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.
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.
Here's a question: does Sonnet 94 actually recommend hypocrisy as legit? It sure seems like it. In the beginning of the poem, the speaker mostly speaks about the powerful people's hypocrisy in an admiring way. He is really impressed by their ability to keep themselves hidden, to influence other people without being influenced themselves, and to be the "lords and owners of their faces." By the end of the poem, though, he seems not only to admire hypocrisy, but also to be actively recommending it. What's up with that, Big Willy?
Sonnet 94 shows that hypocrisy can have some positive aspects, like when people seem like they could hurt you, but actually don't.
The speaker seems to be recommending hypocrisy, if it can prevent you from letting your negative qualities appear for the world to see.
One striking feature of the powerful people from Sonnet 94 is how isolated they are. On the one hand, the powerful people are isolated because they are more powerful than everybody else. Which makes sense—people with highly specialized or developed talents often find themselves isolated, and have difficulty relating to other people. But the powerful people are doubly isolated from others because they keep their true selves hidden behind a mask. What's strange about Shakespeare's sonnet is it seems to think that this isolation is a good thing, because it helps keep the powerful people stay safe and exercise restraint, so they don't stomp all over the rest of us suckers.
Even though it uses metaphors that reference social isolation, Sonnet 94 is mainly about emotional isolation.
The speaker thinks that the best reason for people to stay isolated is so that they can avoid becoming "infected" by other people.
One of the strange things about Sonnet 94 is that the speaker almost never out-and-out tells you what he thinks about the powerful people he is describing. That is to say, he almost never writes something like "I'm praising these powerful people because of x," or, "I'm criticizing them because of y." In fact, the only place where he really comes out and says what he thinks is when he sticks the word "rightly" into Line 5, to tell you that he approves of the fact that the powerful people "inherit heaven's graces." That said, we do seem to get a sense of admiration from the way the speaker portrays the powerful people. But why? Is it because they have power in the first place? Or is it because they choose not to hurt people with that power, even though they could?
The speaker admires people who keep their emotions under wraps; so why would his poem lay it all out on the table?
The speaker doesn't admire all powerful people—he only likes the ones who exercise that power with restraint.
The subject matter of Sonnet 94 seems about as far from nature as you can get: a group of cold, calculating people who keep their true selves hidden behind a mask and try not to take everybody out when they wield their power. Given this topic, we wouldn't think that flowers would be the go-to metaphor to describe these powerful peeps, but Shakespeare pulls it off here. Sure, the poem's not about nature, but it finds some convenient thematic parallels in the natural world.
The "summer" in line 9 might represent either Nature itself or God.
The "summer" in line 9 doesn't represent anything, and that's just the point: the flower doesn't need the approval of anyone else to exist.