the light fantastic

vague ramblings re: early british lit

Friday, September 22, 2006

Astrophil and Stella

(I'm sorry for posting this late, but I thought it would be better late than never...)

sonnet 5

This sonnet seemed the most poetic of all the sonnets, mainly because of the last line. Anyhow, the first quatrain is about eyes that are supposed to server our reason, yet are drawn to things of beauty. The inward light, the heavenly part, the Nature are all references to the religious reason of existence. "Rebels to Nature, strive for their own smart [pain]" is an allusion to Lucifer and humanity's tendency to fall away from the eternal. We have "An image is, which for ourselves we carve;" which is reminscent of the Old Testament and the Ten Commandments. He acknowledges the temporary nature of this beauty (line: whereof this beauty can be but a shade,) akin to the lament in Ecclesiastes. Even so, Sidney still ends with his compulsion to love Stella.

He also references Castiglione's The Courtier when he notes that physical beauty is only a shadow of inner virtue and makes clear that the physical beauty is only a 'mortal mixture breed.' So at first, he places all sorts of emphasis on beauty, with the eyes, the purport beauty of the Fallen Angel, image that we carve and worship in our hearts...but then he downplays that by saying it's merely a mortal mixture. It sounds unappealing, as though beauty happened by chance and by mish-mash of earth and air and so forth. So the conclusion is that beauty is only a by-product and a lucky bonus, he would have loved Stella anyways.

It's also very funny the way he juxtaposes mythology and Christianity. He uses heaven, church and pilgrims which are all Christian elements and uses them in the same description as image in a temple, and a Cupid's dart which invoke a Roman classicism to the sonnet. The importance of beauty and the appreciation of the human form is typical of the Renaissance, and Sidney admits that this is most true. Yet he says that beauty is man-made, beauty is but a shade as it doesn't really matter. Maybe he's saying "Beauty is fleeting and I truly love Stella's soul, but man am I glad that she's hot."

Then again, he never describes her 'ruby lips' and 'soft hair', etc. in this sonnet, so in the end, he did mean to emphasize the inner beauty. (But just across the page, entire sonnet 7 is devoted to Stella's


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