W William Shakespeare

Friends and Flatterers by William Shakespeare

‘Friends and Flatterers’ by William Shakespeare is a powerful poem about friendship and how to spot those who are true and false. 

Friends and Flatterers by William Shakespeare Visual Representation

The speaker is someone who is wise in regard to how to spot fake and real friendships. They spend the seven stanzas of the poem explaining what a fake friend will do and what a true friend will do. For example, in ‘Friends and Flatterers’ the former will flatter you when you’re rich but abandon you when Fortune turns on you. A real friend will share in your misery, help you in times of need, and stay awake when you can’t sleep.

‘Friends and Flatterers’ is a less popular Shakespearean poem but it’s also one of his easiest to read. The lines are fairly self-explanatory with only a few examples of difficult language throughout. 

Friends and Flatterers 
William Shakespeare 

Every one that flatters thee
Is no friend in misery.
Words are easy, like the wind;
Faithful friends are hard to find:

Every man will be thy friend
Whilst thou hast wherewith to spend;
But if store of crowns be scant,
No man will supply thy want.

If that one be prodigal,
Bountiful they will him call,
And with such-like flattering,
'Pity but he were a king;'

If he be addict to vice,
Quickly him they will entice;
If to women he be bent,
They have at commandement:

But if Fortune once do frown,
Then farewell his great renown
They that fawn'd on him before
Use his company no more.

He that is thy friend indeed,
He will help thee in thy need:
If thou sorrow, he will weep;
If thou wake, he cannot sleep;

Thus of every grief in heart
He with thee doth bear a part.
These are certain signs to know
Faithful friend from flattering foe.
Friends and Flatterers by William Shakespeare


Summary

Friends and Flatterers’ by William Shakespeare is a poem about friendships, the good kinds and the bad kinds.

The speaker starts the poem by telling the listener, someone they believe needs to hear their advice, that there are people who are going to flatter them who aren’t true friends. They tell the listener that even if someone compliments you and appears to like you, it doesn’t mean that they are going to stand by you in times of need. 

The following stanzas contain various examples of true and fake friends. They note that wealth, among other things, will draw untrue friends to one’s side. When Fortune turns its head, and one loses that which drew their “flatterers” they are going to be left alone. But, if one seeks out true friends, they are going to find comfort whenever they need it. 

Structure and Form 

‘Friends and Flatterers’ by William Shakespeare is a seven-stanza poem that is divided into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple rhyme scheme of AABB CCDD, and so on, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. 

The poem is written in iambic tetrameter. This means that the lines contain four sets of two beats, the first of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed. This pattern is repeated throughout the poem, except for in the first beat of the poem. Readers may note the use of an extra stressed beat at the beginning of each line, this is known as an acephalous foot. The other unaccented syllable, or unstressed syllable, has been dropped. By using an acephalous foot, the poet starts the lines out with a bang, there is more of a forceful start than if they started with an unstressed beat. 

Meaning of Friends and Flatterers 

The meaning of this poem is that true friends are those who are supportive and reliable in times of need, not those who flatter you when they want something from you. Not everyone who is willing to compliment you is also going to be a true, strong friend in one’s time of need. 

Literary Devices 

Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Anaphora: can be seen when the poet repeats the same word or words at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “Every” which begins stanzas one and two as well as “He” which starts lines one and two of the sixth stanza and “If” which starts lines three and four of the sixth stanza.
  • Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. This is seen numerous times throughout the poem. For example, “Words” and “wind” in line three of stanza one,” Faithful friends” in line four of stanza one, “Whilst” and “wherewith” in line two of stanza two, “Be bent” in line three of stanza four.
  • Caesura: occurs when the poet includes a pause in the middle of a line. For example, “Words are easy, like the wind” and “If thou sorrow, he will weep.”
  • Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before it’s natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza as well as lines one and two of the second stanza. 


Detailed Analysis 

Stanza One 

Every one that flatters thee

Is no friend in misery.

Words are easy, like the wind;

Faithful friends are hard to find:

In the first lines of this poem, the speaker begins by stating that not everyone who flatters you is going to be around when you are in “misery,” or when you’re struggling. This is the main message of the poem. It seeks to draw the reader’s attention to the different types of people in their life, ensuring they understand the difference between flatterers and friends. 

The third line contains a simile. It uses “like” to compare “words” to “the wind.” Words come and go, as the wind does. This suggests that words are easy to speak and quick to vanish. They are also intangible and provide nothing for one to lean on in times of need. 

Juxtaposed against the image of the wind is the difficulty of finding “Faithful friends” (a good example of alliteration). While it may take more time, and require one to set certain people aside, faithful friends are far stronger. 

Stanza Two 

Every man will be thy friend

Whilst thou hast wherewith to spend;

But if store of crowns be scant,

No man will supply thy want.

The speaker notes in the next lines that every person in the world will want to be “thy friend” when you are doing well. This is something that’s quickly going to come to an end when one’s “store of crowns,” or wealth/good luck runs out. 

Stanza Three 

If that one be prodigal,

Bountiful they will him call,

And with such-like flattering,

‘Pity but he were a king;’

In the next lines, the speaker emphasizes the point he was making about wealth in the previous lines. When one has bounty they will receive a great deal of flattering. Just as people are drawn to fame, they are drawn to fortune. It’s hard to find true friends when one is successful in life. It’s only when times go bad that you’ll see the truth of your relationships.  

Stanza Four 

If he be addict to vice,

Quickly him they will entice;

If to women he be bent,

They have at commandement:

The speaker notes that the negative friends that one might draw to their side will actually do more harm than good. They might pose as helpful and giving but in reality, they will “entice” you and turn you away from a good path. 

If one is drawn to women, the flattering friends will only make the desire worse, ensuring that one is entirely taken over by their sexual desire. They might convince you that your behavior is good and right when it’s leading you away from what you should be doing. Here, the speaker suggests that moral decline is sure to come to one who allows themselves to be influenced in this way. 

Stanza Five 

But if Fortune once do frown,

Then farewell his great renown

They that fawn’d on him before

Use his company no more.

The poet uses personification in the fifth stanza, suggesting that “Fortune” is a force that can smile or frown on someone. If Fortune frowns then “farewell his great renown.” All those who used to love “you” are going to leave. The fawning and flattering is going to end and they will have no more use for your company. 

Stanza Six 

He that is thy friend indeed,

He will help thee in thy need:

If thou sorrow, he will weep;

If thou wake, he cannot sleep;

The speaker uses perfect rhymes throughout the poem but they are incredibly effective in this stanza. It’s here that the speaker summarizes their previous points, ensuring that no one is in doubt about what a true friend is or what they do. A friend is someone who will “help thee in thy need.” They will cry with you and stay awake with you if you can’t sleep. They’ll put aside their own pleasure and happiness in order to make your life better. 

Stanza Seven 

Thus of every grief in heart

He with thee doth bear a part.

These are certain signs to know

Faithful friend from flattering foe.

In the final stanza of the poem, the speaker describes how someone who has a true friend is going to be able to share their grief. They can carry the grief together, therefore lightning the burden of it. 

The speaker concludes the poem with a concise statement that tells the reader that these signs (those mentioned throughout the poem) are those one should look for, and avoid, in a “friend.” 

FAQs 

What is the message of ‘Friends and Flatterers?’ 

The message of this poem is that only certain, true friends are going to stand by you in your time of need. Flatterers are going to abandon you when times get tough. This means that it’s of the utmost importance to choose one’s friends wisely. 

What is the theme of ‘Friends and Flatterers?’  

The main theme of this poem is friendship. The speaker delves into the various pitfalls of seeking out friends throughout life, ensuring that readers understand what a real friendship would look like.

What does the poem ‘Friends and Flatterers’ tell us?

The poem tells readers that some people are only drawn to wealth, fame, and power. When these things are gone, those we considered our “friends” are going to abandon us. They might also lead one down a bad path if allowed to. 

Why did Shakespeare write ‘Friends and Flatterers?’

Shakespeare wrote this poem in order to explore the different types of people and friendships one might come across in life. The poem contains an important moral lesson that is universally relatable. 

What does Shakespeare say about flatterers? 

Shakespeare says that flatterers are dangerous. They make untrue friends and can even make one’s life worse for their presence. They might take advantage of you and even ruin one’s prospects through their negative influence. 


Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some other William Shakespeare poems. For example: 

  • Sonnet 1’ – introduces many of the themes which echo through the rest of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. It speaks about beauty, virtue, self-consumption, and the passing of human life through time.
  • Sonnet 116’ – is easily one of the most recognizable sonnets of all time. It explores the nature of love and what “true love” is.
  • Sonnet 18’ – is one of the Fair Youth poems, addressed to a mysterious male figure. It brags on the subject’s beauty and expresses the poet’s desire to find new comparisons to describe it. 

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Friends and Flatterers by William Shakespeare Visual Representation
Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
  • Jill Bull says:

    Elsewhere I read that it is now thought that this poem is not by Shakespeare – any thoughts, anyone?

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      If I had a penny for every work of Shakespeare that has been attested to somebody else I’d be rolling in cash! I haven’t heard that about this piece but I have heard it about many of his other works. There seems to be a consensus that collaboration was commonplace in this era, but it’s usually pretty obvious when it has taken place.

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