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
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Incidentally, although not a realistic autobiography, Stella is modelled on Penelope Devereux, who was supposed to marry Sidney but was then forced to marry Lord Rich, and 'phil' in 'Astrophil' is indeed an abbreviation of Sidney's first name, 'Philip'. After finding out about Penelope's marriage, fate had it that Sidney started to truly have feelings for her although by this time it was too late.

Astrophil's actions seem to be forgiven by some critics because he is after all driven by love. In fact Sidney's depiction of the male protagonist is one which makes some critics and readers empathize with him during his lamentations and praise of Stella. This may be because it is thought that Sidney's aim was to show readers how a man can let his emotions get the better of him, thereby leading him into eventual despair. It is through Astrophil's mistakes and negative example that Sidney is able to inculcate morality. This is also another typical quality of sonneteers, who aim to morally instruct through their art.

Beneath the witty surface of Astrophil's lamentations, Thomas P. Roche seems to feel that 'Sidney is using Astrophil's journey from hope to despair as a fictional device for the analysis of human desire in Christian terms.' [2] Consequently Roche points out that in witnessing Astrophil's despair the readers' reaction is supposed to make them conscious of his limitations from a