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 XI, Runes 141-154: Texts and Comments 
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2004, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 148
Return to the Index of Set XI

Rune 147
Seventh lines, Set XI (Sonnets 141-154)

                         Rune 147

     (Seventh lines, Set XI: Sonnets 141-154)

     Nor taste nor smell desire to be invited
     And sealed, false bonds of love, as oft as mine
     To follow that which flies before her face
 4  And would corrupt my saint. To be a devil
     Was used in giving gentle dome:
     “Shall worms, inheritors of this excess...?”
     Hath left me, and I, disparate, now approve
 8  If it be not. Then love doth well denote,
      Nay? If thou lowerest on me, do I not spend,
     There is such strength and warrantise of skill?
     My soul doth tell my body that he may;
12 For all my vows are oaths but to misuse thee:
     And grew a seething bath which yet men prove,
     And so, the General of hot desire.
     Glosses: 2) mine puns on “my Anne”;3) her (a prepositioned pron.) = my saint’s (see 4); 4) And puns routinely on Anne (see 2, 13-14), linked with “Hath.-puns”; 5) Q’s form of used puns on “vice,” “wifed,” “whiffed,” and “viz’d” (i.e., “cited as an example”); gentle puns on “genital”; dome: wisdom, advice; 7) Hath left me, and... puns on “Hath-away, Anne...”; linepun: “Hath. left me, Anne died, I, ...speare, Hate. now approve”; 8) Q’s loue puns on “low” (see 9); well suggests inkwell, the pudendum, Will; 9) lowrst denotes both “lowerest” (v., with bawdy implications) and “lourest” (i.e., appears sullen or threatening, frowns); spend: expend, produce (suggesting a bodily “expense of spirit”);10) There is puns, “T[o] Harry S.,” suggesting Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton; warrantise = sanction, authorization; 13) Q’s proue puns on “prow” (phallic); 12-14) family namepuns: Hall, Anne, Witch, Sue, “Hath-witch, “Hathaway see hide, my Anne” (with puns on Goneril and “Southy” [i.e., Southampton]).

     147. A Seething Bath

     Taste and smell have not sought opportunities
     to bond people together in superficial, prurient attractions more frequently than my own senses have lusted
     to follow what was dangling just before the face of my higher nature,
intent on corrupting her. Acting like the devil
     has thus proven useful here in the process of imparting a “genital” sort of preacherly wisdom:
     The rhetorical question about whether worms might be the sole heirs to my spurting excesses
     has vanished as a concerrn, and, dissociated from that former preoccupation, I’m glad
  8 to see it gone. Now “love” to me just denotes an inkwell—not a pudendum.
     Right? If you’re glaring on me in disapproval, won’t you at least agree I’m productive—and if you lower yourself onto me, won’t you feel an energetic expense—
     given that I’m so powerful and authoritatively skillful, such an expert?
     My soul tells my body to do what it wants
12 because the only saintly vows I take now are pledges to abuse you:
     Thus has grown a seething bath, this warm and healing effusion that still tests men, jetting into them, prodding them with great force like the prow of a ship—
     and that includes even the Big Gun of heated lust, who (except maybe as “Southy”) shall go nameless here. (My seething, jetty Runes would boil the Devil himself.)


          One way to unsnarl Rune 147 is to hear Will using mock preacher-logic to craft a sermon condoning fleshly lust. In delivering this “gentle dome” (5, i.e., wise advice) he represents himself as sensually attracted to a “devil” that “flies before [the] face” of his better self and “corrupts” her (3-4). The ambiguous feminine pronoun is a routinely riddlic aspect of the Rune, gamily suggesting both Anne and some Dark Lady but syntactically clarified here as “my saint” (4).

          “Religious” diction helps paint a scene replete with congregation (9 suggests sparse attendance; see “body” 11), energetic preacher (10), and text (6).“ The General of hot desire” is in one sense the Devil, with “…gin or awl…” a phallic metaphor for a “drilling engine.”

           Certain puns and details in the implicit drama here hint at a homosexual scenario; others cluster to suggest that one intended auditor (and butt of humor) is Will’s patron, Henry Southampton, often proposed as the handsome Young Man of the Sonnets. Suggestively homoerotic jokes include, e.g., “a soft ass, mine, two followed” (2-3); “Neigh if thou lowerest on me” (9); and “do I not spend there ‘I’s’ [i.e., phalluses’] f--k-strength…?” (9-10). (Q’s form such, with a “long s,” always puns on the four-letter word.)

           “Southy, General of Hot Desire” (14) seems to name Southampton (Will’s only known patron, though not for the Q publication), a naval adventurer. Military terms and puns link with “Handy, deaf pirate, know a ‘prow’” (7; see 13)--vaguely “naval.” The pun “oft thy Essex see, seeth...” (6-7) is a likely topical play on Southy and the rebellious Essex, whose family name, Devereux, lurks in the last two end-words, defire/...roue. Such dangerous, seditious plays would, of necessity have to have been deeply buried in Q.

           Other details point to Southy (the nickname I’ve deduced for Southampton from many instances where it seems to occur in Q). For example, lines 9-10 pun, “Doughy knot [i.e., riddle] S. penned / t’ Harry S., you see his train jet...” (9-10). And lines 13-14, wrapping up the text, encode the letterstring comment “...wide m’ end, th’ rune to Southy, General of Hot Desire (code: y-et m en p [= th] roue,/An d so the....). Such details may mean that the late texts in Q, Sets X-XI, were composed earliest, in the 1590s, as unitary templates for the longer cycle that Will would complete closer to 1609.

           Frenchified puns on “rune d’ Southy” and “haut desire” add to the playful mix.

           As usual, some wit is about the Runegame itself. The “sealed, false bonds of love” (2) may be the Runes, and “these X’s” (6) may be acrostics, torturous “crosses.” The closing pun on gin suggests “engine,” device, and thus Q’s gamy apparatus. “Runed is oath, gin...” is one form of the pun (13-14). “Round” had contradictory meanings in Will’s day. As a noun the term played on “rown” (i.e., to whisper) and thus on “rune.” As an adjective, “round” could mean “neatly finished,” complete, or honest. An “O” is a pictograph for “round” that also depicts Will’s “wooden ‘O’,” The Globe.

           The downward acrostic (see below) also jokes about the Runegame, as in this decoding: “Innate ‘O’s’ hent [i.e., catch (v.)] ms. [F=S] aye” may translate, “The hidden rounds [i.e., the runes] seize the ms. forever,” with hent a pun on “catch,” itself a pun on “round” (OED 1601, a ludicrous song). HINT is an alternate codeline reading. (See Acrostic Wit, below.) Other “writing” puns in the text itself include plays on “inkwell” (8), “S-penned” (9), and “seething bath” (13) as jetting ink.

           Many other details implicate the poet’s family, particularly Anne, the wife, who in one coy sense may be the she of line 3. Lines with “And” and “Hath” typically signal “Anne-wit.”

           Examples of puns on Anne, a former mother of twins whom Q often ridicules as obese, include these: “This Excess, / Hath., left me, and I, disparate, now approve” (6-7) is a personal joke about separation from a heavy, superfluous wife. Various interwoven puns are concurrent: e.g., “Hath. left me: Anne died, a spirit now, a pair of eyes aye to be not....” (7), with Hath left me, and... a play on “Hath-away, Anne” and “Hath.‘less tummy’ Anne....” Other Anne-wit includes, “Anne sealed false bonds of love--a sophist, m’ Annie” (2). The word-string my body that he may (11) puns,“my bawdy, wide [= yt] Hathaway,” with Q’s m an upside-down w.

           Still other puns implicate Susannah (who was conceived out of wedlock) and John Hall, Will’s Stratford-based daughter and son-in-law. One play in Will’s “sermon” seems to blame Anne for luring him into premarital sex: “ ‘Anne would corrupt my saint to bed evil’ was used (...W.S. used) in giving genital dome [i.e., advice]: S. Hall were my sin. Hear it, our soft hiss...” (4-6). Here “S. Hall” means Susannah. “Soft hiss” reminds us that “rowned” meant “whispered.”

           Another punning line-reading is this: “As Hall worms in a writer, soft his access” (6). The pun “Miss Hall were my senorita...” (5-6) might refer either to Susanna Hall or, jokingly, to John. Puns in Q on this order, though biographically inconclusive, sometimes seem to show Will having illicit thoughts about his son-in-law. Speculation that Will might have been homosexual or bisexual would not be new.

Sample Puns

          1) Nor rune [reversed]; Inner; In “O” whore tease, tenor, Ismelda’s irate (arid) O be aye new-eyed (… “new-‘I’d’”); A fit, Norse male desire to be (Toby); some lettuce eye; some latticy redoubt, John, you eyed; In our taste, nor female desire to be invited; Sire “To be” aye new eyed [see 4, 8]; desire to be unwedded
          1-2) An artist, tenor, smelled a sired (fired) O being “whited” and felt saucy bone dissolve
          2) Eying devil, Dis, Hall see bound, soft; Anne defiled, saucy be Anne’s “O” of love, aye, soft as mine; loft, loose O fits mine; lo (low), a soft ass, mine; O, fellow ass, “O” fit as mine; lo, aye, soft, eye semen; mind; men
          2-3) if Hall’s help end syphilis, oft I seaman tough hollowed; fellows oft eye seamen toss; soft Louis [pl.] oft eye semen tough; semen tough hollowed Hathaway
          2-4) m’ Annie tough, hollowed Hathaway I see, cheese lies before her saucy end (…her face)
          3) Two follow that witch, flies [insects] before her face; t’ Hat., witch hazel ease be sorer sauce (…aye is before her face); lies be sources
          3-4) witch-slice before hearses, I end duel; W.H., I see hazel eyes, Bess, whore, her ass’s end; facing dual dick, whore rubbed my ass (…my Saint Toby, a devil)
          4) Anne would corrupt my saint…; Anne, wood [i.e., crazy], corrupt, my saint-to-be [i.e., heaven-bent], a devil; see whore up; corrupt Miss Ann t’ tup, eat
          4-5) my Saint Tobit evil was whiffed in Jew-engine; Miss Auntie too pitiful was; “To be,” aid vile was used in giving gentle dome: Shall worms…; loose visiting Jew and Gentile do 5 viz.’d, wifed, used
          4-6) a devil was wifed in giving genitaled homme S.Hall, whore, miss, in her I tore, softest excess
          5-6) le domicile Worms eye in here (…whore may center)
          6) S. Hall were my senorita; worm, ease in Herod; ease in Herod, ursus, thy sex; worms, inheritors of these Xs [acrostics]; eye Essex’s ass
          6-7) writer’s soft, high sex see, assèd; see ass, acid hell of Tommy; soft, high sex see of fetal ass Tommy, and die (handy)
          7) me and Titus paired; I’d aspirate; a fit [i.e., stanza] mandates period now; Hath. left, my Anne, I, disparate, now approve; I, desperate, in O wipe hoof
          7-8) if peer ate in upper office [the House of Lords?], eye Toby naughty and lewd
          8) I-fit [see stanza I/J, the two letters merged in Will’s alphabet] be not; Eye fit be naughty, anal Ovid ode; If I’d bean et, then loo doth [a] well denote; well [suggesting inkwell, pudendum, Will]
          8-9) lo, Vedda t’ you’ll denote naive dolor (…nice toll or fit; nest howler); we Lydian ode neigh if thou lower ass-tone
          9-10) lo, our Afton meadow I in ode have penned t’ Harry S.
        10) T’ Harry S., f--k strength; …f--k strange t’ Anne, Whore Auntie’s “O’s” kill
        10-11) eye fiscal ms.; eye physical miss; Harry’s f--k is tearing, jetting, and dour Auntie feces kill my soiled ode
        11) Missal, doth Ptolemy bode whited hymn aye? My fouled-oath (solid; sullied) tale, my bawdy thought, hymn I
        11-12) the theme I for Hall may voice, a ready Sabbath tome eye if you see the end grow (gross)
        12) Anne Ptolemy hones
        12-13) hymn, issue Satan, digress
        13) rue a Satan gibbet huge, high; O fetid sire; Anne grew aye (“I”), ass-eating be Hathaway seedy men prow; Anger you aye see; Angry was a thing bawdy, which Wyatt-men prove
        13-14) Anne grew, ass-eating be Hathaway, itchy, 8 men prow Annie’s “O,” the Genie or awl’s hot desire; white men parroting Dis-oath gay in a reel of haughty fire; heating bath, which yet m’ neighbor often does; eight huge white men proving (prow aye in) De Soto [to be] General Lovèd; white men peer, eying Southy, Goneril, love
        14) the Genie, our Hall, oaf, hooded sire; Goneril, love haughty sire; Southy gonorrhea loved (…gonorrhea’ll offer t’ Desiree); love hot defer

Acrostic Wit

          The emphatic downward acrostic codeline—NAT A WS HIN TM FAA—is another conventional game element in this buried text. This codeline suggests, e.g., such readings as these: “Knight, eye W.S., Hen., Tom fey,” “Notice Hen., ....,” “Night ‘O’s’ hint m’ Fay [i.e., Faith],” “Nate [Field?] hose into my face [AA = A’s],” “Nighed I, wishing Tom fey,” “Innate ‘O’s’ hent [catch] ms. [F=S] aye,” “Night oceaned my Fay,” “Innate ocean, tomb fey,” “In a toss high, end my Fay,” and “Nates [L ‘buttocks’] hent [i.e., catch], Miss eye.” Nate Field was a young actor who played female roles in Will’s company; Tom suggests Thomas Thorpe, the T.T. of Q’s frontmatter.

          Linkages here among “hent,” “catch,” “round,” and “rune” seem cultivated.

          The upward reverse of the codeline—A AF M TN I HS WATAN—suggests such encryptions as these: “Eye, half-hymned, an ass wading,” “I have m’ Dennis (; ...maiden ass; ...midden [dunghill] ice) waiting,” “I have maiden I.H.S., Weighty Anne,” “A femme ten eye, Weighty Anne,” “Half-hymn deny...,” “…, Witan [1807 pl. OE wita, wise man],” “Half empty, nice [i.e., detailed, trivial] wedding,” “I affirmed nice wedding,” “I, half empty, in ass sweating,” and “Eye, half empty, an ass sweating.”

           The down/up “hairpin” codeline suggests, e.g., “Night ‘O’ [suggesting the moon] sheened my 5 mountains, waiting”; “Nate à W.S. hie, intime oaf, a half-empty, nice wedding”;“Nate à W.S. hie in time of a half-empty, nice wedding”; “Nate awes Hen, Tom, fey [fatal] femme denies 10 [=W] eaten”; and “Nate owes Hen Tom’s ass [F=S]—empty, nice, waiting.”

           Does Will has in mind here some role for Nate Field, his boy actor—casting him, perhaps, as a not-so-bright femme fatale?  

Proceed to Rune 148
Return to the Index of Set XI
Return to Index Page: Shakespeare’s Lost Sonnets