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Sonnet 94 Theme of Power

Sonnet 94 is about a group of powerful people. We don't know exactly who they are, or where their power comes from, but they definitely have some impressive abilities. Not only do these people have the "pow'r to hurt," but they have the ability to control themselves, so that they do not hurt others. Not only can they influence others, but they can also keep their own emotions in check. By the end of the poem, however, our perception of these people changes, and we learn that often the most admirable folks are the ones who are most easily corrupted.

Questions About Power

  1. Which form of "pow'r" does the speaker find more impressive: the ability to hurting others, or the ability to refrain from hurting others, even though you can?
  2. In line 5, when the speaker says the powerful people "inherit heaven's graces," we could just take this as a statement of how the powerful people end up doing well in life. But when he says they "rightly do inherit heaven's graces," he makes it sound like he approves of this process. Why do you think the speaker would say this? 
  3. Are the powerful people described in this sonnet people who are high up on the social hierarchy? Or are they simply people with an unusual ability to hide their true personalities behind a mask? Which one sounds more frightening? 
  4. Quatrain 3 of this sonnet seems to compare the powerful people to the "summer's flow'r." This flower doesn't come to a good end: one little infection is all it takes for the "basest weed" to surpass it in "dignity." Does this mean that the "basest weed" is actually more powerful than the supposedly powerful people?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The speaker is much more impressed by will power than by physical force.

Even though many of Sonnet 94's metaphors reference the Renaissance social hierarchy, this doesn't necessarily mean that the power it talks about is only social.

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