I am writing an essay about Sidney's Astrophil and Stella but can't quite come up with a link between sonnets 10, 56, and 108. I was told to "discuss the relation between the three sonnets."  That...

I am writing an essay about Sidney's Astrophil and Stella but can't quite come up with a link between sonnets 10, 56, and 108. I was told to "discuss the relation between the three sonnets."  That being said, are there any ways they could be contradictory to one another? 

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One distinct relationship that links the three sonnets is that each explores a different aspect of the experience of love.  Sidney's sonnets are linked through the predicament of love.  Sidney understands love to be an eclectic condition where different aspects are revealed.  One way Sonnets 10, 56, and 108 are linked is how each illuminates another part of what it means to be in love.  The three sonnets can represent what one talks about when one talks about being in love.

There is an arc of development regarding the love experience in the three sonnets.  This helps to establish a relationship between them.  For example, in Sonnet 10, Sidney speaks of the passionate nature of earthly love.  The opening questions the nature of reason, exploring how the initial feelings of love can be irrational and difficult to understand.  As Sonnet 10 develops, Astrophil suggests that he cannot overcome the state of irrationality that guides his feelings towards Stella: "... Deal thou with powers of thoughts, leave love to will./ But thou wouldst needs fight both with love and sense..." As the Sonnet concludes, Astrophil concludes that the only rational construction in his world exists in his love for Stella:  "Reason thou kneel’dst, and offeredst straight to prove/  By reason good, good reason her to love." In Sonnet 10, the exploration of an initial phase of love is revealed.

There is a pain often associated with love, helping to further its own irrational condition.  In Sonnet 56, there is a challenge to the perceived resolution and understanding featured in Sonnet 10.  In Sonnet 56, Astrophil articulates the pain that is a part of love when one is separated.  There is a rejection of the long term vision, with an intense embrace of the temporal: "Far, far too long to learn it without book:/ What, a whole week without one piece of look..."  The pain of love which was evident in Sonnet 10 is expanded upon here as Astrophil struggles to be without Stella for a week.  Love is shown to be a condition where pain is evident in absence: "As of a friend that meant not much amiss:/ But now that I, alas, do want her sight."  This reflects another part of the love experience, one where pain is often associated with being in love.  In both Sonnets 10 and 56, there is a clear definition of the love experience.  The lucid element is that little is resolved. Solidity and understanding which can be seen at the end of Sonnet 10 are replaced with longing and yearning in Sonnet 56.  Both sonnets reflect the challenging element of being in love.  On one hand, they can be seen as contradictory.  What is understood at the end of Sonnet 10 is not as evident and consistently displayed in Sonnet 56. However, when seen as part of a larger experience, it is clear that both reflect the condition of being in love.

The arc of this condition is brought to a natural conclusion in Sonnet 108.  The final sonnet of the three displays an ending to the affair.  There is a clear understanding that the intensity of love that was seen in the first two sonnets has given way to an understanding of resolution in the final one.  Far from this resolution being absolute and one where unity is seen, Sonnet 108 provides a reflective experience about love.  There is loss and separation, elements in this sonnet which were not in the previous two.  However, a contemplative chord is also struck when Astrophil recognizes that losing his love and having those memories are superior to not having anything at all.  In the articulation of his pain is a particular type of joy which is intrinsic to love.  Throughout the irrationality, pain, and intensity of emotion is an experience that makes life worth living.  It is an experience where his "joys for thee" represent the source of his "annoy[ance]," even as his "woes" represent his only source of "joy."  Sonnet 108 provides an understanding of love that reflects how the pain of love is almost a source of comfort to the human consciousness.  While this might contradict what was asserted in the previous two sonnets, it is clear that love is seen as a condition in which complex emotions define its trajectory.  In this arc of development, a distinct relationship between the three sonnets emerges.    

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Astrophil and Stella

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