Astrophil and Stella Summary and Analysis
Sonnets 101-108 and Songs 1-11
101. Astrophel expresses concern over a sickness that has sent Stella to bed. As a result of Stella's illness, Grace, Beauty, and Sweetness are equally sick. Her illness is not fatal, but Love and Nature both strive to assuage it as quickly as possible. Nature, in particular, is concerned because she realizes that she will never be able to create such physical beauty in another human.
Analysis: Stella's sickness leads Astrophel to reevaluate his feelings of despair and torment. For the first time in several sonnets, his tone is more optimistic, and he is no longer preoccupied with the unforgivable action of Sonnet 93.
102. Astrophel opens the sonnet by wondering where Stella's rosy cheeks have gone. He uses the first eight lines of the sonnet to describe Stella's cheeks in a series of metaphors and repeating his original question. The doctors who attended Stella during her illness claim that the absence is due solely to her weakness. Astrophel disagrees; he believes that her cheeks are pale because Love has cleared them for a renewal of love.
Analysis: Astrophel shows signs of delusion (once again) about Stella's feelings for him. Stella's sickness removes the healthy glow from her cheeks, but Astrophel assumes that it must be a sign of love. The paleness of her cheeks demonstrates that she is prepared to accept his love again. As the final sonnets of the sequence will show, Astrophel is mistaken in this belief.
103. Astrophel remembers his joy at seeing Stella in a boat in the Thames River. The river itself reflected his happiness with Stella on its surface. The winds would twine themselves in Stella's golden hair until she blushed with their enthusiasm. At the sight of her blush, Astrophel exclaims that such a beautiful sign of disgrace and embarrassment surpasses Honor's beauty.
Analysis: Astrophel has regained his hopeful mood about Stella's emotions for him. He recalls seeing her on the Thames and revels in the memory of her blush. This sonnet is paired with the previous sonnet because of the emphasis on cheeks and blushing.
104. Astrophel criticizes the members of the court for gossiping about his love for Stella. They watch him carefully, hoping to catch his words of love or affectionate glances. Astrophel is angry at their behavior; he is already unhappy because of Stella's absence and their gossip only adds to his depression. The courtiers interpret his actions and finally conclude that he must still be in love with Stella. Astrophel vehemently replies that they have not made a great discovery-his love for Stella is obvious.
Analysis: This sonnet is similar to Sonnet 27, Sonnet 28, and, in particular, Sonnet 54. The members of the court become involved in the affair after the affair has already ended. Astrophel has been in love with Stella the entire time, and he feels that his emotions must be apparent to the entire world. The excitement of the courtiers at their supposed "discovery" only angers him more.
105. Astrophel laments that his eyes (as "dead glass") are unable to see Stella, even as her image remains clear in his heart. He maintains that it was not his fault that he fell in love with her and was blinded to everything else. He urges his eyes to stop crying because they are not at fault for her absence. He ends the sonnet with a series of curses, ultimately cursing the coachman who curses him with Stella's absence.
Analysis: Now that he has been finally rejected in Song 11, Astrophel refuses to take the blame for falling in love with Stella. He weeps for her, but he tries to convince himself that he did nothing wrong. In the violent last four lines, Astrophel swiftly turns and begins to blame those around him, cursing them for the curse he experiences.
106. Astrophel complains that his hope has betrayed him. He had hoped that Stella would appear in this spot, "this orphan place," but she is absent. With Stella's rejection, Hope has disappeared. As much as he would like to search for Hope, Astrophel must accept that he can no longer find it. He decides to try to distract himself by conversing with the beautiful women around him.
Analysis: Hope, the force that has been omnipresent throughout the sonnet sequence, is finally gone, never to return. Astrophel misses the comfort of his former Hope, even though he knows that any hope in Stella is lost. His only solution is to try to distract himself and create new thoughts from the new women he meets.
107. Astrophel addresses Stella as his queen and ruler. Even though he is no longer her servant, Astrophel still wishes to serve her. He begs her to order him to dismiss his wit until it can produce something that corresponds to her desire that he no longer love her.
Analysis: Astrophel is still unable to control his emotions and thoughts. Although he now acknowledges that the relationship with Stella is over, he still considers her to be his queen and himself to be her servant. The only solution that he can admit is that Stella must take control of his thoughts. As his ruler, she must order him to stop loving her or else he will never be able to do it.
108. Whenever Astrophel's sorrow is melted away, he immediately begins to think of Stella again. His heart opens and is filled with her light. Yet, before Astrophel can reach out to her, Despair takes a hold of Astrophel's delight and destroys it; it cannot reach her. Astrophel returns to the darkness of his existence without Stella's sun, thinking only of the irony that he still must take joy in the thought of her.
Analysis: Astrophel invokes the idea of a forge and metalworking in this final sonnet. The fires of his suffering are so great that they can melt away his sorrow and allow him to be hopeful again. The image of Stella that appears in his heart is enough to spur his soul into flight. Despair swiftly crushes the flight, clipping Astrophel's wings, but the cycle will continue to repeat. Still, Astrophel will not be completely unhappy; he still experiences some joy in his woes for Stella.
In Song 1 Astrophel praises Stella, declaring that his music will always begin and end with her. In Song 2, Astrophel manages to kiss Stella while she is sleeping. Song 3 is a laudation of the power of music. Song 4 describes a dialogue between Astrophel and Stella in which she rejects his passionate advances. In Song 5, Astrophel vilifies Stella for her "change of looks" and retaliates with a series of insults. In Song 6, Astrophel describes a debate between Beauty (Stella) and Music (himself). Song 7 reiterates the words of reason that Astrophel ignored throughout the sonnet sequence. In Song 8, Stella admits that she loves Astrophel, but she must deny him because of her marriage. In Song 9, Astrophel laments that Stella refused him. Song 10 describes Astrophel's ardent desire to see Stella again. In Song 11, Astrophel goes to Stella's home and serenades her in one last effort to win her heart. Stella finally and indisputably dismisses Astrophel.
Analysis: Each of the eleven songs has an important role in perpetuating the plot of the sonnet sequence. That is, they should not be read all at once but in the context of the relevant sonnets (some are described in the sonnet analyses as they come up). Song 2, Song 8, and Song 11 are particularly important in terms of the plot. The stolen kiss in Song 2 is the closest Astrophel ever gets to the manifestation of his physical desire for Stella. The kiss itself inspires several sonnets as Astrophel replays the moment in his imagination. Song 8 is the beginning of the end in their relationship; Stella admits that she loves Astrophel, but she is too concerned with her honor and reputation to leave her husband for him. Song 11 was set to music by Thomas Morley in The First Book of Airs (1600) and became the most popular of the eleven songs. Stella finally dismisses Astrophel for good, destroying any of his hope for a future relationship. Nevertheless, the sequence ends on a hopeful note. Even though Astrophel is unhappy, his quest for Stella has resulted in a sort of "joy" through the writing of his "woes."
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