In Astrophil and Stella, "Sonnet 45," please explain what does the persona mean with "where new doubts honour brings"?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The quoted clause, "where new doubts honour brings," is difficult to understand because it is a hyperbaton, which is a figure of speech that relies upon word order rather than word meaning to make memorable and distinct points. The syntactical analysis, in terms of Subject (S) Verb (V) Object/Adverbial (O/A), of the wh-clause is this:

where (Advb) new doubts (S) honour (O) brings (V)

When put in Standard English syntax, we have an adverbial wh-clause that is a little easier to understand: where new doubts bring honour. Now we've but to put it in context to find what the poetic persona means to say.

Beginning with the third quatrain, line 9, and running to line 13, the persona puts forth a lament that Stella, the object of his love, is more moved to compassion by the "torment" of an imaginary lover than she is by his real torment. In the earlier second quatrain he explains how she was moved to floods of tears by a "fable" of the grief of two imaginary, thus unknown, lovers. His lament implores her to shed those tears of compassion for him that she sheds for imagined lovers.

Yet hearing late a fable, which did show
Of lovers never known, a grievous case,
Pity thereof gat in her breast such place
That, from that sea deriv’d, tears’ spring did flow.

In a complicated syntactical structure, Sidney expresses the idea in the quoted wh-clause that the lovers for whom she weeps--imaginary ones read of in a fable--gain greater honor with every doubtful difficulty that faces them (thus he implies that his difficulties in securing her love, by contrast, do not bring him honor in her estimation and eyes).

Alas, if fancy drawn by imag’d things,
Though false, yet with free scope more grace doth breed
Than servant’s wrack, where new doubts honour brings;

This analysis of the meaning is confirmed because he concludes in lines 13 by imploring that, since the above compassion and tears are inspired by a fictitious fable, she should read in him the same sad tragedy of tormented lovers, then reward her reading of him with compassion and a flood of gracious tears. The following is a prose paraphrase of lines 9 to 13:

  • PARAPHRASE: Alas, if fancy built upon imagined things
    that are false--yet do with unlimited scope breed more grace
    than your servant's wreckage--where new problems to overcome bring honour; then think that you do read some sad tragedy about lovers' ruin in me as your book.
wshoe eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sir Philip Sidney's sonnet sequence Astrophil and Stella is a story of unrequited love.  The speaker longs for Stella, although she is already taken by another.  In "Sonnet 45," the speaker reveals that Stella is unable or unwilling to feel pity for him even though she knows that his unhappiness is because he loves her and cannot be with her.  The speaker explains that Stella did feel sorrow, however, for a made up story she heard about two lovers who were never united.  In fact, she cried for these lovers.  He recognizes that the fact that he is a real lover may cause concern for her and that her honor may keep her from feeling for him.  He tells her to imagine that he is a made up story so that she can feel sorry for him as she does the lovers in the fable she heard. 

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Astrophil and Stella

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