|Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
||Two loves I have, one comforting, the other despairing;
|Which like two spirits do suggest me still:
||Which like two spirits do urge me on:
|The better angel is a man right fair,
||The better angel is a beautiful man,
|The worser spirit a woman colour'd ill.
||The worser spirit [angel] is a woman of dark complexion.
|To win me soon to hell, my female evil
||With what would soon send me to hell, my female lover
|Tempteth my better angel from my side,
||Tempts my better lover away from me,
|And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,
||And wants to corrupt him and turn him into a devil,
|Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
||Seducing him and his purity with her dark pride.
|And whether that my angel be turn'd fiend
||And whether my angel be turned into a fiend,
|Suspect I may, but not directly tell;
||I cannot say for sure, although I suspect as much;
|But being both from me, both to each friend,
||But both being away from me, and each friendly toward the other,
|I guess one angel in another's hell:
||I guess one angel is in the other's hell:
|Yet this shall I ne'er know, but live in doubt,
||But this I'll never know, and I'll live in doubt,
|Till my bad angel fire my good one out.
||Until my bad angel drives away my good angel.
better angel (3) ] Compare Othello:
Poor Desdemona! I am glad thy father's dead:
To win me soon to hell (5) ] Hell for the poet is the mental anguish he suffers due to his divided loyalties and the strange new development in his sordid love triangle.
Thy match was mortal to him, and pure grief
Shore his old thread in twain: did he live now,
This sight would make him do a desperate turn,
Yea, curse his better angel from his side,
And fall to reprobation. (5.2.237-242)
Till...one out. (14) ] Some scholars argue that 'fire' in this line specifically refers to venereal disease. They claim that the poet is saying his mistress will give his male lover the 'fire' or 'infection.' This interpretation is quite possibly the right one as venereal disease was rampant in Tudor society. For more please see my article on diseases in Shakespeare's London.
Although Sonnets 143 and 144 both discuss the interwoven relationship amongst Shakespeare, his male friend, and the dark lady, the somber tone in Sonnet 144 is much different from the playful humorous tone found in the previous sonnet.
The poet clearly favours the love and companionship of his male lover over that of his mistress, and he places all the blame for the affair between the dark lady and the friend squarely on the shoulders of the lady. Shakespeare's depiction of them as angels, one good and one bad, shows the unique roles they played in Shakespeare life. His affair with his male friend, most likely the Earl of Southampton, was 'nourishment for his soul', and reached beyond lust and physical comfort (the basis of the affair with his mistress) to fulfill his spiritual and cerebral needs.
Sonnet 144, along with Sonnet 138, appears in Shakespeare's collection called The Passionate Pilgrim (1599). The following is the text as found in The Passionate Pilgrim:
Two Loves I have, of Comfort and Despaire,
Note the changes in lines 3, 8 and 13.
That like two Spirits do suggest me still;
My better Angell is a Man (right faire),
My worser spirite a Woman (colour'd ill).
To winne me soone to hell, my female evill
Tempteth my better Angell from my side,
And would corrupt my Saint to be a Devill,
Wooing his purity with her faire pride.
And whether that my Angell be turnde feend,
Suspect I may, (yet not directly tell:
For being both to me: both to each friend,
I ghesse one angel in anothers hell;
The truth I shall not know, but live in doubt,
Till my bad Angell fire my good one out.
How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Sonnet 144. Ed. Amanda Mabillard. Shakespeare Online. 8 Dec. 2012. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/144detail.html >.
Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare's Sonnets. Ed. A. L. Rowse. London: Macmillan & Co., 1964.
Walters, John Cuming. The Mystery of Shakespeare's Sonnets. London: The New century press, Ltd., 1899.
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Points to Ponder ... "The meanings of the Sonnets are thus found to be mainly autobiographical, but always tending towards allegory; the motives of the poet are found to be: to record as in a diary his private aspirations; to celebrate personal events; to exercise his "pupil pen" upon themes; and to use up the
material thus obtained in the great work which he had set himself to perform in order to win immortality. His "fair friend" triumphed by
keeping him faithful to the best ideal, and the "dark woman," his temptress to baser and more evanescent pleasures, was foiled. The "better angel" triumphed
in the contest for the man's soul." John Cuming Walters. (The Mystery of Shakespeare's Sonnets)
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