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Love and Desire in "Astrophil and Stella" and "Amoretti"
Whereas the Middle Ages have been a period of censorship in everything related to human sexuality, the Renaissance era addressed a series of controversial concepts and actually promoted them as being a very important part of the human nature. People were typically inclined to believe that love has nothing to do with sexual desire and that it would be immoral for an individual to attempt to associate the latter with the sanctimonious concept of the former. Philip Sidney's "Astrophil and Stella" and Edmund Spenser's "Amoretti" put across ideas pointing toward the belief that love actually has a strong connection with desire and that they are in point of fact interdependent.
Throughout the Renaissance period, artists and philosophers focused on rediscovering the classics and classical concepts, given that they recognized the fact that the human character would be easier to understand by relating to the classical era. Sexual desire was definitely a taboo subject during the Middle Ages, making even the most extroverted individuals feel that they should not relate to it.
The Pope and Catholicism in general harshly criticized any behavior that was deemed corrupt and those who actually went as far as committing an immorality risked death. Even with that, it was virtually impossible for people from the time to ignore their lustful desires, making it possible for numerous individuals to encounter serious conflicts and problems as a result of their actions.
The Renaissance generated a general reform, influencing people in changing their opinions in regard to love and desire and in concentrating on loving as passionately as they possibly could. Love and desire during this period can be understood from a historic perspective better than they can be understood from a perspective focused on human nature. These two elements mark a significant change in human behavior along with the early Renaissance period, with people losing their interest in following laws imposed by the church in favor of embracing more humane ideas and with the purpose of finding their true selves without feeling controlled by religious principles.
In spite of the fact that the Renaissance influenced the world as a whole, it developed differently in certain cultures. While Italians were mainly focused on producing as much information as possible in regard to the human nature and on exploiting the concept of love to its full potential, the English saw the opportunity of declaring their interest in providing women with somewhat equal positions in society. A great deal of English Renaissance artists and philosophers wanted to emphasis how "the masculine code led to disintegration, defiance, and death for women, and to madness for men" (Hansen, 1993, p. vii). Sidney and Spenser put across episodes in which women held all of the power and when men were at their mercy, given that it was up to women to decide whether or not the characters in their writings would achieve their ideals. It was probably because of the goodness promoted by the Renaissance that people came to appreciate women more. Passion was one of the most important concepts from the period and women appeared to express it more frequently than men, as ration gradually became less important than love and desire (Hansen, 1993, p. 73).
It is because of his passion for Stella that Astrophil initially has the courage to kiss Stella, especially given that he ignores the fact that she is asleep and that he probably understands that she would otherwise hesitate to yield to his demands. Although it is not very clear whether or not Astrophil feels in love with Stella at first, his desire slowly but surely develops into actual love, making the road from passion to love obvious. The male character in the sonnet is not necessarily evil in nature, as the main reason for his transformation into a desperate individual being his passion. Desire can apparently be detrimental in particular circumstances, turning Astrophil from a moral person into one who is unable to control his feelings and whose only goal is for Stella to return his feelings. It is probably because of his being a Christian that Astrophil descends into despair, with Sidney possibly being interested in wanting to present his readers with the concept that religion can actually serve as a deterrent from expressing one's true feelings.
Astrophil cannot see the connection between love and desire and despite he appears to love Stella, his desire prevents him from behaving morally. He is unable to express himself rationally and only manages to become even less appealing to Stella, going as far as insulting her as a means of criticizing the fact that she hesitates to become his lover.
It is probably because of his contemporary society that Astrophil is unable to understand that the only method to become Stella's lover would be through merging his love with his passion. Instead of doing so, he resorts to thinking that Stella is unwilling to respond to his feelings and that the only method of getting her love is through behaving unethically. Astrophil's love is as a result transformed into an example of misogyny related to the Middle Ages. The sonnet's protagonist is unable to understand that love is to a certain degree a more complex version of passion.
"So while thy beauty draws thy heart to love,
As fast thy virtue bends that love to good:
"But ah," Desire still cries, "Give me some food!"
(Sidney Sonnet 71, ll. 12-14.)
One of the main reasons for Astrophil's unsuccessful attempt to get Stella to return his feelings is that he is reluctant to break away from tradition with the purpose of following his passion even further. He is somewhat limited as a result of his beliefs and thus has no success in becoming Stella's lover.
Even with the fact that the lead character in Edmund Spenser's "Amoretti" is, similarly to Astrophil, unable to initially understand why his loved one is hesitant about expressing her love toward him, the character gradually evolves and contrast's Sidney's character through the fact that he comprehends the concept of love. Just as Sidney, Spenser inspired from real-life occurrences in writing the sonnet, with both writers being devoted to maintaining a somewhat Petrarch-focused storyline in their works (Davis, 1933, p. 67).
The mistress in "Amoretti" is initially inclined to return her lover's feelings, only to gradually lose interest in him and to leave him hopeless. The protagonist's passion is however fueled by love and he is not willing to abandon his fight, regardless of the fact that she continues to remain indifferent toward his insistencies. It is then when readers gain a better understanding of the connection between love and desire, considering that the main character comes to balance his passion with love.
One of the main reasons for which Spenser succeeds in having his character get in charge of his situation is that it comes to appreciate his mistress for what she is. He manages to leave his prejudice behind in favor of embracing a spiritual love, making it clear that material desire had been but a step in reaching his goal of becoming one with his loved one.
Whereas the male character in Spenser's sonnet is at first not very different from Astrophil, he slowly becomes exactly what Sidney's character had to become in order to come to the point where Stella would share his love. Spenser's poem can be seen as a means to put across a man's gradual development from being passion-interested to being a person who truly understands love and who knows that it takes time and dedication for it to exist. While some might consider…