E211 Sir Philip Sidney Questions



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Assigned: "The Defense of Poesy" (Norton Vol. B, 1046-51, 1066-74 only).

"The Defense of Poesy"

"Poetry's Historical Importance"

1. From 1046-47, how does Sidney explain the historical significance of poetry? How does he pull together his classical learning to suggest that "poesy" is one of the first and most important arts?

"The Poet as Prophet and Creator"

2. From 1048-50, Sidney considers the etymology of the English word "poet." What does he draw from the Greek and Latin words poietes (infinitive verb form poiein, first person poieo) and the early Latin noun vates?

3. From 1049-50, how does Sidney differentiate poetry from the other arts, all of which have "the works of nature" for their main object? What "subjection" do poets refuse, and what ideal can they "deliver" to us because of this refusal? How do Sidney's remarks touch upon the moral quality and mission of poetry?

"Answers to Charges Against Poetry"

4. From 1068-71, what four main charges does Sidney identify as long having been leveled against poets? How does he answer the first three of these charges? In particular, how does he answer the charge that poets are liars? Why aren't poets liars even though they "make things up," as we say, and what value does Sidney (here and earlier in his essay) suggest we can find in the imaginative creations of poets?

5. From 1072-74, Sidney addresses what he considers the chief accusation against poetry: namely, that no less a genius than Plato banished most kinds of poetry from his fictive Republic. What were Plato's reasons for banishing poetry from his ideal Republic (See The Republic, Book 10, at least Socrates' concluding argument around paragraphs 142-50)? How does Sidney respond the accusation and enlist Plato in his cause? To what extent is Sidney perhaps distorting Plato's ideas to turn that philosopher into a friend of poetry?

6. With respect to the matter discussed from 1072-74, for the moment relegate Sidney's notions to the background, and reflect on the following question: how much credence should we moderns give to Plato's charges against poetry as something false and even morally dangerous? What similar arguments or variations on the old charge have you heard? What is gained, and what is lost, if we dismiss such criticisms of art altogether, and insist that art is either harmless or that it can do only good?

Edition: Greenblatt, Stephen and Carol T. Christ. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 9th. edition. Package 1: Vols. A, B, C. Paperback. Norton: 2012. ISBN-13: 978-0393913002.