Pamphilia to Amphilanthus is a sonnet sequence by Lady Mary Wroth, written in the seventeenth century. The 105 sonnets can be divided into four unequal parts, during which the author addresses various issues. While traditionally, the poems are considered to discuss the hardships of women’s lives during that time. Back then, women lacked self-reliance and had only to choices whether to subdue to men’s seduction or adhere to the principle of constancy.
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The only way for a woman to be virtuous is to adhere to the old virtue of chastity (Beilin 231). However, the analysis proposes that instead of just demonstrating the misfortunes, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus reveals the superiority of women over men since they can forgive and analyze deep feelings. The analysis of characters and themes demonstrates that unlike men, women can be faithful and stable, while men are lost in the duality of their world.
While the title of the sonnet sequence hints that there are two central characters, the poems revolve around three persons. According to Bolam, the word “Pamphilia” means “all-loving” or “loved by everyone” (290). While she suffers from anguish, jealousy, and uncertainty, she is not a tragic figure. In the end, she finally seems stronger after suffers trials in her love for Amphilanthus (Bolam 290).
Amphilanthus in Greek means “lover of two” (Bolam 290), which hint at the dualistic character of the man. Even though he acts by seducing Pamphilia and committing adultery with another woman, Amphilanthus remains stagnant in his thoughts and character. Another male character in the poems is Cupid, who is a personification of love. He also acts by arousing passion between Pamphilia and Amphilanthus and between Amphilanthus and his other lover. However, he also remains unchanged even though he constantly performs his duties. In summary, the only person who does not act throughout the 105 poems evolves to become a more virtuous person.
Pamphilia goes through anguish and pain and manages to forgive both Amphilanthus and Cupid, even though they both betrayed her. Even though antifeminists may say that Pamphilia’s decision is a sign that women are imperfect creatures if compared to men (Beilin 231), it is hardly the case. She is a very deep person since she continues to develop her relationships with the two frivolous men, even though they both neglected her. Pamphilia also builds the relationship with her inner self to have a peaceful mind, while Amphilanthus is torn apart by his uncontrolled lust. She surrenders her body and soul saying, “And thy faire showes made mee a lover prove when I my freedome did, for paine refuse” (Wroth, Sonnet 7). While such sacrifice may seem tragic, it is not the case since she is the only person who found joy and resilience in the end.
The central themes of Pamphilia to Amphilanthus are love, betrayal, and suffering. The concept of love is both elevated and filthy due to uncontrollable desire. The theme is personified in Venus and her son Cupid. Pamphilia makes all the effort to understand the concept of love and develop her relationship with the Cupid powers by dedicating a crown of sonnets to him. Amphilanthus misunderstands lust for desire, and therefore his is controlled by his emotions, even though, ironically, women are more often blamed for such behavior.
Such misconception often leads to a lack of faithfulness and betrayal. Amphilanthus commits adultery, which is considered a sin in Christian society. However, men chose to conveniently forget about the Seventh Commandment, making constancy imperative only for women (Beilin 231). As mentioned above, Amphilanthus is not the only one who betrayed Pamphilia. Cupid himself struck the heart of Amphilanthus to make him love another woman, which causes the pain of the protagonist. She tries to find relief in writing sonnets, in which she is not very successful in the beginning. Instead, in the eighth sonnet, she concludes that “grief is not cured by art” (Wroth). The betrayal is the reason for the third motif discussed in the present paper – suffering.
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Both Pamphilia and Amphilanthus go through the anguish, even though the feeling of the male character is not described in the sequence of poems. Pamphilia suffers from betrayal, jealousy, and not knowing what to do next. While Amphilanthus is torn apart by his feeling, not knowing where his love belongs. However, Pamphilia evolves to learn that love and pain go side by side and found comfort in it, while Amphilanthus remains stagnant and silent throughout the poems. Even though one may argue that if he were given the word, he would have demonstrated what he had learned; this does not seem to be the case. Men of the seventeenth century and throughout human history were deemed virtuous for conquering their foes and women. The constant battle with the material world leaves no time for self-reflection, which makes men shallow creatures in comparison with women.
The sequence of sonnets by Mary Wroth is undoubtedly a masterpiece that helps the reader realize the nature of love, desire, betrayal, and suffering. Even though on the surface, the poems seem to complain about the misfortunes of women in the seventeenth century, the true meaning lies beyond the first impression. In her poems, Wroth demonstrates that women are deeper and stronger than men since they can evolve without acting and find peace with the inner self through reflections and submission to a greater cause.
Beilin, Elaine V. ““The Onely Perfect Vertue”: Constancy in Mary Wroth’s Pamphilia to Amphilanthus.” Spenser Studies, vol. 2, no. 1, 1981, pp. 229-245.
Bolam, Robin. “The Heart of the Labyrinth: Mary Wroth’s Pamphilia to Amphilanthus.” A New Companion to English Renaissance Literature and Culture, Vol. 2, edited by Michael Hattaway, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, pp. 288-298.
Wroth, Mary. “Pamphilia to Amphilanthus.” Extra Shu. 2019. Web.