Sir Philip Sidney was considered the embodiment of the Elizabethan ideal of gentlemanly virtue; he was an accomplished courtier, statesman, soldier, poet, and patron. Philip Sidney was born in 1554 in Penshurst, Kent. His uncle Robert Dudley was a trusted advisor of Queen Elizabeth I and Sidney was born to a career as a soldier and statesman. He travelled widely in Europe, becoming a diplomat and MP under Elizabeth as well as being renowned in the popular court tournaments. Sidney had wide-ranging interests from American colonization to history, geography, law, philosophy, medicine and poetry. He became patron of many artists and scholars including Edmund Spenser and Thomas Lodge. However, his court posts remained mainly ceremonial, never giving him the action and authority he desired, so he turned to writing. Finally, he was awarded a military position to defend the Dutch against their Spanish rulers. He dies of a wound received in battle in Arnhem, the Netherlands in 1586, adored more for what he represented than achieved.
While never published in his lifetime, Sidney’s writing has come to be regarded as some of the most significant of the era. Much of it composed whilst staying with his younger sister in Wilton during a brief banishment from court, his works include The Arcadia first completed in 1581, a narrative which was later to influence William Shakespeare. This is a heroic prose romance including poems and pastoral eclogues in a wide variety of verse structures and was partially revised in 1583-4, existing now in two forms. His essay A Defense of Poesy (1579-80) is a vindication of imaginative literature, exalting the role of the poet and praising the moral value of poetry. It is remarkable for the elegant and poetic qualities of his style.
Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella (“Starlover” and “Star”) launched a fashion for sonnet sequences. The sonnets plot the unhappy and ultimately unresolved love of Astrophil for Stella. They are supposedly based on Sidney’s own growing passion for Penelope Devereux during the summer of 1582 before Penelope married Lord Rich. Retaining the intricate conventions of Italian sonnets, the cycle marks the stages of a love relationship through the mixed and contradictory emotions of a lover though the use of ‘conceits’ or ingenious comparisons. Fresh with colloquial speech and self-analysis, Astrophil and Stella is vigorous and dazzling for its range of tone and imagery.