The Art of
Sir Philip Sidneys Astrophil and Stella
(published 1591, after Sidneys early death) is the first complete
sonnet sequence written in English: (108
sonnets and songs).
manipulation of persona (Stella = Penelope Devereux, Lady Rich) and the
immediacy and drama of the sequence: Astrophil
- vigorously deplores love's assaults upon his
dignity &, independence
- hits back at his critics
- solicits Stella's favors in variously courtly
and casuistical fashions ("the logician in love")
- reports that the (married) Stella will only
love him conditionally (#69) "while virtuous course I take"
- ends the sequence in a Petrarchan oxymoronic
... and Shakespeare
Shakespeare's 154 Sonnets are probably
written between 1593 and 1600 and published in 1609--in an edition probably
not authorized or supervised by the poet.
Note Shakespeare's subversion of the Petrarchan
formula. There are two addressees:
- sonnets 1-126 seem to be addressed to a beautiful,
aristocratic young man
- later sonnets seem to be addressed to a "dark
lady" with whom he enjoys a frankly sexual relationship
Note the differences in tone and style depending
on the addressee. Poems to the young man seem to be idealizing
on the one hand, anxious on the other. Consider the frequent
- hints that the beloved is less than a good
friend to the speaker
- anxiety about class differences between speaker
and young man
- glimpses of an intermittently and disturbingly
abject stance assumed by the speaker
Poems to the dark lady, on the other hand, are
much less idealizing (cf. #130) and often frankly critical.
The Sonnet Sequence vis-a-vis
How does the Petrarchan sonnet sequence dovetail
with the Renaissance interest (cf. our brief reading from Pico Della Mirandola)
in the power of the individual to mold and fashion his/her (usually his) own
identity? Try imagining
- the "I" of the first person lyric
- the sonnets staging the self in a series of
short scenes or mini-spectacles in which a speaker reorganizes the world around
his own subjectivity (the poet as God of the microcosmos).
A very partial list of the "performances"
we encounter in these sequences:
- sonnets which enter into their own dialogue
with the conventions and traditions of love poetry (Sidney #6, Shakespeare
#130). (Note: by the end of the 16th century it has become almost
a convention of the love lyric to insist one is rejecting all
the conventions of the love lyric)
- sonnets whose own meditations on how best
to represent or address or speak persuasively to the beloved end up producing
meditations on the problems of producing "authentic" love poetry
- experiments in the manipulation and dramatization
of personal voice (Sidney #47, Shakespeare #129)
- in Shakespeare in particular, sonnets addressing
the problem of Time as an enemy to love and to beauty--i.e., meditations on
loss and transience. (The earliest sonnets in the sequence implore the young
man to marry and have children so that his beauty will be reproduced for posterity;
later ones--such as #55--insist upon the power of the poet to immortalize
the beloved in his verse.)
A couple of other things to look out for:
The sonneteers often deploy this "poetic
logic" in quite sophisticated ways, forcing the reader to remain alert
to the linear unfolding of meaning, the movement of the poet's thought, the
rules of syntax.
- This is particularly striking in Sidneys
work, where often a poems development of a thought or idea/ideal will
suddenly be overturned by a dramatic final line reversal (cf. #71).
- But note also Shakespeares use of a
rather problematic kind of casuistry (why?) in #138.
These, too, are quite complicated, especially
when one bears in mind the larger Renaissance interest in the rhetorical arts
of persuasion. There are often interesting tensions between the apparent drift
of a sonnet and its manipulative/persuasive intentions (cf Shakespeare #71).
- just what kind of relationship the poems seek
to establish with their imagined reader (or readers)
- the disclosures they make implicitly as well
- what designs do they have upon their
And, of course, Lyric Representations
Consider the issue of what, in the end, gets
represented within the sonnets.
- Do we really see, for example, the
Beloved who is supposedly immortalized in many of Shakespeares sonnets?
- Or do we, by contrast, see the poet engaged
in a particularly painful attempt to represent him--even meditating
on the very difficulties of that act of representation?