Philip Sidney Criticism - Essay

John Bailey (review date 1910)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Sir Philip Sidney,” in Poets and Poetry: Being Articles Reprinted from the Literary Supplement of ‘The Times’, by John Bailey, Clarendon Press, 1911, pp. 28–36.

[In the following review of John Drinkwater's edition of The Poems of Sir Philip Sidney, originally published in the Times Literary Supplement in 1910, Bailey contends that Sidney marks an important stage in the development of English poetry after Chaucer; and Sidney was the first practitioner of a new beauty of language and mastery of rhythm.]

Of all the English poets none has a fame so independent of his poetry as Sidney. Other poets—Milton, for instance, and Marvell—have...

(The entire section is 2805 words.)

Edwin A. Greenlaw (essay date 1913)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Sidney's Arcadia as an Example of Elizabethan Allegory,” in Essential Articles for the Study of Sir Philip Sidney, Archon Books, 1986, pp. 271–85.

[In the following essay, originally published in Anniversary Papers by Colleagues and Pupils of George Lyman Kittredgein 1913, Greenlaw argues that by Elizabethan standards Arcadia is a heroic poem; Sidney provides the type of allegory his audience would have expected, and the work reflects political crises of sixteenth-century England.]

By Sidney and his contemporaries, Arcadia was regarded as an heroic poem. Fraunce lists it with the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid;1...

(The entire section is 6140 words.)

Theodore Spencer (essay date 1944)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Poetry of Sir Philip Sidney,” in ELH: A Journal of English Literary History, Vol. 12, No. 4, December 1945, pp. 251–78.

[In the following essay, Spencer emphasizes the importance of “art, imitation, and exercise” in Sidney's early poetry and views Sidney as breaking convention with Astrophel and Stella.]


Although a large amount of literature has accumulated around the life and work of Sir Philip Sidney, it is somewhat remarkable that no thorough study of his poetry, as poetry, seems to exist. Courthope, in his History of English Poetry, describes Sidney's life rather than his writing, and though we...

(The entire section is 9889 words.)

James Appelgate (essay date 1955)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Sidney's Classical Meters,” in Modern Language Notes, April 1955, pp. 254–55.

[In the following essay, Appelgate corrects Theodore Spencer's error in identifying the form of the poem “When to my deadlie pleasure.”]

The pseudo-quantitative English verses which enjoyed a brief fad in Elizabethan literary circles are generally an unlovely lot, and the late Professor Theodore Spencer was right to observe the relative merit among them of one of Sidney's efforts, a poem beginning, “When to my deadlie pleasure,” which appears among the Certaine Sonets of the 1598 folio.1 Spencer, however, unaccountably mistook its form; he analyzes it...

(The entire section is 617 words.)

Jean Robertson (essay date 1960)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Sir Philip Sidney and his Poetry,” in Elizabethan Poetry, edited by John Russell Brown and Bernard Harris, Edward Arnold Publishers, 1960, pp. 111–129.

[In the following essay, Robertson presents an overview of Sidney's poetry in relation to his life and his intentions.]

Nothing that happened later in his life meant so much to Fulke Greville as Sidney had done. In the long postscript he had to make do with his friend's literary remains. So Sidney's biography was written, and by emphasizing the preceptual value of the Arcadia, Greville tried to convey something of his ‘searching and judicious spirit’; but his dissatisfaction kept breaking...

(The entire section is 8193 words.)

Robert L. Montgomery, Jr. (essay date 1961)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Manner Over Matter,” in Symmetry and Sense: The Poetry of Sir Philip Sidney, University of Texas Press, 1961, pp. 9–29.

[In the following excerpt, Montgomery examines “symmetry” in the poetry of The Lady of May, the Psalms, and the Arcadia, and says that they reflect a strong experimental spirit that is not found in Astrophel and Stella.]

It is common to assume that the Lady of May poems, the translations of the Psalms, the Arcadia poems, Astrophel and Stella, and the miscellaneous pieces in Certaine Sonets follow a steady chronology of composition from 1578 to approximately 1583....

(The entire section is 7772 words.)

S. K. Orgel (essay date 1963)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Sidney's Experiment in Pastoral: The Lady of May,” in Essential Articles for the Study of Sir Philip Sidney, Archon Books, 1986, pp. 61–71.

[In the following essay, Orgel finds that Sidney's mixed-mode court masque about the contemplative life, The Lady of May, provides us with a “brief and excellent example of the way his mind worked.”]

Sidney's The Lady of May has gone largely unnoticed since its inclusion—apparently at the last moment, and in the interests of completeness—in the 1598 folio of his works. It had been commissioned by Leicester as an entertainment for Queen Elizabeth, and was presented before her at Wanstead,...

(The entire section is 4252 words.)

David Kalstone (essay date 1965)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Arcadian Rhetoric” in Sidney's Poetry , Harvard University Press, 1965, pp. 60–101.

[In the following essay, Kalstone examines the poetry of the Arcadia, and asserts that Sidney's work is more complex than the Arcadia of the Italian poet Sanazzaro.]

Sidney's “gallant variety” of verses in the Arcadia divides itself into two groups: eclogues and occasional pieces.1 The eclogues are to be found clustered between books of the romance, four sets of them joining the five books that make up the Arcadia, and are thus distinguished from the occasional poems that are scattered singly through the text as part of the...

(The entire section is 13244 words.)

A. C. Hamilton (essay date 1969)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Sidney's Astrophel and Stella as a Sonnet Sequence,” in ELH: A Journal of English Literary History, Vol. 36, No. 1, March 1969, pp. 59–87.

[In the following essay, Hamilton seeks to show that the 108 sonnets in Astrophel and Stella may be read as a single, long poem on the theme “loving in truth.”]


My purpose in this article is to show how Sidney's Astrophel and Stella may be read as a single, long poem rather than as a miscellany of 108 separate sonnets. Some awareness of the structure of the work, which accounts for our sense of its wholeness and its total impact upon the reader, has persisted ever...

(The entire section is 11554 words.)

Richard Lanham (essay date 1972)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Astrophel and Stella: Pure and Impure Persuasion,” in English Literary Renaissance, Vol. 2, No. 1., Winter 1972, pp. 100–15.

[In the following essay, Lanham contends that the essential cause of the poem sequence Astrophel and Stellais sexual frustration.]

The first sonnet in Sir Philip Sidney's sequence confronts the difficulty of writing poetry with a stale and borrowed rhetoric, the need to seek a fresh source of inspiration in real feeling and, presumably, in an unaffected praise and relationship to his mistress. Style becomes not only means but theme, and this at the earliest possible moment. Sidney betrays, too, that acute...

(The entire section is 7026 words.)

Alan Sinfield (essay date 1974)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Sexual Puns in Astrophel and Stella,” in Essays in Criticism, Vol. XXIV, No. 4, October 1974, pp. 341–355.

[In the following essay, Sinfield asserts that viewing Astrophel as the elegant but naïve courtier is misleading, since sexual double entendres are an important feature of Sidney's verbal skill.]

How far are Astrophil's feelings for Stella in Sidney's sequence sexual? The non-specialist reader at least tends to be blinded by the radiance of the prevalent image of Sidney as an urbane and elegant courtier throwing off Petrarchan conceits, and is unprepared to perceive much sexual passion in Astrophil. Perhaps we have not entirely recovered...

(The entire section is 5097 words.)

G. F. Waller (essay date 1974)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “This Matching of Contraries: Calvinism and Courtly Philosophy in the Sidney Psalms,” in English Studies, Vol. 55, No. 1, February 1974, pp. 22–31.

[In the following essay, Waller argues that the Sidney Psalter not only contains poetry that may be compared with that of the Metaphysical poets, but also is a reflection of important aspects in the literary and social ethos of the whole Sidney circle.]


Since the publication of J. C. R. Rathmell's edition of the Sidney Psalms in 1963, there has been little evidence of the revaluation he hoped would follow. ‘When recognition is accorded to the Sidney Psalter’, wrote...

(The entire section is 4372 words.)

Mariann S. Regan (essay date 1977)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Astrophel: Full of Desire, Emptie of Wit,” in English Language Notes, Vol. 14, No. 4, June 1977, pp. 251–56.

[In the following essay, Regan maintains that Astrophel sometimes assumes the role of the conventional “foolish poet” of earlier love lyrics in order to convince readers he is a true lover.]

Scholars have long attributed the dramatic vigor of Astrophel and Stella to Astrophel's variety of roles. However, no one has yet distinguished the “foolish poet” as one of these roles, nor has anyone noted that this role is a convention available to Sidney from earlier love lyrics, where many a poet-lover before Astrophel plays the “foolish...

(The entire section is 2401 words.)

Myron Turner (essay date 1977)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “When Rooted Moisture Failes: Sidney's Pastoral Elegy (OA 75) and the Radical Humour,” in English Language Notes, Vol. 15, No. 1, September 1977, pp. 7–10.

[In the following essay, Turner discusses the “rooted moisture” mentioned in elegy 75 in the Old Arcadia, and says the concept, which is derived from the Greek philosopher Aristotle, describes the “natural humidity” that is the basis of natural life.]

In the “Fourth Eclogues” of the Old Arcadia, the shepherd Agelastus leads his companions “in bewailing” the “general loss” of Basilius to the Arcadians.1 Ringler points out that this elegy (OA 75) and Spenser's...

(The entire section is 1470 words.)

Gary L. Litt (essay date 1978)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Characterization and Rhetoric in Sidney's “Ye Goatherd Gods,” in Studies in the Literary Imagination, Vol. 11, No. 1, Spring, 1978, pp. 115–24.

[In the following essay, Litt asserts that Sidney uses imagery, syntax, diction, grammar, and metaphor to differentiate the characters and experience of the two shepherds in the Old Arcadia poem, “Ye Goatherd Gods.”]

Sidney's “Ye Goatherd Gods” is a masterful demonstration of formal and verbal artifice. The poem is virtually unmatched in rhetorical intricacy and complex manipulation of mood and environment, and deserves the praise and careful attention Empson, Kalstone, Ransom, and others have...

(The entire section is 4323 words.)

Daniel Traister (essay date 1982)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Sidney's Purposeful Humor: Astrophil and Stella 59 and 83,” in ELH: A Journal of English Literary History, Vol. 49, No. 4, Winter 1982, pp. 751–64.

[In the following essay, Traister offers a close analysis of two sonnets, and concludes Sidney forces readers to reconsider experiences and approach the sonnets with the knowledge of their new implications.]

Sidney's words, as Rosalie L. Colie has remarked, “can at once, in triumph, assert and deny the truth of what they say.”1 They give to Astrophil a verbal dexterity—or ambidexterity—that is one of his many attractions. Few characters in the literature of the English Renaissance...

(The entire section is 6421 words.)

Maurice Evans (essay date 1984)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Divided Aims in the Revised Arcadia,” in Sir Philip Sidney and the Interpretation of Renaissance Culture: A Poet in His Time and Ours, Croom Helm, 1984, pp. 34–43.

[In the following essay, Evans contends that the Revised Arcadia is Sidney's attempt to put his theory of poetry into practice, but that his aims often are at odds as his mimetic genius clashes with and is stifled by a didactic purpose.]

The Revised Arcadia is the most capacious of Sidney's literary works, and the one which expresses the widest range of his needs and interests. This paper explores some of the problems to which his peculiar eclecticism gave rise. It is a...

(The entire section is 4407 words.)

Paul Allen Miller (essay date 1991)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Sidney, Petrarch, and Ovid, or Imitation as Subversion,” in ELH: A Journal of English Literary History, Vol. 58, No. 3, Autumn, 1991, pp. 499–522.

[In the following essay, Miller argues that Astrophel and Stella falls into the larger Petrarchan-Ovidian tradition, but Sidney uses the model to construct a lyric subjectivity that is uniquely his own.]

Despite Sidney's repeated denials, the fact that he practiced extensive classical and Petrarchan imitation in Astrophil and Stella has been well established.1 What remains to be asked is why and to what effect was this imitation employed? What was to be gained or lost by the poet? And...

(The entire section is 10022 words.)

Sally Minogue (essay date 1996)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Woman's Touch: Astrophil, Stella, and ‘Queen Vertue's Court,’” in ELH: A Journal of English Literary History, Vol. 63, No. 3, 1996, pp. 555–70.

[In the following essay, Minogue looks at sonnets 9 and 83 from Astrophel and Stella and suggests a reading of them that dramatizes the relationship between Queen Elizabeth and Sidney in which there are elements of playful and not-so-playful sexual subjection.]

When Sidney, in 1581, presented to his Queen the New Year's gift of a jewel in the shape of a diamond-bedecked whip, how did she take it? Not, we presume, lying down, since in this relationship it had already been made clear to Sidney who had...

(The entire section is 6678 words.)