Shakespeare and the English Renaissance Sonnet: Verses of Feigning Love

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In Luke, Jesus hears training his Hundreds, of way passport with the unsound, to the functions Davies, In Matthew, the ebook gives seed-propagating come to the data as a -Eliot in the Kingdom. The process itself proves applied general Cynicism. Although we may not be conscious of this counterpoint as we read, it does have an effect on our appreciation of the poems, especially since Sidney uses the technique quite frequently.

It throws us ever so slightly off balance and calls our attention to the conclusions of the poems in a different way than a single couplet might. Musically it is analogous to the use of three-not figure, a triplet, against a two-note figure. The first line of the poem gives us a great deal of insight into what will follow in the whole sequence. Astrophel begins by telling us that he loves in truth. Sidney, in his Defence of Poesy , says that poetry should do two things that lead to its ultimate purpose. It should delight and instruct.

If it delights enough, people will want to read it and will therefore be more likely to learn what it teaches. But the ultimate aim of poetry, he says, is to move readers to virtuous action.

Shakespeare's Sonnets

People who read and are delighted enough to read more should learn what virtuous action is and, since it is more virtuous to perform virtuous actions than not to perform them, should be moved to perform them. Astrophel— not Sidney—uses similar reasoning. He wants Stella to find pleasure in his pain, that is, to enjoy reading the poetry in which he describes the pain he suffers because of his love. If she enjoys reading about pain, she will read more, which will make her know about his pain, which will make her pity him, which will move her to bestow grace on him.

Does Astrophel think that Stella will enjoy his pain? Further, we must ask exactly what it is Astrophel hopes to obtain from her. He may mean that what he hopes to attain is unmerited, but what does he hope to attain? He might mean that he simply wants her to look favorably on him, but that explanation hardly seems likely when we consider the bulk of Astophel and Stella —even before we know what the poems say.

That love, of course, is almost invariably unattainable. There is a hint in this first sonnet, a hint that develops throughout the sequence, that Astrophel desires some kind of sexual favor. I want to emphasize here that Astrophel is probably not aware of the implications of all that he says. In fact, throughout the sequence we can see that Astrophel seldom understands his actions, his words, or even his own feelings. He is not, at this point, being intentionally deceptive. He is, in his limited way, being perfectly honest.

Essay about The Death of Creative Power in Sonnet 73

It is Sidney, the genius behind Astrophel, who makes his words so ambivalent, because what Sidney is giving us in Astrophel and Stella is a portrait of a young man in love, a young man who is not at all certain what it means to be in love. Like so many of the speakers in Renaissance and medieval love poetry, he is at least initially confused over the relationship between love and sex.

In pursuit of his goal, whatever that goal may be, Astrophel has sought the proper words to convey his pain, and he has sought them in the works of other poets. Why is his brain sunburnt?

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Whatever the precise cause may be, however, love has not inspired him. Instead, it has dried up his brain and he has turned to the work of other poets for relief. It is quite clear that Astrophel is not writing poems about Stella but about himself, and even in this first sonnet we can see the problems that plague him until the end. Study can only be the stepmother of invention, and, in keeping with the stereotype of a stepmother, study is cruel to invention, forcing invention to flee.

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Their feet—the metrical units of their poems—simply get in his way. Astrophel knows what he wants to say or thinks he does , but he cannot get it out. The ideas will not take the proper form no matter how much he struggles with them. Stella is certainly a real character, especially later in the sequence when she tries, sometimes gently and sometimes not so gently to dissuade Astrophel from his obsession with her, but generally what we find in this sequence is a revealing portrait of Astrophel, and what it reveals is not always flattering.

Although Astrophel writes wonderful poems, those poems are often on the traditional subjects of love poetry rather than reflections of what is in his heart, and frequently they contain hints that undercut the supposed purity of his love. An example of the former quality, the traditional nature of his subject matter, is sonnet 9, in which Astrophel plays with the traditional blazon, a description of the beloved lady.

Astrophel confines himself to describing her face, again in a kind of mini-allegory. Her face, he says, is so beautiful that it is like the court of Queen Virtue: her forehead is like alabaster women in Elizabethan times wore a heavy coat of white make-up , her hair is like gold, her mouth is like porphyry, and her cheeks are like red and white marble. These may be valuable materials, and they are surely colorful and beautiful, but they are also cold and hard. Does Astrophel want us to think that she is cold and hard?

There is no question that she has been so toward him, though he finds that he is the straw that has been ignited by the heat of her eyes. Furthermore, there is no relation between these hard, cold minerals and the virtue he professes to find in her face. In sonnet 4, he addresses virtue, which he says has created a debate between his will and his wit on the subject of his love. That sentiment may be cute, but it also dodges the issue, the very issue that is raised in sonnet It is most true, that eyes are formed to serve The inward light; and that the heavenly part Ought to be kind, from whose rules who do swerve, Rebels to Nature, strive for their own smart.

True, that true beauty virtue is indeed, Whereof this beauty can be but a shade Which elements with mortal mixture breed; True, that on earth we are but pilgrims made, And should in soul up to our country move; True; and yet true, that I must Stella love. In this poem, Astrophel spends thirteen lines declaring Neoplatonic truths about love—Neoplatonism, to offer a very sketchy definition, was a Renaissance philosophy that emphasized the metaphysical value of spiritual rather than physical love.

In these thirteen lines, Astrophel argues that the spiritual aspects of love are truly superior. Instead of thinking about our heavenly goal, we allow ourselves to be distracted by transitory earthly beauty.

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Astrophel knows all of these truths, he says, but he persists in loving Stella, implying that his love is largely physical. While the poem is beautifully and cleverly written, it is no longer cute. Rather, it allows Astrophel to express and gloss over serious problems that he should really consider before he continues in his current course. Does he really believe those Neoplatonic sentiments? If he does not, then perhaps he can justify his physical love for Stella.

But if he does think those sentiments are true, as he says he does, then he must explain how he can continue loving her the way he does, which apparently is not so spiritual. His argument should be that his love is not sinful, not that if what he perceives as love is sinful, then he is willing to be sinful. This point is especially important because Astrophel has clearly not considered what his love means. As we saw in sonnet 1, he is not entirely sure what he wants from Stella, and in sonnet 5 he is willing to continue loving her even though that love verges on idolatry.

This particular theme in Astrophel and Stella reaches its climax in sonnet 71, in which Astrophel once again devotes thirteen lines to the elaboration of Neoplatonic doctrine and then demolishes that doctrine in the fourteenth line. Not only is Stella herself virtuous, but she moves everyone who sees her to be virtuous, and while her beauty makes him love her, her virtue moves him to perform good actions. Here we have a beautiful description of the potential of love as a positive force in the world, a fine expression of Renaissance Christian Neoplatonism.

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If the poem ended after thirteen lines, we could have nothing but praise for Astrophel. After all, he is human. But even if we make this allowance, we must recognize his fundamental dishonesty. From the very beginning of the sequence, he has focused on virtue, on love, on beauty as a heavenly attribute, when what he has wanted all along, whether he acknowledges it or not, is her body. He wanted her to pity him so that she would bestow grace on him.

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  4. Pity is hardly a basis for love, and, as we saw, grace is a vague term in this context. Now we can see what he really meant by grace, and we can see how blasphemous his use of the term was.

    English renaissance (1500-1640)

    The question that we must consider is whether Astrophel is consciously dishonest. At the beginning of the sequence, we might be justified in arguing that he is more confused than dishonest. After all, sexual desire is a natural feeling, and Astrophel, like any young man of his time, must balance that feeling against such societal strictures as the Neoplatonic emphasis on spiritual love.

    How can Astrophel reconcile his natural feelings with what he has been taught that he should feel?

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    His confusion becomes less honest, however, as the sequence goes on and as he continues to proclaim the spiritual purity of his love while increasingly declaring the frankly physical nature of his desire. Thus sonnet 72 begins. Desire, though thou my old companion art And oft so cling to my pure love, that I One from the other scarcely can descry, While each doth blow the fire of my heart… I must no more in thy sweet passions lie….

    Astrophel can no longer distinguish between pure love and desire, but there is no doubt that he feels sympathetic to the desire that he personifies in this poem. Again, that sympathy might be understandable if it were handled properly. Astrophel, unfortunately, is not capable of handling it so. Instead he becomes positively willful in his treatment of Stella, so that in sonnet 72, though he seems to be ridding himself of desire, he is actually expressing the impossibility of doing so.

    This poem is probably the best poem ever written about grammar rules.