Astrophil and Stella

Astrophil and Stella Character List


Astrophel (now called Astrophil) is the protagonist of the poem, a man modeled after Sir Philip Sidney. The name "Astrophel" comes from two Greek roots: "astr-," meaning "star," and "phil-," meaning "lover." The "phil" in the name is also a pun on Sidney's first name, Philip.

Astrophel is attracted to a married woman and tries in vain to pursue her. He experiences a range of emotions. First he is filled with hope at the prospect of gaining her love, but later he is filled with despair over his inevitable failure. After being refused by her again and again, he becomes angry and defensive, but he is unable to stop himself from trying to seduce her yet again. Astrophel's actions make him a sympathetic character for many literary critics. Above all, he is driven by love, and even the worst of his actions can be rationalized through the intensity of his love. Throughout Astrophel's lamentations and his praise of Stella, the reader finds empathy with his lost cause.

Astrophel's characterization, however, also can be interpreted as an expression of a code of moral conduct constructed by Sidney. Astrophel is an example of a man who lets his emotions get the better of him, something that was nearly unforgivable for an established courtier during the time when Sidney was writing the sonnet sequence. His inability to control his emotions eventually leads him to total despair and the loss of Stella forever. Astrophel's characterization also can be read as a metaphor for Christian development. His journey from hope to despair is similar to the progression of human desire in Christian terms-or even a mirroring of the fall of Adam and Eve from Paradise.

Astrophel's character also has its share of comic elements. Sidney wrote his sonnet sequence in the cradle of Elizabethan comedy and appeared to share his contemporaries' enthusiasm for dramatic gestures. Although Astrophel does not try to be funny, he is comic in his very seriousness. (Perhaps he is a Quixote.) No reader can take him as seriously as he takes himself and, though he remains sympathetic throughout the text, his dramatic ups and downs and complete absorption with his love make him a comic figure. Although Astrophel appears to have been based on Sidney himself, Sidney is able to detach himself from his character in order to capture not only the desperation but also the humor of a passionate lover.


Stella is the heroine of the poem and the object of Astrophel's desire. The name "Stella" comes from the Latin word meaning "star." This definition has two possible meanings in the context of the poem. In one respect, the name could suggest Stella's superiority to Astrophel. As a star, Stella is a celestial being, far beyond the reach of a human like Astrophel. On the other hand, however, as a star, Stella is just one of a million other stars in the skies. She is not unique or, perhaps, not even worthy of Astrophel's attention.

Stella corresponds to the stereotypical characterization of women in the Petrarchan tradition. Following this tradition, Stella has blond hair, black eyes, ruby lips, pearl teeth, and lily-white skin. In an unconventional twist, however, Stella is not the unapproachable ideal that appears so often in Petrarchan poetry. Instead, she is a real woman, made of flesh and blood, not necessarily a celestial star. As a result, readers can view glimpses of Stella's personality as she understands and returns Astrophel's love but eventually rejects him. Not only is she beautiful, but she also is intelligent and rational. When she begins to return Astrophel's love, she refuses to allow her emotions to overcome her reason. She recognizes that their love cannot exist and that she must guard herself. Unlike the stereotypical figures of desire in other poetry from the time, Stella is a complex character and, above all, a real woman.

Corresponding to this expectation, Stella has a personal life and a background. Her past has shaped her into the woman whom Astrophel loves. Even if Stella is not Penelope Devereux herself, her personal life is still filled with all of the troubles of a normal person, rather than expressing a romantic ideal. She is trapped in a loveless and even abusive marriage, a fact that Astrophel emphasizes in Sonnet 24. The courtship between the two characters also takes place in real life, through common social circumstances.