"Sonnet 146" Solved

In Shakespeare’s "Sonnet 146," the first two words of the second line are unknown due to a printer’s error in the original version. Several choices have been brought forth to fill this gap and the best choice is that of "feeding." "Feeding" not only fits with the registers of battle, greed, and hunger, but is also powerful enough to balance out the last word of the second line, "array."

The register of battle fits with "feeding" because starving out your opponent was a common practice in warfare. If you cut the enemies resources off they would eventually have to surrender or starve. This commonly happened when someone would lay siege to a castle or a city. The second line supports this supposition with the words "rebel powers," which suggests a battle between the one in charge and the rebels. The rebels have risen in revolt against the soul, gaining control. So now the body is in control and demanding the souls resources and sustenance. The body needs to be fed so that it can continue its battle against the soul. The "soldiers" of the body are slowly starving the soul. Therefore, "feeding," continues the register of battle already given throughout the sonnet by illustrating a well-known strategy of war.

The word "feeding" also continues the register of greed. The body is greedy for more and more, always. Words like "mansion,"(line6) "inheritors,"(line7) and "rich"(line 12) all give the impression of wealth and luxury. Since the body already has wealth and luxury, it is greed that drives it to take what isn’t its to have. Since the body has captured the soul it spends its wealth not on Godly or virtuous things, but on temporal things that will fade and die all too soon. It is greedy for the physical things of the world. It is because of this greed that it is battling with the soul so that it may have control. However, this greed will ultimately get the body nothing but trouble, because the body will die just as all mortal, organic beings must, while the soul will continue on in its divine and eternal role of governing men. Its greed will not buy it immortality and will instead jeopardize the souls place in Heaven. "Feeding," supports this register of greed because when you are greedy you are always "hungry for more."

The third register of hunger and gluttony are explored extensively in the sonnet. Feeding, eating, and living off of "thy store"(line 10) are all mentioned in the sonnet. In line seven "excess" is written, implying the gluttonous existence that the body leads. The next line speaks of worms eating up this excess, of the soul being fed, while the body is hungry. The final couplet mentions feeding on Death, and Death feeding on man. Therefore "feeding" fits quite well with this register of hunger because several aspects of the sonnet include eating and hunger.

One of the problems with several of the other choices that were considered for this line was that none of them had the pervasive quality that "feeding" has. "Fed,"(line 12) "feeds,"(line 13) "feed,"(line 13) and "eat"(line 8) are all in "Sonnet 146." "Feeding" fits if for no other reason than that it is mentioned, implied, and otherwise seen throughout the sonnet several times. It is this pervasive quality that balances the last word of the line, "array."

A balance of these two words is necessary because "array" has so many meanings and introduces many of the registers in the sonnet. According to the OED array can mean several things. Some of the definitions are, "To draw up, prepare for battle,"(1a) "To disfigure, dirty, befoul, defile," (10c) and "To adorn, deck, set off" (9b). Any and all of these definitions define what the body is doing in the sonnet. It has drawn up an army to battle the soul, it has degraded and defiled the soul, and it has spent great amounts of wealth so that it may be adorned and show off its materialistic and physical properties. One word gives all of these meanings and ideas that are in the sonnet. The first word must also give a theme that is equally expansive and prevalent throughout the sonnet. "Feeding" does this. It manages to balance the word "array" by introducing the key registers of hunger and greed, just as "array" introduces that of battle, excess, and degradation.

The registers of battle, greed, and hunger are only vehicles that take us to Shakespeare’s final point. The idea that no one truly has control over anything, even his or her own body and soul. Everyone has done things that they are not proud of, and while Shakespeare decides to distance himself in the sonnet, he is still aware of its implications. The implication of eternal damnation or eternal bliss is one that everyone wrestles with. In this poem it is the frailty of human existence and our tenuous, even imaginary hold on our own destiny that is discovered, along with the inescapable guilt and worry that plagues us all in our search for nirvana. "Feeding" simply reinforces this point by completing the sonnet.