Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Astrophel, the young lover in whose voice the sonnets and songs are cast. Although Stella is married and he describes her as virtuous, he still pursues her, begging her to love him. Whether the sonnets express the true feelings of their author, Sir Philip Sidney, the character of Astrophel clearly is meant to represent him. The last syllable of “Astrophel” echoes the name “Philip”; sonnet 30 identifies Astrophel’s father as the governor of Ireland, the post Sidney’s father held; and sonnet 65 describes Astrophel’s coat of arms, which matches in every detail the Sidney family crest. Astrophel considers himself superior to other writers of love poetry, to whom he frequently contrasts himself: They imitate one another, and only he is original, because his inspiration is his beloved Stella. He presents himself as the servant not only of Stella but also of love, personified as the boy Cupid.


Stella, Astrophel’s beloved, to whom the sonnet sequence is addressed. She differs from the stock character of the Petrarchan sonnet sequence in two key respects. First, her rejection of the lover’s advances is not attributed to coldheartedness, the standard complaint of the Petrarchan sonneteer, but to her virtue, as she is married to another. Second, although her hair is the standard Petrarchan gold, her eyes are not the standard blue, but rather black. This is probably because the author of the...

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Astrophel and Stella Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Hamilton, A. C. Sir Philip Sidney: A Study of His Life and Works. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977. A critical biography based on original sources, which also analyzes Sidney’s works in the probable order of their composition and provides insight into Sidney’s development as a poet.

Kalstone, David. Sidney’s Poetry: Contexts and Interpretations. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1965. A specialized study focusing on the way Sidney reinvented the Italian poetic genres in English. Offers excellent analyses of the Astrophil and Stella sonnets in a form accessible to the general reader.

Kay, Dennis, ed. Sir Philip Sidney: An Anthology of Modern Criticism. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1987. A collection of essays, mostly previously published, which concern all aspects of Sidney’s writings, among them (previously available only in specialized literary journals) several dealing exclusively with the Astrophil and Stella sonnets.

Rudenstine, Neil L. Sidney’s Poetic Development. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967. A chronological study of Sidney’s poetic works, which includes a detailed discussion of the Astrophil and Stella sonnets.

Weiner, Andrew D. Sir Philip Sidney and the Poetics of Protestantism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1978. Provides helpful readings of Sidney’s poetry, though limited by a critical theoretical approach, then in vogue, that connects sixteenth and seventeenth century theology and poetry. In the case of the Astrophil and Stella sonnets, this critical approach is quite illuminating, though a bit specialized for the general reader.