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The
reader is immediately met with information regarding the creation of this
edition of Astrophel and Stella through
the descriptions provided on the title page. The title page sets the location
of printing as ‘At London’1,
and outlines to the reader how this text was ‘printed for Thomas Newman. Anno
Domini 1591’ (A1). As well as highlighting the conditions of printing, the
title page suggests some of the ways this text was marketed to readers, with
the reference to Sir Philip Sidney as ‘Syr P. S.’ (A1) seeming to expect the
reader to be able to identify the author through the knowledge they already
hold about Sidney’s identity. Rather than referring to Sidney by his full name,
the printer in this instance has instead decided to use a description which
places emphasis on Sidney’s status, which in turn suggests that the printer
constructed the description of the text on the title page in a certain way in
order to appeal to the reader. This idea is then supported by the fact that in
Newman’s epistle, attention is drawn to the ‘worthiness of the author’ (A.ii.
Verso), thus supporting the idea that Sidney’s name and reputation was an
important selling point of the text. Furthermore, the title page describes how
‘Wherein the excellence of sweete Poesie is concluded To the end of which are
added sundry other rare Sonnets of divers Noble men and Gentlemen’ (A1), with
the description of ‘excellence of sweet Poesie’ (A1) again showing how the text
is constructed in a way that further emphasises the quality of the work. The
description of how the text includes works by additional poets poses questions
concerning why a printer would decide to include works not written by Sidney,
with this perhaps suggesting that Sidney’s works were marketable to the extent
that they could help support other authors. The content of the title page can therefore
be seen to emphasis the praiseworthiness of the text the reader is about to
encounter, creating a presentation of the work as being an important piece of
literature from the very first page.

 

            In addition to this presentation of
Sidney’s work on the title page, the descriptions of the work included in the
paratextual material further suggests the ways in which a text could be
marketed on the basis of an author’s reputation. The epistle written by Newman
creates a complimentary impression of the text, with the flattering nature of
the descriptions then affecting how a reader will approach the text. Newman
refers to the text as the ‘famous device of Astrophel
and Stella’ (A.ii.),
and calls attention to the good reputation attached to the text through the
references to how it carries ‘the general commendation of all men of judgement’
(A.ii.). Whilst these descriptions would seem positive to the reader due to
their complimentary tone, the circumstances of the creation of this epistle
arguably would affect how truthfully a reader would view Newman’s words.
Through the information provided on the title page, the reader would be aware
of Newman’s role as the printer of the text, which in turn would perhaps
suggest that Newman’s descriptions of the text take on a complimentary tone in
order to appeal to the reader. Furthermore, the epistle, whilst it recognises
the work’s importance as a piece of literature, also appears to be very aware
of the sales potential of the work, as suggested through Newman’s preoccupation
with Flower’s name appearing on the text due to the ‘credit and countenaunce’
(A.ii.) it will provide, thus suggesting the impact a text’s preliminary
material can have on a reader’s expectations for a text.

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            Whilst the paratextual material is
full of complimentary descriptions of the text, highlighting the worthiness of
the work, when the reader is met with the main text itself they face little
instructional information concerning how they should approach the text. On the
first page of the sonnets, there is an elaborate printer’s lace with the title
printed beneath it, indicating the break from the paratextual material. Whilst
the title places emphasis on Sidney’s ownership of the text through the
personal pronoun placed in the title ‘HIS ASTROPHEL AND STELLA’ (B1), this
edition has no authorial approval as it was published after Sidney’s death.
Throughout Nashe’s preface, the theatrical assertion raised in relation to the
sonnets appears to dictate a certain way of reading the text. Nashe describes how
the ‘tragicomedy of love is performed by starlight’ (A3), with the link between
the text and a performance adding to the discussion surrounding how Astrophel and Stella is structured as a
sequence of sonnets which are meant to be read as a narrative, rather than as
individual sonnets, due to the linear nature of performances. Whilst in this
edition the sonnets are not given a number which would dictate their order in
the sequence, this edition of the text clearly displays the printer’s decision
to place the sonnets in a certain sequence, with this being supported by
Nashe’s description of a dramatic structure which includes both a ‘prologue’
(A3) and an ‘epilogue’ (A3). The tension caused by the lack of authorial
approval is raised by Newman’s epistle through the description of how he used
the written copies of the text which had been spread around to aid the
production of this edition, though those copies have ‘gathered much corruption
by ill writers’ (A.ii. Verso). Whilst Newman does declare that he has ‘used
their helpe and advice in correcting and restoring it to his first dignitie’
(A.ii. Verso), the announcement of possible issues in the text, as well as the
knowledge that Sidney did not officially approve this edition of the text, will
affect the validity a reader would assign to the work.

1
Sir Philip Sidney, His Astrophel and
Stella, (London: Thomas Newman, 1591), < https://data.historicaltexts.jisc.ac.uk/view?pubId=eebo-99838194e&terms=22536&pageId=eebo-99838194e-2559-1&pageTerms=22536  >, last accessed 29th November
2017, (A1)

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