Questioning Men’s Love in Sir Philip Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella and Lady Mary Wroth’s Pamphilia to Amphilanthus
Medieval and Early Modern English Studies, Volume 13 (2005)
The achievement of Tudor-Stuart sonnet sequences was arguably their construction, examination, and redefinition of the nature of love, a process which makes Sir Philip Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella (c. 1591) and Lady Mary Wroth’s Pamphilia to Amphilanthus (1621) particularly fascinating. Representing the best-known and the last such poetic enterprises in the period―the former by a man, the latter by a woman―both sequences paint a wry, scathing portrait of male heterosexual love, by portraying male inconstancy, self-indulgence, and, in Sidney’s sequence, sexualized aggression. This point of convergence warrants close examination of the two sequences. The present article contributes to ongoing work in gender studies and early modern poetry, not only with respect to Wroth’s poetry, but also by identifying in Sidney a quasi-feminine―if not, indeed, proto-feminist―sensibility, a response contrary, yet linked, to that of misogyny; for both responses were arguably elicited by the extraordinary circumstances of a female-centered court. In these circumstances, courtiers like Sidney were not only peculiarly feminized, or emasculated, but also were in a position in which―to use a modern formulation―they may have deemed it desirable, or profitable, to be in touch with their feminine side.