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A Critique of "The Defense of Poesy" by Sir Philip Sidney

Nyamweya is a Kenyan scholar who has done many years of research on a diversity of topics

"The Defense of Poesy" book cover

"The Defense of Poesy" book cover

Sir Philip Sidney is accredited for authoring The Defense of Poesy, which was also commonly known as “Apology for Poetry”. This piece which was largely a defence of poetry was written in 1579 but came to be published in 1595 after he had died. This work is said to have been influenced by Stephen Gosson through his work, School of Abuse. Sydney’s work presents a good example of English criticism considering that it extends beyond poetry. Sidney introduced the term “poesy” to replace poetry which incorporates all the features of fictionalized arts such as drama and prose. Early in this work, Sydney writes “Having been stirred by the different titles of a poet, I have been stirred to present my logical reasoning to what I love most” In this writing, he has also extensively defended “poor poetry” and goes on to claim that “the goal of poetry is to draw and lead humans to a high perfection” However, he goes on to observe that “it has been made worse by humans clayey lodgings despite it having a capacity and an ideal vehicle to purify wit. His arguments are stipulated in a seven-part structure commencing with an introduction, after which he goes to the proposition stage, examination, division, and refutation and finally to a peroration stage. Besides, he also looks through different forms of poetry while referencing diverse classical texts in his arguments.

While Plato and puritans claimed that the idea of poetry is all lies, Sidney through his work Defense of Poesy came forth and explains why this should not be the case. Instead, Sidney attempted to raise the bar of poetry into a level of higher arts while disapproving the criticisms by the Plato and puritans. Through his work, Sydney displays his humanistic influences and education that played a big part in shaping his life. This explains why he adopted the thoughts and opinions of many Roman and Greek philosophers. He reiterates on how the Romans and Greek comprehended and felt about poetry alongside its impact on the modern literature and sciences. He also pays keen attention on Roman and Greek thoughts and in a manner that displays humanistic tendencies. Besides, he draws and relies on diverse pieces of classical literature as a way of considering the Renaissance audience. Sydney went on to argue that it is possible to use poetry in asserting a specific level of control of humanistic affairs and that poets are humans with independent thinking capability.

This portrays humanistic aspects since, before humanism, people believed that God was the controller of their fate, as well as every aspect of their lives. Nonetheless, throughout his works, he instead argues that poets have autonomy and can control themselves and they are not limited or governed by outward ideas. It should be noted that during the Renaissance Humanism era, a sense of individualism was quite popular. He also said that a majority of scientists have been Greek and later Romans and that the two civilizations placed high value in the art of poetry. While Romans referred to poets as vates which meant prophet, foreseer, or diviner, the Greeks named them poiein which implied, to make. In this sense, Romans and Greeks had a belief of writing being a divine gift from God and which shows his ability to create. However, Sydney claims that poetry cannot exist without nature since nature is a direct outcome of God’s creative endeavours. He goes on to articulate that poetry harbours a sense of divinity which must not be ignored. Through these core points, it can be observed that the Sydney’s Defense of Poesy was written with Humanistic ideas and values.

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