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William Shakespeare’s Sonnets And Philip Sidney's Astrophil And Stella

2635 words - 11 pages

In truly Renaissance English artistic fashion, poets such as Phillip Sidney and William Shakespeare negotiate poetic boundaries, while implementing Italian conventions. They manipulate the sonnet form and climb Castiglione’s “ladder of love” throughout their poems. Sidney’s Astrophil (Astrophil and Stella) behaves wildly, as Castiglione’s Bembo (The Courtier) expects from a young courtier; he is incapable of being able to see beyond physical form. Shakespeare’s speaker in “Sonnet 130” sees beyond form, almost to a fault. He berates his lover by straying from typical poetic intimacy, but he does so because he sees beyond her physical beauty. Sidney implements predominantly traditional Petrarchan sonnets, but creates a caricature of a “sensual lover;” while Shakespeare experiments with style, and he creates an exceptionally “reasonable lover.” Some scholars sharply contrast the two authors, asserting that Shakespeare’s Sonnets negatively respond to sonnets like Astrophil and Stella. However, the two both develop distinctive stylistic alterations to Italian conventions and Shakespeare borrows from Sidney within his poetic innovation.
Castiglione’s The Courtier outlines various principles ingrained in courtly Renaissance culture, and in his piece, he discusses the power of reasonable love versus sensual love: Reasonable loves are more attentive to their loved ones’ needs. Castiglione also has his character Bembo assert that the lovers most capable of “reasonable love” are older men. He declares that young lovers are more apt to be carried away by feelings of “bitterness… wretchedness… jealousies…desperations [and] suspicions” (715). Meanwhile, elder lovers are prone to treat their women with more sensitivity and grace, which attracts women to be more compassionate and earnest lovers. The young lovers inspire their women to be ungracious, dishonest, and resentful (715-716). He further emphasizes principles of beauty, and he contends that true beauty resides beyond the physical form and is a gift from the heavens English sonneteers borrow these Italian conventions and either mimic them exactly or they modify those motifs.
Although Castiglione was Italian, Thomas Hoby’s translation of The Courtier became an important lens for understanding English courtship, because at the time, Italy was viewed as a “cradle of advanced thought and culture” (Partridge 772). Englishmen in the Renaissance desired to emulate the Italian because Edwardian society fixated on Italian writing; famously, future Queen Elizabeth and others studied and translated Italian writers like Bernardino Ochino and Castiglione (771-772). In hopes to emulate Italian sophistication, sonneteers implemented Petrarchan sonnets and Italian poetic imagery; in The Courtier, Castiglione outlines various facets he identifies as significant within Italian courtly culture, and the English mirror his notions of “reasonable love” and “sensual love.” The English used Italian sensibilities to form...

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