Characters

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Last Updated on October 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 334

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There are several "characters" in the collected sonnets titled Astrophil and Stella by Sir Philip Sidney. Since it is a grouping of Sonnets, the brief vignettes change every so often, and the secondary characters are different throughout, but the concepts remain the same.

The most prominent characters featured in the sonnets are the titular characters, Astrophil and Stella.

Astrophil

Taken from the Greek words "Astro" meaning Star and "Phil" meaning Lover implies that Astrophil is the lover of the star. He is the narrator and main voice in the sonnets, speaking at length about his devotion and care for Stella, but all the while pining for her since they are distantly separated and can't be reconnected.

Stella

Taken from the Latin word meaning Star, Stella is the star which Astrophil loves and to whom he is devoted. She is separated from him, but he expresses an undying love for her, although he is frustrated because they will never be united. In reality, it appears Stella is modeled after Sidney's former lover, Lady Penelope Devereux, who was eventually married to Lord Rich. This marriage, while being unpleasant for her, is also the cause for their separation in the poem. The fact that her moniker is Latin and his Greek indicates this separation even further.

The Fates and other Forces

The Fates, Nature, and Reason are among some of the "characters" mentioned in the sonnets that prevent the two from being together. These unseen forces act as barriers and discourage them from attempting to reunite. There are a number of these forces mentioned throughout the story, and they all serve a similar purpose.

Rich/Riches

Not quite a character, but loosely alluded to, is Lord Rich. Stella is described as being "Rich" but her only poverty is that she is "Rich"—meaning the only deficiency Astrophil finds in Stella is that she belongs to Lord Rich. This is a very thinly veiled allusion to Lady Devereux's husband and the pain which their union causes for Sydney.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on October 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 514

Astrophel

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

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 sonnets, Sir Philip Sidney, had a real lady in mind: Penelope Devereux, who by the time the sonnets were written was married to Lord Robert Rich. After Astrophel steals a kiss, Stella admits some feeling for him, though virtue still forbids her to encourage him. Although Petrarchan sonnet sequences normally speak only in the voice of the young man, Stella’s own voice is heard in several of the songs.

Stella’s Husband

Stella’s husband, Astrophel’s rival for Stella’s love, who appears only obliquely in the sonnet sequence. He is referred to as a “rich fool,” a pun on the name of his original, Lord Rich, who married Penelope Devereux, the original of Stella, in 1581. His marriage to Stella is, to Astrophel, “foul abuse” of Stella’s beauties. He is ignorant of Stella’s “high treasures,” Astrophel maintains.

Love

Love or Cupid, the personification of the force that dominates Astrophel. The two names, Love and Cupid, are used interchangeably. The traditional Renaissance iconography of Cupid is used in Love’s first appearance, in sonnet 2: He “wounds” Astrophel with his golden arrows, which make him fall in love with Stella. Although Love rules Astrophel’s heart, sonnet 5 reveals a rival power, virtue. Astrophel acknowledges that virtue rather than love ought to be his goal, yet he cannot stop loving Stella. Sonnet 8 recounts Love’s flight from his birthplace in Greece to live in Stella’s face, but although Love gets Stella’s face, he will never have her heart. Love is exclusively physical, rather than a higher love. Although he knows that he will never know this kind of love with Stella, Astrophel still serves love rather than virtue.

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