Please discuss Sidney's views about the three unities in Defence of Poesie.

1 Answer

accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Sir Philip Sidney was a staunch defender of the Aristotelian concept of the three unities, in which Aristotle argued that any drama must observe the unity of time, place and action. Aristotle meant by this that a play must be coherent to achieve its impact. It would distract the audience if you had too many locations or times or different plots to deal with. Sidney agreed with this and in this essay famously parodies some of the excesses of drama in his time:

You shall have Asia of the one side, and Affrick of the other, and so many other under-kingdoms, that the Player, when he cometh in, must ever begin with telling where he is: or els, the tale will not be conceived. Now ye shall have three Ladies, walke to gather flowers, and then we must beleeve the stage to be a Garden. By and by, we heare news of shipwracke in the same place, and then wee are to blame, if we accept it not for a rock.

Such disorientation was "absurd in sense" Sidney argues, precisely because the drama of his day did not observe the three unities that were propounded by Aristotle, and was the weaker as a result. Note the examples that Sidney gives, with the audience meant to believe that Asia is on one side of the stage and Africa the other so that even the actors themselves must begin by describing where they are meant to be to help the audience. Although Sidney was a clear proponent of the willing suspension of disbelief, this was certainly one step too far.