is Zion so ill?
          4) I loved O, a rare ass-peek; I low t’ O’Hara here; I rehearse pee, kettle lacking, O; eye low Edo, airier is peak; I, Jove, to Harry here speak, ye too’ll aye know; Harry here is piqued, yet well; well [pudendal] suggests inkwell, Will, will
          4-5) I know wand to be azure that is not saucy
          5) aye snot falls
          5-6) if you read “Hat., eye snot of Hall,” seize weary ass, th’ hose, too; see if we erased hoofed woe [suggesting Satan]; if Hall, seafarer aye, stows 2, my horny inches, ass become thy face; knot of Hall Caesar eased; a few eye erased O, see, too, Homer nighing
          6) runing, I speak o’ meaty sauce; woe, mourning “eyes” become tough ass
          6-7) this ass-prison, my art (heart); a stuffèd woe, my horn-inches be Commedia’s aspiration (aspersion) merdy; inches’ commeatus [i.e., passage] eye, see peer’s “O” in my art (in merd)
          6-8) see, homme, this aye-surprising merd in this teal bow of homme’s warty, destitute O
          7) hissed ill (eel) be O-foam’s word; wry, fon merit joined hefty eel
          7-8) warty statue teased High Beauty; foamy sword, the ass tight you teased (taste)
          8) Th’ estate you diced; howl, T.T., ache
          8-9) T.T. accedie eye, awl white, a writer (rider) see
          8-11) eye, too, tasty bodied Howell, T.T., ache to have eel-water, yet receive ass-rain, fiddle, then, in the Anne-umbrella, Tommy, pay sevenfold dues
          9) The sea, all white; turd, our icy “I” use, runes till; the seal (this eel), watery otter see; our anus till; eye Lydian (leaden, Lytton) Indian, umber lady (laddie) maybe; eye tirrit wreck Eve’s reign
          9-10) till the nightie, an homme bare; the 19 homme[’]s bare lady maybe halve in two; rune is tilting, aye, Knight Hen, you may be real t’ me, pacing t’ hole
        10) the nine [the number, phallic, scatological] let me pass [in line 10]; an homme barreled may be heaven to hold
        10-11) Tommy pays fine t’ hold Wife Hall (wise Hall) demure; old weasel dim ye hear, T.T.
        11) Merdy th’ inky thoughts you see—our old plot; Waffled merd thin Kate hid, a few see, herald plot; a few see herald plowed; aye see you our awl (Hall) bloody; Hat. aye several plowed
        11-12) my heart (art) thinketh a tough, visceral, bloody butt wears whore
        12) you to Harry S. whore, fey Essene ought fasten, aye; Harry’s whore says fee—not she—is unjust; saucy, note Scheisse unused; t’ Harry’s whore-face veined, Scheisse you noosed (knifed, nosed)
        12-13) is Venus to let? Shakespeare’ll Tommy X; Venus’d lady makes you see theme ye love well; aye you fiddle Tommy        
        13) see you fit Ham, my love; I Himmel well know, ass; my Lowell kin owe; Tommy excused Emilia welliking [i.e.,hardy]
        13-14) my low well-noise fore aye fizzled; in O we suffer, I fizzled; welliking O we suffer
        14) Rizzy’s hole did I spay (spy); Fore eye fist holed (I fist hold) deaf pair eye, fold grow mad; holed groom add; eye assault, G-row mad; for if I S.Hall “dis-pair,” eye S.Hall grow maid; I should Jerome add; deaf Paris hauled grommet; Paris, hold grommet D; Forest eisell disappears, Hall, dig remedy; Rome add

Acrostic Wit

           The downward acrostic code, with its pair of TT letterstrings, seems to have in mind Will’s printing agent, Thomas Thorpe, the previously identified “T.T.” of Q’s dedication and title pages. The code—T TMI A APT TT WB LF—suggests, e.g., “T.T., my aye-apt T.T., wobbly is [F=S],” “T., Tommy, ape T.T. to belove,” “T., Tommy, apt to ‘be-leaf’,” “Titty may be t’ T.T. VV [VV = sagging breasts]-belief,” “Titty, maybe two, be-leaf,”and “Tee-tee! Maybe T.T.’d white leave [i.e., space on the page (B=8)].” The codestring WB = W8 may encode Wyatt, Will’s predecessor as sonneteer. Thus “T’ Tommy I aped Wyatt leaf” is a possible decoding.

            The upward (reverse) code—F LB WT TT PAA IM TT—suggests, e.g., “Half-pound, weighty pay, eye amt. (...I empty),” “Half-pound wit (tee-tee!), pay ’im, T.T.,” “Half-pound, 10, to T.T., pay I aye empty T.,” “Fool bawdy be empty,” “Fool be W., T.T., tip ’im, T.T.,” “Half-pound wit T.T., pay one mite. Tee!” and “Fool be witty, pay him, T.T.” This cluster of meanings suggests a general focus on the economic bargain that Will and his printing agent struck—whatever it was—in the process of getting the Q ms. printed.

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