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Not counting Thomas Watson's Hekatompathia, Sidney's Astrophil and Stella is the first sonnet sequence in English (it was started around 1581), and probably the best, too. It concerns a young man in love with an unattainable woman - she knows of his love, and occasionally smiles at, and acknoweldges him. On the whole, though, she plays the role of the courtly lover, and spurns his affection and attentions.

The sequence has 108 sonnets, and 11 songs - all written from Astrophil's point of view. It has been argued, because of the references to 'rich' throuhgout the sonnets, as well as some other, more subtle details, that the sequence was written to Penelope Devereux, wife of Lord Rich, who - therefore - Sidney must have been in love with. It's not a very convincing argument, and, despite the occasional ribbing that Lord Rich seems to get in the poems, Sidney and Rich seem to have been reasonably good friends. It is, at least, interesting to consider though, and it does give the sequence a certain frisson.

It's a great sequence nonetheless; the sonnets are fresh, unforced and intriguing. It's a great deal better than Shakespeare's at any rate.

Sonnet 1 - Sonnet 2 - Sonnet 3 - Sonnet 4 - Sonnet 5 - Sonnet 6 - Sonnet 7 - Sonnet 8 - Sonnet 9 - Sonnet 10 - Sonnet 11 - Sonnet 12 - Sonnet 13 - Sonnet 14 - Sonnet 15 - Sonnet 16 - Sonnet 17 - Sonnet 18 - Sonnet 19- Sonnet 20 - Sonnet 21 - Sonnet 22 - Sonnet 23 - Sonnet 24 - Sonnet 25 - Sonnet 26 - Sonnet 27 - Sonnet 28 - Sonnet 29 - Sonnet 30 - Sonnet 31 - Sonnet 32 - Sonnet 33 - Sonnet 34 - Sonnet 35 - Sonnet 36 - Sonnet 37 - Sonnet 38 - Sonnet 39 - Sonnet 40 - Sonnet 41 - Sonnet 42 - Sonnet 43 - Sonnet 44 - Sonnet 45 - Sonnet 46 - Sonnet 47 - Sonnet 48 - Sonnet 49 - Sonnet 50 - Sonnet 51 - Sonnet 52 - Sonnet 53 - Sonnet 54 - Sonnet 55 - Sonnet 56 - Sonnet 57 - Sonnet 58 - Sonnet 59 - Sonnet 60 - Sonnet 61 - Sonnet 62 - Sonnet 63 - Song 1 - Sonnet 64 - Sonnet 65 - Sonnet 66 - Sonnet 67 - Sonnet 68 - Sonnet 69 - Sonnet 70 - Sonnet 71 - Sonnet 72 - Song 2 - Sonnet 73 - Sonnet 74 - Sonnet 75 - Sonnet 76 - Sonnet 77 - Sonnet 78 - Sonnet 79 - Sonnet 80 - Sonnet 81 - Sonnet 82 - Sonnet 83 - Song 3 - Sonnet 84 - Sonnet 85 - Song 4 - Sonnet 86 - Song 5 - Song 6 - Song 7 - Song 8 - Song 9 - Sonnet 87 - Sonnet 88 - Sonnet 89 - Sonnet 90 - Sonnet 91 - Sonnet 92 - Song 10 - Sonnet 93 - Sonnet 94 - Sonnet 95 - Sonnet 96 - Sonnet 97 - Sonnet 98 - Sonnet 99 - Sonnet 100 - Sonnet 101 - Sonnet 102 - Sonnet 103 - Sonnet 104 - Song 11 - Sonnet 105 - Sonnet 106 - Sonnet 107 - Sonnet 108

In addition to these sonnets and songs, Alexander Grossart's 1877 edition of the text contained the following two sonnets as being meant by Sidney to finish the sequence: they didn't make it into the early editions though.

Sonnet 109 - Sonnet 110

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