Sonnet 96

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Sonnet 96
Detail of old-spelling text
The first five lines of Sonnet 96 in the 1609 Quarto
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Some say, thy fault is youth, some wantonness;
Some say, thy grace is youth and gentle sport;
Both grace and faults are lov’d of more and less:
Thou mak’st faults graces that to thee resort.
As on the finger of a throned queen
The basest jewel will be well esteem’d,
So are those errors that in thee are seen
To truths translated and for true things deem’d.
How many lambs might the stem wolf betray,
If like a lamb he could his looks translate!
How many gazers mightst thou lead away,
If thou wouldst use the strength of all thy state!
But do not so; I love thee in such sort,
As thou being mine, mine is thy good report.





—William Shakespeare[1]

Sonnet 96 is one of 154 sonnets written by the English playwright and poet William Shakespeare. It is a member of the Fair Youth sequence, in which the poet expresses his love towards a young man.


The youth's errors are blamed on his age, but others say young gentlemen should enjoy themselves. The youth's faults appear to be charms, just as poor-quality jewels on a queen appear to be more valuable by their association with her. The follies of the youth appear to be truths that some may want to erroneously emulate, like wolves who appear to be lambs and lead the lambs astray. The youth could do the same, but should not do so, because the poet's disapproval of such behavior undermines his good report of the youth, and such behaviour will also reflect badly on the poet.


Sonnet 96 is an English or Shakespearean sonnet. The English sonnet has three quatrains, followed by a final rhyming couplet. It follows the typical rhyme scheme of the form, abab cdcd efef gg and is composed in iambic pentameter, a type of poetic metre based on five pairs of metrically weak/strong syllabic positions. The 3rd line exemplifies a regular iambic pentameter:

 ×     /   ×    /     ×    /    ×   /   ×    / 
Both grace and faults are lov'd of more and less: (96.3)
/ = ictus, a metrically strong syllabic position. × = nonictus.

The 9th line presents a case of metrical ambiguity. Probably the simplest scansion features only one metrical variation, a mid-line reversal:

 ×   / ×  /     /      ×   ×    /   ×   / 
How many lambs might the stern wolf betray, (96.9)

However, both this part of the line and the beginning of the line may be construed differently, depending upon the elements the reader sees fit to emphasize. The line may be scanned with an initial reversal, and with the rightward movement of the third ictus (resulting in a four-position figure, × × / /, sometimes referred to as a minor ionic):

 /   × ×  /     ×      ×   /    /    ×  / 
How many lambs might the stern wolf betray, (96.9)

These alternatives are independent, resulting in four distinct possible scansions for the line.

The meter demands a few variant pronunciations: line 5's "thronèd" is two syllables,[2] and line 14's "being" is one.[3] In lines 8 and 10 "translated" and "translate" are both stressed on the second syllable.[4]


  1. ^ Pooler, C[harles] Knox, ed. (1918). The Works of Shakespeare: Sonnets. The Arden Shakespeare [1st series]. London: Methuen & Company. OCLC 4770201. 
  2. ^ Booth 2000, p. 83.
  3. ^ Booth 2000, p. 313.
  4. ^ Groves, Peter (2013). Rhythm and Meaning in Shakespeare: A Guide for Readers and Actors. Melbourne: Monash University Publishing. p. 170. ISBN 978-1-921867-81-1. 


First edition and facsimile
Variorum editions
Modern critical editions