Subject The Power Wrestling
Posted by Beryl
Posted on Mon Apr 17 22:43:10 2000
From IP  

Sonnet 144
William Shakespeare
Two loves I have, of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest me still;
The better angle is a man right fair,
The worser spirit a woman coloured ill.
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.
And whether that my angel be turned fiend
Suspect I may, yet not directly tell;
But being both from me, both to each friend,
I guess one angel in another¡¦s hell.
Yet this shall I ne¡¦er know, but live in doubt
Till my bad angel fire my good one out.

Viewing from the first line, we can clearly find that this sonnet contains three characters¡Xthe love of comfort, the love of despair, and I, and they are forming a triangular and wrestling relationship. According to A. J. Greimas¡¦ theory, the three characters take the six roles in the three pairs of binary oppositions¡XSubject/Object, Sender/Receiver, Helper/Opponent¡Xdifferently. In the first quatrain, the three are in a power structure that seems to be static and with much less violence than we used to expect in a wrestling triangle. However, the second line¡X¡§two spirits do suggest me still¡¨¡Ximplies the flow of power. The ¡§two spirits¡¨ is the sender, and ¡§me¡¨ is the receiver. The speaker, ¡§I¡¨, is affected by both ¡§two loves¡¨. As the sonnet develops on, the ostensibly peaceful power structure of the opening quatrain changes in the second one. The first line, ¡§to win me soon to hell,¡¨ comes straight to the point, presenting the goal. The ¡§female evil¡¨ becomes the initiator imposing the power on the ¡§better angel¡¨ by her actions in tempting, corrupting, and wooing. The bilateral relationship between the ¡§two loves¡¨ turns that the ¡§female evil¡¨ is the sender and the ¡§better angel¡¨ is the receiver. Besides, ¡§to win me soon to hell¡¨ is the ¡§female evil¡¦s¡¨ ambition, so the ¡§female evil¡¨ also imposes power to the ¡§I¡¨. The ¡§female evil¡¨ is the subject, the ¡§I¡¨ is the object, and ¡§to hell¡¨ is the goal in the subject-object relationship. In this triangle, the ¡§better angel¡¨ simultaneously takes the roles of receiver, helper, and opponent. In terms of literal meaning, ¡§my better angel¡¨ should be the helper of I. Yet, being the receiver of the ¡§female evil¡¨, the ¡§better angel¡¨ becomes the opponent of I, and the helper of the ¡§female evil¡¨ to achieve her purpose to down the ¡§I¡¨ to hell. Therefore, both the ¡§female evil¡¨ and the ¡§better angel¡¨ are imposing power upon the ¡§I¡¨ in this triangular relationship.

With many verbs and opposite wordings, the power wrestling in the second quatrain is more violent than that in the first one. In the third quatrain, the speaker, ¡§I¡¨, takes the role of the character of action. The ¡§I¡¨ abandons the wrestling triangle, and comments on the ¡§two loves¡¨. ¡§I¡¨, in this quatrain, performs several actions, such as ¡§suspect¡¨, ¡§tell¡¨, and ¡§guess¡¨. Examining I¡¦s response to the question he raises¡X¡§whether that my angel be turned fiend¡¨, we realize the fact that although these three verbs are associated with the ¡§I¡¨, still ¡§I¡¨ is the unprivileged and passive character. Apparently, I is not totally empowered. He can only ¡§suspect¡¨ the result, but cannot ¡§directly tell¡¨ it. These three verbs plus the statement in the final couplet all reinforce the I¡¦s uncertainty. Thus, though the ¡§I¡¨ gains the right for speaking in the final six lines, he can¡¦t state the result for sure anyway. We can see the I¡¦s predicament through the usage of the verbs. Nevertheless, the speaker, I, also has made a breakthrough by having his voice throughout the whole poem. From the very first line, the speaker is commenting on his ¡§two loves¡¨, that is, one is of ¡§comfort¡¨ and the other is of ¡§despair¡¨. Moreover, the speaker is addressing himself to the readers. The speaker becomes the sender, and the readers are the receivers. The speaker¡¦s voice is flowing everywhere in the sonnet. On the contrary, the ¡§two loves¡¨ are voiceless; even the ¡§female evil¡¨ are doing the ¡§silent actions¡¨ through the speaker¡¦s depiction, and she can¡¦t object to the speaker¡¦s comment on her, such as ¡§evil¡¨, ¡§devil¡¨, and ¡§foul pride¡¨. Therefore, the speaker turns I¡¦s inferior position into an advantaged stand in the power wrestling among the three characters by letting the readers hear nothing more than I¡¦s voice.

In addition to the power structure formed by the three characters, the very fist line of this sonnet, ¡§two loves I have,¡¨ suggests all binary oppositions occurring throughout the poem. They are as follows: comfort vs. despair, two spirits vs. me, better vs. worser, angel vs. spirit, man vs. woman, fair vs. ill, my female evil vs. my better angel, saint vs. devil, purity vs. foul pride, his vs. her, angel vs. fiend, angel vs. hell, and good vs. bad. Among these binary oppositions, obviously, we find woman is put in the bottom half of a fraction, which is less valued than its related top half. The speaker imposes the negative adjectives, verbs, and nouns upon the female character, such as ¡§ ill¡¨, ¡§worser¡¨, ¡§evil¡¨, ¡§despair¡¨, ¡§foul pride¡¨, and ¡§corrupt¡¨. The speaker intentionally demeans and distorts the female¡¦s character. Nevertheless, the demoralized female gets empowered in the speaker¡¦s sarcastic and complaining tone. She not only influences the ¡§better angel¡¨, the speaker¡¦s preference, but also becomes dominant over that ¡§better angel¡¨. She woos the male ¡§better angel¡¨. She is even able to turn the ¡§better angel¡¨ into ¡§fiend¡¨, and furthermore, to ¡§win me soon to hell¡¨. Even in the couplet, the speaker says the truth that he would never know but ¡§live in doubt¡¨ until the female ¡§fire out¡¨ his ¡§good angel¡¨. Thus, the position of binary oppositions is turned upside down through the speaker¡¦s description of the ¡§two loves".

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