Study Guide

Sonnet 94 Speaker

By William Shakespeare


The speaker of this poem sounds very conflicted in his attitudes towards the people he's talking about. For one thing, it's very hard to tell if he's trying to praise these powerful people or criticize them. But it goes even deeper than that.

Did you notice that he never actually says anything like, "I'm criticizing these people because of x," or, "I'm praising these people because of y." Throughout most of the poem, the only way you can tell if he's criticizing or praising is by looking at the things he says and deciding for yourself if they're positive or negative qualities. (The only exception is when he uses the word "rightly" to describe how the powerful people "inherit heaven's graces" in Line 5.) But deciding if it's positive or negative is also hard, because most of the things he says can be taken in more than one way—and also because this poem is a sort of Bizarro-Land, where things that would ordinarily be bad are suddenly good (like being a hypocrite, for example).

Clearly, the poem itself raises more questions about the speaker than it answers. Is there another path we could take to try to figure out what the speaker is getting at? How about imagining where he's coming from, what life experience he is drawing on to make the statements he makes here.

Obviously, this is totally up to interpretation, so we're just offering the following suggestions as food for thought. But what if we thought about the poem as break-up poem? It is a sonnet after all, and most sonnets are all about the L-word. The bitterness of the last two lines, especially, seems like something that a jilted lover might say about his or her ex—somebody that the person once loved, but who let them down. Or perhaps it's a wise father-figure type, offering sage advice about how to handle your talents and gifts. Could some back-story like this explain the bizarre tangle of emotions we find in Sonnet 94? We don't know, but we welcome you to Shmoop amongst yourselves.