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Analysis of A Defence of Poetry, c. 1584 6
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this objection in advance when you point out the subject in which
the excellence and worth of the artist resides. It resides (you say) in
the idea of the work, not in the work itself. But how would you
demonstrate that this explication of an idea is not itself in all parts
First a dissimilitude is argued, in order to make clear the
explication of an idea: the explication of an idea is not fictional in
the same sense that it is to build a castle in the air.
Next you add a comparison from the greater in order to explain the
characteristics of this fiction:
Poetry expresses notable images not only as specific but as
generic: ‘it worketh not only to make a Cyrus…’ [MP, p. 79].
You conclude the comparison of Nature and poetry with the
refutation of an objection: ‘Neither let it bee deemed…’ [MP, p. 79].
The objection is resolved by invoking differences:
It is not fitting that any person should be accused of rashness for
setting up a comparison of this kind. One should instead give the
honour to God, who allowed poetry this power. You praise God
from effect. The effect of God is argued by means of a comparison
from the lesser: [analytically paraphrases MP, p. 79, lines 21–6].
Up to this point, you have distinguished poetry by its three-fold
adjuncts, that is to say by antiquity, by community, and by names.
What follows is praise of the poetic faculty first from definition,
next from Distribution.
Poetry is an art of imitation, or of feigning. Its aim is to teach and
This is the definition (most illustrious Philip) which contains the
whole controversy: and on which, as if on the foundations of a
building, this discussion of poetry which you have undertaken
almost completely rests. Let us see, therefore, whether it explains
and defines rightly the nature of the thing defined.
You wish the nature of poetry to be understood as a kind of
feigning. But is such a feigning anything but the invention of a thing
which never existed? Whoever feigns makes logical arguments,
namely causes, effects, subjects, adjuncts, contraries, comparisons,
or the other things which have their origin in these. Thus Ovid,
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when he feigned the realm of the sun, feigned an efficient cause by
which it was constructed, material from which it was put together,
and adjuncts with which it was embellished. Because of this,
feigning will be the same as the invention of a thing which does not
yet exist. If this is so, then the art of feigning will pertain not to
poetry but to dialectical invention: through which not only true, but
also fictitious things, are conceived. I acknowledge that those things
which are feigned come under a different discipline—that of ethics,
to a great extent, or that of natural philosophy—no less than the
arguments which are discernible in matters pertaining to nature and
are there held in good esteem. But this same feigning, in the same
manner as the thinking out of these arguments, is the action of
either native or artificial reason in invention. Therefore when
Aristotle defines poetry as feigning, he places poetry as if in the
domain of logical invention, thereby violating the law of ?a???t?.1
And whenever poets feign, they do this not through some function
available only to poetry, but by the faculty of the art of dialectic.
Now because Aristotle wants ‘To Teach and Delight’ to be the
ends of poetry, he wants (it must be emphasized) that which in the
one case is not ?a?’a?t?, and in the other is not ?a????? p??t??.2
Since the faculty of teaching consists of arguments disposed by
proposition, syllogism, and method, it comes under dialectic rather
than poetry: and for this reason the definition of poetry does not
accord at all with the law of justice. Although delight can be derived
from the sweetness of poetry, it also flows from other sources:
namely from tropes, from figures in the repetition of sound and
from those of wise sententiae, from dignity of action [i.e. oratorical
delivery], from wise and grave judgement. Therefore ‘to delight’, in
the definition of poetry, is contrary to the law of wisdom. In other
words praise of the faculty of poetry from Aristotle’s definition is
I.e. the law of justice: see William Temple’s ‘Analysis’, ed. Webster, pp.
I.e. in accord with the law of wisdom: see ibid.
8. Geoffrey Whitney
Whitney (1548?–1601?) was a follower of the Earl of Leicester and,
when he collected and published A Choice of Emblemes, a student at the
University of Leiden. His emphasis on honey-sweet verse as a thing
of Sidney’s youthful past, and on his foreign fame, accord with the
sense of hope for purposeful Anglo-Dutch Protestant action in the
early part of 1586. The reality proved more complicated. Leicester’s
popularity rapidly declined, as Governor-General he mismanaged
his relationship both with Dutch leaders and with the queen, and
Sidney was fatally wounded in September. On Whitney in Leiden,
see Jan van Dorsten, Poets, Patrons, and Professors: Sir Philip Sidney, Daniel
Rogers, and the Leiden Humanists, Leiden, 1962, pp. 131–8.
Whitney’s poem appears under the emblem of ‘Fame armed with
a pen’, which was dedicated to Edward Dyer, Sidney having
modestly refused it. (See ibid., p. 137).
A Choice of Emblemes, Leiden, 1586, pp. 196–7.
When frowning fatall dame, that stoppes our course in fine,
The thred of noble SURREYS life, made hast for to untwine,
APOLLO chang’d his cheare, and lay’d awaie his lute, And
PALLAS, and the Muses sad, did weare a mourninge sute.
And then, the goulden pen, in case of sables cladde, Was
lock’d in chiste of Ebonie, and to Parnassus had. But, as all
times do chaunge, so passions have their space;
And cloudie skies at lengthe are clear’d, with Phoebus
For, when that barren verse made Muses voide of mirthe;
Behoulde, LUSINA sweetelie sounge, of SIDNEYS joyfull
Whome mightie JOVE did blesse, with graces from above:
On whome, did fortune frendlie smile, and nature most did
And then, behoulde, the pen, was bij MERCURIUS sente,
Wherewith, hee also gave to him, the gifte for to invente.
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That, when hee first began, his vayne in verse to showe
More sweete then honie, was the stile, that from his penne
Wherewith, in youthe he used to bannishe idle fittes; That
nowe, his workes of endlesse fame, delighte the worthie
No haulting verse hee writes, but matcheth former times,
No Cherillus,1 he can abide, nor Poëttes patched rimes.
What volume hath hee writte that rest among his frendes,
Which needes no other praise at all, eche worke it selfe
So, that hee famous lives, at home, and farre, and neare;
For those that live in other landes, of SIDNEYS giftes doe
And such as MUSES serve, in darkenes meere doe dwell;
If that they have not seene his workes, they doe so farre excell.
Wherefore, for to extoll his name in what I might, This
Embleme lo, I did present, unto this worthie Knight.
‘Horat. lib. 2 epist.1. ad Augustum.’
9. Fulke Greville
Greville wrote to Sir Francis Walsingham (Sidney’s father-inlaw) soon after hearing the news of Sidney’s death (see Victor
Skretkowicz, ‘Building Sidney’s Reputation: Texts and
Editions of the Arcadia’, in Van Dorsten, Baker-Smith, and
Kinney, p. 113). How far Greville had already formulated his
later view of Arcadia as a weighty, morally unambiguous
warning to ‘Soveraign Princes [who] to play with their own
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visions, will put off publique action’ (No. 39) is uncertain; it
was perhaps influenced by the frequency of more liberal
responses to the work in the years between 1586 and 1610. It
seems likely, however, that his belief (implemented in 1590)
that The New Arcadia is ‘fitter to be printed then that first’
proceeds from a view of the revision as dealing more
extensively and emphatically with matters of state and, as
such, fulfilling Sidney’s intentions more closely than the Old
Robertson, pp. lx–lxii, suggests plausibly that the ‘direction
sett down undre’ Sidney’s ‘own hand’ was equivalent to the
‘known determinations’ referred to by Sanford (No. 20),
contained ‘a few redrafted passages and some notes’ for
intended changes in the Old Arcadia Books III–V, and was sent
by Greville to the Countess of Pembroke, who incorporated
the alterations—including the significant modification of
sexual conduct of Pyrocles, Philoclea and Musidorus—in the
The translations of Du Bartas and Duplessis-Mornay to
which Greville refers are now lost; Florio (No. 31) was still
calling for their publication in 1603. The version of Duplessis
‘since don by an other’ is Arthur Golding’s A Work Concerning
the Trueness of the Christian Religion, which, the title-page claims,
Golding had finished for Sidney ‘at his request’ (see MP, pp.
Letter to Sir Francis Walsingham, November, 1586, in
Ringler, p. 530, and Public Record Office, SP 12/195/33.
Sir this day one ponsonby a booke bynder in poles [=Paul’s] church
yard, came to me, and told me that ther was one in hand to print, Sir
philip sydneys old arcadia asking me yf it were done, with yor honors
consent or any other of his frends, I told him to my knowledge no,
then he advised me to give warning of it, either to the archebishope
or doctor Cosen, who have as he says a copy of it to peruse to that
end. Sir I am lothe to reneu his memori unto you, but yeat in this I
might presume, for I have sent my lady yor daughter at her request,
a correction of that old one don 4 or 5 years since which he left in
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trust with me wherof there is no more copies, & fitter to be printed
then that first which is so common, notwithstanding even that to be
amended by a direction sett doun undre his own hand how & why, so
as in many respects espetially the care of printing it is to be done with
more deliberation,—besydes he hathe most excellentli translated
among divers other notable workes monsieur du plessis book against
Atheisme, which is since don by an other, so as bothe in respect of the
love between plessis and him besyds other affinities in ther courses
but espetially Sir philips uncomparable Judgement, I think fit ther be
made a stei of that mercenary book to [i.e. so] that Sir philip might
have all those religous honors which ar wortheli dew to his life and
death, many other works as bartas his semayne, 40 of the psalms
[‘spalm’] translated into Myter &c which requyre the care of his
frends, not to amend for I think it fales within the reache of no man
living, but only to see to the paper and other common errors of
mercenary printing. Gayn ther wilbe no doubt to be disposed by you,
let it helpe the poorest of his servants, I desyre only care to be had of
his honor who I fear hathe caried the honor of thes latter ages with
him…. Sir I had way ted on you my selfe for aunswer because I am
Jelous of tyme in it, but in trothe I am nothing well. Good Sir think
10. Matthew Roydon
Roydon was associated at various times with Spenser, Marlowe
and Chapman. Nashe says, in his preface to Greene’s Menaphon
(1589) that he ‘hath shewed himselfe singular in the immortall
Epitaph of his beloved Astrophell, besides many other most absolute
Comike inventions’ (The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. Ronald
B.McKerrow, 5 vols, Oxford, 1958, vol. 3, p. 323). If the epitaph
was the same as the elegy, and if it was not revised between
composition and publication (for which see below) it constitutes
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the earliest known account of Astrophil and Stella. As in Spenser’s
elegy—as a source of which it should perhaps be classed—the
boundary between Sidney and Astrophil, life and work, is unclear
and Stella idealized rather than ‘identified’.
The ‘Elegie’ was first published, with those of Ralegh and
Dyer, in The Phoenix Nest (1593), and then in the Astrophel collection.
It is ‘a faux-naïf, semi-allegorical account of Sidney’s death’
(Katherine Duncan-Jones, ‘Astrophel’, in The Spenser Encyclopedia,
ed. A.C.Hamilton et al., Toronto, 1990, p. 74). The ‘friend’ of the
title ‘is unlikely to be Roydon himself, but may be some loftier
figure such as Essex or Robert Sidney’ (ibid., p. 75).
From ‘An Elegie, or friends passion, for his Astrophill’, in Colin
Clouts Come Home Again, London, 1595, sigs I3–I4v.
Within these woods of Arcadie,
He chiefe delight and pleasure tooke,
And on the mountaine Parthenie,
Upon the chrystall liquid brooke,
The Muses met him ev’ry day,
That taught him sing, to write, and say.
When he descended downe the mount,
His personage seemed most divine,
A thousand graces one might count,
Upon his lovely cheerful eine,
To heare him speake and sweetly smile,
You were in Paradise the while.
A sweete attractive kinde of grace,
A full assuraunce given by lookes,
Continuall comfort in a face,
The lineaments of Gospell bookes,
I trowe that countenance cannot lie,
Whose thoughts are legible in the eie.
Was never eie, did see that face,
Was never eare, did heare that tong,
Was never minde, did minde his grace,
That ever thought the travell long,
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But eies, and eares, and ev’ry thought,
Were with his sweete perfections caught.
O God, that such a worthy man,
In whom so rare desarts did raigne,
Desired thus, must leave us than,
And we to wish for him in vaine,
O could the stars that bred that wit,
In force no longer fixed sit.
Then being fild with learned dew,
The Muses willed him to love,
That instrument can aptly shew,
How finely our conceits will move,
As Bacchus opes dissembled harts,
So love sets out our better parts.
Stella, a Nymph within this wood,
Most rare and rich of heavenly blis,
The highest in his fancie stood,
And she could well demerite this,
Tis likely they acquainted soone,
He was a Sun, and she a Moone.
Our Astrophill did Stella love,
O Stella vaunt of Astrophill,
Albeit thy graces gods may move,
Where wilt thou finde an Astrophill,
The rose and lillie have their prime,
And so hath beautie but a time.
Although thy beautie do exceed,
In common sight of ev’ry eie,
Yet in his Poesies when we reede,
It is apparant more thereby,
He that hath love and judgement too,
Sees more than any other doo.
Then Astrophill hath honord thee,
For when thy bodie is extinct,
Thy graces shall eternall be,
And live by vertue of his inke,
For by his verses he doth give,
To short livde beautie aye to live.