Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Sprezzatura through Poetry: Wooing an Aging Elizabeth.

One of the courtiers of Elizabeth's court was Phillip Sidney, a contemporary of Walter Raleigh.  The Renaissance was a period of flowering romantic poetry, often used to prove the sprezzatura and skill of courtiers.  Philip Sidney, a Renaissance poet during Queen Elizabeth’s reign, wrote two very famous romantic poems; New Arcadia and Astrophil and Stella.  Astrophil, or “lover of stars” and Stella, whose name is Latin for star, are the names of the two main characters in his later poem.  Astrophil vainly attempts to pursue the love of Stella, who is married, chaste, and aloof throughout the work. This is a clear parallel to the position of the courtiers at the time, but furthermore Sidney uses the image of Diana or the moon to demonstrate the frustrated desires of the protagonist and the impossibility of the consummation of his love.

This forbidden love was a common theme during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, who was often characterized indirectly as the object of the affections rendered in the poem.  Philip Sidney, being a noble in the court as well as a poet used Stella as a representation of Elizabeth, “a virgin queen, who, although of an age to be the young courtier's mother, must in the prevailing pageantry of the day be routinely "courted" as a Petrarchan or Neoplatonic beloved.”  Her image was by necessity ever-desirable, but politically and socially unattainable, which is reflected in the mythological imagery.

Elizabeth was shrewd in her continuing to be a virginal monarch, because through this position she was able to manipulate and control most of her European allies. However, as her age caught up to her and more and more the praises to her were hollow, one begins to wonder when the sprezzatura ought to stop. Raleigh wrote a similar poem about The Ocean/Water/Walter and Cynthia/Diana/Elizabeth, alluding to his supposed desire for the Queen despite his secret marriage to Elizabeth Throckmorton. This poem and Sidney's demonstrate how "men in the royal circle were to think of themselves" that is, as dispensers of love and lavishment without any reciprocation.

Dees, Jerome.  “Sidney Newsletter and Review”, review of Of Chastity and Power: Elizabethan Literature and the Unmarried Queen, by Philippa Berry.  London and New York; Routledge, 1989.

Princes and Princely Culture: 1450-1650 edited by Martin Gosman, Alasdair James Macdonald, A. Alasdair A. MacDonald, Arie Johan Vanderjagt  2005. Web. 9/23/2015


  1. This is another example of society's journey to find self-- "forbidden" romance, it seems, echoes the other forbidden elements of life people yearned to investigate.

  2. This is such an interesting parallel to the literature and the culture of the court at the time. I think what Nicole brings up is true, we are still pretty obsessed with forbidden love, (e.g. don't hate me, Twilight).

  3. I agree with the above comments. Other examples of this in our culture aren't only with twilight but with Princess Bride, Romeo and Juliet, etc. Dat Renaissance politics doh.