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Summary of Week 2

Thank you all for your comments on the activities we have covered this week on the Sidneys and love, a theme that has covered poetry and drama. The topic provoked some interesting thoughts from you on how and when love is expressed (or not). You questioned the trueness of feelings in sonnets, noting that both lover and beloved were playing a role. Others felt the strength of emotion in the poetry, and identified connections with the lives of Lady Mary Wroth and William Herbert; which made unfaithfulness and suffering in love not just a courtly convention but a keenly felt reality.

This, in turn, raised questions about our own reading practices: how reading: the desire to believe Sidney’s determination to ‘look in thy heart and write’ and to see the truth of feelings expressed in poems like the Penshurst Mount poems was set against a cautionary note about the dangers of looking at the past with modern day eyes. These were sophisticated responses to the sommeteer as ardent lover and as flamboyant artist.

Time and comments were devoted to the sonnet form, Sidney’s English predecessors, Surrey and Wyatt (with some nice discussion of who Caesar is with reference back to Wyatt’s translation of the Petrarch sonnet). Bravo to those who took up the creative task of writing out a sonnet and decorating it. Do go and have a look at the examples that are there on the padlet wall if you have not done so already. The central one breaks up octet and sestet of the sonnet beautifully, using colour while that on the left has chosen a lovely mixture of blue and violet to bring out the mood of the sonnets. There’s still time to add your contribution through the last two weeks of the course, of course.

You were adept at picking up the key features of the Petrarchan lover as Jealous, melodramatic, unfulfilled, miserable, self-abasing and filled with feelings of unworthiness. You also noted the gap between the lover and the beloved, who is characterised as unobtainable; already married, untouchable). You noted Idealisation of the beloved by putting her on a pedestal, as a goddess, or divine being. We discussed the masochistic quality of courtly love and the blame accorded to women as cruel mistresses. We considered the metaphor of love as a labyrinth that could trap both men and women. How the labyrinth image related to Mary Wroth and William Herbert’s relationship and their marriages in real life was a lively topic of conversation this week. We will follow through this investigation in Weeks 3 and 4.

In the final sections on Venus and Cupid, we studied representations of the gods of love in early modern art before thinking about Wroth’s dramatization of the gods of love on stage at the opening of her play Love’s Victory. This play is dated c.1617-1621 (we cannot be sure exactly); it was never published in Wroth’s time and exists in only 2 manuscript copies so this is a fairly new text into the canon of drama (I am grateful to Lord De L’Isle for letting me share the opening scene of the play with you). Many of you made astute comparisons to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and seem to have enjoyed critiquing the presentation in the production. You had some fantastic ideas for creating a costume design for Venus or Cupid – do have a look at these and full marks to Helen Segebarth for thinking through the costume and communication between Venus and Cupid so imaginatively.

Next week we will make a detailed study of how the Sidneys wrote drama for a very different of theatre from that of Shakespeare’s Globe - one in which women could participate as writers and performers.

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Penshurst Place and the Sidney Family of Writers

Lancaster University