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Flashcards in The Defense of Poesy Deck (21):

What motivated Sidney to write The Defense of Poesy?

He was targeted by Stephen Gosson in The School of Abuse


What was the premise of The School of Abuse?

It attacked poets and actors from a narrow Puritan perspective that questioned the morality of any fiction.


What was Sidney's religion?

Militant Protestantism (shared by Gosson)


When was the Defense of Poesy written and published?

Written: c.1579 Published: 1595


What is the underlying structure of The Defense of Poesy?

That of a classical oration (rhetoric)


What are the two disciplines Sidney primarily compares poetry to?

History and Philosophy


Why is poetry superior to history and Philosophy?

It is more universal than one and more concrete than the other.

It is also more egalitarian than either of those disciplines, and can make the teaching of knowledge and virtue more appealing to the masses.


What are the three types of poets Sidney discusses?

- Religious (prayers, hymns, psalms)

- Philosophical (astronomy, history, morality)

- Vates (poets with imagination that both delight and teach)


What does Sidney argue about audience members seeing wicked acts on stage?

That seeing contemptible morals on stage can help men recognize them in themselves. It doesn't encourage vice; it helps prevent it.


What does Sidney consider the best kind of poetry?

Epic. It is the best at teaching virtues and "high and excellent truth."


What, according to Sidney, is a particular virtue of verse?

It serves as an aid in memorization; therefore, it is an invaluable tool for gaining knowledge and virtue.

He also notes that if it is speech that shows off man's superior reason, meter and verse are particularly praiseworthy, as they show a concentrated attention to language.


What are the four main charges against poetry Sidney is answering in his Defense?

1. There are better ways to spend time

2. It is "the mother of lies"

3. It fills men with immoral desires

4. Plato banished poets from his Republic


How does Sidney answer the first charge against poetry ("There are better ways to spend time")?

This was basically addressed in the earlier sections of the Defense; poetry is excellent at teaching knowledge, and there are very few better pastimes than that.


How does Sidney answer the second charge against poetry ("It is "the mother of lies")?

Poetry does not promise truth, and therefore cannot lie.

Though there are specific characters and places mentioned in poetry, these are just allegorical and figurative. Thus: not a lie.


How does Sidney answer the third charge against poetry ("It fills men with immoral desires")?

Inappropriate topics that might fill men with immoral desires are not the fault of poetry itself, but of those who misuse its power.

Lawyers and doctors can also misuse their arts, but that does not make their arts bad.


How does Sidney answer the fourth charge against poetry ("Plato banished poets from his Republic")?

This argument, Sidney admits, is more difficult to make, because he so reveres Plato. He spends time going through Plato's arguments and their context, concluding that Plato really meant to banish the abuse of poetry, not poetry itself.

Poetry was being misused in Plato's time to dishonor the gods, which is what he objected to. It is critics who have misunderstood what Plato meant, not that Plato was wrong.


What does Sidney argue about the state of poetry in England?

That it is the only place that does not give poetry the place of honor it deserves. The culture against poetry keeps moral and talented poets silent - as they do not want to be associated with degenerates - while bad and immoral poets publish frequently.


What is Sidney's opinion about the poetry being performed and published in his day?

There is not much that impresses him - he is especially offended by theater that does not observe the classical unities. He also objects to the mingling of comedy and tragedy.


When did Sir Philip Sidney live?



How did Philip Sidney die?

He died in battle fighting for the Protestant cause against the Spanish.


Who was a protege of Sidney's?

Edmund Spenser