Sir Phillip Sidney (November 30, 1554 – October 17, 1586) was consecutively a courtier, soldier, statesman, amateur scholar, poet and a critic in his days of the Elizabethan era. He is considered the first great English critic and poet who wrote “An Apology for Poetry”. Philip Sidney holds a very important place among the English critics. His “Apology for Poetry” is a spirited defense of poetry against all the charges laid against it since Plato. He considers poetry as the oldest of all branches of learning and establishes its superiority. Poetry, according to Sidney, is superior to philosophy by its charm, to history by its universality, to science by its moral end, to law by its encouragement of human rather than civic goodness. Sidney deals with the usefulness of other forms of poetry also. The pastoral pleases by its helpful comments on contemporary events and life in general, the elegy by its kindly pity for the weakness of mankind, the satire by its pleasant ridicule of folly, the lyric by its sweet praise of all that is praiseworthy, and the epic by its representation of the loftiest truths in the loftiest manner. Sidney's practical criticism is constructive and his work contributes a great deal to a better understanding of literary values. He calls attention to literary Excellencies of more than one kind. He has enthusiasm for Biblical literature and finds much merit, unlike the other humanists of the day, in the medieval literature. He appreciates Chaucer and the ballad of Chevy Chase. In many ways, Sidney inaugurated a new era in the history of English literary criticism. His treatise is a landmark in the history of literary criticism in England. More truly than Dryden he is the father of literary criticism in that country. His manner of presentation, his freshness and vigour, are characteristically his. His style has dignity, simplicity, concreteness, and a racy humour and irony. It is an illuminating piece of literary criticism; as well as a fine piece of creative literature. An Apology for Poetry is the most important contribution to Renaissance literary theory. His 'Apology', as mentioned above, is an epitome of Renaissance criticism. In every one of his views, on the nature and function of poetry, on the three unities, on Tragedy and Comedy, on Diction and metre, he represents contemporary trends. Everywhere his work reflects the influence of Aristotle and Plato, of Scaliger and Minturno, and other classical, Italian and French critics: He constantly cites the authority of Aristotle, Horace, and the Italian critics of the Renaissance in support of his views. But this does not mean that it is a mere summary of classical and Italian doctrines. Sidney’s originality lies in the skill with which he has drawn upon, selected, arranged and adapted earlier ideas, and then has put forth his own ideas, independently arrived at. He makes use of (a) Italian critics, (b) classical critics, Plato and Aristotle, (c) Roman critics, Horace and Plutarch (d) he also shows the influence of medieval concept of tragedy, and (e) his didactic approach to poetry, is typically Renaissance approach. Poetry was valued not for its delight, but for its moral effect and practical utility in actual life. However, he is original in his emphasis on the transport of poetry. Poetry teaches by moving us to virtuous action. In fact, throughout, his conclusions are his own, the result of reflection and wide reading. What he writes bears the stamp of his personality. Apology for Poetry is one of several English defenses against moralistic or philosophical attacks on poetry, drama, and music. Stephen Gosson in his School of Abuse leveled four charges against poetry. They were: (i) A man could employ his time more usefully than in poetry, (ii) It is the ‘mother of lies’, (iii) It is immoral and ‘the nurse of abuse’ and (iv) Plato had rightly banished poets from his ideal commonwealth. One of these attacks, Stephen Gosson’s School...
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