In Renaissance culture, virtues and ideals for men and women differed. The ideal man was noble, courageous, courteous, and excelled in court/knightly behavior as seen in several books of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. The ideal woman’s virtues were patience, humility, chastity and above all, constancy. Constancy is the overwhelming theme in Lady Mary Wroth’s sonnet sequence, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus. Pamphilia is overcome with love for Amphilanthus, but his inconstancy is what grieves her the most. She is lost in a world of pleasure and pain where Amphilanthus is the creator of both emotions. Her most hopeful desire is that Amphilanthus will live up to be the man she always knew he could be and ultimately be faithful to her. While her emotions are anything but constant, her desire for “true love” takes her on an emotional journey where she “seeks to discover the truth of her own feelings.” (Roberts, 44.) Constancy is her closest companion on this journey and it is constancy towards the divine where she ultimately finds her comfort. In order to prove that constancy plays such an important role in this sonnet sequence, Lady Mary Wroth does three things: she shows how far inconstancy is from true love, she portrays how Pamphilia has emotional inconstancy due to her betrayal by Amphilanthus, and then shows how Pamphilia comes to terms with her constancy and what changes in her life she vows.
Lady Mary attempts to prove to the reader that Pamphilia’s constancy in her love to Amphilanthus shows that her love is what is considered true, or virtuous love, while Amphilanthus’ inconstancy is what in fact makes him un-virtuous when he proclaims that he loves Pamphilia. In Sonnet 3, lines 7 and 8, Pamphilia says that love burns in her so deep that it exiles “thoughts that touch inconstancie,/Or those which waste nott in the constant art,” This sonnet allows Pamphilia to express her ideas that for those people who have love so far inside them that it only allows them to love purely. No thoughts of infidelity or inconstancy touch those who truly love.
In the Crown of Sonnets, (sonnets 77-90) also known as the corona, Lady Mary uses Pamphilia’s voice to address love, and dedicate this part of the sequence entirely to true love. In Sonnet 85, Pamphilia says that if we use Cupid, as a teacher of what true love is, then we learn that two hearts and two bodies come together in love to make one mind, and in fact one person. This alludes to the idea that only those people truly in love rise above all else to come together and form one complete human. This is a concept seen in Plato’s Symposium. People who are meant to be together are constantly looking for the other person who completes them. This is an image used for true and constant love. Lady Mary uses this image to promote the idea that Pamphilia feels that if Amphilanthus’ love was as constant for her as hers is for him, then they would truly be happy and one as sonnet 85 suggests.
After Lady Mary sets up the idea that constant love is what would make Pamphilia (and in essence all of humanity) happy, she shows how the inconstant love of Amphilanthus has destroyed Pamphilia’s self control and has made her own emotions inconstant towards her. In Sonnet 16, she talks about how she has been conquered by love and attempts to free herself of this earthly burden. She does in fact declare herself free, only to discover at the end of this sonnet that she has lost her liberty and is still a captive. In that very sonnet alone we see how fragile and inconsistent her feelings are regarding the power love has over her.
Another way Pamphilia struggles with opposing forces with her emotions is her indecisiveness concerning day and night. On one hand, she longs for the night so she can wallow in her self-pity. She truly feels that night (personified) understands what she is going through, and in sonnet 17 she says to night “Truly poore Night thou...
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