The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1501  Friday, 7 June 2002

From:           Edmund Taft <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 06 Jun 2002 15:35:08 -0400
Subject:        Re: Sonnet 144

Ira Zinman rightly points out that Sonnet 144 can be read as an internal
struggle, a portrait of emotional turmoil within the speaker.  The two
spirits, as Ira points out, are "both from me, both to each other
friend" (11), a line that can be interpreted in at least two different
ways: (1) the two spirits are the fair young man and the dark lady;
and/or (2) the two spirits spring from the speaker himself, and they
know each other because they are both part of the speaker's psyche.

This latter interpretation is bolstered by Shakespeare's use of the
Medieval device of Psychomachia, the same technique Marlowe uses in _Dr.
Faustus_ when Faustus listens to the good and the bad angel, spirits
that may be both internal and external at the same time.

I have always been puzzled by this sonnet, however, because its
references to the fair young man are clearly false. The speaker tells us

        To win me soon to hell, my female evil
        Tempteth my better angel from my side,
        And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,
        Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
                                (ll. 5-8)

Don't we know already that the fair young man is actually a lily that
festers, and that he smells far worse than weeds?  Don't we know that
the fair young man has misused his power and played the speaker false?
And doesn't that all happen earlier, by the end, at least, of sonnet 94?

In short, he's no saint and in no way pure. Is the speaker deluding
himself? Are readers supposed to pickup on the incongruity between 144
and the earlier sonnets? Is the external situation presented falsely to
clue us in to the fact that the internal psychomachia is what's really
important in this sonnet?

--Ed Taft

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