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Independent Study on Barthes' Love Figures

Independent Study on Barthes' Love Figures

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Published by David Jones
An examination of Sir Philip Sidney's poems - especially Astrophil & Stella - using the 'figures' of Roland Barthes' A Lover's Discourse.

An examination of Sir Philip Sidney's poems - especially Astrophil & Stella - using the 'figures' of Roland Barthes' A Lover's Discourse.

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Published by: David Jones on Aug 17, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Candidate 316773 English II
Independent Study:
 Barthes’ Love Figures In Astrophil & Stella
Independent Study: Elizabethan & Jacobean Literature
Pamela Mason
Barthes’ Love Figures in
 Astrophil & Stella
MHRA Citation2791 Words
Candidate 316773 English II
Independent Study:
 Barthes’ Love Figures In Astrophil & Stella
March 2002
Barthes’ Love Figures In
 Astrophil & Stella
For many critics
 Astrophil And Stella
The Defence Of Poesie
are two halves of one whole, putting theory into practice on one hand and theorising practice on the other. Both reflectSidney’s contradictory support for the Aristolean ideal of poetic mimesis and the Platonicideal of poetry creating something beyond nature
.However, this essay contends that
 Astrophil And Stella
implies a different view (or at least a profound extension of the Platonicone); that the main purpose of poetry lies in the
act of utterance
itself. In this Sidneyanticipates structuralist critics such as Roland Barthes, whose “love figures” lead to aninsightful reading of Sidney's poetry. This essay will first explain why
 Astrophil & Stella
issuited to Barthes' system, and then identify some of the enacted figures. Finally the limitationsof this approach will be considered.
 Astrophil & Stella
is suited to this type of reading because it fulfils much of Barthes’definition of a love discourse
. Astrophil’s verse is “the site of someone speaking withinhimself, amorously, confronting the other (the loved object) who does not speak” (1977, 3).Like Barthes’ lover he “cannot stop his mind from racing, taking new measures and plottingagainst himself” (1977, 4). Or as Astrophil puts it, “with a feeling skill I paint my hell” (2:14). Like Barthes’ lover, Astrophil cannot be “reduced to a symptomal subject” (1977, 3).Compare the raving madman of sonnets 20 and 31 to the confiding poet of sonnet 6. Astrophilis not a coherent character, but a voice embodying different stances on love.Barthes asserts that “the description of the lover’s discourse has been replaced by itssimulation” (1977, 3).
& Stella
is such a simulation, dramatising a lover’s mental processes, his discoursing “at thewhim of trivial, of aleatory circumstances” (1977, 4). Thereader follows the progression of 
feeling in “real time”. In Sonnet 2 we endure andunderstand his process of falling in love:I saw and liked, I liked but loved not, I loved, but straight did not what
decreed:At length to
decrees, I forc’d, agreed(2:5-7)Caesuras cause erratic bursts of tempo and rhythm that correspond to Astrophil's intellectstruggling against escalating emotions. As he loses control of his faculties and becomes a“Muscovite” his verse becomes anaesthetized and entirely rhythmic. We become detached
Candidate 316773 English II
Independent Study:
 Barthes’ Love Figures In Astrophil & Stella
from his viewpoint as we realise that, while he can articulate the severity of the situation, heonly appreciates it with gentle melancholy:I call it praise to suffer Tyranny;And now employ the remnant of my witTo make myself beleeve, that all is well,While with a feeling wit I paint my hell(2:11-14)Similarly, in Sonnet 47 Stella seemingly appears during Astrophil’s discourse and he declares“but here she comes” (12), changing the course of his argument. These sonnets are primarily a
, sometimes addressed to Stella (“still I thinke of you” (AS 30, 14), sometimes at“My friend, that oft saw through all” (69: 5), sometimes at personifications of prevailingcontemporary ideology (
). Most of all, however, Astrophil discourses for hisown fulfilment, performing Barthes’
figure, the philosophy that “I am my owntheatre” (161).Astrophil dramatises the importance of poetry and love, often replicating Barthes' lovefigures. He performs
: “the loved being is recognised by the amorous subject as . . .unclassifiable, of a ceaselessly unforseen originality” (1977, 34). Stella’s eyes are contrastedwith convention, syncopation adding to the sense of originality: “whereas black seemsBeauties contrary/She even in blacke doth make all beauties flow” (10-11). Stella transcendsthe courtly values that Astrophil dismisses: “Only of you the flatterer never lieth” (First Song,28). Astrophil instead performs the
figure; he must “affirm love as value”, or inhis words “knowne worth” (2: 3). In Sonnet 18 Astrophil presents a list of conventional value judgements, of “those goods, which heav’n to me hath lent(4) which condemn himaccording to
, but he uses the volte to shift his argument and prove thatlove is most valuable of all: “I see and yet no greater sorrow take,/Then that I lose no more for Stella’s sake” (13-14). Astrophil only relates to contemporary value systems by projecting hisexperience onto them, performing the
.Virtue itself is personified, inorder that “thou thyself shall be in love” (AS 4, 14).This love eventually eclipses Stella, as Astrophil performs the
figure – “tolove love”. A third subject is never introduced. Astrophil cannot conceive that Stella may loveanother, because his verse prescribes a world in which he is at the centre, able only to affirmhis own existence. Instead of feeling jealous of the outside world, looking out, Astrophil feelsthat the world will envy him, looking in: “Envie, put out thy eyes least thou do see/what

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