The first time I read this I made a mistake: Painted in my beclowned stormy face is clearly wrong, and beclouded stormy face implies troubles and thus the very face of woe in the line above.

The Elizabethan court did love its tragedies. It is far easier to have gentle feelings for fictional folk: and in the time of that Good Queen this was an acceptable luxury. Marrying for love was not. There had been too many noblemen and noblewomen killed by the Yorks, Plantagents and Tudors: the new men such as Cromwell married into titled families, restoring their wealth and favour at court.

Stella lived in that world: from all accounts she did not love her husband, and left him for another. Perhaps the Elizabethans were wiser: they saw their fiction as but entertainment, fantasy, and not a pattern for life.

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XLV

Stella oft sees the very face of wo
Painted in my beclowded stormie face,
But cannot skill to pitie my disgrace,
Not though thereof the cause herself she know:

Yet, hearing late a fable which did show
Of louers neuer knowne, a grieuous case,
Pitie thereof gate in her breast such place,
That, from that sea deriu'd, teares spring did flow.

Alas, if Fancie, drawne by imag'd things
Though false, yet with free scope, more grace doth breed
Than seruants wracke, where new doubts honour brings;
Then thinke, my deare, that you in me do reed

Of louers ruine some thrise-sad tragedie.
I am not I: pitie the tale of me.

Sir Phillip Sydney

Photo by Orlova Maria / Unsplash

Or perhaps not. The nobles could not marry for love, but for alliance -- well beyond the time of the first Elizabeth to the time of the second Elizabeth's youth -- but the common man could. If he was practical. If he so chose.

And love has always been a comfort to those who have no kingdom to rule, and courtiers to flatter them in their solitude.

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever-fixèd mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

William Shakespeare

Love has to be more than the fantasy made to comfort the court. It has to be more than infatuation for the young. It is more true than that and more terrible. The love of God bought an incarnation, death, redemption, resurrection and the destruction of the Gates of Hell.

To choose love is to not live for yourself.

Sydney and Shakespeare knew that. It is our age that has become foolish.