Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Although an imitation of the much earlier Italian sonnets of Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), better known as Petrarch, Sir Philip Sidney’s sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella helped create the vogue for that genre in late Elizabethan England. It was the first great Elizabethan sonnet sequence, predating William Shakespeare’s by at least a decade. For the student of Sidney’s life and poetry, it has additional interest for its autobiographical implications, reflecting Sidney’s vain attempt to woo Penelope Devereux (1563-1607).
Born to an influential noble family, Sidney considered his most important role in English letters to be that of a patron rather than a poet. His support of poets Edward Dyer, Fulke Greville, and Edmund Spenser (whose The Shepheardes Calender of 1579 was dedicated to Sidney) expressed his conviction that the English language could rival French and Italian in poetic beauty, a conviction he expressed in his posthumously published Defence of Poesie (1595). Sidney’s poetry was well known among Elizabethan noblemen but not published until after his death.
Although it is easy to exaggerate the autobiographical element in the Astrophel and Stella sonnets, there is little doubt about the identity of the two main characters of the title. “Stella” is Penelope Devereux, the beautiful daughter of the first earl of Essex. The earl’s dying wish was for Penelope to marry Sidney, but at...
(The entire section is 1714 words.)
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