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courtly love, marriage, Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, English poetry


The interaction between courtly love poetry and the development of companionate marriage has received little critical attention. Rather, critics of courtly love poetry focus on authorial ambition and self-presentation. This paper explores how the revision of the courtly love genre in the poetry of Sir Philip Sidney and Edmund Spenser participated within the societal transformation toward companionate marriage. The individualized female characters in their poetry shatter courtly stereotypes, but the relationship options presented either fragment the sequence, as in Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella, or enable it to drive forward to completion, as in Spenser’s Amoretti and Epithalamion. I argue the significant innovations in Sidney’s treatment of the female love object paradoxically drive the desire in his sequence and ultimately undo it, given the lack of a pragmatic relationship outcome. That work lays the foundation for confrontation with courtly love in Spenser, in Book III of the Faerie Queene, and then the presentation of a reciprocal relationship in the Amoretti that flourishes in, later, the companionate marriage in Epithalamion.