The Hungry Soul


"Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth" (1)

In William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 146, the characters of the poem are immediately established. The Oxford English Dictionary defines "earth" as "the body" (A13c). The key players in this piece are the body and the soul. Once the characters of the sonnet are established, Shakespeare proceeds to describe the relationship between these two entities. However, the first two words of the second line are missing in the sonnet. Yet it is obvious, through the sonnet’s registers of nourishment, siege warfare, and the soul’s hunger to regain control over the body, that the absent words are "starved by."

The words "starved by" fit the sonnet’s register of nourishment, making it the best choice for the missing phrase. The first mention of this register is in lines seven and eight; "Shall worms, inheritors of this excess, / Eat up thy charge?" The "excess" and "charge" referred to in these lines are the body. The Oxford English Dictionary defines "charge" as "a thing or person entrusted to the care or management of any one" (14a). The register is used to affirm the soul that the body will soon decay. The fact that "worms" are "inheritors" of the body, proves that it is dying. "Within be fed, without be rich no more" (12), is another example of the food register. "Within" signifies the portion of the human that dwells inside, the soul, while "without" represents the body because it is the exterior of the human. The soul is to feed on the fact that the body is dying and will "be rich no more," no longer have control. Finally, the couplet also talks about feeding, "So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men" (14). The subject of the sonnet is the soul, so it is known that "thou" refers to the soul. It is also known that "men" represents the body because in line seven the sonnet says that worms are eating the body, and in the couplet death is feeding on men. Again, these lines are confirming that the body is dying and the soul will regain control. These three examples of the food register support the selection of "starved by" as the most suitable expression for the omitted phrase.

Another register that deals with nourishment is that of a siege warfare. Words such as "rebel powers" (2) and "array" (2) lend themselves to the determination that a siege warfare is occurring between the body and the soul. Through the structure of line one, it is known that "rebel powers" refers to the body. "Poor soul" is the first subject mentioned, followed by the "sinful earth," the body. Therefore it is logical to assume that line two would have a similar structure. The two missing lines refer to the soul, making "rebel powers" the body. The Oxford English Dictionary defined "rebel" as "disobedient to a superior"(OED A2a). When a group of people rebel against a higher power, they surround the lord, binding it so that it may not obtain necessary supplies for survival. The rebel is thereby, starving the superior. "Array" (2) also establishes the relationship of siege warfare between the body and the soul. Array is defined as "to put into a (sore) plight, trouble, afflict" (OED 10b), meaning that the rebel powers are disturbing the "poor soul" (1). Through the language of line two, it is possible to conclude that a battle is in the works between the two entities of the human. This battle is a siege warfare in which the body is surrounding the soul and refusing to let it obtain food, starving it.

As a result of the body starving the soul through a siege warfare, the soul is hungry to regain control of the body. In line three, the sonnet refers to the soul as pining within. The Oxford English Dictionary offers the definition of "to be consumed with longing" (6) to describe "pine." The soul is supposed to rule over the body, its "charge" (8), yet the body has taken over and is neglecting the soul’s desires. The body is investing in things that are temporary, "Painting thy outward walls so costly gay? /Why so large cost, having so short a lease" (4-5), instead of things eternal, as the soul wants. This is leaving the soul dissatisfied, starved.

The two missing words in the second line of Sonnet 146 must be "starved by" due to the registers of nourishment, siege warfare, and the soul’s longing for control over the body. The sonnet’s purpose is to ensure the soul that it need not worry about the fact that it is being starved now, because soon it will be full. Once the temporal body dies, the soul will no longer suffer the pain and hunger it now feels. For the soul is eternal, while the "sinful earth" (1) is merely a vessel to carry the soul.


Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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