An Apology for Poetry by Sir Philip Sidney

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Richard L. W. Clarke LITS2002 Notes 01

1

SIR PHILIP SIDNEY, AN APOLOGY FOR POETRY (1595) Sidney, Sir Philip. “An Apology for Poetry.” Critical Theory Since Plato. Ed. Hazard Adam s. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1971. 143-162.

Sidney’s argum ent is divided into several sections and subsections. In order to m ake sense of this im m ensely long but im portant essay, you should read those sections m arked by an asterisk (*) below and in the order given: 1. From “Now then we go to the m ost im portant imputations laid to the poor poets” (p.154) to “ . . . Plato banished them out of his com m onwealth.” (p.154): Sidney’s brief listing of the four m ain criticism s directed against poetry * C a subsection devoted to providing brief answers (expanded considerably in the other sections listed below) to these criticism s: from “First, to the first, . . .” (p.154) to “. . . the clear springs of poesy.” (p.158)

2.

From “Am ong the Rom ans a poet was called vates . . .” (p.144) to “ . . . a principal recom m endation.” (p.146): Sidney’s response to criticism #2 – his view of the poet as prophet and ‘m aker’ of things, and poetry as a form of im itation * From “Poesy therefore is an art . . .” (p.146) to “ . . . have a m ost just title to be princes over the rest.” (p.147): Sidney’s response to criticism s #1 and 3 -- his views on the beneficial m oral im pact of poetry * C there is also a not unim portant subsection devoted to a defence of the various genres of poetry--pastoral, elegy, comedy, tragedy, lyric poetry, heroical (epic): from “By these, therefore, exam ples and reasons . . .” (p.151) to “ . . . yielding or answering.” (p.154) there is also a brief subsection devoted to a defence of the usefulness of rhym ing and versification in poetry: from “Those kinds of objections . . .” (p.154) to “ . . . any m an can speak against it.” (p.154). there is also a long and som ewhat tedious section devoted to the failures of English poetry by recounting English literary history up his tim e: from “But since I have run so long . . .” (p.158) to the end (p.162)

3.

C

C

4.

From "W herein we can show the poet’s nobleness . . ." (p.147) to " . . . Psalm of Mercy well testifieth." (p.151) and from “And first, truly, to all them that professing learning inveigh against poetry . . .” (p. 143) to “. . . scourged out of the church of God.” (p.145): Sidney’s response to criticism #4: his defence against Plato’s call to banish poets from and only retain philosophers and other serious learned people in his ideal state by : C outlining the pedagogical superiority of poetry to both philosophy and historiography where the teaching of morality is concerned: from “Wherein we can show the poet’s nobleness . . .” (p.147) to “ . . . Psalm of Mercy well testifieth.” (p.151) * stressing the inherently poetic nature of philosophy, historiography, and the Bible: from “And first, truly, to all them that professing learning inveigh against poetry . . .” (p. 143) to “. . . scourged out of the church of God.”

C

Richard L. W. Clarke LITS2002 Notes 01

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(p.145) (All references are to the version of Sidney’s essay found in Hazard Adam s, ed. Critical Theory Since Plato.)

From “Now then we go to the m ost im portant im putations laid to the poor poets” (p.154) to “ . . . Plato banished them out of his com m onwealth.” (p.154): Sidney’s Preview of his Argum ent Here, Sidney briefly lists the four m ain criticism s directed against poetry. Som e argue, he writes, that it is: C less im portant than “other m ore fruitful knowledges” (154), C the “m other of lies” (154), C the “nurse of abuse, infecting us with m any pestilent desires” (154), m aking m any nations, including Britain, effem inate and unm anly, distracting its m en from m ore m anly pursuits like war, and C it was banished from Plato’s ideal state. From “Am ong the Rom ans a poet was called vates . . .” (p.144) to “ . . a principal recom m endation.” (p.146)...
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