Study Guide

Sonnet 94 Power

By William Shakespeare


The first 4 lines of Shakespeare's poem describe some pretty frightening people. The most obvious thing that makes these people frightening is their "pow'r to hurt." Not only are they quite capable of hurting others, they also give the impression that this is what they are most likely to do; in Shakespeare's words, their capacity to hurt others is what "they most do show." On the plus side, the speaker tells us that they actually don't hurt others—but this doesn't make them any less scary. If anything, it makes them even more frightening, because we learn that these powerful people have completely hidden inner selves that the world doesn't know about. If that doesn't send a chill down your spine, we don't know what will.

  • Line 2: The second line of Shakespeare's poem features what looks like a paradox: two statements that seem to contradict each other, but that somehow both seem true. This happens when Shakespeare tells us that the powerful people "do not do the thing they most do show." Then, when you think about it a bit, you realize this might not be a paradox at all. Shakespeare is just saying that the powerful people don't do what they seem most likely to do, which is something we've probably all experienced in life, and so isn't really contradictory after all. That said, it does seem that Shakespeare wants us to feel puzzled at first, even if he lets us figure it out later. Why else would he keep repeating the word "do" like that? The sense of confusion is also heightened by the alliteration of D and TH in this line.
  • Lines 3-4: Like line 2, these lines seem to be hitting us up with a paradox. How can the powerful people move others without themselves being moved? Does that even obey the laws of physics? Sure it does. When Shakespeare, using a simile, compares the powerful people to "stone," he is probably thinking of a "lodestone," an old word for magnet—and a magnet certainly can attract or repel things without moving itself. In other words, it turns out that this isn't a paradox at all—but we'd be willing to bet that Shakespeare wanted us to think it was a paradox before we actually puzzled it out, just like he did back in line 2.