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

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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.

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Sidney treats the poet as a creator. Discuss this idea with reference to Defence of Poesie.

One of the key characteristics that distinguish poets from other professions such as philosophers and lawyers is that they are able to be creators and are not beholden to what has gone before. This is a distinct advantage to poets, Sidney argues, as they can invent free from the restrictions of the past. Note how he refers to the poet as a creator:

Only the poet, disdaining to be tied to any such subjection, lifted up with the vigor of his own invention, doth grow, in effect, into another nature, in making things either better than nature bringeth forth, or, quite anew, forms such as never were in nature, as the heroes, demi-gods, cyclops, chimeras, furies, and such like...

Poets, Sidney thus argues, are able to "range within the zodiac of their own wit" rather than be tied down to the various "subjections" of other professions. The importance of the "invention" of poets is therefore something that cannot be underestimated, as it allows poets to actually improve on nature through their descriptions and also to create forms that represent a complete departure from nature, such as "chimeras" and "demi-gods." Conceiving of the poet as a creator is one of the chief arguments that Sidney has for the superiority of poets and for his defence of poetry as a whole.

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In Defence of Poesie, discuss how Sidney defends poetry against Plato's accusations.

Plato famously banished poets from his ideal society, arguing that they created and perpetuated falsehoods. Sidney, in his masterful defence of poetry, takes on Plato's claim, arguing that a poet "nothing affirms, and therefore never lieth." Sidney looks at other professions and explores how they present something that is not true to be true, and then compares them to the profession of a poet, arguing that deception is never something that a poet tries to achieve through his or her art. Note what he says:

The poet never maketh any circles about your imagination, to conjure you to believe for true what he writes... And therefore, though he recount things not true, yet because he telleth them not for true, he lieth not...

Poetry does not involve deception, rather it involves the willing suspension of disbelief, which is so key to its appreciation. Sidney thus defends poetry from Plato's argument that it promotes deceit by arguing that poetry is based on the imagination. Poetry never pretends to set forth a "truth" and rather relies on the audience's willing suspension of disbelief for its success. Because the poet is open about the imagination and creativity in his poetry, he is not lying and is not trying to promote deceit.

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Please discuss Sidney's views on the nature of poetry in Defence of Poesie.

In this profoundly eloquent defence of poetry, Sidney writes in a context where poetry had fallen to a very low status; where, in fact, poetry, had fallen to be "the laughing-stock of children." This  treatise was therefore occasional in that Sidney felt prompted to write it in order to defend his vocation of those who thought poetry had now become the source of all vice or something that was not to be taken seriously. Sidney's first point that he writes in poetry's defence is one in which he discusses the nature of poetry. He argues that the critics of poetry are extremely ungrateful:

to seek to deface that which, in the noblest nations and languages that are known, hath been the first light-giver to ignorance, and first nurse, whose milk by little and little enabled them to feed afterwards of tougher knowledges.

There is something essential about poetry that springs forth in all the "noblest nations and languages" and that is educative in its very core. Note the metaphors Sidney uses when he compares poetry to a torch bringing light into the ignorance of darkness, and then when he compares poetry to a baby's wet nurse who feeds its charge milk and prepares it for solids. Sidney begins his robust defence by arguing therefore that there is something educational in the nature of poetry that allows it to develop humans, as has been the case in history.

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