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Atrophel and Stella is Sir Philip Sidney's celebrated sonnet-series, written possibly between 1880 and 1884 and published posthumously in 1591. It comprises 108 sonnets and eleven songs, depicting Sidney's love for Penelope, daughter of the Earl of Essex, whom he loved but did not marry. When she was about fourteen years old, her father proposed her marriage with Sidney who, too, had a deep attachment to her. But that project came to nothing, as somehow or other the marriage could not take place. When she was nineteen, she was married to Lord Rich. Thereafter Sidney pined for her and expressed his passion for her in a sonnet sequence. The sonnets are addressed by Astrophel, a lover, and they deal with his love for Stella, his lovely lady-love. The poet himself is the lover, Astrophel, and his lady-love, Penelope, is Stella of the sonnet-series.

Sidney's sonnet-sequence is his innovation in English poetry, although Petrarch is found to be his model. Petrarch's poetic worship of his ladylove Laura in the first series of his sonnets, addressed to her, is the actual source of inspiration for Sidney. In fact, the relation between Astrophel and Stella closely resembles that between Petrarch and his mistress Laura.

The sonnet-series Astrophel and Stella gives a more or less connected theme of Sidney's courtship with Penelope. The earlier sonnets describe the growth of his passion for her, his inner conflict between will and wit, passion and reason, and his firm conviction of his profound love for her "Yet true that I must Stella love". 

There is the further development of the sequence and the lover is assured of the love of Stella who gives him 'the monarchy of her heart'. The climax of the love-sonnets comes, with Stella, already married, after admitting her love for him, announces that they must part. Astrophel, too, despite his deep agony, agrees to part from her, though he cannot cease to love her.

Astrophel and Stella stands out as a literary triumph of the Elizabethan age. The work is well characterised by a blend of wit and sensibility, of intellectual brilliance and temperamental ardour. But this is found more appealing, fascinating in the spontaneous expression of Sidney's charming personality. The sonnets, in their directness and spontaneity, remain an intimate record of the mind of a personal genuine lover and wit.      

Indeed, Astrophel and Stella may not have the variety of the Shakespearean sonnet-series, but in the tone of sincerity and in the range of subjectivity, Sidney, as a sonneteer, is inferior to none, including Shakespeare. Astrophel and Stella remains a poetic work of sustaining loveliness and self-expression.


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