Predator or Prey?

In Sonnet 146, Shakespeare discusses the struggle between the heavenly soul and the earthly body. This crusade between the finite presentation of the body and the absorption into the infinite world of the soul rules the existence of the addressed in the sonnet. The battle register as presented in line two makes "prey to" the appropriate words in the sonnet due to its definitions.

The battle register presents itself in the second line, but must be discussed in context. "Poor soul, the center of my sinful earth, / prey to these rebel powers that thee array." ("Sonnet 146" 1-2) Here, rebel and array refer to military action wherein the battle takes place between the soul and the earth that symbolizes the body. Array, most closely meaning to prepare for battle, refers to the powers that the soul has called into action. The powers being of a rebellious nature align themselves against the soul, yet claim to be with it in the battle against the body. Thus, an ironic twist Shakespeare adds to the sonnet where the very powers that the soul employs turn against it. Using the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary, prey means "that which is taken in war," which adds a word to the register of battle or war. Namely, the soul falls in battle to the rebel powers, or the base earthly desires of the body that cause the soul’s allowance of the body’s incorrect priority in the finite world.

The use of the word prey assumes a lack of responsibility on the part of the addressed that holds complete truth. Human ignorance makes people assume that energy must be spent in the maintenance of the body while one completely ignores the maintenance of the soul. Line four of the sonnet refers to the body as "outward walls" that the addressed think and adorns more than needed. The addressed only cares about his appearance to the public because the public sees the outside walls of a house whereas the interior can be viewed by a select few. So, Shakespeare conveys that the "powers" must be the needs to create an image while the inside faces "dearth" or lack of requirements. So, the images that the addressed purchases as the correct lifestyle pass from his surroundings and without thought, he adopts the attitudes. Yet, he does not concern himself with the thought of the infinite world where death does not exist. So, the rebel powers have won and the soul has become a victim of war as the definition of prey states.

The commonly used definition of prey, "one who falls or is given into power of hostile person or injurious person," (OED 3) fits the poem as much as the previous definition. Here, the addressed gives himself to the hurtful person that causes the demise of the soul. The speaker questions the motives of the addressed who will spend a fortune in the "fading mansion"(Sonnet 146 6) when he could obtain a time of no death. So, the speaker advises the addressed to bother not in this world. The soul must create a new battle wherein the rebel powers become his enemy and the prey, the soul, becomes the predator of the earthly priorities. Earth and death ally together against the soul that can win if it takes the spot of the predator. "Then, soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss, / And let that pine to aggravate thy store;"(Sonnet 146 10) shows that the soul has power over the body, the servant. By shifting the roles a second time, the soul can pine, cause suffering, to the body that will stop death from inflicting pain on the body. Thus the prey becomes the body that suffers death while the soul lives in eternity and wins in the battle.

A constant battle ensues between the infinite and the finite forces that cause a reversal of the role of prey and predator many times in Sonnet 146. The soul though first in control of the situation finds itself the prey that the speaker soon remedies with sound advice. Focus on the internal and forget the outside walls of the body that will create a time of "no more dying." (Sonnet 146 14)