Sonnet XCIV by William Shakespeare
inherit – receive
base – dishonorable,
vile infection – disease
fester – worsen, be made bitter
Questions and Answers
1. What kind of people is the speaker describing in the first two quatrains of the sonnet?
Shakespeare lists many qualities, including: People who could hurt others but choose not to; people who are able to draw out emotion from others without showing any themselves; people who are not easily tempted; and people who are ruled only by themselves.
2. What does the speaker claim will happen to these people?
The speaker says that these people will prosper and lead, they will “inherit heaven’s graces.”
3. In the sonnet’s concluding sestet, the speaker shifts his thoughts to a description of nature, discussing lilies and weeds. What does the final couplet suggest about the tone and message of the poem in its entirety?
The final sestet compares flowers and weeds as parallel to the stewards and the lords and owners. The final couplet suggests that the speaker’s tone is one of realism and disenfranchisement. He claims “lilies that fester smell far worse then weeds,” which suggests that the lords and owners by nature are not meant to be beautiful, but to be deadly and controlling. Shakespeare is suggesting that people with great power and status who succumb to temptation and treachery are far worse than those of lower status who may occasionally be tempted or be deceitful. This comparison is called a metaphor.