Astrophil and Stella

Dark Beauties in Shakespeare's Sonnets and Sidney's "Astrophil and Stella"

Germinating in anonymous Middle English lyrics, the subversion of the classical poetic representation of feminine beauty as fair-haired and blue-eyed took on new meaning in the age of exploration under sonneteers Sidney and Shakespeare. No longer did the brown hair of "Alison" only serve to distinguish her from the pack; the features of the new "Dark Lady" became more pronounced and sullied, and her eroticized associations with the foreignness of the New World grew more explicit through conceits of colonization. However, the evolving dichotomy between fairness and darkness was not quite so revolutionary; in fact, Sidney and Shakespeare lauded the virtues of fairness with the same degree of passion as their predecessors, albeit in a cloaked form. To counter their mistresses' exterior darkness, the poets locate an interior lightness that radiates beyond the funereal veil of hair or eyesraven-hair or jet-eyes is acceptable only if there is an innate brightness that illuminates the sensuality of the superficial.

Most of the poems addressing the light/dark antithesis choose at some point to make an open declaration that embraces or undermines the dichotomy and lays the groundwork for the rest of the poem. The...

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