Essay on Reader Response to Sydney's Sonnets, Astrophil and Stella

Essay on Reader Response to Sydney's Sonnets, Astrophil and Stella

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Reader Response to Sydney's Sonnets, Astrophil and Stella


As we discussed Astrophil and Stella in class, I felt a familiar knot in my stomach. At first I could not pin-point the reasons for my aversion to these sonnets. However, as we discussed it in class, it became clear to me. I could identify with Penelope Devereux Rich. Although Astrophil and Stella could be interpreted as an innocent set of love sonnets to an ideal woman and not a particular woman, they reminded me of the letters I received last year from a guy, Lee Burt, I had not seen in seven years. He stalked me by mail and phone. I felt small and vulnerable, and in some ways, violated. I do not hold much higher opinions of Sir Philip Sydney. I would argue that Sydney's sonnets were not innocent, but obsessions, and he too could be considered a stalker.

In Sydney's first stanza, he attempts to rationalize and give a reason for writing these sonnets. He hopes that by writing what is in his heart, "might cause her read, reading might make her know, knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain." Lee did not write these sentiments out as clearly, but they were often implied. He did state, "I'll send you my thoughts in segments and let you piece them together." He then proceeded to send me a poem a day until I finally began simply stamping them return to sender. These "pieces" reminded me of Sydney's stanzas.

The obsession with idealized beauty is also consistent between Lee's letters and Sydney's poems. In one letter, Lee wrote, "You walked into that room like an angel in all its glory. With a beautiful smile upon your face you introduced yourself to me. My heart, from that moment on, gave itself to you willingly." This is a striking parallel to Sydney's stan...


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...spair, my daily unbidden guest,/ Clips straight my wings, straight wraps me in his night/ ...So strangely (alas) thy works in me prevail/ That in my woes for thee thou art my joy,/ And in my joys for thee my only annoy."

Through this extensive, yet abbreviated, comparison of the letters I received from a stalker and Sydney's Astrophil and Stella, I think it is clear why this piece struck such a despondent chord with me. Some may try and interpret this poem as a satirical work of art, I see it as the obsessive ramblings of a man who, by his idealization and lust, imprisons a woman in fear and feelings of inadequacy. As encouraged, I have connected personally with the material studied. It has not been easy or comfortable, but it has forced me to face issues I had formerly suppressed. I have grown in my understanding of self, and begun to heal through this process.

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