The printing error in line 2 of Shakespeare’s sonnet 146 gives rise to the question what phrase has most likely been used in the original instead. I will argue that out of the given list the word "feeding" is the most convincing choice. It conveys the overall meaning best, affirms the form in terms of structure of argument and of voice and particularly supports the used means of language.

This sonnet belongs to the third and last series of Shakespeare’s sonnet writings. While considerably aging, Shakespeare tackles the anthropological issue of immortality. He defines the soul as an absolute value. It is eventually superior to time and implicitly to material objects, such as the body it inhabits. But simultaneously the soul depends on the body as its temple and is refrained in its true character during human’s lifetime. It can only try to give the body shape in that sense that it gives direction. It "feeds" human life with a conceptual framework.

In terms of form "feeding" complements the sonnet under two aspects. Firstly, it backs up the convention, that the concluding couplet restates the preceding quatrains and shows a special link to the first quatrain. The contemplation about the pact, the soul enters with the body, is reflected in the quatrain pattern. The train of thoughts develops from a rhetorical questioning about the soul’s form of existence (lines 1-8: quatrain 1 and 2) to an implicit answer (lines 9-14: quatrain 3 and final couplet). The two last lines take up again the verb "feed" and round the circular argument. The body’s death leads to the end of mutual "feeding" and consequently the victory of the soul’s fight against its imprisonment. The soul becomes eternal as "there’s no more dying then."

The second aspect of form refers to the voice. The soul’s struggle is a very vivid one. Therefore the missing phrase should reflect its active nature. "Feeding" is the only phrase in the given list that can be interpreted as an elliptical present progressive form: "…[that you are] feeding…" All other possibilities are by definition past participles or nouns embodying a passive voice and implying subjection. And subjection is diametrically opposed to the soul’s characterization as the superior and winning might.

"Feeding" also matches the used means of language, such as metaphor, register and antithesis. The sonnet starts off with the setting. The soul is located in "sinful earth". Earth is on the one hand normally understood as "grounds for something", "nutrition of something" and on the other hand as dirt. The metaphor "sinful earth" embraces both meanings. It stands for the human body which houses the soul and is vicious at the same time as it is subjected to materialism and consequently to sin and decay. The inferior value of the body is underpinned by "feeding". Normally only babies, animals or invalids are fed, that is to say inferior beings.

"Feeding" complements the register of "catering and nourishment", which runs throughout the whole sonnet: "dearth"(line 3) "worms" (line 7), "servant" (line9), "store" (line 10), "…fed…feed…feed" (lines 12-14). This register defines the first level of being as a reduction to the materialistic basis of livelihood. The opposite level of being, namely spiritual immortality lacks any interest in tangible concepts such as money. But to reach that level the soul has to undergo a period of suffering. This time is characterised by permanent dispute and sub optimal pacts between the antithetic poles. Finally, the spiritual starvation ("…pine within…") is ended with the loss of the servant, the body. He turned out to serve the spirit insufficiently.

Human lifetime is depicted with three other registers, which go together with "feeding": the one of "fight", the one of "contract" and the one of "building". The soul depicted as the "rebel power" (line 2) gains rebel power during human’s lifetime in order to win a war of non-martial kind. It builds or - how Shakespeare puts it - "arrays" a personality, which is condemned to die in its material dimension - a "mansion" that fades (line 6). The terms under which the establishment of this partially immortal personality occurs are costly. It is a temporary contract between "sinful earth" and "soul", under which conditions the soul is confined in such a manner that it "pines" and suffers "dearth" (line 3).

As a corollary, one can say that "feeding" is the source for the rebel powers. It eventually leads to a alienation from the body and consequently the abundance of transitory objects after death. That in turn means that the uncertainty of decay is eliminated and that immortality can be equated with the peace, which the rebel powers seek to achieve.