Sir Philip Sidney (November 30, 1554 – October 17, 1586) became one of the Elizabethan Age’s most prominent figures. Famous in his day in England as a poet, courtier and soldier, he remains known as a writer of sonnets. He was the eldest son of Sir Henry Sidney and Lady Mary Dudley. Sidney was educated at Shrewsbury School and Christ Church College, Oxford. He was much traveled and highly learned. He was knighted in 1582, and three years later became governor of Flushing in the Netherlands. He married Frances, daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham. Sidney’s life ended prematurely when he suffered a fatal wound at the Battle of Zutphen at just 32.
Sidney’s Defense (Apology) of Poetry:
The first work of literary criticism in English literature comes from Sir Philip Sidney. As early as the 16th century, individuals in England were attacking literature as being corrupt and wish to censor what students in public schools read. One such Renaissance writer, Stephen Gosson, charged corruption for reasons that were probably personal in that he failed as a dramatist himself. Consequently, he published a work called “The School of Abuse” in which he attacked literature for being immoral.
1- Poetry Has Been Man’s First Source of Inspiration:
A. Great philosophers have been poets.
B. Poetry in Greek and Roman times meant “Maker”/Prophet.
2- Poetry and Nature: “All philosophers follow nature, but only the poet, disdaining to be tied to any such subjection, lifted up with the vigor of his own invention, does grow in effect into another nature, in making things either better than nature brings forth, or, quite anew, forms such as never were in nature.”
3- The Poet as a Creator: The poet’s talents stem from the fact that he is able to create from a pre-existing idea. Poetry is the link between the real (nominalism) and the ideal (realism) worlds. Poets therefore take part in the divine act of creation.
4- Poetry Defined: “Poetry therefore is an art of imitation, for so Aristotle terms it in the word mimesis, that is to say a representing, or figuring forth to speak metaphorically, a speaking picture with this end, to teach and delight.”
5- Poetry Discussed in its Effects and Kinds: The true poet is one who creates “Notable images on virtues, vices…with that delightful teaching, which must be the right describing not to know a poet by…” Poetry has a moral purpose, therefore, consisting in leading men to truth by integrating, not dividing knowledge.
6- History and Philosophy: History teaches and so does philosophy, but the poet is superior to both, since history deals with facts and records which aren’t always true, and the philosopher describes theories that often do not relate to the world as most people understand it.
7- The Poet Moves Men: Philosophers teach as well, but the poet can move men to desire the good for action is greater than knowledge.
8- “Since then poetry is of all human learning the most ancient, from where other learning take their beginnings, since it is so universal that no learned nation does despise it”.
Nominalism (Real): The doctrine holding that abstract concepts, general terms, or universals have no independent existence but exist only as names.
Realism (Ideal): The modern philosophical doctrine, opposed to nominalism, that physical objects exist independently of their being perceived.
Mimesis: The imitation or representation of aspects of the sensible world, especially human actions, in literature and art.