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“The Defence of Poesy” by Sir Philip Sidney

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1 “The Defence of Poesy” by Sir Philip Sidney
Gülşah ÇINAR

2 Sir Philip Sidney Born: Penshurst Place in Kent in Died: Netherlands in 1586 courtier, soldier, poet, diplomat won admiration at an early age for his courtly skills and intellectual curiosity He advocated support for the Protestant Netherlands in their military resistance to the rule of Catholic Spain. When an English force was sent to the Netherlands in 1585, Sidney was given command of a garrison, and died from wounds sustained in a military engagement. Mother: Lady Mary Dudley Sidney Lady-in-waiting to the Queen Elizabeth I Father: Sir Henry Sidney President of the Council of Wales Lord Deputy of Ireland under Elizabeth (three times)

3 Major Works 1578 The Lady of May, (masque for Queen Elizabeth)
1582 Astrophel and Stella (published 1591) his finest work; sonnet cycle 1590 Arcadia, 1590, revised epic prose romance (also titled The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia) 1583 The Defence of Poesie, (published 1595) (also titled An Apology for Poetry) - was the first significant piece of literary criticism in the English Language. A&Stella “starlover” and “star” emphasizes the lover’s state of mind and soul, the contradictory impulses, intense desires, and frustrations that haunt him.” Defense =the major work of Renaissance literary criticism

4 The Apology for Poetry . is an English defense against moralistic or philosophical attacks on poetry, drama, and music. One of these attacks, Stephen Gosson’s School of Abuse (1579), was dedicated to Sidney.

5 1579 Puritan Attacks on Poesy: The School of Abuse by Stephen GOSSON
He is best known for his attack on plays, poetry, ant other arts in The School of Abuse (1579) “[W]e who have both sense, reason, wit and understanding . . . Let us but shut our eyes to poets, pipers, and players, pull our feet back from resort to theaters and turn away from the beholding of vanity, the greatest storm of abuse will be overblown. . .” Stephan Gosson The School of Abuse

6 Gosson’s Pamphlet attacks actors, playwrights, and poets criticizes the social and moral disorder in fiction labels fiction writing as potentially immoral deems fiction as irresponsible and unrealistic views literature as an immoral, corrupting influence Gosson’s Dedication: "To the right Noble Gentleman, Master Philip Sidney, Esquire, Stephen Gosson wisheth health of body, wealth of mind…”

7 Sidney’s Response: The Defense of Poesy (An Apology for Poetry)
Poesy = literature, poetry and prose An Apology for Poetry – defense against all the charges laid against since Plato. He considers poetry as the oldest of all branches of learning and establishes its superiority.

8 An Apology for Poetry is structured as a classical oration with the standard seven parts:  The poet, poetry (exordium)  Three kinds of poet (proposition)  Poetry, philosophy, history (division)  The poetic kinds (examination)  Answers to charges against poetry (refutation)  Poetry in England (digression)  Conclusion (peroration) 

9 The Prologue Sidney justifies his own praise of poetry, by citing the example of John Pietro Pugliano who praised horses and horsemanship very highly. There is a just cause to plead a case for poetry since it has fallen from the highest estimation of learning to be ‘the laughing stock of children.’

10 Antiquity and Universality of Poetry
Poetry has been held in high esteem since the earliest times. It has been ‘the first light-giver to ignorance.’ Poetry in all nations has preceded other branches of learning. The earlier Greek philosophers and historians were, in fact, poets. It is poetry which gradually enable man to read and understand learning of other kinds. “ This did so notably show itself, that the philosophers of Greece durst not a long time appear to the world but under the mask of poets. So Thales, Empedocles, and Parmenides sang their natural philosophy in verse;……..; so did Tyrtaeus in war matters, and Solon in matters of policy”. The beauty of Plato's works depends upon poetry. Although the ‘inside’ of his work was philosophy, the beauty of his works depend on poetry.

11 Antiquity and Universality of Poetry
Poetry has flourished in all ages and countries. Even the uncivilized nations Turkey, the American Indians, love poetry which softens their hard hearts and sharpens their wits.

12 The Prophetic Character of Poetry
 Both the Greeks and the Romans honored poets. The Romans called the poet "Vates" which means a Foreseer or a Prophet, and in Greek, the word 'Poet' means' ‘Maker’ or ‘Creator’. The poet is a 'maker', a creator in the real sense of the term, for while all other arts are tied to Nature, 'the poet is not a slave to Nature.’  This suggests the divine nature of poetry

13 “The lawyer saith what men have determined; the historian what men have done. The grammarian speaketh only of the rules of the speech; the rhetorician and logician, considering what in nature will soonest persuade, thereon give artificial rules…..Only the poet, disdaining to be tied to any such subjection, lifted up with the vigour of his own invention, does grow, in effect, into another nature, in making things either better than nature brings forth, or, quite a new, forms such as never were in nature, as the heroes, demigods, cyclops, chimeras, furies, and such like; so as he goes hand in hand with nature, not enclosed within the narrow warrant of her gifts, but freely ranging only within the zodiac of his own wit.(creative powers of the poet ) Nature never set forth the earth in so rich tapestry as divers poets have done; ………….; her world is brazen, the poets only deliver a golden.”

14 The Prophetic Character of Poetry
- Oracles of Delphus were delivered in verse. - The Psalms in The Bible are nothing but songs. In the Bible there is much that is imaginative and fictitious, and it is imagination which is the distinguishing characteristic of poetry. - When poets have been honored in this way, when the Holy David himself is a poet, it would be wrong to condemn poets and poetry.

15 Definition of Poetry: Poetry is an art of imitation. It is representing, counterfeiting or figuring forth. Poetry is “speaking picture” Its end is to teach and delight.

16 The Three Kinds of Poetry
The three kinds of poetry, according to Sidney, are : Religious poetry : praises God “Such were David in his Psalms; Solomon in his Song of Songs…,” Philosophical poetry: imparts knowledge of philosophy, history, astronomy etc. It is also not to be condemned, for it is “the sweet food of sweetly uttered knowledge”.  “ …. either moral, as Tyrtaeus, Phocylides, and Cato; or natural, as Lucretius and Virgil’s Georgics;…… or historical as Lucan…..” Right or true kind of poetry: He calls special attention to the third class of poets, for ‘these be they that, as the first and most noble sort may justly be termed vates.’ They ‘most properly do imitate to teach and delight, and to imitate borrow nothing of what is, has been, but range, only with learned discretion, into the divine consideration of what may be, and should be.’

17 The Three Kinds of Poetry
“ For these, indeed, do merely make to imitate, and imitate both to delight and teach, and delight to move men to take that goodness in hand, which without delight they would fly as from a stranger; and teach to make them know that goodness whereunto they are moved: -which being the noblest scope to which ever any learning was directed,…”

18 The Three Kinds of Poetry
This right kind of poetry may be further sub-divided into heroic, lyric, tragic, comic, satiric, iambic, pastoral, etc. (a) Pastoral poetry deal with the lowliest life and thus arouses sympathy and admiration for simple life, and hatred for acts of cruelty and tyranny, (b) Elegiac poetry arouses sympathy for the suffering and the miserable. It softens the heart, (c) Satire laughs folly out of court. (d) Comedy is an imitation of common errors in a ridiculous fashion, and so is effective in warning men against such errors. (e) Tragedy reveals the wickedness of men in high places and brings home to men the uncertainty of life. (f) Lyric hymns the praise of men and God and thus enkindles virtue and courage, (g) The Epic : He calls epic poetry as, "the belt and the most accomplished kind of poetry", in which heroic and moral goodness is most effectively portrayed. It presents pictures of heroic men and heroic action, and thus inspires men to heroic action.

19 Superiority of Poetry to Philosophy and History
Poetry is superior to all other branches of learning The end of all learning is virtuous action, and poetry best serves this end.  In this respect poetry is superior, both to history and philosophy. Philosophy presents merely abstract precepts, which cannot be understood by the young. History deals with concrete facts or examples of virtue, but from these facts the readers must themselves derive universal or general truths. But poetry combines both these advantages. It presents universal truths like philosophy, but it does them through concrete examples, like History. Its general truths can be easily understood for they are conveyed through examples, and its examples are drawn from an ideal world and so are more vivid and effective. It teaches virtue in a way intelligible even to the ordinary men.

20 Superiority of Poetry to Philosophy and History
Poetry does not merely give us a knowledge of virtue, it also moves us to virtuous action. This is so because its truths are conveyed in a delighted manner; it allures men to virtue . ‘For he doth not only show the way but giveth so sweet a prospect into the way, as will entice any man to enter into it.’  It wins the mind from wickedness to virtue. It alone of all the arts and sciences leads to virtuous action. Sidney stresses this transport or moving of poetry, and claims that it teaches more perfectly than either history or philosophy.

21 Sidney's Justification of Verse and Rhyme
 It has been said that poetry is mere “rhyming an versifying". Sidney points out that rhyme is not the 'essence' of poetry, but it is desirable to it, for it is a polish to speech, (ii) Scaliger had defended its use, (iii) it regulates verbal harmony, and imparts order and proportion so pleasing to men, (iv) it adds to words a sensuous and emotional quality of music, and (v) it is an aid to memory.

22 Stephen Gosson ‘s charges
Stephen Gosson makes charges on poetry which Sidney answers. The charges are: Poetry is a waste of time. Poetry is mother of lies. It is nurse of abuse. Plato had rightly banished the poets from his ideal world.

23 Replies to These Objections
Sidney dismisses the first charge by saying that he has already established that ‘no learning is so good as that which reacheth and moveth to virtue, and that none can both teach and move thereto so much as poetry.’

24 Poetry is mother of lies
His answer to the second objection that poets are liars is that of all writers under the sun the poet is the least liar. The Astronomer, the Geometrician, the historian, and others, all make false statements. But the poet ‘nothing affirms, and therefore never lieth,’ his aim being ‘to tell not what is or is not, but what should or should not be.’ So what he presents is not fact but fiction embodying truth of an ideal kind.

25 It is nurse of abuse. The third charge against poetry is that all its species are infected with love themes and amorous conceits, which have a demoralising effect on readers. To this charge Sidney replies that poetry does not abuse man’s wit, it is man’s wit that abuseth poetry. Sidney concedes that in much of modern poetry there was a "vicious treatment of love" but love itself is not bad, for it shows an appreciation of Beauty. The fault lies not with poetry, but with the contemporary abuse of poetry. The abuse of poetry should not lead to a condemnation of poetry itself.

26 Poetry is a double edged sword: It can be used badly or well and it is unwise to abandon any kind of knowledge altogether because of the possibility of the abuse of it.

27 Plato had rightly banished the poets from his ideal world.
In fact, Plato warned men not against poetry but against its abuse by his contemporary poets who filled the world with wrong opinions about the gods. So Plato’s objection was directed against the theological concepts. Moreover, Plato himself was a born poet, and a large part of his Dialogues is poetic. In Ion, Plato gives high and rightly divine commendation to poetry. His description of the poet as ‘a light winged and sacred thing’ in that dialogue reveals his attitude to poetry. In fact by attributing unto poetry a very inspiring of a divine force, Plato was making a claim for poetry which he for his part could not endorse. Not only Plato but, Sidney tells us, all great men have honored poetry.

28 There is a general decline of poetry and drama in the age
There is a general decline of poetry and drama in the age. Sidney lists the following reasons for its decline:  ‘Why has England grown so hard a step-mother to Poets?’ asks Sidney. Peaceful years have bred a tame and sluggish generation devoid of the ardent and generous spirits necessary for poetic creation. 2) Poets are base people and servile wits, worldly and uninspired. Poetry requires genius, but genius was lacking in the age. 3) There is widespread ignorance of poetic art. Poets had neither knowledge, nor imitation of sound models, nor constant exercise or practice.

29 A Brief Review of the State of 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. The Mirrour of Magistrates also contains some beautiful passages.  Earl of Surrey’s Lyrics also deserve praise. 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.

30 4. Faults of contemporary tragedy—Sidney’s Condemnation.
The state of drama is also degraded. He condemns moden tragedy for the incongruous mingling of the comic and the tragic and the gross violation of the unities. He gives many examples of absurdities which result from the violation of the three unities: He pours ridicule on contemporary tragedy. The only tragedy he praises is Gorboduc which has the elevated style and eloquence proper to tragedy, but it, too, violates the unities. He commends the example of the Ancients and advises the dramatists of his age to plunge into the middle of their stories, and to report much more than they represent. Again many things should be told which cannot be shown on the stage.

31 5. Condemnation of tragi-comedy
There should be no mingling of tragedies and comedies, English comedy is based on a false hypothesis. It aims at laughter, not delight. The proper aim of comedy is to afford delightful teaching, not mere coarse amusement. Comedy should not only amuse but morally instruct.

32 Advantages of the English Language
The English language has some definite advantages. It is appreciable for its adaptability to ancient and modern systems of versification. It admits both the unrhymed quantitative system of the ancient poetry and the rhyme peculiar to modern language.

33 Summary Poetry is full of virtue-breeding delightfulness. It is void of no gift that ought to be in the noble name of learning. All the charges laid against it are false and baseless. The poets were the ancient treasurers of the Grecian divinity; they were the first bringers of all civility. A poet can immortalize people in his verses.

34 Defense of Poetry: Sidney’s Parting Curse
From The Defense of Poesy: Perhaps some readers (Gosson and poesy haters) “cannot hear the planet-like music of poetry.” If so, then if the reader has “so earth-creeping a mind that it cannot lift itself up to look to the sky of poetry” then “I must send you in the behalf of all poets:—that while you live in love, and never get favor for lacking skill of a sonnet; and when you die, your memory die from the earth for want of an epitaph.” Sidney concludes by entertaining the thought that his reader “cannot hear the planet-like music of poetry.” If that is the case, if the reader has “so earth-creeping a mind that it cannot lift itself up to look to the sky of poetry” then “I must send you in the behalf of all poets:—that while you live in love, and never get favor for lacking skill of a sonnet; and when you die, your memory die from the earth for want of an epitaph.” Poetry= sidney’s term for imaginative literature-prose fiction and poetry Poetry is Sidney’s term for all imaginative literature

35 In Brief  It is a defense against moralistic or philosophical attacks on poetry, drama, and music. One of these attacks, Stephen Gosson’s School of Abuse (1579), was dedicated to Sidney. His purpose is to defend creative writing, whether in verse or prose, against the ethical charges of falsehood and frivolity.

36 Sidney’s basic argument is that poetry feigns “notable images of virtues, vices, or what else” and thus provides “delightful teaching.” In developing this argument he makes well-informed and quite sophisticated use of the ancient writers Plato, Aristotle, and Horace.


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