Void in Sonnet 146

When Shakespeare wrote his 146th sonnet, he most likely knew exactly what he wanted to say, and how he wished to say it. Unfortunately, due to a printerís error the first two syllables of the second line of the poem were omitted. Although the true identity of the two missing syllables in "Sonnet 146" may never be known, the optimal choice is "thrall to." Not only does this selection satisfy the register of the poem, suffering, it also correlates to the metaphor of the soul being a prisoner of the body.

When comparing the terms "thrall to" and "array," in the second line of the sonnet, one may notice the register of misery these terms create in the first quatrain. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word thrall as "one who is in bondage to a lord or master; one whose liberty is forfeit; oppression, trouble, misery, distress; prisoner of war." (OED 1 and OED 3) However, "thrall to" does not stand alone in its tone. When compared to the definition of array, "To put into a (sore) plight, trouble, afflict" the register of suffering is apparent.

This theme does not stay constant throughout the sonnet. The sympathetic tone continues through the first eight lines, but in line nine, it changes to a tone of guidance. When the soul is asked why it should "...pine within and suffer dearth?" (3) the speaker represents the soul as the victim of the body, forced to obey its every whim. The third stanza is empowering, encouraging the soul to "live though upon thy servantís loss/ And let that pine to aggravate thy store." (9-10) for the body will rot in the earth, while the soul will live on for eternity. It is here that soul is given back its power. The soul is reestablished as master of the body, as the relationship should be, which is a role reversal from the first two stanzas, where the soul was "thrall" to the body.

This metaphor of the soul being "thrall" to the body fits in well with the other metaphors in the sonnet. The metaphors intertwined into this sonnet are only more potent when the words "thrall to" are introduced. As "thrall" to the body, the spirit is slave to the bodyís wants and desires. The soul is subject to the powers of the body that "array" it, or "put into a (sore) plight, trouble, afflict." (OED 10b) For example, a bondman has no control over the master who keeps him, as implied by the words "thrall to," and neither does the soul have control over the body which keeps it.

By forcing the soul to obey its every command, the body takes siege of the soul, as a lord would take siege of itís "thrall." Using the "seat of rule" (OED 2a) definition of siege it is evident that there is a correlation. When "thrall to" is put into the void left by a printerís error, the soul is put into a very vulnerable and unfortunate position. It is turned into the bodyís prisoner of war, as the line would read "Thrall to these rebel powers that thee array." The soul is slave to the body which afflicts it. However, in the war between the body and the soul, there are no laws requiring humane treatment. The soul is entirely at the mercy of the body.

This relationship of the body having power of the soul is similar to the situation of the master having control over the slave. It is obvious that the speaker feels this way also. In the first eight lines of the sonnet the speaker appears to be sympathetic to the despair of the soulís position. By line nine the speaker has taken a different tone. He no longer feels sorry for the soul, but almost seems to blame the soul for its own misfortune. It is as though the speaker feels that the soul has allowed the body to have control over it. It has made itself a victim to the bodyís desires. This situation applies well to a "thrall," or slave also. Although the master has physical control over the servant, a master can never have control over the spirit of the slave, unless the slave allows it.

By investing in "terms divine" (11) the soul strengthens itself, and makes itself intangible to the master, or "rebel powers" which enslave it. Because the body succumbs to sinful pleasures, while the soul invests is the divine so it may live on for eternity, the body remains a "fading mansion" (6). The same is true for the "thrall," which, like the soul to the body, is in bondage. However the master may harm the body does not matter, for the body is just the house for the soul. The body will waste away, to be eaten by worms. The soul will live on for eternity, and that is what is important to protect. This "Death, that feeds on men," (13) represents the death that will one day feed on the "thrallís" master, and once the master is dead, for the "thrall" "thereís no more dying then." (14). The "thrall" is free, as is the soul once the body has wasted away.

Sonnet 146 says that once our bodies have died, the soul finds its liberation. So often do people chose to concentrate so much of their efforts on the outside, to make their bodies appear beautiful with superficial adornments, that they forget about the inside. Shakespeare reminds the reader that it is the soul that is important. Their soul is what lives on for eternity, not the outer shell that is walked around in, abused, and shed after an limited period of time. Why do we allow our bodies to hold our souls captive? Why do we permit our souls to be enslaved, as prisoners of our bodies, while our bodies proceed to sin? Shakespeareís message can only be effectively portrayed by the phrase "thrall to." No other option portrays the severity and despair of the situation that the soul is exposed to.

There is a strong intensity in this sonnet. Shakespeare puts such meaning into every word that "thrall to" must have been what he had initially had in place of the void. Those two simple syllables give the poem so much meaning. It would be impossible to find two other words that complete the sonnet, and portray Shakespeareís message that we should not allow out bodies to control our soul, as well as the words thrall to do.