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The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Sonnet 94 is a typical English or Shakespearean sonnet: fourteen lines of iambic pentameter rhymed abab, cdcd, efef, gg. This rhyme scheme effectively divides the poem into three quatrains and a closing couplet, unlike the Italian or Petrarchan sonnet, which tends to be structured as an octave and sestet. In Sonnet 94, William Shakespeare’s first-person voice of the lover extols the virtue of stoic restraint and suggests that acting on emotions corrupts the natural nobility of a person’s character and, thus, compromises identity itself.

The first line opens the poem with a subject and a restrictive clause that describes the stoic character: Such persons have the power to act, to hurt others, but refuse to do so. The next three lines of the quatrain elaborate on this quality through a series of restrictive clauses: Though such persons may seem to threaten to act, they do not; they move others to act but are themselves unmoved, show little emotion, and restrain themselves from temptation.

Having defined the subject with these restrictive clauses, this rather long opening sentence finally arrives at the verb in line 5: “do inherit.” Persons who can exercise such restraint are the proper recipients of grace (divine assistance or protection) and, in turn, protect the earthly manifestations of grace (“nature’s riches”) from waste. Those who can restrain their emotions and actions, moreover, are in control of their own identities—that is, they are not fickle or quick to change but constant. Such persons truly may be said to follow the advice voiced by Polonius in Hamlet (c. 1600-1601): “To thine own self be true.” Others, the poem continues, rightly must be subservient to the virtues kept alive by such stoic characters.

In line 9, the formal “turn” in the sonnet, the poem shifts to a new...

(The entire section is 458 words.)