Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Although Sir Philip Sidney’s best-known work is Astrophel and Stella, his major work and the one to which he devoted most of his literary energy and much of his political frustration was Arcadia (originally titled The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia). This long, much-revised epic prose romance was written and revised between 1578 and 1586; it was first published in an unfinished version in 1590, then in 1593 in a revised and imperfect version, again in 1598, and repeatedly in many editions for more than a century. The equivalent in prose of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590, 1596), it is an encyclopedic romance of love, politics, and adventure, incorporating many stories and discussions of philosophical, theological, erotic, and psychological issues. Almost as important is Sidney’s critical treatise, Defence of Poesie (1595; published in another edition as An Apologie for Poetry), written about 1580, and setting forth in a seductive, if never quite logically coherent argument, a celebration of the nature and power of poetry, along with some prescriptive (and perceptive) comments on the current malaise of English poetry, drama, and the literary scene generally. Other works Sidney wrote include The Lady of May (pr. 1578), a pastoral entertainment; the first forty-four poems in a translation of the Psalms, later revised and completed by his sister Mary; and a number of other miscellaneous poems, prose treatises, and translations, mainly designed to further the cause of the Protestant faction in Elizabeth’s court.
Achievements (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
“Our English Petrarke Sir Philip Sidney . . . often comforteth him selfe in his sonnets of Stella, though dispairing to attaine his desire. . . .” Thus Sir John Harington in 1591, and generations of readers have similarly sighed and sympathized with Astrophel’s tragicomic enactment of “poore Petrarch’s long deceased woes.” In literary history, Astrophel and Stella marks a poetical revolution no less than William Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads (1798) or T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922); the poem is the product of a young, ambitious poet, acting on his impatience with the poetry he criticized in his manifesto, Defence of Poesie. “Poetry almost have we none,” he wrote, “but that lyrical kind of songs and sonets,” which “if I were a mistresse would never persuade mee they were in love.” Sir Philip Sidney has also had a special place in England’s broader cultural history. Part of his fascination has been the ways succeeding ages have appropriated him: as a lost leader of the golden Elizabethan age, Victorian gentleman, anguished Edwardian, committed existentialist, apolitical quietist, even a member of the Moral Majority. Like all great writers, Sidney and his works have been continually reinterpreted by successive ages, his poems and his life alike inscribed into different literary, political, and cultural discourses. As contemporary scholars have become more attuned to both the linguistic and...
(The entire section is 485 words.)
Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Consider Sir Philip Sidney’s Defence of Poesie as a synthesis of the best critical ideas about poetry available to him.
What was Sidney’s initiative in discussing prior English poetry?
As an early English sonnet writer, what did Sidney contribute to the form in Astrophel and Stella and his other sonnets?
The speaker in Sonnet 74 of Astrophel and Stella is a character to be distinguished from the author. How does Astrophel characterize himself, and how is the reader expected to understand him?
What are the literary sources of Sidney’s original Arcadia?
How did Sidney’s approach change when he undertook the New Arcadia?
William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 55 (“Not marble, nor the gilded monuments”) has been interpreted by some as referring to Sidney’s “powerful rhyme.” How convincing do you find this theory?
Bibliography (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Alexander, Gavin. Writing After Sidney: The Literary Response to Sir Philip Sidney, 1586-1640. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Alexander looks at the legacy of one of the most important Elizabethan writers by examining first his sister Mary Sidney, his brother Robert Sidney, his friend Fulke Greville, and his niece Mary Wroth, then examining poets and writers who were influenced by him.
Berry, Edward I. The Making of Sir Philip Sidney. Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, 1998. Explores how Sidney created himself as a poet by making representations of himself in the roles of some of his most literary creations, including Astrophel and Stella and the intrusive persona of Defence of Poesie.
Connell, Dorothy. Sir Philip Sidney: The Maker’s Mind. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1977. Considers Sidney’s life and art in a biographical and historical context. Connell discusses in detail important historical influences on Sidney. Includes maps, a bibliography, and an index.
Duncan-Jones, Katherine. Sir Philip Sidney: Courtier Poet. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991. This useful biography links the details of Sidney’s life at court to his poetic works.
Garrett, Martin, ed. Sidney: The Critical Heritage. New York: Routledge,...
(The entire section is 447 words.)