Astrophil and Stella

Astrophil and Stella Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Is the emotion in the sonnet sequence more convincing if we know that Stella represents a real woman?

    Sample Answer: The idea that Stella was actually a real woman whom Sir Philip Sidney loved makes the sonnet sequence seem more real to present-day readers. The sequence was written over 400 years ago, but the type of emotions that Sidney describes are still known to all of us, and the story that Sidney describes (whether true or not) is still undeniably romantic and tragic. As a result, the idea that Stella is Penelope Devereux makes the sequence all the more poignant and meaningful.

  2. 2

    In which ways does Sir Philip Sidney mirror the style of Italian love poetry? In which ways does he depart from the expectations of this style?

    Sample Answer: Sidney mirrors the Italian style of love poetry (specifically Petrarch's) in several ways. First, he uses a vague narrative that is ongoing from sonnet to sonnet. Second, he describes the narrator's personal conflict with love and desire. Third, he addresses the issue of poetic creativity. Finally, Sidney employs the Petrarchan rhyme scheme, which is "abba abba cdc ece," but also departs from it when he uses a more flexible version of the rhyme scheme, constructing fifteen different variants.

  3. 3

    How does Sidney present Astrophel's character and personality in the sonnet sequence? At the same time, how does he present Stella's character and personality?

    Sample Answer: Sidney presents Astrophel as a man who is ruled by his emotions. He attempts to be virtuous and rational, but he is overwhelmed by his love. As a result, Astrophel is a very sympathetic character; readers can relate to his emotional state. Stella, on the other hand, is presented very much as Astrophel's opposite. Even though she feels love for him, she always contains her emotions and never lets her passion get the better of her.

  4. 4

    Would the sonnet sequence work as a whole if it ended happily, if Astrophel and Stella ended up together?

    Sample Answer: If Astrophel and Stella ended up together, the dynamic that is introduced from the very beginning of the sequence would be destroyed. Sidney presents the relationship as an impossible connection--even the names of his characters (Star and Star lover) demonstrate a separation between the two. If the characters did end up together, it would be more of a romantic Hollywood ending, but it would lack some of the emotional depth created by the entire sequence. There is little justification in the sonnets or songs for Stella's actual romantic love; it is almost entirely in Astrophel's mind.

  5. 5

    What purpose do the eleven Songs have in the sonnet sequence? Do they add or detract from the plot and emotion?

    Sample Answer: The eleven Songs serve to perpetuate the action of the plot in the sequence. Because the sonnets are limited to fourteen lines, it is not always possible for Sidney to describe key events at length, unless he uses several sonnets at once. Instead, the length and style of the songs give more flexibility in this area, and they thus tend to contain the most dramatic events in the plot (for example, the stolen kiss in Song 2).

  6. 6

    Pick one sonnet and read it closely. How does the sonnet fit into the context of the sonnet sequence as a whole? Is it more powerful on its own or as a part of the group?

    Sample Answer: Answers will vary. A close reading depends on knowing the meaning, purpose, and resonances of each line for the sonnet as a whole, as well as the place of the sonnet in sequence, noting themes and plot.

  7. 7

    How would the sonnet sequence have been different if it had been written by Stella instead of Astrophel?

    Sample Answer: Because Astrophel wrote the sonnet sequence, readers hear his inner thoughts about Stella and his love. Stella's inner thoughts and emotions are never revealed. The only times we get even a hint of her feelings is through her speeches to Astrophil (specifically, in the songs). If Stella had written the sequence, we would get a much clearer sense of her personality, her feelings for Astrophil, and her conflict about ending the relationship. The tone would be much different, and we probably would see more about her husband. To answer this question, consider the various responses that Astrophel records, and decide what truth is really is them; these elements may or may not, however, appear in her version of the story, since they have different perceptions of each event.

  8. 8

    What evidence in the sequence can be used to argue either that Stella was a real woman (Penelope Devereux) or that she was not a real woman--simply a poetic creation?

    Sample Answer: Sidney's frequent punning on the word "rich" (which was Penelope Devereux's married name), as well as his other references to the Devereux family, strongly support the argument that Stella was Penelope. Still, Sidney's playing with Petrarch's love poetry about Laura and his similar presentation of Stella remind us that we cannot fully identify Stella with Penelope.

  9. 9

    How does the form of the sonnet limit or expand Sidney's ability to express emotion and plot in the sequence?

    Sample Answer: Because the traditional rules of sonnets are so inflexible, Sidney cannot easily describe the action of the plot in detail, but there is plenty of room to express emotion. He cannot spend paragraphs describing Astrophel's actions the way he could if the sonnet sequence were a novel. At the same time, this limitation works to Sidney's advantage. Within such a tradition, each word choice becomes more powerful and significant, and readers usually are expected to read them as such.

  10. 10

    How would the sonnet sequence be different if it were written today?

    Sample Answer: First of all, it is unlikely that the sequence would have been written in sonnet form. The sonnet is no longer as popular as it was in the 16th century, and it is more likely that the tale would be written as a novel or play. A contemporary version of the sequence also would reflect the cultural and societal changes that have occurred over the past four centuries, which now include a stronger suspicion of Astrophil's romantic ideals (despite the fact that we all still feel them in our bones). Today's elite readers would not necessarily be the main audience for the work, and even if so, many of the classical allusions would be harder to pull off for today's audiences, which are hardly educated to know classic texts anymore.