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Many critics argue that this prose work by Sir Philip Sidney represents the first work of literary criticism in English Literature. It is clear, upon close examination, that this is a claim it would be difficult to refute. What makes this prose work so important and far reaching is the way that in it Sidney not only sets forth a defence of poetry as being vital for society and a highly noble profession, but he also surveys contemporary poetry and finds it wanting, discussing the various failings of the poetry of his day and comparing it to previous examples. Thus this treatise represents a piece of prose that could justly be considered the first work of criticism, as it examines the nature of poetry and the role of the poet. Note for example what he says about the ability of poets to create an alternative nature that can be more beautiful than the original:
Nature never set forth the earth is so rich a tapestry as divers poets have done, neither with pleasant rivers, fruitful trees, sweet-smelling flowers, nor whatsoever else may make the too much loved earth more lovely.
Sidney here focuses on the potential in poetry to improve upon nature rather than be restricted by it. Such ruminations represent the first of their kind in English literature. Elsewhere in the text Sidney talks about the various aspects of poetry such as rhyme and form, debating the merits of "versifying" for example and examining the two principle ways, one "ancient" and the other "modern." Such discussion of the technicalities of poetry again are novel, supporting the view that this treatise is the first work of criticism of English Literature.
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