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Petrarch and the Sidneys: An interview with Professor Gary Waller

How did the Sidney writers makes use of the Petrarchan tradition? Watch this interview where expert Professor Gary Waller explains.
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Petrarchanism was a kind of alternative religion for the 16th and 17th centuries. It had hit England late. And Philip was the first promulgator of it, in a way. But as we look back on it today, particularly in the wake of the rise of gender-sensitive feminist criticism, it’s a pretty destructive way of looking at human relationships.
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Where the female, whether the female in this relationship is a man or a woman or a cat or whatever, but where the female is supposed to be passive and unapproachable, and at the same time is blamed for all the destructiveness that goes into the self-laceration of the male, who prostrates himself, supposedly, before her, knowing that she is unattainable, and in a way, revelling in that fact. It’s a very masochistic view of life. And I think that on the one hand, we can delight with the way Sidney writes Petrarchan poetry, at the same time, I think, we ought to make a kind of moral critique that we know that the remnants of it are still around.
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We can go to popular culture, lots of rock songs are essentially Petrarchst in their nature. But it’s a very destructive way of looking at human relationships, one of which, I think, most of us today try to raise ourselves above, not always successfully. Do you think Sidney– say in Astrophil and Stella, is enjoying playing with– well, in a masochistic way– but is enjoying playing with words and the skill of rewriting? No question, and in a way, that’s covering over what I would see as some of the kind of moral problems. I think he wants us to say, as we read through the poems, poor Astrophil. What a terrible life he’s having. He’s not getting what he wants.
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And my critique is he doesn’t deserve to get what he wants.

How did the Sidney writers makes use of the Petrarchan tradition? Watch this interview in which Professor Gary Waller (State University of New York) explains.

Take note of phrases or ideas you find striking so that you will remember them.

In the next task you will use all you have learned so far to read a selection of sonnets by Philip and Robert Sidney.

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Penshurst Place and the Sidney Family of Writers

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