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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 315

Sir Philip Sidney's "Astrophil and Stella" is a collection of sonnets and songs expressing a love story between two individuals. Sometimes spelled "Astrophel," the title is a moniker derived from the text and originally written in Italian, and it speaks to the nature of the poetry at hand.

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These sonnets were written to convey a deep message of love, as Astrophil claims an undying affection for his dear Stella. Many of the sonnets are joyful, expressing great admiration and hope at the unification of Astrophil and Stella, while some are much more somber, relating the idea that the two are disconnected and can't be united. As there are a grand total of 108 sonnets and 11 songs, the different poems express vivid and wildly different concepts and emotions, but all are centrally tied to the relationship between Astrophil and Stella.

Astrophil is a Greek conglomeration meaning "Star Lover," as "astro" relates to the stars and "phil" is a common addition meaning love, lover, or lover of. Stella, on the other hand, is a Latin word meaning "Star," so the text is literally meant to be about a Star and her lover. In some ways throughout the text, their distance is touched upon. While Astrophil deeply cares for Stella, he can never seem to properly approach her at times because she is a distant star.

This title implies that there is some disconnection in their love, and many believe that the sonnets are actually from Sir Philip Sidney to his lifelong love and former fiancee, Lady Penelope Devereux, who was married off to another man after their union dissolved. It appears that Sidney still deeply pines for her and knows of the discord in her marriage—he writes many sonnets expressing a continued, burning desire for her. The sonnets are full of the deeply intimate, flowery language of love, which suggests a very deep connection between the two.


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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1714

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 that time, in 1576, she was but thirteen, and there is little likelihood that Sidney had even met her. He probably did not meet her until the summer of 1581, and in November of that year she married Robert, third Baron Rich.

By bestowing the pseudonym “Stella” on the object of his sonnets, Sidney was following the pattern in amorous poetry set by Petrarch, who in his sonnets celebrated his beloved under the name of...

(The entire section contains 2029 words.)

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