Excessive obsession with the physical body’s exterior appearance, clouds the minds of many from what is truly important. Within the first line of Sonnet 146, Shakespeare states “Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth” (line 1). Right from the start, pity is directed towards the soul as it has to embody people’s “sinful earth”. Then moving into lines three and four, Shakespeare states “Why dost pine within suffer dearth, Painting thy outward walls so costly gay” (lines 3 and 4). Shakespeare wants to know why the soul suffers at the expense of people’s physical world experiences. He implies the insignificance of physical world experiences stating “Why so large cost, having so short a lease” (line 5). Playing upon the brevity of physical life, this line is very powerful. This line also implies that Shakespeare believes in an afterlife of some sort. No one would convey that life on earth is worthless and damaging to the soul, if the physical life was all that exists. Line eight confirms suspicions that Shakespeare was contemplating the existence of an afterlife through a series of rhetorical questions. “Shall worms, inheritors of this excess, eat up thy charge? Is this thy body’s end?” (line 8). The “charge” is symbolic of the soul, and in an ironic tone, Shakespeare is implying that worms cannot eat the charge within that everyone possesses. The last two lines of the sonnet show that Shakespeare does not want his physical body to interfere with his afterlife. This would not be possible until the physical body has completely decayed. Shakespeare illustrates this within line fourteen stating “And dead once dead, there’s no more dying then” (line 14). Shakespeare was fed up with the costly impact the physical body has on the eternal afterlife, and due to this wants the physical body to completely disappear. Once gone “there’s no more dying”, and he hopes to live in peace throughout his afterlife.
In modern times, Sonnet 146 is very relatable. Popular culture has moved in the wrong direction, one which glorifies physical beauty no matter the consequences. Everyone is suffering in some way as a result of the obsession with physical beauty, and this can be seen in modern human connections. Humans struggle to make meaningful connections with others more than ever before in the past. The glorification of celebrities like the Kardashians has influenced the youth to be obsessed with beauty. Excessive obsession with beauty is dehumanizing, and it is important for people to realize this. The damage inflicted upon the soul is not worth it. The physical life is barely a dot on the vast canvas of the afterlife, where “there’s no more dying then” (line 14).
~ James Best