Sidney: The Critical Heritage

By Martin Garrett | Go to book overview

18.

Edmund Spenser

1591-5

Dedicating The Ruines of Time to the Countess of Pembroke in 1591, Spenser says that friends had upbraided him for not having shown ‘anie thankefull remembrance towards’ Sidney and his family (Complaints, 1591). Accordingly lines 281-343 of The Ruines remember Sidney, chiefly as a ‘blessed spirite’ and Arcadian shepherd, but with only oblique reference to his writing. ‘I.O.’, in The Lamentation of Troy for the Death of Hector, London, 1594, sig. B2, again calls on Spenser to ‘declare the fame’ of Sidney. In 1595, possibly in response to such criticism, he included Sidney allusions, among them one to Stella and the ‘verse of noblest shepheard lately dead’ (lines 532-4) in Colin Clouts Come Home Againe and published Astrophel

The excerpt below characterizes Sidney as a poet of the pastoral and of love, alluding in a generalized, idealized fashion to Astrophil and Stella. Later in the poem Stella expires immediately after Astrophel; there is no suggestion that she represents Penelope Rich. (The whole Astrophel collection was dedicated to Sidney’s widow, Frances Walsingham.) Most of the poem is concerned with the martial Protestant achievements of Sidney in the guise of a shepherd, who hunts the ‘brutish nation’ (sig. F2) and is riven through the thigh by ‘A cruell beast of most accursed brood’ (sig. F2v).

Astrophel, together with the other elegies printed with it under Spenser’s guidance, was influential in the establishment of Sidney’s reputation as a poet. Dennis Kay, Melodious Tears: The English Funeral Elegy from Spenser to Milton, Oxford, 1990, p. 59, notes that the numerical tribute to the 108 sonnets of Astrophil and Stella—Astrophel has 216 lines and the ‘Dolefull lay of Clorinda’ 108—is ‘a silent demonstration of the sequence’s survival, as well as of its capacity to structure subsequent writing’. The use of feminine rhyme also salutes Sidney (Kay, Melodious Tears, p. 53).

Here and in his other references to Sidney—see also No. 4 and the dedicatory sonnet to the Countess of Pembroke

-127-

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