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Love as a Disease

Symbol Analysis

If you just sort of scan through Sonnet 147, you'll notice a lot of words and phrases related to illness and disease: "fever," "disease," "ill," "death," past cure," frantic mad," and so on. What's all this about? Well, the speaker uses an extended metaphor to compare his sexual desire to a "fever" that's getting worse and worse and will eventually lead to his death. In other words, the guy thinks his lust for his mistress is unhealthy because it's so overwhelming and dangerous. (It's also possible he has an STD, poor guy.) Of course, being "lovesick" is a pretty common metaphor that comes from the courtly love tradition but, in this sonnet, Shakespeare takes the idea and totally runs with it.

  • Line 1: Our speaker kicks off the poem with a simile comparing his "love" to a "fever." So we're pretty sure he's talking about lust (not love) here Shmoopers because "fevers" are associated with heat and burning desire.
  • Lines 2-4: This is where the speaker says he's like a patient who wants to keep eating the thing that made him sick. (Seems like he's comparing his sexual desire to an unhealthy appetite, don't you think?) The food reference is a little confusing until we realize that Shakespeare is giving a shout-out to the old school medical practice of feeding a cold and starving a fever. 
  • Lines 5-7: The speaker introduces another metaphor that further develops the idea that his lust is an illness. He calls his ability to reason (think rationally) a doctor who's trying to cure him of his disease. 
  • Line 8: When the speaker says "desire is death," he's suggesting that his desire is totally killing him. Does he mean that literally or just metaphorically? Here are some options for how we can read this line: (1) He might have an STD that could literally kill him. (2) He could be making a joke. ("To die" is common Elizabethan slang for "orgasm." Plus, some folks used to think that each male orgasm could take one day off a dude's life.) (3) He could be worried that his lust is sinful and will cause his spiritual death. Maybe the guy's been up all night reading these passages from the Bible: Romans 6:19-23, 8:6; Ephesians 2:1-3.
  • Line 9: Shakespeare takes a common 16th-century proverb here and gives it a twist. The saying "past cure, past care" usually means that it's pointless to worry about a sick patient who's not going to get better and can't be cured. Here, our speaker says he's past the point of hoping for a cure because his doctor (a.k.a. his ability to reason) has given up on him. 
  • Lines 10-12: By the time we reach these lines, our speaker sounds a lot like a patient who's delirious from his fever—he says he's gone "frantic mad," which implies that his sexual desire has made him completely irrational and is driving him nuts.

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