Theory and Criticism: Philip Sidney: An Apologie for Poetry / A Defence of Poetry: Sidney’s Reasons for the Superiority of Poetry to History



Sidney’s Apology is an important renascent document. It is a synthesis of the critical doctrines of Plato, Aristotle, Horace, Scaliger, Minturn, and a host of other writer and critics. It brings together romanticism and classicism. It is the first attempt in English to deal with the poetic art, practically and not those tidally. Read More about Criticism

On the nature and function of poetry, on the three unities, on tragedy and comedy, and diction and metre, Sidney represents contemporary trends. Everywhere his work reflects the influence of Aristotle and Plato and other classical writers. But his originality lies in the skill with which he has drawn upon, selected, arranged and independently arrived at. He makes use of  Read More about Criticism
1. Italian critics
2. Classical critics, Plato and Aristotle 
3. Roman critics, Horace and Plutarch
4. He also shows the influence of the medieval concept of tragedy, and
 5. His didactic approach to poetry is typically renaissance approach. However, his manner of presence is typically renaissance approach.
 However, his manner of presentation, his freshness and vigour, and his logical faculty are characteristically his own. His style has dignity, simplicity, concreteness, and criticism as well as a fine piece of creative literature. Read More about Criticism
Sidney approached poetry not as a pedantic critic, but as a res pensive reader. While most of his contemporaries were busy framing rules of rhetoric and prosody, he was paving the way for creative literature. He was preparing an audience who could ‘feel’ the emotional was a great dynamic force and it had the power to move’, ‘to uplift’ and to satisfy emotionally and aesthetically. J.W .H. Atkins has pointed out that ‘to him poetry was a natural human activity enabling men to sing of beauty and truth, and to satisfy their longings for a world transformed, thus nurturing in them what was good and noble. Moreover, so far from being merely an instrument of moral teaching, it was a concrete and inspiring revelation of human deals, and thus, in was a concerted and inspiring revelation of human deals, and thus in a sense, a criticism of life. This, then with its element of permanent truth, was the substance of Sidney’s message to age perplexed and even hostile”. Read More about Criticism




No doubt Sidney has freely drawn on earlier critics, yet he has tried to arrive at his own conception of poetry. The basic question he meets is: why is poetry valuable. The second section of his essay deals with the nature and value of poetry. This is followed by an examination of the objection to poetry. The fourth section presents a critique of the contemporary literary poetry and of morality. Read More about Poetry

Poetry is an act of imitation, a representation, a speaking picture, with the aim of instructing and delighting. Poetry moves man to virtuous action as it conveys universal lessons in a delightful manner. Poetry has the transporting power and hence teaches more perfectly than History and Philosophy. Poetry is superior to all the other branches of sciences, as poetry serves true knowledge which is self knowledge. In this respect, poetry is superior to Philosophy and History. Philosophy deals with abstract percepts which cannot be understood by the young, and History deals with concrete facts from which the readers may have difficulty to derive universal truths. Poetry combines both these advantages, and presents universal truths like philosophy through concrete examples like History.
His definitions of poetry, two in number, speak of his greatness as a critic the first is : “poesy, therefore, is an art of imitation, a representing, counterfeiting, or figuring forth ; to speak metaphorically, a speaking, with this end,- to teach and delight.” The second is: “it is not riming and versing that maketh a poet …but it is that feigning notable images of virtue or vice, or what else, with that delightful teaching; which must be the right describing not to know a poet by.” Sidney discusses about Different kinds of Poetry - Religious poetry, Philosophical Poetry and the Right Kind of Poetry. This last kind of poetry can be further subdivided into: Read More about Poetry
·         Heroic: heroic and moral goodness is portrayed, about heroic men in action, inspires men to noble action
·         Lyric: praise of men and God; enkindles virtue and courage
·         Tragic: reveals wickedness of men and shows their downfall, brings out the uncertainty of life
·         Comic: ridicules the common errors; effective in warning men of such follies
·         Satire: laughs folly out of court
·         Elegiac poetry: arouses sympathy for the suffering and miserable
·         Pastoral: arouses sympathy and admiration for simple life
His defense of poetry is unique. It logically refutes the contemporaries’ charges of the puritans against poetry. Poetry is universal; the first light giver to ignorance and the first nurse. The earliest recorded or preserved utterance of any nation is a form of poetic expression alone. The ancients delivered wisdom only through poetry. The first philosophers and scientist came before the people in the guard of poets. The poet is a better world than ours. Only in the poetic world do we come across true lovers, constant friends, valiant men, right prince, and excellent men. These characters are perfect. The bad men in this world have unmixed badness, and such villains are not allowed to go unpunished. Poetry is superior to history and philosophy. The poet has both the general and the particular example. But the philosopher is only theoretical, for he has examples. The historian has examples, but no precepts. The historian speaks of what has been, not of what ought to be. The philosopher is vague and speaks of what should be. Read More about Criticism

The poet speaks of both what is and what should be; of what is universal and what is particular. Poetry has liveliness and passion which are lacking in history and philosophy.   Sidney’s remarks on tragedy, tragic-comedy and comedy speak of his knowledge of the contemporary trends of literature and his wide reading.

In a Nutshell Sidney’s reply to the charges against poetry: Read More about Poetry
      Charges: Poetry is useless and a waste of time, there are more fruitful knowledge a man may spend his efforts on.
Reply: Poetry is conducive to virtuous action and this has been amply demonstrated.
      Charges:  Poetry is the mother of lies.
Reply: the poet affirms nothing, and therefore he never lies. Poetry does not deal with what is, but what should or should not be, so there is no question of lying. 
Charges: Poetry has a corrupting influence, makes men effeminate and fills men’s minds with pestilent desires.
Reply: Love is not bad for it shows an appreciation of Beauty. Many martial men have admired poets. Poetry has always moved men to heroic action.
Charges: Plato banished poets from the Republic.
Reply: Plato was not against poetry, but the abuse of poetry. Plato himself was a born poet and a large part of his dialogues is poetic. In fact he talks of Poetry as divine inspiration.