Study Guide

Sonnet 94 Quotes

  • Power

    They that have pow'r to hurt, and will do none, (1)

    If the first thing we learn in the poem is that it is talking about a group of people ("They"), the next thing we learn is that they "have pow'r." Their power takes a particularly disturbing form: it is the power to hurt. And yet, before the first line is even finished, this blow gets softened; we also learn that they "will do none," that is, that they won't hurt anybody. Is this ability to refrain from doing everything that they have power to do just another form of power?

    Who moving others are themselves as stone, (3)

    Ice man alert. Apparently one of the things that make these folks so powerful is that they can move people. This line makes us think of powerful leaders, persuading entire countries with speeches that are calculated, but convincing. Often, that gets us into some hot water, so this line isn't exactly all roses.

    Unmovèd, cold, and to temptation slow— (4)

    This line basically expands on the idea from the end of line 3, that the powerful people are "cold." We get some extra description about the creepy coldness of the powerful people, and maybe a little bit of a hint about how they are "moving others" in line 3. We can't be 100% certain, but it seems likely that the "temptation" the speaker is referring to is sexual temptation. This suggests that the powerful people might use sexual temptation to influence others, even as they themselves are able to resist such temptation (they are "to temptation slow"). Hey, it is a sonnet, guys.

    They rightly do inherit heaven's graces,
    And husband nature's riches from expense; (5-6)

    After all that hoopla in quatrain 1 about the mysterious coldness of the powerful people, probably the last thing we were expecting was to hear that they "inherit heaven's graces"—not to mention that they do so "rightly." If the speaker had just said they "inherit heaven's graces," we might have taken it as a statement about how "the rich get richer"—this time changed to "the powerful get more powerful." But by sticking that "rightly" in there, he makes it sound like he approves of the whole thing. Why do you think he would say this?

    They are the lords and owners of their faces,
    Others but stewards of their excellence. (7-8)

    These lines paint a striking picture of the powerful people: they are "lords and owners," and all other people are nothing but "stewards" (that is, servants). So is Shakespeare's whole poem simply in praise of people who are higher up on the social hierarchy? We don't think so. Take another look at what "they" are "lords and owners" of. That's right: "their faces." Similarly, when we look at what the "others" are "stewards" of, we see that it is something very abstract: "their excellence." So maybe all the other poor schlubs just help make the powerful people more "excellent." From this, it looks like Shakespeare is using the language of ownership and servitude as a metaphor for internal differences in people's personalities.

    But if that flow'r with base infection meet,
    The basest weed outbraves his dignity. (11-12)

    So who's laughing now? Bearing in mind that the "summer's flow'r" here is probably intended as a stand-in for the powerful people we learned about in the poem's first quatrain, it suddenly looks like those tough guys aren't really so tough. One little infection and the "bases weed outbraves" your "dignity"? That makes the powerful people sound pretty fragile (as if being compared to a pretty flower didn't already) if you ask Shmoop.

  • Hypocrisy

    They that have pow'r to hurt, and will do none,
    That do not do the thing they most do show, (1-2)

    Okay so here's a question: if you have the power to hurt, do you have an obligation to show it? You know, so that people will know what they're getting themselves into?

    Who moving others are themselves as stone, (3)

    Here we get another example of the powerful people's hypocrisy. Isn't it creepy to think about somebody who can "move" other people emotionally, but remains cold, "as stone" on the inside? Sounds like an evil villain to Shmoop.

    Unmovèd, cold, and to temptation slow— (4)

    Is the description purely negative? Isn't the ability to resist "temptation" a good thing? It looks like Shakespeare doesn't want to give us any easy answers, but at least this line reminds us that these powerful people have some good traits, despite the fact that they've got the power to hurt us.

    They are the lords and owners of their faces, (7)

    What does it mean to be the "lord and owner" of your own face? Doesn't that sound like you have the ability to control it, to keep it from showing any emotion that you don't want the world to see? And if you're trying to show something different to the world than what's on the inside, doesn't that make you hypocritical?

    For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
    Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds. (13-14)

    Even though they don't say so explicitly, the context of Sonnet 94 as a whole makes it a safe bet that these two lines are actually about people. Basically, they are both saying that the most beautiful people turn into the ugliest people of all when they do ugly things. The question is this: when beautiful people do ugly things, does this mean that they have changed their nature and become ugly, or is it that they were ugly all along and just happened to have finally spilled the beans? Either way, they risk hypocrisy.

  • Isolation

    They that have pow'r to hurt, and will do none,
    That do not do the thing they most do show, (1-2)

    The first view we get of the powerful people shows them as isolated in several ways. The first thing that makes them seem isolated is simply the fact that they have power. If you have power to hurt others, this often (but not always) means that you are above them in some way—either because you are more highly placed in the social hierarchy, or because you have some special physical strength. All of these factors separate you from the people you can hurt. The second thing that makes the powerful people isolated is the description of them at the end of line 1 and throughout line 2, where we learn that they keep their true selves hidden inside them. So you could say that these isolated people have their true selves isolated within them.

    Who moving others are themselves as stone, (3)

    In this line, we get the same sense of isolation that we got from the end of line 1 and line 2: that the powerful people's true selves are hidden within them. It's still anyone's guess whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

    They are the lords and owners of their faces,
    Others but stewards of their excellence. (7-8)

    Okay, not that we want anyone else to be the lord of our face, but we certainly don't want all our friends and family to be our servants. That's just awkward. And it sounds kind of lonely to boot.

    The summer flow'r is to the summer sweet,
    Though to itself it only live and die (9-10)

    In these lines, we might be seeing the speaker's understanding of isolation shift somewhat. It's hard to get more isolated than that "flow'r" that lives and dies only "to itself." This sense of isolation could be underlined by the fact that Shakespeare has shifted from talking about the plural "They" to this singular flower. But doesn't he seem to be portraying this flower in a pretty positive light? At least, that's what calling it "to the summer sweet" sounds like to us.

    But if that flow'r with base infection meet,
    The basest weed outbraves his dignity. (11-12)

    Here, the speaker seems to go even further in saying that isolation might be good for the flower. If the flower is at risk of infection, isn't that a good reason for it stay secure and protected, far away from whatever might infect it, or what it might infect in turn? Could this be an argument for the powerful people to keep their true natures under wraps as well?

  • Admiration

    They that have pow'r to hurt, and will do none, (1)

    As we talk about in our section on Sonnet 94's "Speaker," one of the weird things about the poem is that the speaker almost never out-and-out tells us what he thinks about the people he's gabbing about. Instead, we just have to look at what he says about those people, decide for ourselves if it's a good thing or a bad thing, and use that to figure out the speaker's emotional attitude. Now, we don't know about you, but we think there is simply something about line 1 that spells admiration. It might be the way it sounds: just try reading it aloud, and hearing those alliterations on "th" at the beginning of the line; the, well, powerful sound of the word "pow'r"; and the punchy, staccato rhythm of the final "and will do none." There's just something about it that makes these people seem impressive—regardless of whether it's praising or criticizing them, don't you think?

    That do not do the thing they most do show, (2)

    From this line we also get a sense of the speaker's amazement. By emphasizing that their ability to hurt others is literally the thing that the powerful people seem most likely to do ("the thing they most do show"), the speaker makes it seem all the more amazing that they don't do it. And he highlights the weirdness through the paradoxical sounding language at the beginning of the line, "That do not do," which gets emphasized by the repeated "do" towards the end of the line. All of these factors suggest that the speaker admires the powerful people, at least in some way—as long as they're not dictators or anything.

    Who moving others are themselves as stone,
    Unmovèd, cold, and to temptation slow— (3-4)

    Here, once again, even though the speaker doesn't explicitly tell us that he admires the powerful people, the way he uses his words is enough to give us the hint. Line 3 is similar to line 2, in that it draws a striking contrast between how the powerful people appear on the outside and how they are on the inside. But even that isn't enough: line 4 has to go and expand on the idea of "as stone" by adding three new ideas. Given that the sonnet form only gives a poet 14 lines to work with, you can bet that anything he's willing to give up a full line for has got to be pretty important. We're definitely picking up on some admiration here.

    They rightly do inherit heaven's graces, (5)

    Unlike the lines we've seen so far, the admiration here is pretty obvious. First of all, he sticks in the word "rightly," which shows that he approves of how the powerful people turn about. But, more than that, he's saying that they "inherit heaven's graces" for crying out loud. That's some pretty strong praise, if you ask us. But again, it's possible he's only talking about powerful people who also show restraint. It's not like any powerful person gets a one way ticket to heaven.

    And husband nature's riches from expense; (6)

    Pretty much the same goes for this line as goes for line 5. Even if line 6 is a bit less extreme than the one that comes before it, it's still pretty intense to say that these powerful people are actually in charge of making sure that "nature's riches" don't get wasted. That definitely counts as admiration in our books.

    They are the lords and owners of their faces,
    Others but stewards of their excellence. (7-8)

    These lines are also pretty unambiguous in their admiration. Here, Shakespeare uses a class metaphor to suggest that the powerful people are at the top of the social hierarchy, while everybody else is merely a servant.

  • Man and the Natural World

    Who moving others are themselves as stone,
    Unmovèd, cold, and to temptation slow— (3-4)

    We know what you're probably thinking: what could be more unnatural than these weird, powerful people who can manipulate other people while keeping their own emotions under wraps? But nature has some pretty weird stuff in it—like magnets, for example. In these lines, Shakespeare compares the powerful people to a lodestone (an old word for magnet), which has exactly the same ability as the powerful people: it can attract other things to it (or repel them from it) while remaining motionless itself.

    They rightly do inherit heaven's graces,
    And husband nature's riches from expense; (5-6)

    In these lines, we learn that the powerful people are actually in charge of preventing "nature's riches" from being wasted ("expense" means "wastage" in this context). So you could say that they are the original environmentalists, but that might be stretching it a bit. But, as the poem as a whole makes clear, this is probably just a metaphor; it's likely that the powerful people themselves are "nature's riches," which means they take care of nature by taking care of themselves, by preventing themselves from being corrupted. So these lines could be thought of as paving the way for the flower imagery in lines 9-12.

    The summer's flow'r is to the summer sweet, (9)

    Here begins the most extended comparison of the powerful people to nature. Why do you think Shakespeare chose this particular image from nature—the isolated "summer's flow'r." What does the "summer" represent in this context? (This is assuming, of course, that it represents anything, and isn't just being itself—which it could be.)

    Though to itself it only live and die; (10)

    One of the key points of the nature imagery in this poem seems to be that nature doesn't have a point: it's simply there, existing in and of itself. Could the idea be that the powerful people are like nature because they're good simply by existing? Is this really an appropriate way to think about people? Don't people have responsibilities to one another, as well as to themselves?

    But if that flow'r with base infection meet,
    The basest weed outbraves his dignity. (11-12)

    Doesn't it seem like the nature imagery breaks down in these lines? Do flowers really have "dignity"? (Personification alert!) Are weeds really "base"—except in the eyes of human gardeners? If Shakespeare began this quatrain by comparing humans to flowers, it looks like he's ending it by comparing flowers to humans. What effect does this turnaround have on the poem?

    Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds. (13-14)

    This final bit of nature imagery shows the same contradictions as Lines 11-12. On the one hand, it's clear that people are being compared to flowers: the "Lilies that fester" are like the powerful people, once they do bad things and hurt people. But this badness is all relative. Nature doesn't care about how lilies or weeds smell (though maybe some animals, who are part of nature, do); it's humans who find the smell of rotting lilies gross. Does this mean that Shakespeare doesn't take the nature imagery entirely seriously—and that the poem is really all about human perceptions after all?