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

Proceed to Rune 149
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Rune 148
Eighth lines, Set XI (Sonnets 141-154)

                         Rune 148

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

     To any, sensual feast with thee alone
     Robbed others’ beds’ revénues of their rents.
     Not prizing her poor infant’s discontent,
 4  Wooing his purity with her foul pride
     And, taught it, th’ hussy knew to greet,
     Eat up thy charge. Is this thy body’s end?
     Desire is death, which physic did except.
 8  Love’s eye is not so true as all men’s. Know
     Revenge upon my self with present moan,
     That in my mind thy worst all best exceeds.
     Triumph in love; flesh stays no farther reason,
12 And all my honest faith in thee is lost
     Against strange maladies. A sovereign cure
     Was sleeping, by a virgin hand disarmed.
     Glosses: 1) To any, sensual feast puns, “To Annie S.,” “Two, Annie S. and Sue Hall, see...”; 4) his is phallically suggestive; with her puns on wither; her points toward the pun on Anne, initial in 5; 5) puns: “Anne-twat ate thus”; “taut-‘I’”; “totted”; th’ hussy knew (Q shows thus a new); 6) Eat = Ate; charge (a pun) = discharge, child; end (a pun) = goal, death; 7) physic = medicine; except puns on “accept” (i.e., medical science acknowledges the reality of death); 8) eye puns on phallic “I,” and all men puns on “‘awl’-men” (also phallic); ...ue as all men’s puns, “you eye S. Hall mense (, see...)”; Know (Q shows no)10) That = You who; 11) stays (ambig.) = supports, awaits, punning on “sties”; 13) cure puns on curate, with sovereign cure suggesting God, pope; 13-14) A...cure / Was sleeping = Sleep used to be a...cure; a virgin hand puns, “a virgin Anne”; disarmed is an eyepun on “deformed,” with hand and disarmed consciously complementary.

     148. The Sensual Feast

     Anyone can see that private, indiscriminate acts of fellatio with you
     have effectively robbed the beds of others, taking what’s due them.
     Not desiring a poor baby to be constantly tended to,
  4 tempting a masculine creature’s purity with her foul pride—
     and it being properly taught until it got “taut”—th’ hussy knew exactly when to welcome
     your discharge, swallowing it—and thus your offspring—up. Is this your body’s end?
     Desire is a death that medicine can’t cure.
  8 Love’s vision is less accurate than just about anybody’s. Experience
     revenge against me with your sensual moaning,
     you whose worst is to my mind still better than anybody else’s best.
     Go ahead and be triumphant in love; the body needs no further motive and never waits on distant logic,
12 and all of my sure trust in you is no match for
     love’s exotic diseases. An all-powerful cure
     used to be found in sleep, before a virgin’s groping hand disarmed that defense.


         Though typically ambiguous, this texts insists on being read as a tour de force of phallic wit depicting Will’s unnamed beloved auditor being seduced by a fiendish woman (3-4) who fellates (6) and masturbates (14) him. Offended by such “strange malladies” (Q13), Will can still rationalize a lapse (8-13) into this “sensual feast” (1), noting that sleep, that old defense against sexual lures, no longer works (13-14). Even the word malladies puns on “male at ease,” “my laddies/ladies,” “male eyes ‘I’s [phallically suggestive],” and “male ‘I’ ‘dies’.” In Renaissance parlance, “to die” means to reach a sexual climax. (The deduction that I and O are routinely suggestive pictographic sexual symbols is my own.)

          The pun “th’ huss” (5, Q thus ) gives “her” (3) an ambiguous referent. Whether a mother or not (3), Will’s “she” is a figure with a “virgin hand” (14)—suggesting a parallel with his scripted Mistress/Mss. who colors, in particular, the texts of the two closing sets in Q, collectively Sonnets 127-154 (and the Runes with the same numbers).

          “Dis-content” (3) is a pun on “hellish subject matter” because “Dis” is the capital of Hell in Dante’s Inferno; this pun hints that “her…infant” (and not the “mother”) may parallel the text itself, full of infernal stuff.

          Other punning details suggest a scenario in which the “she” who manually abuses Will’s male friend may be the poet’s own wife, Anne: These puns include “Anne, all my…faith in thee is lost” (12); “…ease on (Harry’s on...) / Anne, my hone stiff, a thin thistle oft” (11-12); and “…by a virgin Anne disarmed” (14).

          The text, in fact, is rife with such derogatory “Anne-wit.” Initial puns include “To Annie...” and “Two, Annie S. and Sue Hall, see as two I’d hid...” (1). The pronoun her in 3 points toward the pun on Anne, initial in 5. (Earlier critics have suggested that And elsewhere in Q may pun on “Anne.”) And tought it thus (5) puns, “Anne, twated, th’ huss...,” while a new (5) puns, “Anne, Anne,” with w = IN = Anne. Q’s thus a new puns “the hussy knew,” a play that’s strategic in deciphering the scenario. That in my minde thy worst all best... (10) puns, “Th’ Hat.-enemy, m’ Anne, thy whore, stall-beast...” with “...m’ Anne did your stall-beast exceed, ass triumphing low...” a pun in 10-11. And finally, hand (14) puns on Anne—with hand and disarmed consciously complementary. “Dis-armed” means, punningly, “equipped with infernal weaponry.”

          One pun in 11-12 is this: “...eye ease, and over there, Avon, Anne dull, my own niece t’ sight....” A variant, concurrent pun is “...sties know, Sir: There our Avon-Anne dilemma hones the scythe.” Even “dilemma” puns on “double limbs.”
Other bawdy puns gravel a textured path: “awl,” “soft, hairy ends,” “rents,” “cunt-end,” “woo-inch,” “high spur,” “love ‘I’,” “peer, ‘I’d’,” “taut,” “true [i.e., right-angled],” “wither,” “greet,”, “eat,” “tup,” “8 up,” “[dis]charge [suggesting both offspring and semen],” “body’s end,” “death,” “piss,” “fizzy seed” “ass, awl-mense know,” “peer, scent (ascend) m’ hone,” “awl beast ex-seeds,” “flesh, ass-tease know (in ‘O’),” “eye ‘snow’,” and so on.

          Any reader here who objects that I’m “making all this up” should remember that whole scholarly book studies have been devoted to Shakespeare’s bawdry. Everyone agrees that Will loved “low” puns—though, I confess, no one yet has broached the gamy range suggested here.

          Punning diction also adds figurative unity to the text by interlinking economic, military, medical, gustatory, and vaguely religious imagery. Readers who seek them out can find their own examples.

          The “rents/revenue” figure (2) may allude to Southampton, Will’s only known patron: Southy was an orphan deprived of his due by his guardian. The pun “oft heir (Harry) rents / not(e)” (2-3) may be part of such wit, which finds possible amplification in the emphatic acrostic running down the lefthand side of the text: “Waiter” as “a warder of the Tower of London” (OED 1551) suggests a possible play about Southampton in The Tower, where he was held captive after the Essex rebellion. (See below, under Acrostic Wit.)

          In the main text, wit aimed at Thorpe may include these overlaid puns: “Ed.’s rune’s Austrian, ’tis not Parisian” and “austere rune, ’tis a knot-uprising, (appraising...) jabbering fonts’ discontent (...Dis-content)” (2-3). Here a “knot” is a riddlic text, and “ed[itor],” I propose, may acknowledge Thorpe’s jot-and-tittle control over the typographic details of Will’s textual manuscript, which during composition and revision the poet would have envisioned as printed forms. More simply, “editor” might mean proofreader—in effect, us.

Sample Puns

         1) Two, Annie S. and Sue Hall, feast with thee alone (Hall, wan [one; John]); To Annie, sin is vile; Too, Annie offends you, Hall; Twins in Sue Hall see, aft, witty; Twenty sins you’ll see, a fit witty; witty awl wan (with thee, Hall won); heal one
         1-2) Too innocent, Sue Hall is East with the aloe in Araby, daughter S. bids rune-use; t’ heal honor o’ bed-oath, here’s Betty, serving you ass, oft hairy end ’tis; see aye Shakespeare witty “awl” one, rob doughty arse; witty Helen robbed others’ beds
         2) oather, sup Ed’s ruinous O; Ed’s (S.-)runes oft Harry ends; bids; oped oathers Bede’s runes
         2-3) Ed’s rune’s Austrian, ’tis not Parisian; rune, ’tis knot uprising, jabbering fonts’ Dis-content; Bede’s rune use oft herein; snot prizing, hear pouring saint’s discontent; fur Eve new—soft, hairy, end is not
         3) razing harbor, eye innocents; poor infants die f--king; Knot, peer eyes injure, poor infant’s Dis-cunt end; note, uprising, Hebron
         3-4) end-to-end t’ Owen, jasper-eyed you eyed her foul period; two-inch asperity withers O; Harville appeared
         4) Purity, with her foe, Willy, peer eyed; soul
         4-5) with her vow, liberate Anne; wry, dandy, turgid, eye T.T. using you; leper-eyed Anne did audit thus, a newt, ogre ate
         5) Anne did oddities eye new; th’ hussy new tiger ate; Anne taught aye T.T. how ass anew to greet
         5-6) titty up, thick her chest (jest), ass t’ hip odious
         6) 8-up [phallic; also a gameboard position]; Thy seer jests, thy body sinned; arch, eye Southy, Southy bawdy
         6-7) ass endeavors did you hiccup; t’ abode I ascend; body’s end Osiris did hue; eye scene deforested, huge; thy body’s end fiery is, death; eye, Southy Boadicean desire (…Boadicea end, deforested hussy)
         7) Dis-ire eye, sad Hath.-Witch; Desirous death, witch th’ high f--k did accept
         7-8) If I f--k did accept, low sighs note, ass, oat, ruse’ll mean snare of inch upon (a pun) myself with present moan
         8) Louis I is not foe; Lo, ass-eyes naughty saw Jerusalem [t=j] in snow; Hell-offices not sought, rue, Ass Hall; Loose eye, eye snot, Sue, true as Hall, mints an “O”; true as awl, men snow; you eye S. Hall mense, no?
         8-9) ass, awl mensing whore, wench; Soloman’s no rune Japan may sell; Soloman’s in whore (even Jew-pun may sell); know rune, Jew, pun-missal see, witty pierce his awl-mincing O (Orvin)?
         9) Harry, you inch upon Miss Hall’s witty “pre-vent”; Rune G (a pun) miss’ll see, witty praise and moan
         9-10) with pee, resent monied Hat., John, mime “in debt,” hue Whore Shakespeare, awl beefed “ex-seed”; present money (moan) t’ Hat., enemy, mint thy worst
       10) thy whore, Shakespeare, Hall, beast, exceeds; awl-beast “ex-seeds”; John, mime Indie-tour (miming detour); in the Tower, his “tall beast” ex-seeds
       10-11) tax cities to rhyme venally (vainly); X-seeds [seminal acrostics] triumph in loo’s easy sties? No, sir!
       11) lovely Shasters [Hindu scriptures] know farther reason; I snow (I’s in O), sir, to Harry a son
       11-12) eye ease, and over there, Avon, Anne dull, my Honey Shakespeare, fat Auntie, ass lusty
       12) Eying Ptolemy, hone fit, sayeth John; Anne dull may hone Shakespeare’s “I” thin; Handy awl, my hone fit, is 8 in thee, 1 soft; India’s lost (loved; aloft)
        12-13) thistle oft I gain, stiff, tearing gem allayed (elate) eyes (a lady’s); this lofty Age Anne Shakespeare’s to range, My Lady S., eye sour Anne, see her!
        13) malady eye, sour Annie cure; terrain game eye; Adios, Asser, again; I avow rancor
        13-14) eye in zeros, flea peeing; see your wassail peeing, bargain handy; eye, in a series, ass leaping, bear ginning, Dis farmed; see your W.S. sleeping, by a virgin Anne disarmed; Annie (see her) was fool, ape, John, gabby (gobby), a virgin handy I farmed (affirmed); Rizzy’s leaping
        14) a virgin Anne did “I’s” harm, Ed.; Virgin handy Dis armed; inch by a “V” urgent, die, fair maid!

Acrostic Wit

          The acrostic codeline, as usual, embeds potential wit in the form of ambiguously encrypted messages. The downward codestring—T RN WAED L [I] RT TA AW—suggests such potential readings as these: “Turn wood, Hell-art owe,” “T’ runeward leered two,” “T-rune would lure T.T., I owe,” “Tear knew eye, Ed.’ll ready owe,” “T’ earn a way, Ed.’ll hard ‘I’ owe,” “Tear, new aid, lured two,” “Turn away t’ Lear, t’ Daw [hinting at ‘Upstart Crow’],” “T’ earn Whitehall hell, writ owe,” “Turn, waddler, T.T. awe,” and “Turn would lure T.T. away.” Here “T.T.” customarily suggests Thomas Thorpe, Will’s printing agent, whose initials occur twice in Q’s frontmatter. “Ed.” (as “editor”) may also mean T.T., whose collaboration (we can now see) was necessary to effect the gamy elements in the Quarto scheme. Whitehall is, in effect, a metonomy for the government.

          The upward (reverse) codeline—WAATTR L DEAW N RT—insistently encodes “water” and “dew,” along with suggestions of “lady” and “in art,” “you inert,” and so on. Readings include these samples: “Water’ll dew (do, deux, Dieu) in art (an art, inert, in earth),” “Wyatt riled you in art,” “‘Water’ held you inert,” “Wyatt or Leda owe in art,” “W [or runic Wen] eye aye, T.T., our letter ‘W’ in art (Wen, arty; inert; an art),” “Water, hell, dawn, art (Water held on [held dawn] hard),” “Waiter held on hard,”and “Waiter led you inert.” A “waiter” was “a warder of the Tower of London” (1551)—suggesting, that both the up and down codelines may house some kind of reference to Southampton’s stay in The Tower.

          Wyatt, simultaneously encoded, points to Sir Thomas Wyatt, Will’s famed sonneteering predecessor.

          The up/down hairpin codeline suggests, e.g., “Waite hurled (reeled) you near th’ Tower, and Whitehall hurt, too.” Seizing the Court at Whitehall was a goal of the Essex rebellion, during which Waite, a defender, was killed. The acrostics in Runes 143-144 may encode related plays.

Proceed to Rune 149
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