Shakespeare’s Sonnet 146

The phrase that would best fill in the omitted words in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 146 would be "starved by," based on the theme of neglect of the soul, the common register of words related to feeding, and the relation to warfare, specifically siege tactics. The aspect of neglect shows how the soul is being deprived, or starved, of what it needs by the body. The register of words relating to feeding reinforces the idea that "starved by" fits most appropriately within the overall poem. The reference to siege warfare completes the idea that "starved by" is the correct phrase to fit both the meaning of the individual line, and also the whole sonnet.

The sonnet clearly shows a theme of neglect, in which "starved by" fits perfectly, in that starvation is a form of neglect. The poem starts with the idea of the soul being neglected as people try to "paint thy outward walls so costly gay" (4). People all too often apply that thin coat of paint, or decoration, to their outer body at the expense of our soul. The soul is neglected so that the body can have material pleasures and look good on the outside. As people focus on the body, the soul does start to "pine within and suffer dearth," (3) where pine means to yearn for that which it doesn’t have. The soul wants the nourishment it can get when it focuses on the soul, but the body just keeps getting in the way, starving the soul. Near the end, Shakespeare says we should reverse the neglect so that we neglect the body rather than the soul. When he says that the soul should "live upon thy servant’s loss" (9), he shows that since the body should be the vehicle, or servant, to our soul, the soul should thrive on the dying of the body. As the body starts to wear away, the soul grows stronger. Through neglecting the body, the soul can therefore live a better life. He encourages the soul to feed on the fact that the body is dying. Thus the soul should strive to escape from this neglect and get the nourishment it needs to avoid this starvation it is currently experiencing.

When the sonnet describes this neglect, the common register of words that becomes apparent is that which deals with feeding, and "starved by" also fits this register. In lines 8, 12, and 13 Shakespeare provides words that would all fit into this register of feeding. He shows that the idea of feeding is important to the sonnet when he states, in his conclusion, "So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men" (13). He is showing that the feeding register is important to his whole poem by including it in his conclusion. Shakespeare also says again that the soul should grow through the wearing away of the body. As death takes its toll of the body, the soul can still go on and prosper. The same term, "fed," is used in line 12 to describe the same action: taking from the body in order that the soul may become stronger, and live better. This can all be taken back to the 2nd line where we should insert the phrase "starved by." It continues the register and makes the sonnet more like a complete work. There is a relationship between the language of the beginning and the end. The common register of feeding is therefore continued throughout the entire sonnet.

While the connection to neglect and feeding are enough to decide that "starved by" is the correct phrase, there is an additional relationship between the phrase "starved by" and the references to warfare, primarily in the form of siege tactics. Since siege warfare entails encircling, waiting, and starving your enemies into submission, "starved by" works ideally in that context. This idea of siege warfare is evident in a couple places. The most apparent example is in the 2nd line right after the omitted words. The "rebel powers" are definitely referring to the body and its battle against the soul, which the poem deals with the whole time. The body surrounds the soul and, as explained later in the sonnet, takes all the decorations and pleasures, keeping the soul inside from getting any nourishment. This is exactly what happens in siege warfare. That theme is continued in the use of the word array in that same line. Array can mean "to draw up prepared for battle" (OED 1a). It is yet another reference to the siege warfare prevalent in that line. The two sides, the soul and the body, are at odds with each other. The two "draw up" sides and are preparing for a long wait in a siege mode in which the body is stopping everything from coming in to the soul. "Starved by" completes the analogy to siege warfare in that it shows the final aspect to a siege. That which is trapped inside, in this case the soul, lacks the food and equipment to survive and flourish. The 2nd line states, upon inserting the phrase "starved by," that the soul is being denied the food that would make it strong. The body is attempting to starve out the soul by taking everything for itself.

Therefore, "Starved by" is the best phrase to fill in the missing words of Shakespeare’s sonnet because it furthers the idea of neglect that is prevalent throughout the sonnet, along with continuing not only the register of words related to feeding, but also the analogy of siege warfare.


Works Cited

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

Sonnet 146. Class handout. 1-24-2000.