Sir Philip Sidney
• Sir Philip Sidney (born November 30, 1554,Kent, England-died
October 17, 1586,Arnhem, Netherlands), Elizabethan courtier,
statesman, soldier, poet, andpatron of scholars andpoets,
considered the ideal gentleman of his day.Philip Sidney was the
eldest son of Sir Henry Sidney andhis wife, Lady Mary Dudley,
daughter of the duke of Northumberland, andgodsonof King
Philip II of Spain. After Shakespeare’s sonnets, Sidney’s Astrophel
andStella is considered the finest Elizabethan sonnet cycle. His
The Defence of Poesie introduced the critical ideas of
Renaissance theorists to England.
Apology For Poetry:
• Sidney wrote the Apology before 1583.Among the English critics,
Philip Sidney holds a very important place. His Apology for
Poetry is aspirited defense of poetry against allthe charges laid
against it since Plato. He considers poetry as the oldest of all
branches of learning andestablishes its superiority.
• An Apology for Poetry is the most important contribution to
Renaissance literary theory. Sidney advocates a place for poetry
within the framework of an aristocratic state, while showing
concern forboth literary andnational identity.
• Poetry, accordingto Sidney, is superiorto philosophyby
its charm, to historyby itsuniversality,to science by its
moral end, to law by itsencouragement of human rather
than civic goodness. Sidneydealswith the usefulnessof
other forms of poetry also.Poetry is an art of ‘imitation’
and itschief functionisto teach and delight. Imitation
does not mean mere copying or a reproduction offacts.It
means a representing or transmutingof the real and
actual,and sometimes creating something entirely new.
• “Poetry is an art of imitation,for so Aristotletermed it in
the word mimesis”
• “It is not rhyming and versing that make a poet But it is
that feigning of notableimages of virtues, vices, or what
else, with that delightfulteaching, which must be the right
describingnote to know a poet by”
• “The poet, he nothing affirms,and therefore never lie.For,
as I take it, to lie is to affirmthat to be true which is false”
• “Poetry is the companionof camps”
• An Apology for Poetry is one of the most important
contributions toliterarytheory written in Englishduring
the Renaissance.Sidney advocates a place for poetry
withinthe framework of an aristocraticstate, while
showingconcern for bothliteraryand national identity.
Sidney respondsin Apology to an emerging antipathyto
poetry asexpressed in Stephen Gosson’s TheSchooleof
Abuse. Gosson offers what is in essence an attackon
• In an era of antipathyto poetry andpuritanicalbeliefin
the corruptionengendered by literature, Sidney’s
defense was a significantcontributionto the genre of
literarycriticism.It was England’sfirstphilosophical
defense in which he describespoetry’s ancientand
indispensableplacein society, itsmimetic nature, and
its ethicalfunction.Among Sidney’s giftsto his
contemporaries were hisrespect for traditionand
• Sidney employs a number of strategies to assertthe proper
placeof poetry. For instance, he argues againstthe way in
whichpoetry was misalignedwithyouth, the effeminate
and the timorous.He does so byintroducingthe idea that
“poetry is the companionof camps” andby invoking the
heroes of ages past.Sidney’s reverence for the poet as
soldier issignificantbecause he himselfwas a soldierat one
time. Poetry, in Apology,becomes an art thatrequires the
noble stirringof courage.
• Sidney writes AnApology for Poetry in the form of a
judicialorationfor the defense, and thus it is like a trial
in structure. Crucialto his defense isthe descriptive
discourse andthe idea thatpoetry creates a separate
reality.Sidney employs forensicrhetoric as a tool to
make the argument that poetry not only conveys a
separatereality, but that it has a long and venerable
history, andit does not lie. It is defensible in itsown
right as a means tomove readers to virtuous action.
Discourse of Apology:
• Sir PhilipSidney’s Apology for Poetry is one of the most important
pieces of prose of the entireEnglish Renaissance.Sidney’s defense of
poetry is importantnot so muchbecause its ideas are original but
precisely because they are not.Sidney gave highlymemorable
expression to many ideas thatwere extremely widespread during his
• Sidney'streatise is importantpartly because Sidneyhimselfwas such
a highlyrespected figure.If Sir PhilipSidney read poetry, wrote
poetry, and valued poetry, thenmany other Englishpeople felt
Amongthe points Sidneymakesin his treatise are the following:
• In the past, poetry was highlyvalued, partly because it was one
of the first meansby which people learned and expressed their
• Many of the most respected intellects inhumanhistory have
been poets and have defended poetry.
• Poetry is used and valued even in theBible, the most important
book for all Christians.
• Theword “poet” comes from a Greekword meaning“to make”;a
poet, therefore, is a maker.
• Philosophycan teach the nature of goodness, but it
does so in ways that are often boring. Historycan
describe variousgoodpeople who have lived in the
past. Poetry, however, can actuallyinspire people to
wantbe good. Thus, speaking of poetry in competition
withphilosophy,Sidney says thatthe philosopher
teaches, but he teaches obscurely, so as the learned
only can understandhim; that is tosay, he teaches
them that are alreadytaught.Butthe poetis the food
for the tenderers stomachs;the poet is, indeed, the
Purpose of Writing Apology:
An Apologie for Poetriemay for purposes of conveniencebe
divided into Fifteensections.
1. The Prologue
• Sidney justifiedhis stand by referring in a half-humorous
mannerto a treatise on horseman-shipby Pietro Pugliano.If the
art of horsemanshipcan deserve such an eloquent eulogy and
vindication, surely poetry has better claims for eulogy and
vindication. There is a just cause to plead a case for poetry since
it has fallenfrom thehighestestimation of learning to be ‘the
laughingstock of children.’
2. Some SpecialArguments in Favour of Poetry
• Poetry hasbeen held in high esteem since the earliest times. It hasbeen ‘the
first light-giver to ignorance.’ The earlier Greek philosophers and historians
were, in fact, poets. Even among the uncivilizednations,in Turkey, among the
American Indians, and m Wales, poetry enjoys anundiminishing popularity. To
attackpoetry is, therefore, to cut at the roots of culture and intelligence.
3. The Prophetic Characterof Poetry
• The ancient Romans paid high reverence to the poet by calling him Vates ,
which means a Diviner, a Prophet, or a Foreseer. The etymological origin of
Greek word ‘poet’ is Poiein, and this means ‘to make’. Hence the Greeks honour
the poet as amaker or creator. This suggests the divine nature of poetry.
4. The Nature and Function of Poetry
• Poetry is an art of ‘imitation’ and its chief functionis to teach and
delight.Imitationdoes notmeanmere copying or a
reproduction of facts. It meansa representing or transmutingof
the real and actual,and sometimes creating somethingentirely
new. Thepoet, so Sidneydeclares, “lifted upwiththevigour of
his own invention, doth grow in effectanother nature,in making
things eitherbetter thanNature bringethforth, or, quitea new,
forms such as neverwere in Nature, as theHeroes, Demigods,
Cyclops, Chimeras, Furies, and such like.”
5. The Three Kinds of Poetry
• The three kinds of poetry, according to Sidney, are: (a)
religious poetry, (b) philosophicalpoetry, and (c) poetry as an
imaginativetreatmentof life and nature.He calls special
attentionto the thirdclass of poets, for ‘these be they that,as
thefirst and most noblesort may justly betermed vates.’ They
‘most properly do imitateto teach and delight, and to imitate
borrow nothingof whatis, has been, or shall be, but range,
only withlearned discretion, into thedivine consideration of
whatmay be, and should be.’
6. Various Sub-divisions of the ThirdKindof Poetry
• Poetry proper may further be divided into various species—the heroic, lyric,
tragic, comic, satiric,iambic, elegiac, pastoral and others. Poets generally
make use of verse to apparel their poetical inventions. But verse is ‘an
ornament and no cause to poetry since there have been many most
excellent poets that never versified, and now swarm many versifiers that
need never answer to the name of poets.’
7. Superiority ofPoetry to Philosophyand History
• Poetry is superior to Philosophy in the sense that it has the power to move
and to give incentive for virtuous action. It presents moral lessons in avery
attractive form. Things which in themselves are horrible as cruel battles,
unnaturalmonsters, are made delightful in poetic imitation. Poet is,
therefore, the monarch of allsciences.
8. VariousSpecies of Poetry
• The pastoral poetry treats of the beauty of thesimple life, and
sometimes, of themiseries of the people under hard Lords.
Elegiac poetry deals withthe weaknessof mankindand
wretchedness of theworld. It should evoke pity rather than
blame. Satiric poetry laughsat folly,and iambic poetry tries to
unmaskvillainy. These also do not deserve to be condemned.
Comedy is an imitationof the common errors of our life
presented in a ridiculous manner.It helps menkeeping away
from such errors.
• Tragedy, whichopens the greatest wounds in our hearts,
teachesthe uncertaintyof this world. Nobody can resist the
‘sweet violence’ of a tragedy. The lyric whichgives moral
precepts and soars to the heavens in singingthe praises of the
Almighty, cannotbe displeasing. Nor can theepic or heroic
poetry be disliked because it inculcatesvirtue to the highest
degree by portraying heroic and moral goodness inthe most
effectivemanner.Sidney asserts thatthe heroical is ‘not only a
kind,butthe best and most accomplished kind of poetry.’
9. Main ObjectionsBroughtAgainst Poetry by its Enemies
• A common complaint againstpoetry is that it is bound up with ‘rhyming and
versing’. But verse is not essential for poetry. ‘One may be a poet without
versing, and a versifier without poetry’ Verse is used for convenience. It produces
verbal harmony and lends itself easily to memorizing. It is the only fit speech for
music. It adds to words a sensuous and emotional quality.
10. Four Chief Objectionsto Poetry
• There are some more serious objections to poetry, namely :
(a)that there being many other more fruitful knowledge, a man might better spend
his time in them than in this;
(b)that it is the mother of lies :
(c)that it isthe nurse of abuse, infecting us with many desires; and,
(d) thatPlato had banished poets from his ideal republic.
11. Replies to TheseObjections
• Sidney dismisses the first charge by saying thathe has already
established that‘no learning is so good as thatwhich reach and
move to virtue, and thatnonecan both teach and move there toso
• Hisanswer to the secondobjection that poets are liars is thatof all
writers under the sunthe poet is theleast liar. The Astronomer, the
Geometrician, the historian, and others, all makefalse statements.
But thepoet ‘nothingaffirms,and thereforenever lie,’ his aim
being ‘to tell notwhat is or is not, but what should or should not
be.’ So whathe presents is not factbut fiction embodying truthof
• The thirdcharge against poetry is thatall its species are infected
withlove themesand amorous conceits, whichhave a demoralising
effecton readers. To thischarge Sidney replies thatpoetry does not
abuse man’s wit, it is man’s wit thatabuse poetry. All arts and
sciences misused bad evil effects, butthatdid not meanthatthey
were less valuable whenrightlyemployed.
• Sidney is ratherperplexed at the last charge,namelyPlato’s
rejection of poetry. He wonders why Platofoundfaultwithpoetry.
In fact, Plato warned men notagainstpoetry but againstits abuse by
his contemporary poets who filledtheworld with wrong opinions
about thegods. So Plato’s objection was directed againstthe
12. Why is Poetry not honoured in England as it is elsewhere?
• Why has England grown so hard a step-mother to Poets? asks Sidney.
He thinks that it is so because poetry has come to be represented by
‘base men with servile wits’ or tomen who, however studious, are not
born poets. He says that ‘a poet no industry can make, if his own
genius be notcarried untoit’.
13. Poetry in England from Chaucer to Sidney’s own Time
• Sidney says that few good poems have been produced in England since
Chaucer. Chaucer did marvellously well in Troilus and Cresseida.
Spenser’s The Shepherds Calender is worth reading. English lyric
poetry is scanty and poor. Love lyrics and sonnets lack genuine fire and
passion. They make use of artificial diction and swelling phrases.
14. Condition ofDrama
• The stateof drama is also degraded. The only redeeming tragedy is
Gorboduc whichitself is a faultywork. A tragedy should be tiedto the
laws of poetry and not of history. A dramatist shouldhave liberty to
frame thehistory to his own tragical convenience. Comedy should
not only amuse but morally instruct.
15. Advantages of theEnglish Language
• The Englishlanguagehas some definiteadvantages. It is appreciable
for its adaptability to ancientand modern systems of versification. It
admits both theunrhymed quantitativesystem of the ancientpoetry
and therhyme peculiar to modern language.
Points of View/Influences
• Sir Philip Sidney’s “An Apology for Poetry” wasinfluenceddirectly by both
Aristotleand Plato.Theworks ofAristotlethatmoststronglyinfluenced
Sidney werethePoeticsand NicomacheanEthics,bothofwhich were well
known andrespectedin theRenaissance.Themainpointofinfluencewas
thenotionofpoetryas moraleducationthrough vivid embodimentof
characters in a waythatletviewersdevelopmorallyby experiencing
vicarious situationsand undergoingsomeformofcatharsis.
• ThePlatonicinfluence isactuallyneo-Platonic.It followsa medieval
tradition(deriving fromthe earlierworkofPlotinusand Proclus) thatthe
poetdirectly imitatesthe formsand thus can helpthereader understand
thenoumena underlyingthe phenomena.
• Sidney seems to borrow from everybody for hisargument.
Most of his arguments can be traced back to Aristotle,
Plotinus,Horace, Plato,Boethius, Biblicalfigures,and
others, many of whom he mentions.The enduring
perspectives that findtheir way intoSidney are that, by
inference, poetry shouldhave a higher purpose. He takes
issuewith bothBoethiusand Plato,partly for using "poetry"
even asthey condemned it, but especiallytakes a dim view
of what he identifiesasthe worst ofthe "farfetchedmaxims
• In discussinghis displeasureat the lackof goodpoetry
in Englishduring that time, he expresses a certain
amountof surprise at thisgiven what he argues to be
the fitnessof the Englishlanguagefor the poetic arts.
Citingthe breadthof vocabulary, and itsgreater
capacityfor allvarietiesof meter andrhyme, he
considers Englishsuperior toLatin, Greek, French,
Italianand Spanish.The blame for the stateof poetry in
England,and for the attacks uponit, he levels not at the
poets, but rather at the "poet-apes."
• Sidney compares poetry with historyand philosophy.He
observes that poetry issuperior tohistory since it ismore
philosophicaland studiouslyserious.The poet is better and
more effective teacher than either the philosopheror the
historianor the other accreditedapostlesof truth and
morality.Poetry, according toSidney, is superior to
philosophyby itscharm, to historyby itsuniversality,to
science by its moralend, to law by its encouragement of
human rather than civicgoodness. Sidney deals withthe
usefulness of other forms ofpoetry also.
• Poetry is universal; the first light-giver to
ignorance andthe first nurse. The earliest
recordedor preserved utterance of any nation is a
form of poeticexpression alone. Thepoetspeaks
of both what is and what shouldbe, of whatis
universal and what is particular. Poetry has
liveliness andpassion which are lacking inhistory