Study Guide

Sonnet 94 Setting

By William Shakespeare


We start in extreme close-up, the camera focused directly on a mysterious group of people, "they." We don't know who "they" are, or exactly where "they" are, but as the camera pulls back, we start to get an idea of the scene.

Where is it? Hard to say—this is the Renaissance, after all, so there isn't any electric lighting yet. But it must be somewhere suitable for such mysterious, powerful people. Yes, that flash of gold is unmistakable: we're inside an opulent royal court, and the powerful people are right in the middle of it, at home. Everyone else is moving, doing their bidding, but they themselves, the powerful people, are motionless at the center.

But then, just when we feel that our eyes have adjusted to the candlelight, the scene shifts. Now we're somewhere else, somewhere dark, somewhere deep inside… something. And we're looking at a motionless, cold stone. Weird. But then, like a strange dream, we are whisked away again.

Now we are in the countryside, where a young man is being handed a rolled-up deed to a property. Time is flying by: the young man is growing up; we see him carefully going through his accounts, making sure that none of "nature's riches" are wasted; now we see his face in extreme close-up; now we see the poor people who work for him, laboring away in his gardens. Now this scene, too, disappears, and we are in a completely different location.

If the poem was filmed in live-action up to this point, now we're in CGI. Before our eyes, as if in time-lapse photography, a flower opens its petals to the sunlight. Night comes, then day, then night. Slowly, we start to realize that the flower isn't doing so well.

Slowly, a new plant, hidden before at the base of the flower, grows up out of the ground, until it towers over it. Is this a disaster movie, after all? Yep, the weeds are taking over. Now we cut to a montage of the destruction. A young girl licks an ice-cream cone and makes a face: it's sour. The camera pans over piles of rotting lilies, stench pouring off them in waves of steam. Fade to black. Roll credits. Wait for the sequel.

What's that? Oh, sorry. Shmoop was just getting a bit carried away with the visuals. The truth is, in the strictest sense, this poem doesn't have much of a setting at all. It's more of a meditation than anything. But the imagery, combined with our imagination, can take us to all kinds of figurative places, if only we let it.