Sir Philip Sidney

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How do the works of Sidney, Spenser, and Marlowe express and limit the desire for truth within social structures?

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The desire for Truth in the 16th century (1500s) was expressed in Sir Philip Sidney's poetic treatise The Defence of Poetry. In it he explains the poetical concept of mimesis, or mimetics: the art of mimesis. Briefly stated, Sidney holds that the poet is inspired by God to see divine truths that abide in the heavenly realm, unattainable to humankind. The poet, seeing these truths clearly through inspiration, is charged with the task of presenting these various truths to humans, who yearn for these unknown truths so they may live righteous and goodly lives.

The poet, through a complex mimetic system, renders the truth as a Noun, then as a Verb of action, then embodies a character with the qualities of the Truth. Having done this, the poet then visualizes and depicts every possible manifestation of the Verb, both good and bad, so the people may see what the Truth is and what it is not.

  • Truth's divine qualities => Noun: Truth => Verb: to be truthful => Character: Una, Faerie Queene => All possible manifestations of truthfulness => What Truth divinely is.

Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare and Marlowe each adhered to this mimetic model of truth. You can see this in Sidney's treatise, in Spenser's The Faerie Queene, in Shakespeare's As You Like It and in Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. Society limited the expression of this desire for mimetic truth through scholatic's emphasis on pure logic and the emergence of humanism, having spread from Northern Italy. Humanism, contrary to scholasticism, emphasized rhetorical persuasion between equals over logic and came to espouse the doctrine of participation in government, thus casting the individual as the crux of empowerment.

The former (scholastics) limited the desire for mimetic truth by emphasizing logic alone, and the latter (humanists) limited the desire for mimetic truth by casting the individual as the locus of truth.

You can see this delimiting in Marlowe's Faustus in the form of (1) the debates between scholars and (2) Fautus's rejection of logical disciplines.

Physic, farewell!  Where is Justinian?
Such is the subject of the institute,
     And universal body of the law:16
     This study fits a mercenary drudge,... (Marlowe, Doctor Faustus)

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