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.
Two loves...me still. (2-3) ] As G. Blakemore Evans points out in his edition of the Sonnets: "Shakespeare here is clearly thinking in terms of the morality play or psychomachia tradition, in which Mankind, as the central character, is subjected to the promptings of personified Virtues and Vices, a tradition that received its most famous development in Marlowe's Dr. Faustus (c. 1592), in which (1.2.etc.) a 'Good Angel' and an 'Evil Angel' try to influence Faustus's thought and action" (262).
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.
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.
Forrest, H. T. S. The Five Authors of Shakespeare's Sonnets. London: Chapman & Dodd, Ltd., 1923.
Halliwell-Phillipps, J.O. Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare. New York, AMS Press, 1966.
Martin, Philip J. T. Shakespeare's Sonnets: Self, Love and Art. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1972
Shakespeare, William. The Sonnets. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Cambridge: University Press, 1996.
How to Cite this Article
Mabillard, Amanda. Analysis of Shakespeare's Sonnet 144. Shakespeare Online. 2000. (day/month/year you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/55detail.html >.