Poems in Their Place: The Intertextuality and Order of Poetic Collections

By Neil Fraistat | Go to book overview
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S. K. Heninger, Jr.

Sequences, Systems, Models Sidney and the Secularization of Sonnets

In 1591 Thomas Newman, one of the grubbier London booksellers, brought forth a handy volume of amorous lyrics: Syr P. S. His Astrophel and Stella. Wherein the excellence of sweete Poesie is concluded. To the end of which are added, sundry other rare Sonnets of divers Noble men and Gentlemen. The slim quarto contains a corrupt text of Astrophel and Stella, 28 quatorzains by Samuel Daniel, five songs by Thomas Campion, a twelve-line poem by Fulke Greville, and a poem' of two six-line stanzas, the author of which has not been identified. Newman aimed this volume at the public that had bought the gentlemen's miscellanies of the 1560s and 1570s, and he had his eye on the prototype for this sort of collection in England, the oft-reissued Songes and Sonettes first printed by Richard Tottel in 1557. Any literate person picking up this little frivolity would have known immediately the sort of fare to expect.

Sidney, of course, did not intend that his sequence of sonnets make their public appearance in the company of other verse. In fact, it is unlikely that he thought of publishing the work at all, since he did not allow it to circulate in manuscript. But there is no doubt that he wrote Astrophel and Stella with the tradition for lyrical assortments in mind. Tottel's miscellany and its heirs, distantly echoing Petrarch, had established a set of conventions that served as a licensing code for sonneteers.

The text we know as Astrophel and Stella did not receive that title until Newman published his pirated edition in 1591, nine years after its composition and five years after Sidney's death. The title was then confirmed in the authorized edition of Sidney's collected works sponsored by the Countess of Pembroke and published by William Ponsonby in 1598, and it has stuck ever since. But Sidney himself assigned no title to his collection of poems. 1 In the first recorded mention of it, Abraham Fraunce in 1588, drawing upon a time-tested receipt, refers to it simply as "Songs and Sonets."2 For Fraunce, the conspicuous feature of the work was its kind, and he thought the generic title sufficient to identify it. Again in 1591, perhaps after the publication of Newman's quarto, Sir John Harington in the commentary on his translation of the Orlando Furioso refers to Sidney


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Poems in Their Place: The Intertextuality and Order of Poetic Collections


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