Sonnet 144 by Shakespeare

Summary of Sonnet 144

This is a lovely poem by one of the greatest poets of all time, William Shakespeare. He discusses two types of love in this poetry. One is the consequence of an angel’s intervention (fair youth). It is a source of consolation. Another is the result of a devil’s intervention (dark lady). It is the source of suffering and despondency.

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 144 is one of numerous works that feature the “dark lady” In this sonnet, the “dark lady” represents the sinful entity that has a negative influence on humanity’s thoughts and acts. In essence, she is the corrupt element of the conscience that seeks to convince a virtuous mind to condone wrongdoing. Additionally, this sonnet references a righteous male angel, who is most likely the “handsome, young man” On the other hand, he aspires to steer humanity in a morally correct course. Regrettably, he is powerless to resist the “dark lady” persuasiveness.

The speaker of sonnet 144 suggests in the opening quatrain that he has two loves. The first is a reassuring, beautiful young man who embodies the integrity virtues. The other, on the other hand, is a despondent, dark-complexioned woman who embodies vice. The speaker uses sensory information about each spirit is appearance to hint at their inner essence. He also refers to both as angels to demonstrate how each steered his life; regrettably, in diametrically and ethically opposing directions.

The speaker tells how the dark angel tempts the better angel by enticing his pure and ethical nature with her dark pride in the second quatrain. This action will compel the speaker to experience the mental anguish associated with his fractured ties with each angel. He is loyal to both and is incapable of containing his emotions when he discovers his better angel is being dragged in the wrong direction.

In the final quatrain, the speaker discusses how the better angel may have become bad as a result of the dark angel’s methods of seduction. Although there is no observable evidence for this notion, the speaker is able to presume it due to his acquaintance with both angels. As their relationship evolves, the speaker realises that something is fundamentally wrong with his better angel. As a result of this seeming hold the dark angel appears to have on the better angel, she is his hell.

The poet is snared by the opposing forces of love and passion that coalesce into an unified whole. Additionally, the poem alludes to the poet’s simmering conflict between love and desire. The poet is caught between the consolation of love and the anguish of passion. To the poet, the better angel was represented by a fair youth, while the evil spirit was symbolised by a dark dame. At the conclusion, the poet implies that the Dark Lady enticed the fair boy away from him and sent him to the abyss of sin. According to the poet, one angel is another’s hell.

READ ALSO:  Fire and Ice - Summary, Explanation and Questions and Answers

This poem can be interpreted in autobiographical, psychological, or theological terms. The poet is alluding to the poet’s rejection and suffering as a result of his triangle relationship with a fair youth and a dark lady.

Throughout the sonnet, Shakespeare strives to depict a love triangle while simultaneously attempting to consider the situation objectively. While reading through each quatrain of the aforementioned sonnet, a sense of unease is frequently felt. The poet’s mood is also cynical and scornful, and the ambiguity about the relationship torments him the most. His distinct manner of visually portraying the love triangle enables him to carve out an outstanding niche in the field of sonnet writing.
The speaker introduces two figures as his lovers in the first quatrain of Sonnet 144, the “fair youth” and the “dark lady” respectively. One is reassuring, while the other is depressing, in his opinion. Both of these partners are likened to ghosts who reside within the speaker. The contrast between the two lovers is clearly noticeable here. While the fair teenager is his “better angel” the “dark lady” is his “worser spirit” and a woman of dark complexion.

The speaker seemed to be displeased with the woman of dark skin in the second quatrain of the sonnet, claiming that she will send him to hell shortly. He is upset since she is prone to luring his “better lover” the fair youth, away from the speaker. She not only wants to steal his “better lover” but she also wants to corrupt him and make him into a devil. The woman of dark complexion likewise tries to lure the “better angel” with the help of her dark pride, which may disappoint the speaker.

The speaker is perplexed, saying that he does not know if his better angel has been transformed into a “fiend” or not. He just suspects the relationship between the ‘fair youth’ and the ‘black lady.’ The speaker also appears to be plagued by a sense of ambiguity, as he is unsure whether his two lovers are amicable or not. He can only speculate on the likelihood of the certainty of the bond between his two lovers because he is separated from them.

The answer to the dilemma addressed in the quatrains is always found in the last two lines of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. However, in the current sonnet, instead of resolving his worries, the couplet accentuates them. He ends by stating that the relationship or affair between the dark lady and the fair youth is completely unknown and ambiguous, leaving him in the dark. He will be in an unsure state till his bad angel chases away his nice angel.

Although the sonnet is unique in that it presents the poet’s attempt to be objective about the two other figures in the relationship, stylistically it is very similar to others in that it establishes an antithesis between two warring elements, the youth (“comfort”) and the woman (“despair”): “The better angel is a man right fair, / The worser spirit a woman, coloured ill.” Symbolically, the young man and woman represent two types of love that are vying for dominance within the poet’s own character: unselfish admiration and shameless lust, respectively. The poet, on the other hand, is now merely a bystander. His greatest concern, which he cannot confront, is that the young man may secretly consent to the woman’s advances: “And whether that my angel be turned fiend / Suspect I may, yet not directly tell.”

Unfortunately for the poet, the outcome of this conflict is unknown: “Yet this shall I ne’er know, but live in doubt, / Till my bad angel fire my good one out.” It is uncertain what the expression “fire my good one out” signifies. According to one critic, the phrase means “until the woman infects the youth with venereal disease” while others propose the more benign “until the youth grows tired of the woman.” Ironically, the poet’s one certainty is the poet’s worry regarding the future of the young man’s relationship with the woman.

Analysis and Explanation

In William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 144, the author appears to be portraying two facets of his nature: the good and the bad, a much discussed subject.

One is reminded of Marlowe’s Faustus (in Doctor Faustus) as he struggles between what he knows to be right (represented by an angel hanging above his head) and the temptations of evil (represented by Mephistopheles, the agent of the devil).

The same conflict is the subject of Shakespeare’s sonnet’s fourteen lines, and the two combatants are introduced in the first line:

Two loves I have of comfort and despair…

This statement emphasises the speaker’s internal conflict. The positive is denoted by the term “comfort,” and the negative is denoted by the term “despair,” or a loss of hope. The second phrase conveys his oscillation between these two extremes that “urge” him on. Line three states that what is excellent is pleasing to the eye (“fair”)—perhaps the spiritual part of a person, while the “worser spirit” is a woman “colour’d ill” (maybe dark-haired and sultry), possibly the physical. This may likely allude to the guy being in control—and his appearance reflecting his moral spirit—while the opponent is frequently depicted as a woman, frequently portrayed as a temptress, a seductress—one who leads a man to his physical demise—unable to resist the attraction of the body. This parallel could very possibly be a reference to Eve in Genesis’ Garden of Eden. Darkness is frequently connected with evil, whilst light is frequently associated with goodness.

As the conflict continues, the speaker observes that the feminine within (the darker spirit) attempts to “corrupt my saint to be a devil.” This may conjure up images of a witch believed to be feminine in nature during Elizabethan times and dedicated to seducing one (typically portrayed as a man in Shakespeare’s plays) to his eternal doom. This is how Shakespeare begins the sonnet’s first two quatrains (eight lines in total).

There is a shift in the author’s concentration in the third quatrain. In lines nine and ten, the speaker acknowledges that he cannot be certain that his soul’s righteousness will not be corrupted:

READ ALSO:  Ode to Nightingale by John Keats | Summary, Questions, Theme, Critical Analysis, Explanation

And whether that my angel be turn’d fiend Suspect I may, but not directly tell…

However, he observes that these opposing powers are polar opposites of himself. They are “both to each friend,” which means they coexist and, more importantly, get along well. However, because each represents something distinct, the goodness within him views the darkness as a manifestation of hell, just as the darkness views the goodness as her manifestation of hell.

The concluding rhyming couplet encapsulates the speaker’s sentiments: until one side wins, the other will dwell in a state of doubt…at least until the “bad angel fire my good one out.” While the speaker expresses reservations about the outcome of the conflict, he appears to contradict himself in the final line, anticipating that the situation will be resolved when the “bad angel” defeats the other. He never implies that the conflict would end when his “good” angel vanquishes the black one. Perhaps the speaker is recognising the nature of man in this way, observing that, regardless of one’s intentions, the darker side frequently emerges. We would suppose that the speaker anticipates succumbing to the darkness…perhaps even desires it.

Theme of Sonnet 144

The poet explores themes of love and corruption throughout this poem. The speaker adores the Fair Youth and harbours some fondness or lust for the Dark Lady, but things are unravelling. She has ruined his life and may or may not be enticing the Fair Youth to join her wicked group. He does not want this “good spirit” or “angel” to perish in hell, but he has no control over the situation.

Additionally, readers should note the piece’s sexist overtones. The speaker places the burden for his and others’ corruption squarely on the Dark Lady’s shoulders. However, as evidenced by the other sonnets, he was longing to have intercourse with her. Despite the fact that he is just as guilty of lust as she is, her presence corrupts.

The poet is in love with two people: his mistress and the Earl of Southampton. Shakespeare’s affection for the Earl of Southampton is consoling. His affection for his mistress is pitiful and distressing. This type of counter-intuitive influence on his affection leaves him stupefied. The more attractive of the two is the Earl with a fair complexion. Worst of all is the woman – the poet’s wife, who is a conceited woman. To hasten the poet’s demise, his wife tempts his companion away from his side. The poet fears that his wife’s diabolical sexual manipulations would convert his companion into a devil. At the moment, his friend is saintly. With her filthy pride, she seduces a man of purity. The poet is fearful that his companion will become his adversary. The poet will stay uncertain about the outcome until he learns of the negative influence on his celestial companion.

Questions and Answers

Newsletter Updates

Enter your email address below to subscribe to our newsletter

x