What is an interpretation of Sonnet 75, "Of all the kings that ever did reign," from Astrophil and Stella by Sir Philip Sidney

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Stephen Holliday | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Perhaps because Sidney himself was a warrior knight, who died as a result of wounds in Holland, he was drawn to the history of Edward IV, who usurped the English throne in 1461 and, in the process, revenged his father's death.  Ultimately, though, the sonnet is about loyalty and love for a good woman, which are, in the end, the capstone of a worthy knight's reputation.

Sidney establishes the worth of Edward IV not by affirmative statements of Edward's greatness but by a clever explanation of why he is not celebrating Edward's accomplishments: Spenser is not (of course, he is) impressed with Edward's good looks and intelligence; nor is he celebrating Edward's war to win the throne of England and revenge his father's death at the hands of the House of Lancaster; nor is Sidney, even as a military man, awed by Edward's ability to bluff Louis XI into paying him money to call of an English invasion of France (even though Louis had Scottish allies); in fact, nothing of Edward's kingly qualities really impresses Sidney--well, that is, until we get to the couplet.

The ideal courtly knight, Sidney is most impressed with the fact that Edward almost lost his throne because he remained loyal to Lady Elizabeth Grey, his wife, rather than divorce her in order to marry a French noblewoman, a marriage arranged by the Earl of Warwick, who had the power to make or break kings.




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