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Friends and Flatterers is a poem written by one of the most noted poets and playwrights in the history of English literature, William Shakespeare. The time when this work was released is not available or well-documented. The poem serves as a guide to us to distinguish between a real friend and a fake one as Shakespeare lists out attributes of those who flatter us and stay with us only when we are fortunate and resourceful.
About the Author
Born in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, on 23rd April 1564, William Shakespeare is widely regarded as one of the greatest playwrights and poets in the English language. Initially, Shakespeare became a key figure in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a popular playing company, and later in the King’s Men after the company received royal patronage. Shakespeare’s works include iconic plays such as Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, King Lear, and Romeo and Juliet, among many others. His plays explore complex themes of love, power, jealousy, ambition, and the human condition. In addition to his plays, he wrote a collection of 154 sonnets, which are celebrated for their poetic beauty and exploration of love and time. The First Folio, a compilation of his plays was published by his colleagues in 1623 and preserved many of his works
The poem consists of twenty-eight lines which are divided into seven quatrains, each quatrain containing four lines. The speaker, the poet in this case, uses the second person point of view to directly address the readers. He also uses the third-person perspective to provide a general outlook on humanity.
Lines 1- 4
Every one that flatters thee Is no friend in misery. Words are easy, like the wind; Faithful friends are hard to find:
The poem starts with the speaker directly addressing the readers. The speaker remarks that everyone who flatters us in times of prosperity is not our friend in times of misery. The speaker compares these words of flattery to the ease with which the wind blows. The speaker claims that it is the faithful friends that are harder to find.
The speaker presents us with a contrast between faithful, and genuine friendship and insincere flattery. The speaker suggests that it is easy to find superficial people who provide us with words of flattery, whereas it is rare to find good friends who stay with us in times of adversity.
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 next says that everyone will try to befriend a person who is rich and has resources to spend. But true friends are scarce to find if you have no or limited wealth. A person with fake friends shall find himself alone if he has no money.
The stanza explores the theme of fair-weather friendship. It reflects on the idea that people may be friendly and supportive when you have resources to share, but they might abandon you when faced with scarcity.
If that one be prodigal, Bountiful they will him call, And with such-like flattering, 'Pity but he were a king;
The speaker here tells how if someone is generous and spends freely, he is called “bountiful” and is praised for his qualities. If if the person is prodigal (wasteful), he will be admired and people may wish he was a king. However, this admiration is superficial in nature.
The third stanza explores the fickle nature of public opinion. This stanza alludes to the story of the Prodigal Son, mentioned in the Bible. The Prodigal son had selfish friends who complimented him all the time and wished he were a king. But the moment he lost his father’s wealth, he lost the praise of his friends. This shows how people tend to leave a person who has no wealth or resources but clings to someone wealthy and resourceful.
If he be addict to vice, Quickly him they will entice; If to women he be bent, They have at commandement:
The speaker next talks about a person who is attracted towards vice or evil. The flatterers will tend to entice that person further towards the path of wrong-doings. If the person is attracted to a woman, they will be accepting of his nature and justify his behaviour using the commandments.
These lines imply how under the facade of friendships, people form manipulative alliances with a person and try to chase him down the path of wrong-doings, rather than pushing him towards good.
But if Fortune once do frown, Then farewell his great renown They that fawn'd on him before Use his company no more.
The speaker comments how in case fortune frowns upon the person and they are met with misfortune, then he might as well bid farewell to his good reputation. The people who used to fawn over the person before and flattered him are the ones who abandoned that person’s company.
The poet has personified Fortune here to show how if someone is going through difficult circumstances, their fake friends and associations shall leave their company. The person’s reputation shall go down if they are ever hit with misfortune.
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;
Here, the speaker moves to describing who a true friend truly is. The speaker says that someone is a good and genuine friend if they help us in times of need. If we are burdened with grief, a true friend will understand our pain and weep with us. And if we are awake due to some hardship, a true friend cannot be sleepy.
Here, the poet has emphasised the qualities that lay the foundation of a true friendship. A true friend will have qualities such as empathy, support and thoughtfulness.
Thus of every grief in heart He with thee doth bear a part. These are certain signs to know Faithful friend from flattering foe.
The speaker further talks about the qualities of a genuine friend. For every grief that a person experiences, a true friend will be next to them, being a part of their struggles. The speaker ends the poem by saying that these are some of the signs that one requires in order to know if someone is a faithful friend or a flattering foe.
The speaker asserts that a true friend is someone who not only sympathizes with your troubles but actively shares in your grief. This goes beyond mere words of consolation; it involves a deep level of emotional connection and empathy. Thus, this poem serves as a guide to provide a clear indicator to recognise a faithful friend.