Astrophil and Stella

The Foolishness of Writing in the Poetry of Sir Philip Sidney and John Donne.

May 23, 2019 by Essay Writer

Stating that poetry should ‘teach, delight, and move men to take that goodness in hand’[1], it becomes clear why both Philip Sidney in ‘Sonnet 90’ and John Donne’s ‘Triple Fool’ suggest that writing in regards to love is foolish. The poems contain nothing but a lover’s melancholy for their beloved and does not ‘move men to take’ action, in fact one could say that the opposite occurs, as both poets are so critical of themselves the reader almost expects them to give up writing. Arguably, their sense of foolishness comes from the ‘shame’[2] of being rejected, as this appears to be the recurring theme in their poems, especially as other poems such as ‘Sonnet 63’ by Sidney put up an argument for the positive aspects of writing. Sonnet 90 highlights a sense of foolishness for writing about love, the alternate rhyme of ‘fame’ and shame in lines one and four inextricably link the two together implying that Astrophil is shameful of the popularity he is seemingly getting from his poems. Furthermore the lines ‘I wish not there should be graved in mine epitaph a poet’s name’ (90, l. 7-8) suggest a desire to renounce his name as a poet, and also imply the failure he has received so far from writing poetry.

However despite his apparent hopelessness at poetry, he still attempts to proclaim his love to Stella with the line ‘who seek, who hope, who love, who live but thee’(90, l.2), the stress on ‘thee’ emphasises his complete devotion to Stella whilst the use of hypermetrics ensures that Stella is thing in the poem he thinks of the most. However despite this foolishness they both feel about writing poetry to loved ones, once could argue that the sense of shame in both Sidney’s and Donne’s poetry is not just from their writing but also due to the very real rejection of their love interest. This can be seen in ‘The Triple Fool’ in which the irregularity of the meter and rhyme scheme have connotations of an inconstant love. Similarly the use of ‘if’ in the line ‘if she would deny’ (Donne, l. 5) highlights his doubt at the beloved’s words filling the poem with uncertainty. Therefore as they cannot blame the one they love for causing them pain, they turn inwards and begin to blame themselves and their work. Ironically, they turn to the very thing they are blaming to slight it. In this way, they can be seen as conforming to the idea of cynicism, which Zizek calls ‘negation of the negation’. It suggests that both Donne and Sidney are aware of their foolishness however do not renounce it because the image of a love stricken poet is their social identity. By practicing cynicism in their work, it allows both the poets to momentarily break free from the constraint of being a male lover and express there true feeling about their given identity. The simultaneous acknowledgment that it is foolish and a necessity to write arguably just make them seem more foolish to the reader.

In contradiction to this, ‘Sonnet 63’ of Astrophil and Stella, Astrophil uses ‘Grammar rules’[3] in an attempt to further his relationship with Stella. The use of anaphora on the word ‘grammar’ highlights his erratic behaviour and obvious distress towards Stella who ‘twice said, No, No.’ (63, l. 8) to his love. The end stop on this line suggests to the reader a very definite rejection; the stressing of the second ‘No’ further accentuates the strength of Stella’s refusal. In juxtaposition with this is Astrophil’s warped sense of ‘two negatives affirm’, which shows him, trying to bend language to fit his own intentions. This is specifically seen in the final quatrain of the sonnet in which the speaker manages to repeated ‘grammar’ four times, hence, following his own negation rule, changing both of Stella’s ‘No’s thus creating a physical enactment of ‘two Negatives affirm[ing]’(l. 14). This clever twisting of words that leaves the poet ‘high triumphing’ is an example of writing being successful, the word ‘triumph’ implying that Astrophil does not feel foolish because the poem achieved what it was supposed to. Therefore, this poem also highlights that the real reason for Sidney and in turn, Donne’s melancholy is actually there failure in love not feeling foolish in writing. Whereas Philip Sidney seems to be capable of Lynette McGrath aptly states that Donne ‘talks of descending to express him in verse’ implying an incapability to write poetry that expresses his love without simplification. His embarrassment at being a ‘fool’[4] becomes clear when he calls his work ‘In whining Poetry.’ (Donne, l. 3) suggesting a dissatisfaction with the poetry and its approach to love. The repetition of ‘grief’ (Donne, l. 10) and ‘fool’ (Donne, l. 21) throughout the poem also highlight his complete condemnation of his self and writing poetry whilst in love. However, it should be acknowledged in other poems such as ‘The Flea’, Donne shows an amazing display of rhetoric using the conceit of ‘one flea’[5]

Ultimately, both poets use literary techniques of repetition to convey their cynical view on poetry and writing poems for love. However, despite this cynicism and their ‘self-deprecatory’ [6]view of themselves the fact that both still continue to write shows an inability to stop working and being a poet; as Zizek famously states, ‘They know very well what they are doing, but still they are doing it’[7]. Both poets show that they are aware of the stereotypical model of the male poet yet their refusal to renounce this model shows that it is not the writing they find ‘foolish’ but the subject of love itself, which has shamed them both respectfully.


[1] Lynette McGrath, ‘John Donne’s Apology for Poetry’, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 20, (1980), pp. 73-89. (p. 76)

[2] Sir Philip Sidney, ‘Sonnet 90’ in The Norton Anthology of Poetry, ed. by Ferguson, Margaret and others, 5th edn (London: W.W Norton, 2005), pp. 220, (l. 4). Further references to this text will be given after quotations.

[3] Ibid, ‘Sonnet 63’, pp. 217, (l. 1). Further references to this text will be given after quotations.

[4] John Donne, ‘The Triple Fool’, (l. 1), last accessed, 21 May 2015. Further references to this text will be given after quotations.

[5] John Donne, ‘The Flea’, in The Norton Anthology of Poetry, ed. by Ferguson, Margaret and others, 5th edn (London: W.W Norton, 2005), pp. 310, (l. 10).

[6] McGrath, p. 77 [7] Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London: Verso ,1989), p.717


Ferguson, Margaret and others, ed., The Norton Anthology of Poetry, 5th edn (London: W.W Norton, 2005)

McGrath, Lynette, ‘John Donne’s Apology for Poetry’, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 20, (1980), pp. 73-89

Zizek, Slavoj, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London: Verso ,1989)

Read more

Romantic Love and Early Modern English: The “Trew Fayre” and “Vertuous Mind”

May 7, 2019 by Essay Writer

In the period of Early Modern English, romantic love was a major subject in literature. From Hoby’s translation of The Courtier to the various sonnets written during this time, everyone seemed to have something to add regarding their opinions on what exactly love is and the role that love plays in society. Many of the texts during this time period have offer a distinct perspective on love, some believing love might be the key to virtue, or love might transcend death, or even that love is present just for the sake of love. The conversation held between Early Modern English texts reveals to us the ideology behind love during this time period.

Beginning with Sir Thomas Hoby’s translation of Castiglione’s The Courtier, the stage is set for a rather specific view of romantic love. Specifically in the fourth book, titled “The Ladder of Love,” love is described as a method of attaining virtue, though recognizing one’s true beauty, or goodness. If a woman is able to “openeth the eyes that all men have and few occupy, and seeth in herself a shining beam of that light which is the true image of the angel-like beauty partened with her,” a pair of lovers will experience a “love greater and happier than others, as the cause that stirreth it is more excellent” (716-717). What is meant by this “angel-like beauty,” is a woman’s goodness or virtue, a type of beauty that transcends and earthly body, and is therefore angel-like. This idea that if a man is able to rise above the passion of earthly beauty and may recognize and fall in love with a woman’s good virtue, then that love is worthwhile for the gentlemanly courtier, a title associated with an esteemed greatness.

On the other hand, there is a warning, when a man falls in love, “then must the Courtier determine, when he perceiveth he is taken, to shun throughly all filthiness of common love, and so enter into the holy way of love with the guide of reason” (713). The man must not be consumed by his love for a woman’s beauty and must find her virtue. This push and pull of “entering into the holy way of love” as described in the Courtier is put into the form of a sonnet through Sidney’s sonnets called Astrophil and Stella.

In these sonnets, which are written by Sidney from the perspective of Astrophil, whose love for Stella isn’t returned, the subject matter in “The Ladder of Love” is dramatized. In the first sonnet, Astrophil reasons that if he writes sonnets to Stella, she may eventually return his love. The actual debate doesn’t begin until the fifth sonnet. Sidney uses imagery of the heart being a temple, and even says “true, that true beauty virtue is indeed,” but wraps up the poem by rejecting this idea that love should be a means to better oneself. The final thee lines of the poem read “True, that on earth we are but pilgrims made, / And should in soul up to our country move, / True, and yet true that I must Stella love,” which reveal a complex meaning of the poem. Yes, Astrophil realizes that love is a venture that requires the pursuit of some sort of otherworldly, holy virtue, but Stella is the one that wins his affections, even with that in mind. This rejection of this idea begins the conversation of romantic love during this era.

Love is also characterized in Spenser’s Amoretti, which follows the path in which Spenser’s love for his future wife, Elizabeth Boyle, blossoms into one that is virtuous, as described by The Courtier. Near the beginning of the sonnet cycle, imagery surrounding Elizabeth’s physical beauty is very prevalent. Sonnet 37 is dedicated to her “golden tresses,” and how “mens frayle eyes, which gaze too bold, / she may entangle in that golden snare” (986). These lines, of course, note how her physical beauty is what attracts men, including Spenser to her in the first place. However, by the end of the sonnet cycle we see a shift in subject matter. Sonnet 79 speaks that “Men call you fayre, and you doe credit it,” continuing to add, “But the trew fayre, that is the gentle wit, / and vertuous mind, is much more praysed of me” (989). What Spenser is saying is that Elizabeth is beautiful and everyone sees it, but he values the true beauty of her virtuous mind and strong wit. Spenser has unlocked Elizabeth’s true beauty, and eventually marries her—essentially becoming a model of what The Courtier wishes to create, and what Astrophil has not been able to achieve.

However, in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, the subject of marriage is simplified and can be viewed as a rather different example to the love seen in The Courtier or Amoretti. Marriage is almost made into a transaction of sorts, where both the man and the woman are able to view one another naked, so as to look one another over for anything undesirable, before finally committing to the marriage. This practice is compared to when a man buys a horse, “they won’t close the deal until the saddle and blanket have been taken off, lest there be a hidden sore underneath” (625). The descriptions of marriage and divorce in Utopia fail to even mention love, and therefore throw all of these concepts that everyone else has been talking about in the first place. This ideal world does have rules about premarital sex, in which case a person isn’t allowed to get married, but is this because they haven’t “shun[ned] throughly all filthiness of common love,” like The Courtier instructs them to do so, or is that for some other reason?

This complete absence of the subject of love isn’t seen in any of the other texts in question, however some ideas might be translated into Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, in which love and sex are briefly mentioned in the first canto of the first book. Una, the Red Cross Knight’s lady, is imitated by a sprite, and the sprite offers to kiss the Red Cross Knight. Then, afterward, the sprites engage in “lustfull play,” and the Red Cross Knight was “much grieved to thinke that his gentle Dame so light” (793-795). In other words, The Red Cross Knight, although his relationship with Una seems to be quite platonic, was distraught to see “Una” engage in sex with someone, and then offer to kiss him. The examples of harsh punishment for premarital sex in Utopia and the shunning of Una in The Faerie Queene for perceived loose morals shows that love and relationships weren’t taken lightly during this time period, perhaps taking some sort of influence from The Courtier or Astrophil and Stella’s views on using love to achieve some sort of otherworldly goodness.

As a contrast to all of the texts previously mentioned, Williams Shakespeare’s sonnets take quite a different spin. Specifically in Sonnet 130, Shakespeare describes all of his mistress’s faults, but in the couplet remarks “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare, / As any she belied with false compare” (1184). Shakespeare is reiterating the points that The Courtier makes, yet in a humorous way. He is affirming the position that a man must find a woman’s true virtue and by doing so, he will find her true beauty. It doesn’t matter that Shakespeare’s mistress’ “eyes are nothing like the sun,” or that “if hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head”—he loves her, and his love is true and virtuous. On the opposite side of this conversation, it should also be noted that Shakespeare’s sonnets usually take a lighter attitude, as exampled in Sonnet 130. This entire concept of love and finding true beauty doesn’t seem so harrowing or serious as the other texts make it out to be.

His ideas of love also speak of an everlasting true love, one that transcends time. Especially noted in Sonnet 116, which states “Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks / Within his bending sickle’s compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, / But bears it out even on the edge of doom” (1182). This idea of love as an everlasting, steadfast concept adds depth to the idea of what exactly romantic love meant during this time period. When added to the ideas that come from The Courtier, Amoretti, or even Astrophil and Stella, we might perceive that romantic love not only lasts for an eternity, but will lead to a truer understanding of virtue. Especially when taking the religious connotations of eternity into mind, we might infer that from a religious perspective, finding true love could elevate a person spiritually, especially if you take the attitude as Sidney describes in sonnet 5 of Astrophil and Stella, and agree “that on earth we are but pilgrims made” by love.

Love in the time period of Middle English was a concept that was constantly being examined by its writers. They all seem to conclude that love has something more to it than just beauty. Love’s relationship to virtue is quite prevalent, and it seems as though those who have found true love have been able to unlock the key to their lover’s “trew fayre…and vertuous mind” (989).

Works Cited

Greenblatt, Stephen, ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 9th ed. Vol. B. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. Print.

Read more

How Do I Love Thee

April 9, 2019 by Essay Writer

He claims that it is better to have loved and lost. She claims that it is better to never have loved at all. He spends his free time pining for her. She spends her time with him longing for freedom. While modern stereotypes tend to portray men as standoffish rogues, clinging tirelessly to independence, and women as the swooning, lovesick doters, anxiously awaiting the appearance of a ring, Renaissance and Restoration writers offer a strikingly different image of courtship. Through their subtle use of diction and imagery, Sir Philip Sidney, Lady Mary Wroth, and Thomas Shadwell demonstrate that virtuous men tend to be consumed with love, while virtuous women strive to avoid romance altogether. In his “Sonnet 31” of the sequence Astrophil and Stella, Sidney portrays a freshly-rejected yet nevertheless virtuous and lovesick speaker who pines for his lover. Having read Sidney’s assessment of the pretentious woman’s rejection of the hero, Lady Mary Wroth retorts with a clever condemnation of men’s fickleness from the perspective of a reasonable and virtuous woman in her “Song 74.” Shadwell’s Restoration comedy Bury Fair juxtaposes the noble Bellamy’s consuming love of Gertrude with her sound and honorable rejection. In each of these three texts, the authors portray the actions of virtuous characters regarding love: the men seek it, while the women seek to avoid it. Despite his lover’s rejection of his affections, the speaker in Sidney’s “Sonnet 31” demonstrates his unfailing love for her in his lamentations of love lost. The speaker, presumably Astrophil, in his hour of despair seeks “fellowship” with the “Moon” that “climb’st the skies” (9, 1). His invocation of a lunar image indicates that his love extends beyond the physical and corruptible sublunary sphere, thus attesting to his virtue. Through Sidney’s subtle capitalization of “Love,” “Beauties,” and “Virtue,” he indicates that Astrophil intends to speak of these qualities in their purest forms, rather than the earthly and corruptible shadows of them (10, 11, 14). Furthermore, his inclusion of these forms in rhetorical questions implies that Astrophil has offered these perfect images of love to Stella only to be denied. In questioning the Moon if they “call Virtue there ungratefulness,” Astrophil implies that Stella’s rejection of love is dishonorable, whereas his pursuit of love is just (14). In light of his camaraderie with the Moon and use of pure intentions, Astrophil establishes his virtue. The speaker then proves his love for Stella by indicating that his love is “constant,” though she deems it “want of wit” (10). Feeling slighted by Stella’s rejection, Astrophil laments that she scorns him “whom the Love doth possess” (13). Sidney’s careful use of possession indicates that this honorable and devoted man feels consumed by his love for Stella. Astrophil acts as a mere servant of love, helpless to ignore his master’s will. Nevertheless, despite her pride, “scorn,” and “ungratefulness,” the speaker remains hopelessly in love with her and is consumed with a torrent of emotion (11, 13, 14). Sidney’s use of perfect forms and faithful love reveal that the virtuous man must endlessly pine for love. While Sidney’s sonnet portrays the deeds of an honorable man in love, Wroth’s “Song 74” articulates a virtuous woman’s logic for refusal. The speaker of this poem depicts her integrity and practicality through her argument against succumbing to love. She claims that men in love act as children “ever crying,” for once a woman indulges ever so slightly in their tantrums and pleadings for love, they crave attention and are “never satisfied with having” (1, 4). While men may profess eternal love, measureless “desires” and “endless folly” ultimately cause them to “breaketh” what they “promiseth” (5, 6, 7). She proclaims that men “vow nothing but false matter” and “cozen” women in an attempt to gain their affection, only to “leave” and “deceive” them soon thereafter (9, 10, 11, 12). Men’s “virtues” consist of their ability to love, leave, and “triumph” in women’s wailing for being abandoned (15, 14). In her opinion, the love of a man is as “firm in staying” as a feather and as “fierce in preying” as wolves. Because she sincerely doubts the truth of their love and integrity, the speaker of this poem cautions other women to “trust not one word that he speaketh,” “as a child then leave him crying,” and never actively “seek him so given to flying” (8, 19, 20). Since the speaker of this poem believes men to be but a “cause be of [women’s] failing,” she decides to remain virtuous by not becoming entangled in the ruse (14). Through her analytical response to Sidney’s poem coupled with vivid imagery and diction, Wroth maintains that an honorable woman abstains from love. While both Sidney’s and Wroth’s poems present one-sided accounts of virtuous people’s reactions to love, Shadwell’s comedy Bury Fair juxtaposes the actions of both men and women in a single text. Bellamy’s integrity appears in his debate with Wildish concerning the attributes of country life. Though he once lived in London and engaged in questionable activities, Bellamy now swears that he could “never be drunk” and believes “he that debauches private women is a knave” (18). Rather than freely engage in worldly temptations, Bellamy holds that he will “no more suffer [his] appetites to master [him],” thus attesting to his virtue (18). Furthermore, though he is present during the hatching of the French imposter scheme, Bellamy acts as the sole voice of reason, forcing Wildish to consider Mrs. Fantast’s feelings by asking what should happen should she fall “in love with him in earnest” (22). In addition to his personal convictions and concern for others, Bellamy also proves his virtue through his reasons for doting on Gertrude by proclaiming her to have “all the beauty and wit of her whole sex…and none of all their vanities” (71). Because of these qualities, Bellamy believes it “impossible for a man to forbear thinking or talking of love, in the presence of so beautiful, so excellent a lady” as Gertrude (62). He becomes “subdued” with love for her and promises that “nothing can ever make [his] love decrease” or temper his “violent fever” of love (71, 86). Though Bellamy ultimately couples with Philadelphia, his obsession with love never subsides, thus proving that virtuous men become consumed with love. In stark contrast to Bellamy’s fixation on love, Gertrude strives to avoid love in order to maintain her freedom. While the Fantast women absorb themselves in materialism and pretension, Gertrude appears as a practical and virtuous counterforce. In her argument with Lady Fantast, Gertrude upholds the importance of “discretion” and “common sense” (24). Additionally, she further proves her virtue through her praise of humility and purity when she holds that “conversation ought to be free, easy, and natural” and that she admires common people because “they come near nature, and have no art or affectation” (25, 29). Gertrude’s cleverness becomes even more evident upon her introduction to the Count. While the rest of the town ignorantly falls for his disguise, Gertrude immediately deems him “apish” and a “mere kickshaw” (41). By her contrast with the frivolous Fantast ladies, her affinity for purity and simplicity, and her keen judge of character, Gertrude exhibits the qualities of a virtuous woman. Despite the admiration of both Wildish and Bellamy, Gertrude pleads that they both “desist” in their quest for her affections by stating that she has “joy in freedom, that [she] cannot think of parting with it yet” (86). She believes that love is “too violent to last,” giving her “but a short time to reign” in a husband’s affections (86, 88). Though she ultimately consents to marry Wildish, she insists on “no raptures” for she “shall never be quiet for him” (104). While Wildish eagerly offers her his heart, she merely presents him with her hand (104). Through Shadwell’s exposition of Gertrude’s character and his portrayal of her reaction to marriage, he indicates that virtuous women resist submission to love. From Sidney’s “Sonnet 31” to Wroth’s “Song 74” to Shadwell’s Bury Fair, these sixteenth and seventeenth century writers illustrate the polarized reactions to love displayed by virtuous men and women. Sidney’s speaker illustrates his virtue through allusions to spiritual realms and perfect forms. Nevertheless, on earth, Astrophil becomes consumed with his love for Stella. Through her careful analysis of men’s habits and infidelities, Wroth’s speaker embodies honor. Her own denial of love coupled with her admonitions to other women reveal that virtuous woman aim to avoid love. Through his comedy Bury Fair, Shadwell juxtaposes the actions of Bellamy with Gertrude. Bellamy’s integrity becomes apparent in his personal standards as well as his consideration of others. Nevertheless, love conquers reason when he meets Gertrude. Through her denial of pretensions and vanity, Gertrude reveals herself as a moral and sensible woman. Because of her sensibilities, she views marriage as a surrender of her freedom and therefore resists love. The imagery and diction employed by these writers depict virtuous characters trapped in a dilemma: the men long to be free to love, and the women long to be free.

Read more

Dark Beauties in Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Sidney’s “Astrophil and Stella”

March 18, 2019 by Essay Writer

Germinating in anonymous Middle English lyrics, the subversion of the classical poetic representation of feminine beauty as fair-haired and blue-eyed took on new meaning in the age of exploration under sonneteers Sidney and Shakespeare. No longer did the brown hair of “Alison” only serve to distinguish her from the pack; the features of the new “Dark Lady” became more pronounced and sullied, and her eroticized associations with the foreignness of the New World grew more explicit through conceits of colonization. However, the evolving dichotomy between fairness and darkness was not quite so revolutionary; in fact, Sidney and Shakespeare lauded the virtues of fairness with the same degree of passion as their predecessors, albeit in a cloaked form. To counter their mistresses’ exterior darkness, the poets locate an interior lightness that radiates beyond the funereal veil of hair or eyes‹raven-hair or jet-eyes is acceptable only if there is an innate brightness that illuminates the sensuality of the superficial.Most of the poems addressing the light/dark antithesis choose at some point to make an open declaration that embraces or undermines the dichotomy and lays the groundwork for the rest of the poem. The dichotomous lines tend not to be as straightforward as they suggest. “I can love both fair and brown,” from John Donne’s “The Indifferent,” seems to blur the line between the colors, but by revealing the gracious equanimity of his desire, Donne implicitly reinforces brown’s aesthetic inferiority. Shakespeare parodies the antiquated contrarieties, which he acknowledges in Sonnet 127: “In the old age, black was not counted fair” (1). In Sonnet 130, he mocks the blazon which for so long relied upon parallels between the poet’s object of affection and the fairness or brightness of nature: “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;/ Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;/ If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;/ If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head,/ I have seen roses damasked, red and white,/ But no such roses see I in her cheeks” (1-6). The range of environment‹sky, sea, land, garden‹illustrates the variety of sources a poet can look to for fairness analogies, and the “ifŠthen” structure of comparison, often punctuated in the middle of a line by a comma, physically divides the sonnet into a set of textual oppositions that expose the facile nature of the light/dark dichotomy. Kim Hall, in “Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England,” accounts for the blazon as a device to bolster male superiority: “Sonneteers establish their power over female matter and their poetic prowess by drawing on the dismembering power of the blazon” . Shakespeare’s unabashed manipulation of the dismemberment reverses the power struggle, as he still is captivated by his mistress’ irregular beauty. This may ridicule the dichotomy, but it does little to topple it; Shakespeare concedes that her darkness is as visually unappealing as the “breath that from my mistress reeks” (8).Shakespeare endorses the dichotomy in Sonnet 147, applying his male friend’s immorality to the time-tested analogies of hell and night: “For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,/ Who art as black as hell, as dark as night” (13-14). That the poet has “sworn” his friend’s fairness not only describes his confidence, but that the betrayal unveils the blasphemy of darkness. Sidney, in his sonnet cycle “Astrophil and Stella,” also uses the division between day and night, but alters Shakespeare’s conception. In Sonnet 89, the modified Petrarchan arrangement acts as the perfect rhyme scheme in which to confuse the dichotomy. Ending each line with “night” or “day,” the “abba abba” scheme of the first two quatrains capture the cyclical demarcations of dark and light. The final sestet, however, alternates the rhyme scheme with “ababab,” and merges the two. For Astrophil, Stella’s absence has made day and night indistinguishable, as one seeps into another: “Šthe most irksome night/ With darkest shade doth overcome my day” (1-2). The zeugma in “Each day seems long, and longs for long-stayed night” affirms the connection between Astrophil’s daytime bored yearnings and “The night, as tedious, [which] woos th’approach of day” (5-6). The amalgam becomes most obvious in the sestet, in which one side has taken and magnified the unattractive qualities of the other: “(While no night is more dark than is my day,/ Nor no day hath less quiet than my night)” (10-11). The dichotomy is conflated, notwithstanding the uninviting nature of its metamorphosis: “With such bad mixture of my night and day/ That, living thus in blackest winter night,/ I feel the flames of hottest summer day” (12-14). “Blackest winter night” is still condemned, but Sidney skewers the traditional dichotomy in his unflattering depiction of bright summer days.Sidney recants his dissolution of the night/day dichotomy in Sonnet 91: “Šfair you, my Sun, thus overspread/ With absence’ veil, I live in Sorrow’s night” (4-5). Stella’s glowing sun-like presence iterates the traditional relationship of women’s beauty to nature that Shakespeare lampooned in Sonnet 130. Shakespeare may have, in fact, wallowed in a bit of self-parody with his anti-blazon, as he often used the sun to illumine his male friend’s beauty. In Sonnet 18, he maps a direct link between the sun’s brightness and his subject’s constant fairness of the skin: “Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines/ And often is his gold complexion dimmed/ And every fair from fair sometimes declines” (5-6). As with Sonnet 15, in which time decays the “day of youth to sullied night” (12), darkness takes on a polluted connotation, Sonnet 20 highlights the male friend’s purity of lightness and self-restraint in opposition to women’s wanton passions: “An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rollingŠ/ A man in hue all hues in his controlling” (5, 7). Shakespeare also probes the false surface of cosmetic beauty in Sonnet 127. He laments that fair beauty is now “slandered with a bastard shame,” again condemning the illegitimate sexuality of darkness (4). Make-up, which usurps “nature’s power,/ Fairing the foul with art’s false borrowed face,” commits sacrilege against natural beauty: “Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,/ But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace” (5-8). The lost piety of fair beauty is a pun; “disgrace” means shame, detachment from God’s good graces, and a lack of aesthetic grace.Still, Shakespeare cannot deny a certain psychological attraction to this sinful model that upsets the fair archetype. In Sonnet 144, he furthers the light and dark sides of the spiritual psyche, metamorphosing his male friend, “a man right fair,” and the Dark Lady, “a woman, colored ill,” into his good and bad consciences (3-4). Though Norton defines the line “But being both from me” as the couple’s being “away from” the speaker, the line can also imply that the two inhabit his mind (11). With this reading, “To win me soon to hell, my female evil/ Tempteth my better angel from my side” means not that the Dark Lady will cast Shakespeare into misery through her upsetting the triangle, but that her power will shift Shakespeare’s mind to the dark side. Her temptation is filled with reference to dirtiness of sin: “And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,/ Wooing his purity with her foul pride” (7-8). “Proud flesh” is the swollen flesh surrounding a wound; thus her “foul pride” may be a pun on her genitalia. The eroticization of her darkness is a salient pointer towards the fascination the poets hold toward darkness; beneath that impure exterior lies a devilish promiscuity unlike that of all the other fair-haired maidens.

Read more

Colonial Beauty in Sidney’s “Astrophil and Stella” and Shaksespeare’s Sonnets

February 26, 2019 by Essay Writer

The unique and extraordinary elements of dark beauty translate to an exotic alterity in the poets’ eyes. The more obvious, and traditional, methods bestow the woman with godly attributes. Shakespeare first refutes this resemblance by underscoring his mistress’ earth-bound properties in Sonnet 130: “I grant I never saw a goddess go,/ My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground” (11-12). Then Shakespeare swears “by heaven” that she does have some goddess-like power through his love (13). Sidney lards his sonnets with divine references; Stella’s eyes let her “miraculous power show,” and they are also “The windows now through which this heavenly guest/ Looks over the world” (“A&S: 7,” 9; “A&S: 9,” 9-10). Even though it is the women’s dark properties which recall their other-worldliness, traditional fair-haired heroines inspire similar reactions in their documentarists’ poetry. Hall contends that there is a relationship between the dark women’s alterity and the England’s advances in colonization:”It is the attraction and fear of the possibility of ‘otherness’ and linguistic polysemy that underlie most of the tropes of blackness in Renaissance poetry, particularly in the black/light dichotomy of the English sonnet cycleŠ’Dark ladies’ of the sonnets are at least in some part the literary cousins of the foreign women encountered in travel narratives and that they share the same subject position. The sonnet form encodes not only erotic, but political, economic, and literary desires as well.” “Astrophil and Stella” epitomizes colonial poetry under the guise of the black/light dichotomy. That Stella’s white star inhabits a unknown inky sky pales in comparison to the conceits of exploration in Sonnet 1. Hall argues that the sonnet cycle “is characterized by a studied rejection of foreignness. The sequence opens with Astrophil searching for invention and new language, ‘to paint the blackest face of woe’ (1.5), but with the caveat that this new language should not be tainted with ‘strangeness.” However, Astrophil contends that his studies of English poetry is what has hindered him‹”others’ feet still seemed but strangers in my way,” with a play on metric feet (11). Furthermore, it is Astrophil who has a “sunburned brain”; his tropical mentality contrasts with the pale, blocked language of his countrymen. To escape these impediments, Astrophil takes his “trewand pen” to search out new lands and words, and Stella’s black eyes are a metaphor for this New World: “Models such be wood-globes of glistering skies” (11). Shakespeare, too, acknowledges this new era that redefines beauty’s conception: “In the old age black was not counted fairŠ/ But now is black beauty’s successive heir,” which a pun on “hair” (Sonnet 127, 1, 3).Yet Kim F. Hall, in Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England, is correct in assuming that neither poet wishes his subject to be tainted; all the poets laud their women’s dark beauty so long as it shrouds an interior and superlative fairness. What she fails to account for is that this practice dates back to Alison, whose “heer is fair ynough” despite its being brown (13). To compensate for her black eyes, the poet sings “Hire swire is whittere than the swan,/ And fairest may in town” (28-9). The aforementioned “semlokest” and “light on Alisoun” are subtle compared to the poem’s most “interiorized” superlative: “Geinest under gore” (37). Her darkness is but a garment that eroticizes the unrivaled fairness of her soul and body. Rather than offset Stella’s dark eyes with separate, superlatively fair body parts (though he does occasionally; Stella’s face is of “alabaster pure” and her cheeks are “marble mixed red and white”), Sidney focuses on blending the interior lightness with the exterior darkness (“A&S: 9,” 3, 8). Hall remarks that while the superlative Elizabethan dark lady is “lauded for her ‘milk hands,’ ‘yellow hairs,’ ‘fair ivory brows,’ ‘ivory cheeks,’ and ‘snowy brows,’ this beauty is also continually associated with formulations of blackness as she is often ‘beamy black’ or ‘black but in blackness bright.'” “Beamy black” comes from Sidney’s Sonnet 7, which also posits that nature, “like painter wise,” imbued Stella’s eyes with a blackness “mixed of shades and light” (3-4). In Sonnet 9, her eyes are at the same time the black stone “touch” and also “lights,” and in Sonnet 91 Hall’s reference to “seeing jets, black, but in blackness bright” (“A&S: 9,” 11-12; “A&S: 91,” 8). Hall critiques those who insist that “blackness means nothing beyond its antithesis to ‘whiteness’; that is, in the absolute insistence on a merely aesthetic basis for blackness in the Renaissance, a practice that extends even to reading direct references to Africa as mere signs of physical beauty.” Though Hall’s conjecture holds much water, she forgets Sidney’s interior/exterior lightness/darkness relationship echoes that of “Alison,” verse written in an era before widespread exploration and knowledge of the rest of the world.Along with darkness comes the inevitable comparison to death. Sidney and Shakespeare both consider their women’s blackness another garment, namely a funereal veil. Astrophil believes nature subdued Stella’s interior radiance with blackness, because “if no veil those brave gleams did disguise,/ They sun-like should more dazzle than delight” (7-8). As Hall points out, “That ‘sweete blacke’ of Stella’s eye which seduces the passenger or traveler into staying becomes for Sidney no more than a removable veil; however, looking beyond the black veil is itself dangerous.” This runs contrary to Hall’s previous statement, that Astrophil’s “new language should not be tainted with ‘strangeness;'” the “tainted” veil is what shield the observer from an excess of lightness as that associated with the blinding rays of the sun, nature’s and poetry’s emblem of brightness. The sun is again connected with “absence’ veil” in Sonnet 91; the dark lady’s vibrant interior fairness must be tempered by some morbidity to diminish the overwhelming beauty (4). Shakespeare refines Sidney’s veil‹his lady’s black eyes are “mourners” in his cosmetic conceit in Sonnet 127, but their deathly allusions falsely enhance her misconceived (by others) beauty: “Yet so they mourn, becoming of their woe,/ That every tongue says beauty should look so” (13-14).”Every tongue says beauty should look so” is a fitting final statement to the sonnet. Sidney and Shakespeare went far to overturn conventional conceptions of beauty, but as Norton points out, “conventions set up anticonventions that become as rigid as their older antitheses.” But the greatest influence on Sidney’s and Shakespeare’s notions of darkness was the age of colonization, not a willful aesthetic change. They did not even stray far from the interior/exterior dichotomy espoused by the author of “Alison.” Their revolution was less an artistic trope than a worldly one. It is interesting to note that the change from the Victorian raven-haired beauty to the modern blonde bombshell came with the over-the-counter introduction of hair dyes in the 1920s, making blonde hair a symbol of female empowerment. Literature and film then reflected the fact; art, it seems, can only capture beauty, and rarely invent it.

Read more

Expression and Emotion in “With how sad step”

February 8, 2019 by Essay Writer

Courtier Sir Philip Sidney was a prominent and highly influential literary figure in the Elizabethan age. Critics agree that Sidney was ahead of his time as a writer, and Alexander Gavin refers to the 1590’s as a decade in which he ‘dominated literary culture’,[1] despite his death 4 years earlier. His most famous works include Astrophel and Stella, a sequence consisting of 108 sonnets and 11 songs. The progression of sonnets follow the speakers emotional state as he endures in an initially unrequited love affair, which results in his lover ending the relationship after she realises they are incompatible. In the thirty first sonnet,[2] Sidney draws on a more sinister side of love, and in particular the suffering endured after it is lost or unrequited. The sonnet carries a deep sense of misery and bewilderment as the speaker tenderly begins to come to terms with rejection. It is widely accepted that Astrophel acts as a parallel to Sidney’s and his own heartbreak[3] and a strong feeling of pathos is established through the speakers questioning of the fate of love. By confiding in the moon, the speaker is able to express his feelings in confidence as well as relate to it, which acts as a source of comfort to the distressed Astrophel.

This tightly structured sonnet works to explicitly highlight the raw emotions of the speaker; sorrow, grief and bitterness are all expressed as he dwells over his woes. The sonnet begins with the speaker projecting his sorrow onto the moon:

‘With how sad steps, O moon, thou climbs’t the skies

How silently, and with how wan a face!’ (ll.1-2)

Rich in pathos, the opening line immediately establishes the mood of mournfulness and sorrow. This is contributed to by the apostrophe ‘O moon’, as the speaker comments on it rising ‘with how sad steps’. The use of caesura decreases the pace of the opening line whilst simultaneously reflects the laboriously slow movement of the moon as it climbs the sky. This combines with Sidney’s placement of a spondee on ‘sad steps’ to convince the reader of both the speaker’ and moon’s misery.

The poem adopts the shape of a Petrarchan Sonnet, where typically the lady is always unobtainable and the lover often hopeless[4], and Sidney was likely influenced by the form during his year-long visit to Italy, where he studied the works of many literary scholars. A melancholic tone is created by Sidney’s utilisation of sibilance with the syntactical the choices: ‘sad steps’ and ‘climbs’t the skies’, which add a sense of wistfulness to the introductory line. The assonance of the vowel sound ‘aʊ’ prolongs the line length, and the combined repetition of fricative consonants create a slower pace, further reflecting the extent of the speaker’s tormenting thoughts.

As a result of pondering over his thoughts to the moon, the speaker learns that he can also relate to it. The idea of misery is reinforced through the description of the moon as ‘wan’, which connotes to it appearing pallid and unwell. This deviates from typical descriptions of the moon in which it’s complexion appears ‘glimmering’ or ‘orb-like’ and instead presents it as humanlike. Sidney’s use of ecphonesis: ‘wan a face!’ (l.2) demonstrates an abruptness as the speaker attributes the moons appearance as stemming from woes similar to his own. Astrophel universalizes his experiences, [5] expressed through the friendly term of address ‘Oh Moon’ (l.1) and the collective noun ‘our’ (l.3). This signifies that the concept of being able to relate to an entity as powerful as the moon is comforting to him, and the soft rhymes in the sestet reinforce the idea of the moon being a pain relief. The synecdoche ‘love-acquainted-eyes’ again personifies the moon, and the speaker recognises its infinite presence in the sky, where it has witnessed many people affected by love.

Interestingly, the later juxtaposition of ‘languished grace’ (l.7) suggests that the speaker has not always viewed the moon in a sorrowful way. The verb ‘grace’, which is typically associated with the elegant manner of the moon, is contrasted against the adjective ‘languished’. The abrupt contrast adds to the melancholic sentiment by providing connotations of weakness, which isn’t typically intrinsic to descriptions of the moon. More often presented as immortal and wise, the speaker’s lexical choices hint that Astrophel’s perspective has been tainted by his wounded pride. This is reflected in the adverbial of manner ‘descries’ which implies that the moons sad appearance has before gone unnoticed, explaining Astrophel’s lifeless descriptions.

Astrophel questions if love is also present in the heavens:

‘What, may it be that ev’n in heav’nly place

That busy archer his sharp arrows tries?’ (ll. 3-4)

Sidney uses allusion to reference the traditional figure of Cupid, who characteristically wounds lovers with his arrows to inspire feelings of love. The Renaissance period viewed Cupid as a catalyst of desire,[6] and the figure arranges spectacles of love throughout Sidney’s sonnet sequence.[7] However, Cupid’s inaccuracy as an archer was something which fascinated poets and was a topic of endless debate; perhaps the rhetorical question utilised by Sidney reflects this. In this case, the adjective ‘sharp’ is incorporated to highlight the pains of love, and the interrogative illustrates Astrophel’s wavering belief in cupid, as he has been inflicted with heartbreak rather than happiness.

In fact, the speaker’s disillusionment with Cupid results in idolising the moon as an expert of love. The reference to a ‘heav’nly place’ brings attention to the moon’s eternal presence in the sky, and presents it as God-like.

The night time setting alludes to the speaker’s sleeplessness, but the presence of the moon allows the speaker to accumulate his thoughts in a composed manner. The form contributes to this – particularly the rhyming of soft ‘ʌ’ and ‘e’ vowel sounds in the octet which emphasise the calm and collected tone of the speaker. This starkly contrasts to the explosive vowel rhymes and interrogatives present in the sestet, which represent the speaker’s sadness slowly deteriorating into anger.

Sidney uses elision in order to maintain his tight structure, and the regular enclosing rhyme scheme of the octet upholds Astrophel’s calm manner. Additionally, the strict iambic pentameter metre provides structure which balances out the speaker’s uncertainties regarding love, infiltrating a sense of security to Astrophel’s otherwise doubtful mind.

‘Then’ (l.8) acts as a Volta, and foreshadows Astrophel’s change of tone as the second part of the sonnet is entered. Here he becomes less focussed on the moons languished appearance and more fixated on his own feelings of bitterness. The succession of interrogatives reflects his increasing impatience at Stella, but also their repeated nature represents his unrelenting torment. The questioning is also significant as it demonstrates the relationship that the speaker has built with the moon – he idolises it as an expert of love and demands answers from a rejection which has left him in a bewildered state of mind. The term of address used in the opening line is repeated:

‘Then even of fellowship, Oh Moon, tell me,’ (l.9)

The repeated address and caesura add a sense of familiarity, and reinforce the idea that the moon is a form of comfort for the speaker. The use of apostrophe leads the voice to become much softer, contrasting with the generally bitter and harsh tone of the sestet.

The speaker’s mood quickly deteriorates as he questions Stella’s unreturned feelings in the alliteration ‘want of wit’. The emphasis placed on the harsh mono-syllabic words convey his anger at his affection being dismissed so easily. The lexical choice ‘scorn’ (l.10) furthermore is indicative of the speaker growing frustration as he questions whether ungratefulness is a virtue.

The repeated use of the plosive consonants ‘t’ and ‘d’ in words such as ‘yet’ (l.10) serve as a harsh reminder of the incessant pain the speaker has endured over Stella, despite his ‘constant love’ (l.10) for her. The punchy masculine rhymes such as ‘be’ (l.11) and ‘me’ (l.9) quicken the pace of the lines, and create a more upbeat flow to the second part of the sonnet, which add to the sense that the speaker’s bitterness is unceasing.

Despite Sidney probably being influenced by Petrarch during his year-long visit to Italy, he does deviate from its usual structure in terms of the rhyme scheme. The sestet rhyme ends in a rhyming couplet, which are not normally associated with Petrarchan sonnets,[8] and suggests that Sidney incorporated the feature from a Shakespearian sonnet instead. However perhaps the unconventional ending along with the final rhetorical question is symbolic. Astrophel is left unsatisfied and the final interrogative voices his uncertainties over love that have been ongoing throughout the sonnet.

Overall, Sidney utilises a tight iambic structure in order to draw explicit attention to the thought procession of the speaker, and highlights the pains of unrequited love. The sonnet’s portrayal of unrequited love as unrelenting is reflective of the author’s own experiences, and the rejected lover is often left confused and hurt, demonstrated by repeated rhetorical questions. However, the speaker is comforted by the familiar figure of the moon, and decided that it too is suffering with lovesickness, which acts as a form of relief from his heartbreak. Ultimately, the speaker works himself up into a state of rage which leaves him in the same miserable mind set which he began with, demonstrating a darker side to love.


Gavin, Alexander, Writing After Sidney: The Literary Response to Sir Philip Sidney, 1586-1640, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006) Kingsley –Smith, Jane, Cupid in Early Modern Literature and Culture (London, Cambridge University Press, 2010) Ferguson, Margaret, Salter, Mary Jo, Stallworthy, Jon, The Norton Anthology of Poetry, 5th ed. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company Ltd., 2005) Robertson, Jean, Sir Philip Sidney and Lady Penelope Rich, The Review of English Studies, Volume XV, Issue 59, (January 1964), Kingsley-Smith, Jane, Cupid (2011) Spiller, R.G Michael, The Development of Sonnet: An Introduction, 1st ed. (Routledge, 1992), Miller, Nelson, Basic Sonnet Forms (1997) [accessed 18th February 2018] Young, Richard, English Petrarke: A Study of Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella, Three Studies in the Renaissance: Sidney, Jonson, Milton, (Hamden, Archon Books, 1969) [1] Gavin, Alexander, Writing After Sidney: The Literary Response to Sir Philip Sidney, 1586-1640, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006) p. x [2] Ferguson, Margaret, Salter, Mary Jo, Stallworthy, Jon, The Norton Anthology of Poetry, 5th ed. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company Ltd., 2005) pp. 214-215 [3] Robertson, Jean, Sir Philip Sidney and Lady Penelope Rich, The Review of English Studies, Volume XV, Issue 59, (January 1964) p. 296 [4] Young, Richard, English Petrarke: A Study of Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella, Three Studies in the Renaissance: Sidney, Jonson, Milton, (Hamden, Archon Books, 1969) p.10 [5] Young, Richard, English Petrarke: A Study of Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella, Three Studies in the Renaissance: Sidney, Jonson, Milton, (Hamden, Archon Books, 1969) p. 50 [6], Kingsley-Smith, Jane, Cupid (2011) [accessed 26th February 2018] [7] Kingsley –Smith, Jane, Cupid in Early Modern Literature and Culture (London, Cambridge University Press, 2010) p. 40 [8], Miller, Nelson, Basic Sonnet Forms (1997) [accessed 18th February 2018]

Read more

A Close Reading of Philip Sidney’s ‘Sonnet 27″

January 17, 2019 by Essay Writer

Phillip Sidney’s sonnet, ‘Because I oft, in dark abstract guise’, was published posthumously in 1591, and occurs as part of Sidney’s most critically acclaimed work, Astrophel and Stella[1]. Consisting of 108 sonnets and 8 intertwined songs, the sequence is predominantly concerned with the speaker’s emotional state during his obsessive love affair with the more passive Stella. It has been widely speculated by scholars that Astrophel acts as a parallel to Sidney, and his own captivation by the similarly unobtainable Lady Rich,[2] and the sonnet sequence has been considered a portrayal of Philip Sidney’s own thwarted love affair. In the twenty seventh sonnet, a distant Astrophel recognizes that his detached appearance is a result of his overwhelming desire for Stella, who he has preoccupied as his ‘ambition’ (1.11). By combining elements of precursor Petrarch’s style, and his own poetic variant, Sidney constructs a powerful rhetoric which succinctly captures the paradoxical states of isolation and infatuation.

In the opening lines the speakers secluded state is introduced:

‘Because I oft, in dark abstracted guise

Seem most alone in greatest company’ (l.1-2)

Plosive and consonants ‘b’, ‘d’ and ‘g’ produce sudden bursts of air, which help to pace the poem and offer an immediately abrupt, uneasy tone. Sidney’s iambic meter allows stress to fall onto the words ‘dark’ and ‘guise’, which elicit attention to themselves and provide a disturbing insight into the speaker’s mind. Additionally, the juxtaposition of ‘most alone’ whilst in the ‘greatest company’ further suggests Astrophel’s hopelessness, something immediately recognized as a typical Petrarchan convention. Sidney evokes rich imagery of the lonely, void like space where Astrophel resides.

The octave depicts rumors circulating about Astrophel’s aloofness, which are instead misjudged as ‘bubbling pride’ (l.6). When spoken aloud, the alliterative comparison of ‘pride’ and ‘poison’ (l.6) has a rather forceful effect, as the use of a trochaic inversion places two consecutive stresses together, producing an explosive effect. By negatively connotating ‘pride’, Sidney depicts the effeminate and scandalous reaction the trait would have in Elizabethan society[3]. The lexical choice ‘fawn’ is particularly striking, and appears to indicate a typical courtly action, but instead describes Sidney’s self-absorbed appearance, yet ironically it is Stella whom he is indulged by.

Sidney appears to mock the nature of rumors and how they quickly escalate and depart from the truth:

‘They deem, and of their doom the rumour flies’ (l.5)

The alliterative ‘deem’ and ‘doom’ quicken the pace of the line and increment to the rumor seemingly flying away. This evokes a sudden sense of motion, which contrasts to Astrophel’s passive state of stasis witnessed throughout the octet, and serves as a reminder that society continue to speculate despite his detachment. The use of enjambment quickens the pace and allows words to flow quickly and unconstrainedly onto the following lines, perhaps demonstrating the overwhelming effect of Stella’s presence, leaving Astrophel with ‘answers quite awry’ (l.3).

Heninger draws on biographical elements, arguing it is a gross oversimplification to read the text as a factual account of Sidney’s pursuit of Penelope Devereux[4]. However, in assuming that the sequence relates to elements of Sidney’s life, readers are able to somewhat justify reasons for the passive poetic voice in sonnet 27. Sidney was widely watched as a courtier and enjoyed many successes in the Elizabethan court, but his career did not go untroubled. Arthur Marotti argues that the sequence expresses Sidney’s frustrations at exclusion from court life, leaving many of his ambitions unfulfilled under the rein of Elizabeth I,[5] who often failed to reward Sidney for successful courier duties. It has been speculated that Sidney’s frustrations towards the court are expressed in much of his poetry, and perhaps denotes his lack of presence in the sonnet, which Jones suggests presents a sense of constraint, demonstrated by ‘repeated imagery of stagnation’[6].

Sidney is well known for experimenting with Petrarchanism, and the utilization and deviation from Petrarchan tropes are vital in describing the different emotional states that Astrophel experiences throughout the sequence. In sonnet 27, the religious use of Petrarchan meter is significant when comparing rhythm within Astrophel and Stella. Sonnet 86 is one of six sonnets written in alexandrines, and the deviation from the adhering Petrarchan meter is vital in denoting a changing mood within the sequence. Stella becomes enraged as a result of discovering Astrophel’s unwanted advances towards her, and the continual enjambment creates an uneasy rhythm as the speaker expresses confusion at Stella’s abrupt change of mood. Therefore, Sidney’s consistent use of Petrarchan meter in sonnet 27, when contrasted against the distant tone of the octet, constructs a powerful rhetoric which only enhances the sense of infatuation that Astrophel feels towards Stella. Furthermore, Gavin Alexander argues that the rigid sonnet form offers a desired discipline, which is more powerful in denoting emotion than raw and untamed passion[7].

A doting male lover is a typical feature within Petrarchan poetry. Astrophel’s poetic worship of Stella is pre-empted in the previous sonnet, where he becomes fixated on her eyes as ‘stars’.[8] This idea of wooing is continued into sonnet 27, and the assonated words ‘doom’ and ‘rumour’ add a smoothness to the lines, mirroring Astrophel’s infatuation.

Yet, Sidney does not exclusively stick to Petrarch’s model and uses 15 variants of rhyme throughout Astrophel and Stella. This sonnet is no exception of Sidney’s exploration of the mode: which attaches the much more English conclusion of a rhyming couplet, demonstrating Sidney’s ability to manipulate the form to it’s limits. Additionally, a typical Petrarchan sestet is divided into two tercets, by both thought and punctuation[9]. Sonnet 27 is remarkedly rare, in that Sidney does not make a strong break after line 11,[10] and instead runs his argument over the whole sestet, and his ability to reinterpret rather than purely reflect Petrarchan paradigms has been widely admired by critics. T

he volta at line 9 anticipates a new tone of realization as the speaker admits a bigger fault than pride: ‘ambition’ (l.11). The use of caesura slows the pace of the poem, and the speaker’s thoughts become more cohesive, highlighted by the end-stopped lines. This suggests that Astrophel’s alertness only regains when focussed on Stella, reflecting the Petrarchan trait of presenting Astrophel as being relentlessly driven by an overpowering desire. The verb phrase ‘I confess’ (l.11) provides a personal insight into Astrophel’s thoughts, a sense of intimacy which is foregrounded in the 1591 facsimile, where brackets are arranged around phrases in order for the lines to appear as follows:

‘Yet pride (I thinke) doth not my soule possess,

(Which lookes too oft in this unflattering glass)’ [11]

The brackets indicate a commentated demeanor, and imply the speakers sense of self-awareness, which is absent in the distant tone of the octave. The careless dismissal of his acquaintances as ‘to them’ (l.4) suggests a careless attitude to those around him, accentuated further by Astrophel being ‘unseen’ and ‘unheard’ (l.13) to his friends. These similarly syllabic words support the inward theme of the poem and could relate to Sidney’s withdrawal from his own social circles in 1580 leaving the court for a year due to temporary disfavour[12]. It is here that Sidney began to write his greatest works, including Astrophel and Stella and A Defence of Poesy.

Sidney provides a refreshing interpretation of Petrarch’s original model, whilst including typical tropes of desire and an unobtainable female figure. Similarly, the paradoxical states of desire and hopelessness perfectly capture Petrarchanism and create a powerful rhetoric which constructs Astrophel’s outward appearance. Sidney subtly expresses his own personal disillusionment with the Elizabethan court, allowing readers and critics an insight in Sidney’s personal life, which may have been premeditated through Astrophel’s poetic voice.

Works Cited

Alexander, Gavin ‘Writing After Sidney: the literary response to Sir Phillip Sidney 1586-1640’, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006)

Braden, Gordon. ‘Sixteenth Century Poetry; An Annotated Anthology’ (USA, John Wiley & Sons, 2004)

Duncan Jones, Katherine. ‘Sir Phillip Sidney: A critical edition of the major works’ (London, OUP Oxford, 2008)

Heninger, SK. ‘The Subtext of Form in the English Renaissance’ (USA, Pennsylvania University Press, 1994)

Hudson, Hoyt H. ‘Penelope Devereux as Sidney’s Star’ (USA, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1936)

Madsen, William G; Furniss, Todd W; Young, B Young. ‘Three Studies in the Renaissance: Sidney, Jonson, Milton.; Ben Jonson’s masques.; ‘English Petrarke: a study of Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella.; The idea of nature in Milton’s poetry’, (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1958)

Marotti, Arthur F. ‘“Love Is Not Love”: Elizabethan Sonnet Sequences and the Social Order’ ELH 40 (1982)

Sauer, Michelle M. ‘The Facts on File Companion to British Poetry Before 1600’, (New York, Infrobase Publishing, 2009)

Sidney, Phillip. ‘Astrophel and Stella’ (London: 1591), STC 22536, sig. c2v Smith, Jonathon. ‘Astrophil and Stella Sonnet 27’, Blogs Hanover Education, (2013) [accessed 15th October 2018]

Whitaker, Jane. ‘An Old Arcadia: The Gardens of William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke, At Wilston, Wiltshire’, Garden History, Vol. 42, No.2 (2014)

[1] Gordon Braden, ‘Sixteenth Century Poetry; An Annotated Anthology’ (USA, John Wiley & Sons, 2004) p.357-358

[2] William G Madsen, Todd W Furniss, Richard B Young, ‘Three Studies in the Renaissance: Sidney, Jonson, Milton.; Ben Jonson’s masques.; ‘English Petrarke: a study of Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella.; The idea of nature in Milton’s poetry’, (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1958) p.20

[3] Michelle M Sauer, ‘The Facts on File Companion to British Poetry Before 1600’, (New York, Infrobase Publishing, 2009) p.28

[4] S.K Heninger, ‘The Subtext of Form in the English Renaissance’ (USA, Pennsylvania University Press, 1994) p.178

[5] Arthur F Marotti, ‘“Love Is Not Love”: Elizabethan Sonnet Sequences and the Social Order’ ELH 40 (1982) p.405

[6] Katherine Duncan Jones, ‘Sir Phillip Sidney: A critical edition of the major works’ (London, OUP Oxford, 2008) p.xii

[7] Gavin Alexander, ‘Writing After Sidney: the literary response to Sir Phillip Sidney 1586-1640’, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006) p.205

[8] Gordon Braden, Sixteenth Century Poetry; An Annotated Anthology (USA, John Wiley & Sons, 2004) p.357 [9] S.K Heninger, ‘The Subtext of Form in the English Renaissance’ (USA, Pennsylvania University Press, 1994) p.84

[10] Jonathon Smith, ‘Astrophil and Stella Sonnet 27’, Blogs Hanover Education, (2013) [accessed 15th October 2018]

[11] Philip Sidney, ‘Astrophel and Stella’ (London: 1591), STC 22536, sig. c2v

[12] Jane Whitaker, ‘An Old Arcadia: The Gardens of William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke, At Wilston, Wiltshire’, Garden History, Vol. 42, No.2 (2014) p.142

Read more
Order Creative Sample Now
Choose type of discipline
Choose academic level
  • High school
  • College
  • University
  • Masters
  • PhD

Page count
1 pages
$ 10