Essay Structure, Theme and Convention in Sir Philip Sidney's Sonnet Sequence

Essay Structure, Theme and Convention in Sir Philip Sidney's Sonnet Sequence

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Structure, Theme and Convention in Sir Philip Sidney's Sonnet Sequence


The sixteenth century was a time of scientific, historical, archaeological, religious and artistic exploration. More attention was being allotted to probing into the depths of the human psyche and it was up to the artists and poets rather than the priests and scholars to examine and mirror these internal landscapes. The 'little world of man' [1] was reflected through various artistic forms, one of which was the sonnet, which was conventionally used for dedications, moral epigrams and the like. Traditionally most sonnets dealt with the theme of romantic love and in general the sonneteer dealt with the over-riding concern of the self and the other, the latter of which normally referred to a mistress, friend, or a familial relation. One of the first important artistic creations witnessed by the Elizabethans was Sidney's sonnet sequence called Astrophil and Stella, a variation on Petrarch's Canzoniere. Sidney who was indeed acclaimed the 'English Petrarch', nevertheless wrote with his Elizabethan readers in mind as his characters spoke in English accents, voiced English concerns and evoked the spirit of the time.

The sequence, which like all Renaissance sequences is not a realistic autobiography, is about a man, Astrophil who is attracted to and in pursuit of a married woman, called Stella. On stealing a first kiss from Stella whilst she is asleep the male protagonist worries about her reaction lest she should find out, but later on chides himself for not taking advantage of the situation. He then goes on to recount how he is filled with hopes one minute and despair the next, whilst trying in vain to pursue her. In constantly being refused, he feels angere...


... middle of paper ...


...citing his own words from the previous stanzas.

Like other sonnet sequences Astrophil and Stella concentrates primarily on attitudes and states of mind, whereby all the poems centre on a single all-absorbing experience, in this case Astrophil's obsessive and rejected love. The autobiographical element is evident and the sonnets voice Sidney's desires, regrets, and conflicts of conscience, which resulted from the social pressures and moral restraints of his time. Even though the reverberating theme of the poem is one of moral bleakness it was nevertheless greatly admired and appreciated by the righteous and virtuous Elizabethans because of the conventions it adhered to, such as the didactical element, and the complementing structural features.

References

1 Lever (awaiting details)

2 Roche, Thomas P. Petrarch and The English Sonnet Sequence (1989), p. 196

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