Astrophil and Stella

by Sir Philip Sidney

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What historical event is tackled in "Astrophil and Stella: Sonnet 5"?

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This sonnet discusses the nature of love and in particular the basis of human love and how it exerts such a powerful influence on humans. The historical event that is referenced in the lines of this sonnet is the mention that is made of neoplatonic and Christian doctrines opposed to the idea of love. This is evidenced in the way that the poem begins at least by challenging the notion of love, arguing that "Cupid's dart" is nothing more than an "image" that is carved by humans themselves:

It is most true, what we call Cupid's dart

An image is, which for ourselves we carve;

And, fools, adore in temples of our heart,

Till that good god make church and churchman starve.

Such lines reference the historical debate that occurred at the time about the nature of love. Neoplatonic theory argued that physical beauty was only a representation of inner goodness, which was synonymous with the true idea of beauty and what it represented. However, the speaker here only quotes such lines and references such ideas only seems to support his love for Stella, as in spite of being aware of all of these ideas and fully cognisant of their import, he is unable to prevent his feelings of love for Stella rising up in his heart. The historical event referenced in this poem therefore was a religious and philosophical debate about the nature of love that leads the speaker to pay lip service to ideas about love before going on to assert his own belief in human love, as expressed in his feelings for Stella.

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