Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sonnet XCIV (94)


They that have power to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow;
They rightly do inherit heaven's graces
And husband nature's riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others but stewards of their excellence.
The summer's flower is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself it only live and die,
But if that flower with base infection meet,
The basest weed out-braves his dignity;
   For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
   Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

1. Have power to hurt and will do none. Are not impetuous and passionate. 

2-8 Cf. Hamlet, Act iii. sc. 2, lines 70-76,

"Thou hast been As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing; A man that Fortune's buffets and rewards Has ta'en with equal thanks; and blest are those Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled That they are not a pipe for Fortune's finger To sound what stop she please."

Shakespeare, himself perhaps very sensitive and quickly moved, may have appreciated too highly a different kind of character. As to the corruption of such a character as that here described, compare the portraiture of Angelo in Measure for Measure

6. They do not expend their energies in passionate outbursts. 

7. They are the lords and owners of their faces. Not giving ready expression to emotion. 

8. Others but stewards. Passion being lord.

10. Cf. LIV. 

14. Fester. Corrupt. Persons of the character in question are colourless "lilies" rather than blushing roses. This line had previously appeared in Edward III., a play some have attributed in part to Shakespeare.

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