Now in his parts, kinds, or species, as you list to term them, it is to be noted that some poesies have coupled together two or three kinds,—as tragical and comical, whereupon is risen the tragi-comical; some, in the like manner, have mingled prose and verse, as Sannazzaro and Boethius; some have mingled matters heroical and pastoral; but that comes all to one in this question, for, if severed they be good, the conjunction cannot be hurtful. His lament over the shortcomings of contemporary English poetry shows a cultural nationalism that is also characteristic of the Renaissance. Sidney, like Shelley and Wordsworth, sees the poet as being separate from society. It deserves 5 stars just for being so gutsy and clever! I know Apuleius did somewhat so, but that is a thing recounted with space of time, not represented in one moment; and I know the ancients have one or two examples of tragi-comedies, as Plautus hath Amphytrio. And where a man may say that Pindar many times praiseth highly victories of small moment, matters rather of sport than virtue; as it may be answered, it was the fault of the poet, and not of the poetry, so indeed the chief fault was in the time and custom of the Greeks, who set those toys at so high a price that Philip of Macedon reckoned a horserace won at Olympus among his three fearful felicities.
But what needs more in a thing so known to all men? The Shepherds Calendar hath much poetry in his eclogues, indeed worthy the reading, if I be not deceived. This, indeed, is the ordinary doctrine of ignorance, and many words sometimes I have heard spent in it; but because this reason is generally against all learning, as well as poetry, or rather all learning but poetry; because it were too large a digression to handle, or at least too superfluous, since it is manifest that all government of action is to be gotten by knowledge, and knowledge best by gathering many knowledges, which is reading; I only, with Horace, to him that is of that opinion Jubeo stultum esse libenter; for as for poetry itself, it is the freest from this objection, for poetry is the companion of the camps. Puritans, like Gosson, though they may have been motivated by strong moral beliefs, also tended to chill the creative environment in which poets worked, driving them into the questionable freedom offered by the protection of the nobles' courts. Sidney's The Defence of Poesy and Selected Renaissance Literary CriticismIf you enjoy Sidney's wit, Peacock's Peacock's Four Ages of Poetry; Shelley's Defence of Poetry; Browning's Essay on Shelley may leave you on the floor in laughter. For these third be they which most properly do imitate to teach and delight; and to imitate borrow nothing of what is, hath been, or shall be; but range, only reined with learned discretion, into the divine consideration of what may be and should be.
The astronomer, with his cousin the geometrician, can hardly escape when they take upon them to measure the height of the stars. Or rather the vipers, that with their birth kill their parents? He then moves from these categories to specific examinations--focusing on the close relationship between poetry and learning establishing philosophy and history as inferior before moving on to refutation. It gives the public ideas towards consumerism as literature and fiction becomes a way of money making. So is it in men, most of which are childish in the best things, till they be cradled in their graves,—glad they will be to hear the tales of Hercules, Achilles, Cyrus, Æneas; and, hearing them, must needs hear the right description of wisdom, valor, and justice; which, if they had been barely, that is to say philosophically, set out, they would swear they be brought to school again. Indeed, some of the poems were memorable, others not so much, but what does it all add up to in the end? Where the philosophers, as they scorn to delight, so must they be content little to movesaving wrangling whether virtue be the chief or the only good, whether the contemplative or the active life do excelwhich Plato and Boethius well knew, and therefore made Mistress Philosophy very often borrow the masking raiment of Poesy. It was a very complicated read, and a mandatory on top of that.
But truly I imagine if falleth out with these poet-whippers as with some good women who often are sick, but in faith they cannot tell where. But lay aside the just praise it has by being the only fit speech for music—music, I say, the most divine striker of the senses—thus much is undoubtedly true, that if reading be foolish without remembering, memory being the only treasurer of knowledge, those words which are fittest for memory are likewise most convenient for knowledge. Marry, this argument, though it be levelled against poetry, yet is it indeed a chainshot against all learning,or bookishness, as they commonly term it. Sure, his lengthy expository will prove to be an ordeal for some but its worth reading for anyone who might be interested in 16th century literary criticism or perhaps like me, require a little inspiration now and again to continue on with my own literary ambitions. He said soldiers were the noblest estate of mankind, and horsemen the noblest of soldiers. It is already said, and as I think truly said, it is not riming and versing that maketh poesy.
But the historian, being captived to the truth of a foolish world, is many times a terror from well-doing, and an encouragement to unbridled wickedness. Chaucer, undoubtedly, did excellently in his Troilus and Cressida; of whom, truly, I know not whether to marvel more, either that he in that misty time could see so clearly, or that we in this clear age walk so stumblingly after him. In our neighbor country Ireland, where truly learning goeth very bare, yet are their poets held in a devout reverence. What does this suggest about the relation between visual and poetic arts in this period? Among whom as principal challengers step forth the moral philosophers; whom, me thinks, I see coming toward me with a sullen gravity, as though they could not abide vice by daylight; rudely clothed, for to witness outwardly their contempt of outward things; with books in their hands against glory, whereto they set their names; sophistically speaking against subtlety; and angry with any man in whom they see the foul fault of anger. He employs his creative faculty, imagination and style of presentation to decorate the raw materials of nature. Now let us go to a more ordinary opening of him, that the truth may be the more palpable; and so, I hope, though we get not so unmatched a praise as the etymology of his names will grant, yet his very description, which no man will deny, shall not justly be barred from a principal commendation. But grant love of beauty to be a beastly fault, although it be very hard, since only man, and no beast, hath that gift to discern beauty; grant that lovely name of Love to deserve all hateful reproaches, although even some of my masters the philosophers spent a good deal of their lamp-oil in setting forth the excellency of it; grant, I say, whatsoever they will have granted that not only love, but lust, but vanity, but, if they list, scurrility possesseth many leaves of the poets books; yet think I when this is granted, they will find their sentence may with good manners put the last words foremost, and not say that poetry abuseth mans wit, but that mans wit abuseth poetry.
For heretofore poets have in England also flourished; and, which is to be noted, even in those time when the trumpet of Mars did sound loudest. And pretending no more, doth intend the winning of the mind from wickedness to virtue. What does he take for granted about poets' genders and their relationship to their audiences' genders? But the poet, as I said before, never affirmeth. But if fie of such a but! And I feel a comedic sense in this short read; in so far that the consistent persuasion of categorizing the grammarian, historian and all other non-poets forces Sir Sidney's granular poetic analytics to be categorized with those aforementioned! I highly recommend the Penguin Edition that contains this Defensive gem of a read. Then would he allege you innumerable examples, confirming story by story, how much the wisest senators and princes have been directed by the credit of history, as Brutus, Alphonsus of Aragonand who not, if need be? Sidney's argument is more nuanced than that, but that is the gist of it.
For his knowledge standeth so upon the abstract and general that happy is that man who may understand him, and more happy that can apply what he doth understand. This, according to the inclination of man, bred many-formed impressions. For indeed that is the principal, if not the only, abuse I can hear alleged. And if it wrought no further good in him, it was that he, in despite of himself, withdrew himself from hearkening to that which might mollify his hardened heart. This would be much more enjoyable if I were read in Greek lore and mythology-- but I genuinely appreciated his biblical undertones and his Roman comparisons. Many times he must tell events whereof he can yield no cause; or if he do, it must be poetically. It is generally believed that he was at least partly motivated by , a former playwright who dedicated his attack on the English stage, The School of Abuse, to Sidney in 1579, but Sidney primarily addresses more general objections to poetry, such as those of Plato.
Only thus much now is to be said, that the comedy in an imitation of the common errors of our life, which he representeth in the most ridiculous and scornful sort that may be, so as it is impossible that any beholder can be content to be such a one. He beginneth not with obscure definitions, which must blur the margent with interpretations, and load the memory with doubtfulness. Rejecting the methodical order of a treatise and the fantastic elaboration of euphuism, the fashionable literary style of his day, Sidney adopts the varying voice of a public speaker. The poet nameth Cyrus and Æneas no other way than to show what men of their fames, fortunes, and estates should do. And therefore if Cato misliked Fulvius for carrying Ennius with him to the field, it may be answered that if Cato misliked it, the noble Fulvius liked it, or else he had not done it.
Now let us go to a more ordinary opening of him, that the truth may be the more palpable; and so, I hope, though we get not so unmatched a praise as the etymology of his names will grant, yet his very description, which no man will deny, shall not justly be barred from a principal commendation. Gosson and the Puritan likes of him charged poetry with depravity and leading people astray etc. Whom do not those words of Turnus move, the tale of Turnus having planted his image in the imagination? But if anything be already said in the defense of sweet poetry, all concurreth to the maintaining the heroical, which is not only a kind, but the best and most accomplished kind of poetry. This section is most interesting to me because it touches upon some of my burning questions alluded to earlier. Sidney An Apology for Poetry or, The Defence of Poesy is a work of literary criticism by. The philosopher showeth you the way, he informeth you of the particularities, as well of the tediousness of the way, as of the pleasant lodging you shall have when your journey is ended, as of the many by-turnings that may divert you from your way; but this is to no man but to him that will read him, and read him with attentive, studious painfulness; which constant desire whosoever hath in him, hath already passed half the hardness of the way, and therefore is beholding to the philosopher but for the other half.