“What, Have I Thus Betrayed my Liberty?”
Sir Philip Sidney’s sonnet “What, have I thus betrayed my liberty?” is an extract from his greatest work Astrophel and Stella. The sonnet is however, not about clear love, as one might expect. Although the poem is based on the motive of love, the love that the speaker feels towards his beloved is rather fearful and bitter than passionate. The poem heavily relies on the conceit. It is mainly presented in the first quatrain, where the author outlines his uncertainty about himself, questioning his own identity “what, have I thus betrayed my liberty?” and “or am I born a slave?”. The two central words in the sonnet “liberty” and “tyranny” suggest the speaker’s feelings of confinement and claustrophobia that in fact, give an impression about the relationship between him and his beloved. The form of Italian sonnet, in which Sidney presents his work, subdivides the poem in two parts. The first quatrain is laden with imagery of pain and enslavement, which help to reinforce the idea of suffering and restrictive burden, such as “black beams”, “burning marks”, and most vividly “a slave, whose neck becomes such a yoke of tyranny”. He sees himself as a victim of love of his beloved “am I born a slave?” and he desires for liberty. In the sestet however, he prompts to take action “Virtue, awake!”. After allowing himself to be enslaved, he seems determined to regain freedom “Let her go”, but her sudden appearance in the sonnet “but here she comes”, indicates a turn, ultimately confining him to the hopeless paralysis of his imprisonment. Sidney’s sonnet is written almost entirely in iambic pentameter, with the exception of the first line of the sestet, which is “Virtue”, where he uses a trochee, as an attempt to reinforce the actual meaning of his action.
Sir Philip, Sidney. “What, have I thus betrayed my liberty?” -