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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 139
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Rune 138
Twelfth lines, Set X (Sonnets 127-140)

                      Rune 138
     (Twelfth lines, Set X: Sonnets 127-140)

     Sland’ring creation with a false esteem;
     Making dead wood more blest, then living lips;
     Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream—
 4  My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
     Thy black is fairest in my judgment’s place
     And suit; thy pity like in every part,
     Thou canst not then use rigor in my jail.
 8  So, hymn I loose, through my unkind abuse—
     One will of mine to make thy large Will more,
     That nothing me a something, sweet to thee,
     To put fair truth upon so foul a face
12 And age in love. Love’s not to have years told,
     That they elsewhere might dart, their injuries
     Mad slanderers by mad ears believèd be.
     Glosses: 1) a false esteem puns, “a false S- [ass-]team,” suggesting Sonnets/Runes; 4) pun: “My Master S., W. H.[Hen.] S., he...,” suggesting Southampton; 6) pun: “lickin’ every part”; 7) my jail suggests “My Isle,” i.e., England; 8) hymn (Q him); 9) will (the first time) = intention, purpose; 11) foul puns on fowl, making the line suggest Greene’s pejorative epithet for Will, “upstart crow”; 13) they = years (in 12); their puns on “th’ ear”; 14) Mad slanderers echoes 1.

     138. Slandering Creation

     Insulting the world duplicitously with her perverted view;
     appealing first to riffraff (imagine her decorating the stage!) and then to licentious wits;
     an anticipated pleasure who turns into a nebulous memory; tantalizing front or rear—
  4 my mistress, real and not idealized, drones the basest bottom line in any tune.
     To my way of thinking, your dark traits are more attractive
     in this mental pursuit of mine, and among my coterie; equally pitiful in all your aspects, carrying (in figurative terms) one vocal part as badly as any other,
     the diffused character of your lamentable qualities means that you lack the force to assert yourself effectively here (in the dungeon of these buried texts) where I am confined.
  8 Thus, as a part of my generally unkind abuse of you, I let loose this “hymn,”
     a “Willful” legacy to add variety to what you already have, and also to show my range,
     so that a non-existent Me comes alive, treating you better than you merit
     by construing with such nice honesty both you (a very foul countenance)
12 and me (an aging man in love). Love requires that years not be counted,
     allowing them to scamper off and inflict their stings elsewhere, their injuries
     thus turning into irrational slanders that only crazy listeners might find credible.


         A new and enigmatic figure, the Perverse Mistress or Dark Lady, dominates the Sonnets and Runes after 126—Q’s sets X and XI. Though Renaissance poem cycles often feature inspiring women, Will’s “mistress” has oddly inverted qualities. In some sonnets—as here in Rune 138—she seems to “share” Will and his friend in some kind of menage. Speculations about her have been wide-ranging, and I can’t claim to’ve cracked open all the mysteries she represents.
         The paraphrase above reflects my deduction that in Rune 138 Will means primarily to personify his own perverse writing project, Q itself, as his “Mistress/Mysteries”—also his “ms.” or “mss.,” a figure medially positioned between himself and the friend whom he works to immortalize. Holding in her hands the futures of poet and subject alike, she can bring them both paradise or hell. Daily the “mss.” and Will stay closely closeted, their love/hate relationship keeping him pleasurably tortured. Puns such as “My Mysteries’ ‘I’s’ are nothing like the sun”(Sonnet 130.1) amplify the conceit: Textual “I’s” are straight and black, while the sun is round and bright, like an “O.”
         As “little ol’ me,” Will contrives a “Slandering Creation (Serration)” (1) that only “mad ears (m’ adders [‘numbers men’])” will believe (see 14), loosing a “hymn” (8) that “glorifies dead wood” (2) and abuses his friend as old and impotent even even while calling him “fairest” (5). Pleasant to contemplate, Will’s Ms. seems forgettable and unreal once experienced (3). She moves along like a pedestrian “ground” bass (4, see “G-row end,” “ye round,” “thick rune”). She is both an “unleashed” and a “rejected lyric” (see “hymn I lose / loose” [8]) cloaked in inkiness (see 5). “My judgment’s place (…play see)” (5) is Will’s mind; “suit” (6) is his verse pursuit; his “jail” (7) is his closet; “fair truth” (11) is his ironic goal; and “dart” (13) suggests his poison pen.         

          Here Will professes
to prefer his handsome male muse’s “blackness” over the mistress’ vagaries. The text itself is a “slandering seriation,” a “tribute” that faults the friend’s features. Will’s “jail” is the dungeon-like rune itself, each one an abusive “hymn” (8, Q him). “So foul a face” is thus the friend’s, with “age in love” being the poet—who trails off (12-14) into wishful thinking about how he can connive to lessen time’s wounds. In context, “pity” (6) seems to mean “a thing to be sorry for” (OED), thus denoting “a flaw” and not “compassion.”
         “Ground” (4) suggests a ground bass or bottom line (OED) in Will’s song, with “part” (6) also a musical pun. “Suit” (6) means both “pursuit” (and thus the Q project) and “retinue of followers” (i.e., Will’s coterie). Further, as a pun on “set” or “series” (OED), “suit” names the Q cycle(s), Sonnets and Runes. “A false S-team” (1), too, may designate these overlaid cycles.

          Sideline wit touches on masturbation, oral sex, front-and-rear entries (1-3), and “licking every part” (6). “Rigor in my jail” (7) suggests homosexual force. Renaissance puns on “Will” as sex drive (e.g., 9) complicate the poet’s italicized nameplay; “thing,” too, is routinely phallic in “a something [foam-thing] sweet to thee [toothy]” (10). Puns on “y’ ears,” “th’ eye,” and “th’ ear” (12-13) enhance a “facial” motif including “lips,” “part,” “face,” “ears” (2, 6, 11, 14).

          “Edenic” puns on “Eve wry” (6, euery) and “Adam” (acrostic ATM) link with “m’ adder” (14)—i.e., “my metricist, numbers man, poet.” Family jokes include “Anne, aging love, loves not to have years told” (12). Q’s “my Iaile” (7) puns on “my Isle”—i.e., England. The “dart” that inflicts “injuries” (13) may be Will’s own poison pen. Puns on “pit” and “part” (6) hint that “making dead wood…blest” (2) means “treading the boards” in “my…plays” (5, pun). The pun “making…wood marble” (2) is concurrent. Q’s eyepun loose (8) encodes both “love” and “lose.” “Swami” (OED 1773, from Hindi) is an incidental pun (8), probably conscious.

          The first and last lines are topical bookends about “slander”; the phrase “not to have years told [counted]” (12) echoes the notion of “a false estimation” (1). The pun “sooty pit” follows “Thy black”—with “my Judgment’s place” implying that both are Hell (5-6). “So fowl a face” (11) may allude to Robert Greene’s well-known “slander” branding Will “an upstart Crow.”

          Legalisms, especially terms suggesting courts and punishment, include Slandering and slanderers, proposed, false, fairest, my judgment’s place (suggesting a courtroom), suit, jail, loose, abuse, will, truth, and believed. “To have years told...” puns about naming the length of a sentence.

          Echoic diction such as “dead wood”/“be-leaved” also helps to govern and focus word choice.

          The acrostic ATM (encoding“Adam”) hints that the “old” man of the text is like a perverted First Man, and initial plays on Southy—e.g., So.../T.../A.../Th...y (8-5), So.../O.../Tha... (8-10)—link Will’s patron, an aging man by 1608-09, with this figure. Not using “rigor” in my jail” (see 7) points to Southampton’s gentlemanly life while imprisoned in The Tower. Other puns (see below) include these: “Sue-hymn I loose” (8); “William orated nothing, Mason eyed inches witty” (9-10); and “Anne, aging love, loves not to have years told” (12). Plays on “pit-ty” and “part” (6) suggest that “making dead wood…blest” (2) might mean “treading the boards” in “my play” (see 5, pun).

Sample Puns

          1) Slant ring serried eye, “O” new, aye, to halve, all see; Ass laundering, Surrey shun, witties all see; Silly end during serration, wit’s awl see, esteem; eye Thistle-fief [i.e., Scotland?]; read, John, wit; witty, false S-team (ass-team) [suggesting Sonnets/Runes]; steamy
          1-2) Witty Hall seizes T., mimicking D.; Slay Anne, daring Sir; sail see, Shakespeare hymn, a king dead, woody Moor, believe (be-leave [i.e., print],) T.T.
          2) dead wood, marble-assed Hen, live in jelly, piss; eying God, Ed would my whore bless; my whore be left thin, lowing lips; T.T., Hen, live, eye angel I piss
          2-3) in loo, angel hips be sore
          3) Bess, whorey joy, peer up oft; a D-ream; hind, adder, aime
          3-4) bane dead (binded), reamy ms. to re-sew; à propos of deep India dear, I maim ye
          4) My mistress, W., Hen, feels kiss, dreads Auntie-groan; My mysteries; mistress “wenchy”; My mss.; My Mister S., W., Hen., few’ll kiss; My mystery, Sue—in she walks to read (too red)
          4-5) she walks too reticent, thick, rounded, hip lazy, kisses hairy-assed John; Tybalt Jack eyes
          5) kisses Harry S. t’ John may urge (edge), meant t’ supply sin t’ suit thy pity
          5-6) end supple: Ascend; supply scene t’ suit type idle aye; Tybalt I see kiss fairest enemy, huge men tease, play, see end feud—the Pit aye liking every part; Anne died, you, T.T., help it (you’d type it), liking every part
          6) idyllic John, Eve rip hard
          6-7) …Eve repartee housing; licking Eve, her “Y” part, thou see Anne Shakespeare, not thin, whiff her eager end, my jail; wife-rigor enemy, I ail; arty toucan, fit naughty, new, see
          6-8) John, you rip hard token of tenet in verse wry, goring my jelly-similes (th’ rough manikin débuts)
          7) the noose wry go round my Isle; fear Igor, enemy aye
          7-8) use rigor in hymn agile, so Himalayas th’ Russia-man can début; my Isle [i.e., England], swim! Isle’s whim
          8) Swim ill, Ovid, hero; see the rough monkey in Debussy; Swami; Sue, Ham, I loved, hero, you gem; Sue, Ham I lost, hero, huge mankind eye busy; I love utero-game
         8-9) see O’Neills ruin Tom aye; monkey in deep, you funnel effeminate homme, a kettle, our jewel moor; mankind, aye be you fon; through my unkind abuse, wan Will oft runed
         9) make Italy our jewel moor
         9-10) m’ whore thought an oath, John, gamy, aye, something sweet, toothy; William orated nothing, Mason eyed inches witty
       10) The tenet: Hang me, eye vomity inches wet, toothy
       10-11) doughty Oedipus erred; sweet tooth, eat O, puta’s hairy turd
       11) Sue, fallacy (folios) see; sour; a pun; solace icy; fowl [suggesting“upstart crow”]
       11-12) in foe solacing Dagon, lovely ass note; eye, ass, a scene: Dagon Lovell owes; a pun fossilizing Dagon low; upon fossil, a face eye in digging low
       12) Eye in deacon lovely snot, heavier, subtle; love snotty half; Eve y’ ear stole
       12-13) lo, you synod heavier, subtle, did hate; Anne, aging love, lose not heavy “ear” settled, that the “I” elsewhere might dart th’ “ear-injuries” [suggesting a dropped womb, misplaced target]; lidded, th’ eye’ll see
       13) t’ hell fewer might dart; mighty daughter, John, eye, you rise, maid is lain
       13-14) injuries may defile Anne, duress [a legal term] by my duress beleavèd be; eye summit of land rears; t’ Helios you, hermit dirtier, aye newer ease; eye nursemaid of laundry
       14) rarest beam, Adair, subtle Eve, Ed be; be-leaved [suggesting “ears”]; belle Eve Ed. be; Made slanders by Madeira’s belly you’d be; eerie sibyl Eve’d be; Midas lay in dear ass, by metier arse (arras) be leaved; by Madeiras, belly wet be

Acrostic Wit

          The downward acrostic codeline—SM B MT AT SOTTA TM—suggests such readings as these: “Some be mad at Southy, Tom,” “Ass maybe emptied hiss, oded hymn (…sautéd hymn),” “Some by Mt. Athos owed aye Tom,” “Some be empty, ate [hate] his odd item,” “Summit, [B=8], Mt., eye De Soto, Tom (…eyed; sought, Adam),” “Summit, Mt. Athos audit…,” “Some ate my 8—Southy, Tom,” “Some be empty at Sodom,” “Sum be empty 8, sought 8000 [M = 1000].”

          As scatology, the codeline suggests “Some B.M. t’ eat sought aye Tom,” a jibe perhaps aimed at Thomas Thorpe, Will’s collaborating printing agent. Palindromic elements in both the up and down codelines include MBM and TAT (twice).

          The upward (reverse) codeline—M TATTOS TAT M B MS—may be decoded to read,e.g.,“Empty, I toast Item B., ms. [miss, m’ ass],” “My tight ‘O,’ state my B.M.s,” “Empty eye T.T., who’s t’ eat m’ B.M.s,” “M’ tight host ate m’ B.M.s [my B ms.],” “My tattoos [drum beats] tight hymn B ms.,” “M’ T.T., Thos., T.T., may be miss [my ass],” “Mated to Shakespeare [ST], eat my B. ms.,” and “Mated t’ Host, item be hymns,” and “…aye tome hymn is [aye tomb be ms. (be miss)].”

          The down/up hairpin suggests “Some B.M. t’ eat, so T.T. ate ’em; empty, I tasted (toasted) m’ B.M.s.”

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