The Defence of Poesy

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The Defence of Poesy by Sir Philip Sidney, written c. 1580–82; published 1595
Member of a family that had risen to prominence under the Tudor monarchy, Sir Philip Sidney (1554–86) won admiration at an early age for his courtly skills and intellectual curiosity. His wide travel in continental Europe included diplomatic missions on behalf of Elizabeth I. He advocated support for the Protestant Netherlands in their military resistance to the rule of Catholic Spain. When an English force was sent to the Netherlands in 1585, Sidney was given command of a garrison, and died from wounds sustained in a military engagement.
Sidney’s major writings probably belong to the period 1578–84, though none can be dated with certainty. Arcadia, a prose narrative interspersed with verse, combines chivalric romance, pastoral, comedy, and debate on ethics and politics. It survives in a complete earlier version and an unfinished expanded version. Astrophil and Stella, a cycle of 108 sonnets and 11 songs, is one of the first English adaptations of Petrarchan love poetry. By turns witty and tormented, it is a lightly disguised and no doubt fictionally embellished treatment of Sidney’s thwarted love for Penelope Devereux, sister of the Earl of Essex.
The most likely date for the composition of the Defence is 1580–82. Like Sidney’s other writings, it circulated only in manuscript during his lifetime, and was published by two separate printers in 1595 under the titles Defence of Poesy and Apology for Poetry. It is one of several English defenses against moralistic or philosophical attacks on poetry, drama, and music. One of these attacks, Stephen Gosson’s School of Abuse (1579), was dedicated to Sidney and possibly prompted the writing of the Defence.
The Defence has the structure of a classical oration, a literary form much utilized in Renaissance education and later adopted in Milton’s…...

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