Sidney, The Defense of Poesy
Spezzatura – Making something difficult look easy to perform
Exhordium – Trying to win the attention of the audience (the horse statement)
Naratio – General description of the subject
Propositio – The thesis statement (his proposition)
Divisio – Dividing up his argument (Only going to argue for imaginative poetry – the
Confirmatio – The argument for poetry
Confutatio – The defense against the arguments against poetry
Peroration – The rallying call
Sidney lived during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and he was somebody who excelled at
everything he did
We know him as a writer, a poet and he write many famous sonnet sequences
Most of his works were published after this death because he did not want to make
himself and his ideas too public – he wanted to maintain his elite status in society.
He maintained coterie publications – publications which you only shared with a small
group of people, not for everybody
The Book of Courtier, by Baldesar Castiglione
o He wrote that in order to be courteous, you need to be able to ride a horse, sing,
compose music and verses, fence, etc.
o The book was a manual about how a courtier should behave in society.
o He was a great man of that time
Sidney died in the Spanish Netherlands in battle, at a young age, because of a thigh
In the Elizabethan court, there were two factions: the Protestants, and the Catholics;
Sidney was with the Protestants
Whenever Sidney wrote, you got a sense of his tone – he made everything look easy, in
His work, the Defense of Poesy, became a manifesto of literature. By Poesy, he means
any form of literature: imaginative literature and writing.
At that time, literature was in a sensitive position in society: there was a lot of censorship
We still have issues like this today: such as gun-laws and video games. Do these things
bring more benefit than their cost?
At that time, Sidney proclaimed that Literature is noble, as it teaches us to follow the
right and the good
He also argues that bad poets harm people, not poetry itself, and is trying to defend
poetry from its attackers
Stephen Gosson writes the Schoole of Abuse, and he dedicates the book to Sidney, telling
him that he is not right However, Sidney is adamant that poetry is good when it is the right kind of poetry. He
believed that beautiful poetry makes us better people – it inspires us.
The Defense of Poesy
Take a form of the oration – the structure of the defense.
Listen to me – the orator is trying to win the attention of the audience.
He talks about learning about horsemanship from this great teacher, and how amazing
and important it is
“Then would he add certain praises by telling what a
peerless beast the horse was, the only serviceable courtier, without
flattery, the beast of most beauty, faithfulness, courage, and such
more, that if I had not been a piece of a logician before I came to
him, I think he would have persuaded me to have wished myself a
This is sort of a joke – a zinger. He also gets into the theme: what ennobles us? What
With this joke, you get this sort of spezzatura – learning to ride a horse is not easy, and he
makes it look easy.
-io means that I did this thing
General description of the subject. He gets to the subject of what he is talking about.
He gives pertinent facts to his argument.
He gives the role of poetry in ancient culture – ancient Roman and Greek culture. He says
that there is poetry is sacred readings.
He talks about the divinely inspired writer – the one who is just an antenna for God – that
is how the Romans saw the poet.
The Greeks saw the poet as the maker, the craftsperson, the person who has a particular
skill at writing poetry.
Each of these cultures value poetry as something that has value in making beautiful
If these cultures thought so well of these people, why don’t we give them the same
He then talks about what poets do. They create new nature; they inspire us with visions
that are better that what we have around us.
“Only the poet, disdaining to be tied to any such subjection, lifted
up with the vigour 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; so as
he goeth hand in hand with Nature, not enclosed within the narrow
warrant of her gifts, but freely ranging within the zodiac of his
own wit. Nature never set forth the earth in so rich tapestry
as divers poets have done; neither with so pleasant rivers, fruitful
trees, sweet-smelling flowers, nor whatsoever else may make the too-
much-loved earth more lovely; her world is brazen, the poets only
deliver a golden.”
Here, the poet brings us back to the golden age.
He says that the poet is beyond nature and that they are only limited by their imagination
Poets are thus able to create a world more beautiful than our own
“And that the poet hath that idea is
manifest by delivering them forth in such excellency as he had
imagined them; which delivering forth, also, is not wholly
imaginative, as we are wont to say by them that build castles in the
air; but so far substantially it worketh not only to make a Cyrus,
which had been but a particular excellency, as nature might have
done; but to bestow a Cyrus upon the world to make many Cyruses; if
they will learn aright, why, and how, that maker made him.”
By virtue of the beauty of their work and art, poets have the ability to inspire people to be
better – to move people, in his own words, more than historians, more than philosophers,
they motivate us in a way.
“Poesy, therefore, is an art of imitation; for so Aristotle
termeth it in the word mimesis, that is to say, a representing,
counterfeiting, or figuring forth: to speak metaphorically, a
speaking picture, with this end, to teach and delight.”
This is Sidney’s thesis statement
This is what poetry does differently – it teaches us in a wonderful, differently from all
other forms of art.
That is why it is so wonderful.
He is going to start with 3 different kinds of poesy
1. Spiritual – Singer of the songs
2. Philosophical – Philosophical bend to it
3. Right poetry – imaginative writing Poetry does not always have to be simply imaginative writing, but can be elevated form
of discourse of matters at hand. Why not present your arguments in the best language
Philosophy was often written in verse (poetry) since it was more appropriate to write in
Also, he did not need to defend the first two types of poetry, he only defends right poetry.
Also he emphasizes that it is “right” poetry – he is cherry picking the types of poetry that
he will defend (therefore, not bad poetry). He is not going to defend badly written poetry.
This is when his argument gets sort of slippery.
However, he wants to defend the best – he doesn’t want to bad poetry to drag the great
This is where he makes the argument for poetry
He compares poetry to philosophy (moral) and history
He starts with philosophy: he says it’s boring, it gives us precepts, it’s dull, and it is
written by people who do not embody the values they preach.
It is great, but it does not show us the way, it does not inspire us.
He says that historians have it all, and they have many examples about things that were,
but they don’t know how to judge. They just want the facts – they don’t have the moral
What poetry does is that it has a middle ground.
What poets do is that they are not concerned with minute details because they make stuff
By being able to create a figure, we can have a real figure to follow.
Literature combines both of these things to become something that can inspire us.
He also mentions Christ as a poet here.
He is now going to talk about the different types of poetry:
a. Poetry about shepherds. (like the SSP)
b. People who sing, complain