The Binding of the Soul

Shakespeareís "Sonnet 146" addresses the soul about its relationship with its earthly counterpart, the body. In a series of questions and suggestions, the sonnet explains the relationship between the soul and the body, how it should be and how it really is. The missing words from line two seem to hint at the most basic relationship between the body and soul. The different metaphors for the body throughout the sonnet, "rebel powers" (2) and "charge" (8), and the registers of food and structure indicate that the phrase "Bound by" is the best way to fill in the blank and describe these relations of the soul to the body.

The first view of the body in the sonnet, that of a rebelling force, indicates the relationship of the soul and body to be that of a leader bound to his followers. A definition of rebel, "refusing obedience or allegiance, or offering armed opposition, to the rightful or actual ruler or ruling power of the country" (OED A2a), shows the soul as a ruling power. A ruler is bound to his subjects as their welfare is his own, and his actions are supposed to be in their best interest. Shakespeare goes on to refer to the body as the soulís "charge" (8) and "servant" (7), further illustrating that the soul is the ruler of the body. A charge is "a thing or person entrusted to the care or management of anyone" (OED 14a), the body has been entrusted to the care of the soul. The soul is bound in an agreement to protect the body and lead it through life. However, the body is also the servant to the soul, in exchange for the leadership the soul provides the body gives the soul nourishment.

The soul is also bound to the body in a power struggle; as one grows strong the other grows week, as Shakespeare illustrates with his use of the food register. In a perfect world the soul and body could live in harmony, both achieving the ends that they desire. However, Shakespeare explains to the soul that this cannot occur in our world: "Within be fed, without be rich no more" (12). The soul and the body have different goals and so for the soul to be "fed" the body must be "rich no more." He then instructs the soul to "feed on Death, that feeds on men" (13), thus using the body to sustain the soul. In following this advice the soul becomes a carrion feeder, when its food is healthy it starves, but as the prey weakens it becomes strong. The physical eating of the body is left to nature, "Shall worms, inheritors of this excess, / Eat up thy charge? Is this the bodyís end? / Then, soul, live thou upon thy servantís loss / And let that pine to aggravate thy store" (7-9), but as the body decays the soul grows strong. The body, "excess," holds back the soul from becoming the pure being it tries to be; as the worms consume the body, they also consume the bonds that restricted the soul. With the bonds removed, the soul is free to live the life it was intended to live.

The soul and body bound in a power struggle is further illustrated with the register of structure. "Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth, / Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?" (3-4), asks, Shakespeare. Since gay is defined as "bright or lively-looking" (OED 3) the question is why does the soul suffer to make the body look good. The suffering is caused by the sins the body commits, sins that empower the body while binding the soul. The phrase "outward walls" also suggests the soul is contained by the body in the manner of a building. To further imply that the body is a structure that contains the soul it is also referred to as a "fading mansion" (6). "Fading" is included to remind the soul of how short term the body is and emphasize the idea that the soul should be the one controlling the body instead of the other way around. However, in reality the body is not just a vessel for the soul; it, through sin, becomes a container. When the soul cannot keep the body from sinning, it grows weak and suffers from the bonds that surround it. The body creates is designed to be an enclosure to keep the soul bound to earth; however, when it sins the enclosure becomes more than a housing for the soul, it becomes a jail.

Throughout the sonnet Shakespeare has set up a relationship between the body and soul that is best described as bound to each other. The "rebel powers" that the soul arrays or puts on, show the soul should be in control but it is not. Through rebelling, the body has changed the destiny of its self and the soul to which it is bound. To rebel, the body sins, giving strength to itself while weakening the soul. There is a finite amount of power for the soul and body to share; as one grows stronger the other must weaken. Then while the body is strong, it binds the soul and restricts it with the sins it has committed. Within the context of the sonnet, "Bound by" supports 3 different meanings: the responsibility of a leader bound to his followers, the bonds between 2 struggling powers, and the bonds of physical confinement. Shakespeare is renowned for using multiple meanings in his works, and thus "Bound by" is a great way to complete the line and make it read: "Bound by these rebel powers that the array" (2).

Works Cited

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

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

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