Astrophel and Stella: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:01 How 'Astrophel &…
  • 1:27 The Sonnets
  • 2:53 Astrophel's Journey
  • 3:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

In this lesson we will look at 'Astrophel and Stella', written by Sir Phillip Sydney in 1582. Sidney was a poet, statesman, and member of the Parliament under Queen Elizabeth I. This is a series of 108 sonnets and 11 songs devoted to the love of a man for a woman.

How Astrophel and Stella Came to Be

Astrophel and Stella, written by Sir Phillip Sidney in 1582, chronicles a tale of star-crossed lovers. Sidney held many positions in the court of Queen Elizabeth I. When he was passed over for promotion, he devoted his time to writing. Astrophel and Stella is considered unparalleled, with the exception of Shakespeare's sonnets.

Astrophel and Stella consists of 108 sonnets and 11 songs. It is a poetic cycle surrounding the unrequited love of a man for a young woman. Sidney based the character of Astrophel on himself, and Stella on a young woman he met at court named Penelope Devereux. When she arrived at court as a young woman, her father hoped she would marry Sidney. She, however, chose differently and married Robert Rich, the 1st Earl of Warwick. Undeterred, Sidney fell head over heels in love with her, and the result of that love is Astrophel and Stella. Stella translates from the Latin into 'star' and Astrophel from the Greek into 'star lover.'

In the sonnets, Stella eventually falls in love with Astrophel. Stella will not break her marriage vows and refuses to be intimate with Astrophel.

The Sonnets

Astrophel tries to explain to Stella why he has chosen to write the sonnets. In this romantic tragedy, he tells her that he has fallen in love with her and his only wish is to find the words to convey this love to her. He desperately hopes that she will feel sorry for him and then fall in love with him.

Astrophel tells Stella that he has tried with no luck to capture his feelings in words. Still, he feels they fall short of truly explaining the depth of his love for her. He turns his mind toward poetics, but he is stymied there as well. Finally he decides to write from his heart, and only then is he able to demonstrate his love for her in words. In his words, 'fool' my muse said to me 'look in thy heart and write.'

In the first sonnet, Astrophel's words are:

'Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,

That she (dear She) might take some pleasure of my pain:

Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,

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