Sir Philip Sidney as a Sonneteer

Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586), English poet, courtier, and soldier, is another reputed sonneteer of Renaissance period. During his tour of the continent for three years and stay at Venice he studied subjects like astronomy and music. The great Italian painters left an indelible impression on him. History, Italian literature, study of the poetry of Tasso interested him much. 

By the time he returned to England he had become an accomplished writer. In 1576, during his stay with his uncle Leicester at Kenilworth, he fell in love with Penelope, the twelve year old daughter of the Earl of Essex. Though the marriage did not materialize the attachment resulted in a series of sonnets addressed to the lady “Stella”- Sidney’s name for Penelope. Sonnets of Sidney were not published during his lifetime; many of “Stella” poems, however, circulated in manuscript.

In these literary effusions Sidney called himself “Astrophel”. This beautiful but ideal friendship continued till the end of his life. The Astrophel and Stella, a sequence of 108 sonnets celebrating a hopeless love affair, appeared in 1593. Along with then appear eleven songs. Sidney is undoubtedly a versatile personality and his genius is many sized. He cannot be equated to Edmund Spenser in expression and range. Sidney was an aesthete in literature. Knowing full well what to say he sometimes lacked how to say it in the right manner. 

Sidney brings in “rare flashed of beauty, fine notes of passion, unforgettable phrases” occasionally in his sonnets. Astrophel and Stella was printed in 1591. A preface by Thomas Nashe introduced it as ‘the tragicomedy of love, performed by starlight, the argument, cruel chastity, the prolonged hope, the epilogue despair’. The sequence of 108 sonnets and 11 songs has as its heroine Stella (Star). Punning use of the word ‘rich’ in sonnets 24, 35 and 37 invites the reader to identify her with Penelope Deveux, who became Lady Rich on her marriage in 1581. She is courted by Astrophil (Star lover). He makes a confined list of 16th century poetic conventions and styles in sonnet no.6. He debates the claims and will and wit, reason and passion. 

Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert     
2.  Microsoft Students’ Encarta

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