Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 312

Astrophil and Stella is a collection of over a hundred sonnets by Sir Philip Sidney that express a deep and sincere love for Stella, who is likely his former lover and fiancee, Lady Penelope Devereux.

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This collection of love poems and songs is a long and detailed outcry for his lover, ranging in emotion from overjoyed and hopeful to somber and morose over their disconnection. The litany of poems suggest a longtime devotion to writing her poetry, potentially in the hopes of winning her back.

The brief poems create a somewhat cohesive, if unusual, narrative of the two lovers, named "Astrophil and Stella" as the title suggests, and mixes their relationship with musings and discussions from the Fates and Reason itself. It takes the form of a Shakespearean play or a Greek tragedy in that it frequently calls out Nature and other inanimate constructs who apparently influence their relationship.

There are many instances in the poems where Astrophil states that he has been told by other forces that he must move on, he must cease loving Stella, but he refuses to do so. In one instance, Nature has told him to move up to the country and forget about her, but he can't leave her behind. This lends credence to the idea that Stella is, in fact, Lady Devereux, with whom he is still infatuated.

The loose narrative of the story is confusing and nonsensical, meant not to tell a true story but to weave the details together of their romance and his separation and yearning for her. It creates a quasi-story in which Astrophil and Stella are passionately in love, but the unseen forces that guide life have driven them apart. They continue to pine for one another, but because of the external forces, they can never be united—echoing the idea that the two are a star and her lover.

The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1061

Sir Philip Sidney composed Astrophel and Stella (Astrophel is sometimes spelled “Astrophel”) between 1581 and 1583, most likely in the summer of 1582. A sequence of 108 sonnets and eleven songs, it is an important work in the history of English poetry for several reasons.

As the initial sonnet sequence of any scope in English, it domesticated a form in England that had been perfected in Italy by Francesco Petrarca—best known as Petrarch—in the fourteenth century, and that was later imitated in France and elsewhere in Europe. Earlier English poets had written sonnets but without making any attempt to weave them into a unified work of substantial proportions. The sonnet sequence does not, strictly speaking, tell a story but presents a series of reflections on, or lyrical celebrations of, a single subject. The preferred Renaissance subject was love, especially the love of a man for a woman who, for one reason or another, does not respond to his entreaties.

Second, Astrophel and Stella, first published five years after Sidney’s death from a war injury in the Netherlands, touched off a vogue of late Elizabethan sonnet writing that climaxed in William Shakespeare’s great cycle and thereafter persisted as an important poetic form down into the twentieth century. Sidney’s sequence is thus one of the most influential works of poetry in the annals of English literature.

Finally, the work remains one of the best examples of its type. It plumbs the psychology of the lover, Astrophel (“star-lover”), as he contemplates the beautiful Stella (“star”), who marries another man and gives little encouragement to Astrophel because of her need to guard her reputation. Some of the individual sonnets, particularly Sonnet 31, “With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb’st the skies,” have become anthology favorites of readers unfamiliar with the sequence as a whole.

Astrophel and Stella bears tantalizingly...

(The entire section contains 2487 words.)

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