Skip main navigation

Summary of Week 2

Summary of Week 2
© Alison Findlay

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 – including songs, cookery and actions speaking louder than words.

Our study of the sonnets provoked a lot of varied opinions and lively debate. Many of you enjoyed the structure of the English sonnet with the couplet or ‘telling two-liner’ and the strikingly modern sound of phrases like “sun-burned brain” and “biting my truant pen”. We also noted the difficulty of understanding the subject positions of the lover and beloved which can seem so alien to us, culturally speaking, even though the emotions in the poems still resonate. You expressed different responses to the sonnet as a form that was self-indulgent, showing an exaggeration of self-abasement ‘there’s a touch of Uriah Heep about it!’, or as courtly love, ‘being a sublimation of dangerous feelings’ or a ‘safe’ form of love’ because the beloved was unattainable. We also noted the paradox of the powerful and yet disempowered (passive, objectified) mistress of the sonnets. I’ve made several suggestions in the comments about other sonnets in Philip Sidney’s “Astrophel and Stella” cycle and you may wish to follow these up via an online version of the text which you can find following the link below.

Many of you commented on enjoying Lady Mary Wroth’s ‘In this strange labyrinth’ and the exercise of walking the sonnet through making it more accessible. Discussions of the labyrinth covered and myth (Theseus and Ariadne) and the labyrinth as a spiritual exercise. Several of you felt that this poetry was more emotionally immediate since ‘She doesn’t step out of the frame in the way that Sir Philip does in his first sonnet’. Some of you were pleased to find her ‘a feisty poet’ noting ‘spirit in this writing.’ I have attached a link below to the full text of “Pamphilia to Amphilanthus” if you wish to read more.

You also commented sympathetically on the situations depicted in the Penshurst Mount poems depicting Wroth’s affair with her cousin William Herbert. The frustrated passions and arranged marriages conjured up associations with TV drama and romantic novels for you. We will follow through this exploration of their relationship in Weeks 3 and 4.

You have been a champion group of learners in your endeavours to try your hands at calligraphy. I thought the results that you posted on the padlet wall were delightful. It was fun to see that ‘biting my truant pen’ emerged as a top quotation! As some of you noticed, careful handwriting can help to anchor and appreciate the meaning of sonnets.

In the final sections on Venus and Cupid, we studied representations of the gods of love in early modern art – you had varied choices of most appropriate images for Wroth’s conception of Venus and Cupid, Wittwael, Botticelli, Rubens being favourites, along with an astute comment on Cranach’s Cupid as imaging Wroth’s ‘wayward child’ . The week’s activities ended in looking at 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). We identified how Venus and Cupid conspire and ‘s seem playful but other times they want to inflict pain and sorrow’. There have been very few comments on the staging of the scene so far but there were some excellent suggestions for costume design, from the classical Bronzino to ‘Steampunk Venus’ and ‘Venus as seductress’ in black leather, Cupid as Robin Hood. These are well worth looking at if you have not visited the padlet wall yet and there is plenty of room to add more!

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.

© Alison Findlay

© Alison Findlay
This article is from the free online

Penshurst Place and the Sidney Family of Writers

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education