Shakespeare’s "Sonnet 146"

In Sonnet 146, careful study of the metaphors used to describe the body, the relationship between the body and the soul, and registers of warfare, structure, and mortality can clearly identify the two missing words from line 2. After examination of these three parts of the sonnet, it becomes obvious that the soul is bound by the rebel powers of line 2 in a relationship that progresses, evolves, and undergoes struggles for control, but neither body or soul can separate from the other. Because of the complete dependence between the body and the soul "bound by" is the only phrase that completes line 2.

This bondage between the body and soul is shown with metaphors throughout the sonnet beginning in the first line, "Poor soul, centre of my sinful earth." In this line, earth is a metaphor for the body, and since the soul is at the center of this body, one can assume that the soul is indeed surrounded or bound by the body. The second loaded metaphor is "rebel powers" in line 2, which represents the body and demonstrates that there is a struggle for power going on between the body and soul. In this struggle the body is fighting to take control away from the soul and earn it for itself. The simple fact that there is a position of control establishes a relationship, and this union concludes that the body and soul must be bound together.

Since a relationship between the body and soul establishes a connection or link between them, exploration of this relationship should reveal not only the fact that the two are bound together, but also how that bondage links them together. In the first two lines the body is described to be in a position of control over the soul. The body’s dominance is contrary to society’s view that the soul should be in charge because it is eternal and inherently good, but the body is superficial and inherently sinful, which is why the body is referred to as "rebel powers." Unlike the soul, who strives to keep the body in balance, the body follows its sinful desires and when given control will seek after materialistic things, denying the soul its nourishment, which in time leads to spiritual death. A life of sin is not the ideal situation for either the body or soul to be stuck in, and to avoid death the soul needs to gain control of this relationship. The key to returning the roles of the body and soul back to their correct status rather then the roles described in lines 1 and 2 is for the soul to gain control in the relationship. According to the speaker the only way for the soul to reverse the roles is given in line 12, "within be fed, without be rich no more." The soul needs to take control and feed itself on things of eternal significance for the well being of both body and soul. The correct relationship, the soul ruling and guiding the body, is described in the last couplet as the speaker gives the results that will follow his earlier challenge of the soul to take control. The soul needs to "feed on death, that feeds on men" (13) transforming itself from a position of being "bound by" the body into a position where it binds the body to itself. However, unlike the first two lines where the soul is confined in bondage to the body, the soul taking control binds itself to the body, and then uses it as source of sustenance and nourishment.

Along with the metaphors and relationships discussed in the sonnet different registers also enforce the fact that "bound by" is the obvious solution to the missing phrase. The registers of warfare, structure, and mortality also clearly reveal that under the current conditions the soul is bound to the body through imprisonment and denial. However, they also give hope that if the relationship was reversed, the soul could break free of that bondage to the body. When the soul has taken its freedom it can then force the body to submit and take part in actions inspired by itself that hold eternal significance. The register of warfare can be related back to "array" in line 2 according to the definition "to draw up prepared for battle" (OED 1). This confirms that the soul is prepared to battle and overthrow the rebel powers that have held it in bondage in order to establish itself as the one in control. "Array" also means, "to furnish" (OED 7), so when the soul’s bondage is described as "painting thy outward walls" (4), serving the body’s superficial desires, and "having so short a lease" (5) on "thy fading mansion" (6) these all give evidence of the structure that holds or binds the soul. Finally, a register of mortality in lines 7-9 shows how the soul serving the body is serving a dying cause, "shall worms, inheritors of this excess" (7). The excess refers to the body that one day will die, and that death will be the end of any work put into the body itself. In line 8 the soul is challenged to "eat up thy charge" or, simply put, carry out the job it was intended to do which is to take care of the body and guide it in the right direction. To remind the soul of bodies mortality, the speaker refers to the "body’s end" in line 8. This unavoidable end is death and can even be considered as the goal or destination of the body. Since the body will eventually become nothing, the speaker commands the soul, "live thou upon thy servant’s loss" (9). The "servant’s loss" is the process of the body dying, and to "live upon it" the soul needs to make the most of the time before the body itself dies. As the body withers away becoming less and less, the soul will then grow, becoming more and more.

After careful examination of the metaphors for the body and soul, the relationship between the two and how it changes, and registers of warfare, structure, and mortality used throughout the sonnet "bound by" is the logical choice. The key to the phrase "bound by" is that even though the body is going to die and release his hold on the soul, the two will never be separated because the soul lives on with dependence to the body as it feeds on its death. Since the soul cannot go on without the sustenance from the body, the two are bound together forever.

Works Cited

"Array." The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989.