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Pamphilia to Amphilanthus by Mary Wroth: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:00 Lady Mary Wroth
  • 1:21 Sonnet Sequences
  • 2:10 ''Pamphilia to Amphilantus''
  • 3:29 Analysis & Sequence
  • 4:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature and is completing a Ph.D. He has taught college English for 6 years.

In this lesson, we'll be looking at 'Pamphilia to Amphilantus,' a sonnet sequence that was written during the sonnet craze in Renaissance England, including its summary and analysis.

Lady Mary Wroth

The English Renaissance of the late 15th early 16th centuries produced an outstanding number of great writers, including William Shakespeare, Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, and Christopher Marlowe. However, while men dominated the literary scene during this period, a few women also managed to establish themselves in this crowded literary world, perhaps none more so than Lady Mary Wroth.

Lady Mary Wroth was born into a prominent literary family in Renaissance England. She was a cousin of Sir Walter Raleigh and the niece of Sir Philip Sidney. Her family home, Penshurst, was a center of literary culture, memorialized by Ben Jonson in the poem 'To Penshurst.'

Lady Mary's father made sure she was educated. After being unhappily married to Sir Robert Wroth, she sought solace in her literary endeavors, producing such works as the romance The Countess of Montgomerys Urania and the drama Love's Victory.

Pamphilia to Amphilantus, a sonnet sequence, was perhaps her most well-known work. During the English Renaissance, sonnet sequences were all the rage. Notable examples include those written by William Shakespeare and Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophel and Stella.

Sonnet Sequences

A sonnet is a 14-line poem that follows a strict rhyming scheme. A sonnet sequence is a group of sonnets meant to be read together, though they can also be read independently. The sonnet sequence was popularized by the Italian writer Petrarch, and love for Petrarch made the sonnet sequence a popular genre during the English Renaissance. You simply weren't an important writer unless you produced a sonnet sequence like Shakespeare, Sidney, and Spenser, who showed off their skills by working in such a limiting form.

In a sonnet sequence, the individual poems are connected but rarely tell a fully realized story. Instead, they typically use a set of fictional lovers to bind the poems together and focus on a common set of themes, such as love, betrayal, death, and the passage of time.

Pamphilia to Amphilantus

Pamphilia to Amphilantus consists of 105 poems divided into four sections. They are written in the voice of the female lover Pamphilia and focus on her relationship with the unfaithful Amphilantus. The first poem is by far the longest, consisting of 55 sonnets in which Pamphilia discusses her feelings for Amphilantus. She considers his unfaithfulness and her mixed feelings about him, but ultimately decides to accept him.

The first poem is followed by a series of songs, a common feature of sonnet sequences, and then a group of 10 poems, which are darker in tone. Pamphilia discusses her jealousy and doubt in both Amphilantus' faithfulness and her ability to keep him faithful. She ends by asking forgiveness from Cupid, the god of love, for these feelings of doubt. What she offers to Cupid as an apology is known as a crown of sonnets.

The crown of sonnets, another common feature of sonnet writing, is a group of sonnets dedicated to praise of an individual person. The third section of Pamphilia to Amphilantus is Cupid's crown of sonnets and consists of 14 poems. The fourth section, made up of eight poems, returns to the darker tone of the poem. It also reflects an air of resignation, as Pamphilia realizes suffering is part of love.

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