Shakespeare's Sonnet 77

ficusflanagan's picture

Shakespeare says in Sonnet 77:

Look what thy memory cannot contain,
Commit to these waste blacks, and thou shalt find
Those children nursed, delivered from thy brain,
To take a new acquaintance of thy mind.

Is there a typographical meaning to "waste blacks"?

Christopher Adams's picture

A number of Shakespeare commentaries indicate that "waste blacks" is meant to suggest blank pages, as you have undoubtedly discovered, but as far as I know it has never been a term of art in typography.

ficusflanagan's picture

Yes, I am aware of editors who willy-nilly change the words and typography of the Shakespeare sonnets. One editor suggests that the tilde above the "a" was missed by the compositor, thus leaving out the "n". However, because this is a sonnet sequence and each word has an integral relationship with the whole, I think "blacks" not "blanks" (which is not used any other place in the sequence, and "black" is used in several and important places) is the word that should be maintained. I think the "waste" (or empty)"blacks" refers to lines of verse (as Sonnet 63.13 refers to "black lines") which are not satisfying, and I also think that "waste blacks" is giving a hint to the missing lines at the end of Sonnet 126.

As far a typography and Sonnet 126, I was wondering how an empty line between parentheses was accomplished. I suppose a long spacer? I was thinking that perhaps there was some term for a spacer, as a "black" that would then be empty (of ink) and thus could be called a "waste black"?

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