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Sonnet 147 Essay

In William Shakespeare's Sonnet 147, the speaker addresses his beloved using a metaphor, stating that his love is like an illness. However, he longs for the thing that keeps him ill, or in love. The fact that he compares his love to an illness suggests that he knows his love is a bad idea, but he is defenseless against loving the subject. The 'illness' of love can also account for his distressed and crazed state of mind. In the first two quatrains, reason and love are personified as two opposing forces, love in the form of an illness and reason in the form of the speaker's physician. However, while love is the negative force and reason is the positive force, the negative force of love appears to overpower the positive force of reason. By the end of the poem, the speaker is able to admit that the object of his affection is not good for him, although it is unclear whether or not this admission means he will leave her.

In the first quatrain, the speaker presents his love as a disease that is feeding on his desires. The beloved is the one feeding it. Even still, the love is consuming him, “...longing still/ For that which longer nurseth the disease” (1-2) By using the metaphor of illness, the speaker shows that he...

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My love is as [like] a fever, longing [wishing] still
For that which longer nurseth [prolongs] the disease,
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill, [disease feeds on disease]
The uncertain sickly appetite to please. [yet it pleases me]
My reason, the physician [doctor] to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath [has] left me, and I desperate now approve [i.e. I've lost my senses]
Desire is death, which physic did except. [i.e. this lust will kill me]
Past cure I am, now reason is past care,
And frantic-mad with evermore [continual] unrest [agitation];
My thoughts and my discourse [talk] as madmen's are, [i.e. I'm mad]
At random from the truth vainly express'd; [i.e. what I say is all lies]
For I have sworn thee fair and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.

In other words...

This love is like a disease. It makes me desire

The thing that makes this sickness worse.
My illness is feeding on itself,
Which pleases my sick appetite.
Common sense, like a doctor, should cure me,
Gives prescriptions, but I refuse the medicine.
So I've lost my senses, am desperate and believe 

This lust will kill me.
I'm past cure, past caring
Mad with continual agitation
I think and speak like a madman
I'm lost from truth, because:
I have sworn you were pure, and thought you good
Who are as black as hell, as dark as night.


But fair?

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The author, Melanie Kendry, is an Oxford graduate, outstanding-rated English Language and Literature teacher and of ages 10-18 in the British education system. In 2012, she was nominated for Pearson's Teaching Awards. As a private tutor, she raises grades often from C to A. She is a current GCSE Examiner. Her writing is also featured in The Huffington Post. She offers private tuition in the Haywards Heath area, West Sussex.                                                                                  

If you're a teacher and would like to use it in class, please include the attribution (c) 2013 Melanie Kendry