Textual Misunderstanding in Sonnet no. 146

Shakespeare-Cover-SonetsIn the 1609 quarto of the Sonnets the only source we have for them, the text of Sonnet no. 146 has puzzled readers and critics alike. The confusion comes in the first two lines of this sonnet where the three words,”my sinful earth,” are repeated at the beginning of line two after just being written at the end of line one. The quarto reads thus:

“Poor soul the center of my sinful earth,

[My sinful earth] these rebel powers that thee array.”

I put the words that are supposedly a mistake in brackets for easy reference.

The website www.shakespeare-online.com says that, “It is manifest that the second line as thus given is wrong, but how it is to be corrected is a matter concerning which the opinions of critics have very greatly varied.”

Emendations of the first three words of the second line are multitudinous. Including: fool’d by, shamed by, foiled by, hemm’d by, spoiled by, fenced by, pressed by and others.

I write to dispute the claim that the second line is corrupt in the 1609 quarto, and to contend that this was just how Shakespeare wrote it.

The website www.utm.utoronto.ca/ claims that “foiled by” is the best emendation. They say,  “The soul has been foiled by the body, and so the sonnet begins, ‘poor soul.’ Poor soul whose success has been thwarted by the desires of the body. A phrase that reveals that how the soul has been foiled by the body is that of “rebel powers” (Line 2). A rebel is one who opposes the rightful ruler, one who acts against the known authority. The soul is this higher authority, but it has been foiled by these ‘rebel powers,’ the desires of the body. The body is clearly the antagonist and so it is logical that it would be blamed for foiling the prospects of the soul.”

My interpretation of this sonnet is somewhat different, and it involves no emendation of the text. In my opinion when the poet refers to “my sinful earth” in the first line he is referring to his own body. “Sinful” in the respect that he is human and falls into the trap of sin just like any other human being. In the second line when he says “my sinful earth” I strongly believe he is referring to his beloved as in his sinful love with another man. The sonnet’s first four lines read thus:

“Poor soul the center of my sinful earth,

My sinful earth these rebel powers that thee array,

Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,

Painting thy wallls so costly gay?”

 

His beloved’s powers are his charms of youth which are rebelling by him aging older and inching closer to death. The poet points out that as he does “array” himself, presumably in fine apparell and with vanity; he is neglecting his soul by not being humble.

“Why so large a cost, having so short a lease,

Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?

Shall wormseat up thy charge?”

When the poet asks, “Why dost thou pine within,” he is talking about the youth pining for the poet’s love and trying to impress him.(“Painting thy walls so costly gay“). The handsome youth is the poet’s sinful earth. Sinful because forbidden by the laws of absolute righteousness.

The poet importunes his beloved to “Buy terms divine…there’s no more dying then.” Presumably inheriting eternal life. This is one of the few Shakepeare sonnets that strikes an overt religious tone; which may refer to the biblical verse Romans 6:7

“For he that is dead is freed from sin.”

 

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Psychoanalytic Interpretations of King Lear

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Coppelia Kahn suggests that because there are no maternal figures in King Lear, neither in that of Lear’s Queen (she is nonexistent in the play) nor in that of his mother (he is over eighty so she is passed, likely long ago), that Lear, “now seeks for a love that is normally satisfied by a mothering woman.” *Quote taken from Wikipedia’s King Lear page.

The most basic functions of a mothering figure is two-fold. First to provide love and second to provide nourishment. Hence, Lear asks for the love protestations from his daughters. Note that by seeking a motherly figure he himself is playing the role of a child. Nothing a child loves more than to hear how much he or she is loved. But when a child is rebuked as Cordelia does to her child-father, note how the temper flares. What we see from Lear after Cordelia’s harsh words can be likened to a full on temper tantrem to that of a child going berserk after not getting his way. The sub-text of the play as well as the word that must linger in Lear’s conscience is that paradoxically all-encompassing word “nothing”. It must replay hauntingly in Lear’s conscience where he says, “What can you say to draw a third more opulent than your sisters,” and Cordelia retorts simply the word, “nothing.” This word dominates throughout the text in numerous instances. Its interesting that the word “nothing” can mean female privates (no thing) implying the lack of male genitalia and providing a womb; hence a maternal figure.

After the first act, Lear regains his compusure, but as soon as he gets wind that he isn’t welcome with his other two daughters in which he entrusted his care to, he trys to metamorphose back into the paternal role he was accustomed to, but it was too late now.

“To take ’t again perforce— Monster ingratitude!”

Lear’s temper tantrem in the first scene serves as a rehearsal to his madness on the heath, caused by a lack of what a mother should provide: love and care. In Cordelia’s case, it was what he perceived as a lack of love through rough words; in Gonerill and Regan’s case, it was the lack of care in denying him a place to live. The latter proves to be much more cruel; as it is a truth that different people express their love differently. Lear’s madness scenes on the heath are way more penetrating than his mere frustration aimed at Kent and Cordelia. Since he freely gave away his kingdom to whom he desired by his own recognizance, he is a rebel without a cause; much like a child might rebel if they aren’t loved and accepted. The madness scenes culminate in Lear and Gloucesters’ rantings in the fields of Dover. Lear is found spouting off almost non-sensically; but what we are told is a reminder of his frustration with the female gender. 

“Behold yond simp’ring dame…the fitchew nor the soiled horse goes to’t with a more riotous appetite.”

Regan and Gonerill provide him with worthless empty protestations of love, and a false promise of care as they abandon their father. After agreeing to let him sojourn with them till the end of his days, they leave him out to the raging storm. Cordelia lacks her sisters’ fancy words, but unlike her conniving sisters, returns loyally to her father’s side. She is the only sister who truly possesses love in her heart. We hear parents sometimes refer to their own rigidity as “tough love”, and we can term Cordelia’s love “tough” as well, although her love proved a  little too tough, as it cost both her and and her father their lives. Paradoxically, Cordelia’s love proves the most tender because it was sincere.

Who Is King Lear?

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When we look at how the character of King Lear should be portrayed to me there are two most plausible interpretations. In most renditions, he is shown as an authority of utmost regality driven to utter madness, but there is another interpretation that deserves consideration. It is that of the naively fond and living in a dream world, old man driven to the realization of the anguish and suffering present in his quasi-reality. Martin Spevack, author of The Masks Of King Lear, writes, “Curiously , this Lear, touched in the beginning with madness would move upward toward strength and sanity.” An utter reversal of the common character journey of Lear. He futher writes, “And then the storm comes–and for a moment this Lear would seem to have attained absolute lucidity, to know, for the first time the misery of this world, and share in its suffering.”

O I have ta’en too little care of this. Take physic, pomp; exposed thyself to feel what wretches feel, that thou mayst shake the superflux to them and show the heavens more just.

This the first dose of humanity Lear swallows. He’s slowly coming to a realization of his miserliness as a King, and he expresses his condolences. Not only is he sorry for his past neglect of the poor but also for his unmitigated foolishness as a judge in the love inquisition of his three daughters which should be incomparably noted most akin to madness. From the madness that occupies Lear’s crisis in the storm, until his heart wrenching reunion with Cordelia, the King’s sanity, as time wears on, is clear:

To say Ay and no” to everything that I said! Ay and no too was no good divinity. They told me I was everything; ’tis a lie; I am not ague-proof.

In 4.4 Cordelia laments her father’s condition:

Why, he was met even now as mad as the vexed sea.

And indubitably, the most delusional line of the play:

I am a man more sinned against than sinning.

We can still interpret the majority of his experiences on the heath as his journey to  sobriety yet a rocky road:

No, I will be the pattern of all patience, I will say nothing.

Lear in all its forms never ceases to engender multitudinous ideas and interpretations , and the interpretation of him striving towards sanity deserves much consideration. His ultimate nightmare is too hard; the death of his dearest and Faithful Cordelia;

And my poor fool is hanged.

Lear passes shortly thereafter.

King Lear And Gratitude

King_LearThe great Italian Shakespearean Salvini writes that, “Lear is a study of ingratitude.” Cordelia is counted ungrateful by Lear at the start and is disowned. When the King of France takes up Cordelia as his wife, his speech is that of utmost gratitude, “Fairest Corelia, that art most rich being poor…Be it lawful I take up what’s cast away.” Isn’t it interesting that the character with the most gratitude has the highest fundamental understanding of what is actually going on, and I’ll tell you what I mean: The king of France poignantly points out:

“Love is not love when it is mingled with regards that stands aloof from the entire point.”

The puffed up words that were spoken by Gonerill and Regan to their father was not love because it was mingled with their selfish motives or (“regards that stood aloof from the entire point”). King Lear is partly to blame for Gonerill and Regan’s flattery as he prefaces their love protestations with, “That we our largest bounty may extend where nature doth with merit challenge.” This was what King Lear failed to realize: that he adulterated the love challenge when he asked, “Which of you shall we say doth love us most.” He wanted to hear culminated praises of love which as Salvini writes, “When filial affection was assumed to be akin to that due the Creator,” perhaps Lear had good hope to assume their high and lofty words would commingle with their hearts, but Cordelia sees that this isn’t so from the outset. She refuses to participate like her craftily cunning sisters. She states that she loves her father as a child should but expurgates much sense of her sincerity, stating bluntly, “I love your majesty according to my bond no more nor less.” This frustration of hers can also be explained by France’s quote (“Love is not love…”) because her frustration is borne of her sisters’ flattery and stands aloof from the point that she truely and devotedly loves her father. Cordelia can see that Lear’s old age makes his decision making not of the best, but she doesn’t want to take the part of rebuking her father as she wants to”obey, love and most honor” him, but her passions get the best of her. When Kent compounds her error by rebuking King Lear with unmitigated rage, King Lear is dumbfounded, but as the story gets closer and closer to the end, it becomes clearer and clearer that giving his home and all his power to Gonerill and Regan was an insurmountable mistake. He curses Gonerill in 1.4.

Goneril_and_Regan_from_King_Lear If she must teem
Create her child of spleen, that it may live
And be a thwart, disnatured torment to her.
Let it stamp wrinkles in her brow of youth,
With cadent tears fret channels in her cheeks,
Turn all her mother’s pains and benefits
To laughter and contempt, that she may feel
How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is
To have a thankless child!

 

Lear finds out that his two eldest daughters have the same gratitude for him that he had for Cordelia: nothing!