Lord of the Rebellion

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 146: Soul Searching in a Material World

Envisioning a poem, I see a sonnet, Shakespearian in style and structure, meticulously crafted, and yet incomplete: Sonnet 146. With the second line missing the first two syllables, the work is painstakingly difficult to interpret. Therefore, assuming poetic license, I shall impose upon the poem my own words, "Lord of", in order that an interpretation may be feasible. By applying these words to the sonnet, Shakespeare’s intentions become clear: his original objective is, as determined through close scrutiny of the work, to communicate the joy and utility of having a well-nourished, everlasting soul ready for the afterlife rather than an impeccable, temporary physical appearance ready for the worms. In keeping with the dominant register of "homeownership" and other architectural metaphors, it is clear that the soul is "lord of" its domain and therefore responsible for its own actions and decisions regarding its ephemeral body and eternal afterlife.

At the impetus, Shakespeare makes clear that the soul is the ruling party in all matters, including those of the body, by appealing initially to the "poor soul"(1) itself and then referring to it again as "Lord of [the] rebel powers that [it] array[s]"(2). Naturally, we question what these mythical "rebel powers" are. As we have previously established, the soul is the ruler of the body. In the register of battle, the rebels are the weaker party; here then, the "rebels" must be the body, servant to the soul. In this instance, the body is rebelling by "painting [its] outward walls…costly gay"(4). In the language of metaphors, these outward walls represent the outer appearance, for, just as the innards of a house are contained within the walls, so is the soul contained in the body. Clearly, construing that the soul is the lord of the body in this context relates the idea of "lord" to the register of "homeownership": the soul is, of course, the landlord. Shakespeare continues this homeowner-inspired register by asking the body why it spends "so large [a] cost"(5) on a "fading mansion"(6) with "so short a lease"(5), when this mansion—or aging, transient body—will eventually "lose its lease on life"—or die—only to be turned into dust and worm-feed.

Furthermore, while Shakespeare questions the soul’s machinations to be outwardly beautiful, he also inquires as to why the soul continues to pity itself for not having the world on a proverbial string. Because the soul is, in fact, the lord and master of its domain, Shakespeare asks why it chooses, then, to "pine within and suffer dearth"(3) when it could "buy terms divine in selling hours of dross"(11). Here, the soul wastes away with desire for a better existence. Instead, this lonely soul could be signing for "terms divine"; these terms, evidently, are yet another part of the "homeownership" register, seen here as contractual terms that ensure a fulfilling afterlife. Clearly, Shakespeare is offering two alternatives: either paint the walls of the rental and stop criticizing the shag carpeting, or use the bank account instead to buy a charming "fixer-upper" that will be around for a long, long time.

Undoubtedly, due to the fact that Shakespeare offers these two choices, it is clear that the selection of the words "lord of" is an excellent one, simply because the soul has the ruling power to choose between vanity and its own enrichment. The very presence of this authority signifies that the soul is, in fact, the lord and ruler of its realm. The soul can augment itself, forgo conceit, and have a rewarding afterlife. It is the solitary lord of its household, and, according to Sonnet 146, heavenly rewards do not even require rent.