Among the English critics, Philip Sidney holds a significant place. His Apology for Poetry is a spirited defense of poetry in opposition to all the charges against it since Plato.
For Sidney, poetry is superior to philosophy by its appeal, to history by its universality, to science by its moral end. In this work, Sidney reacts to the attacks made on poetry by the puritan, and it’s imitated to teach and delight. For him, poetry is solely a superior communication technique, and its worth depends upon what’s communicated.
Stephen Gosson makes the following charges on poetry;
- Poetry is a waste of time.
- Poetry is a mother of lies.
- It is a nurse of abuse.
- Plato had rightly banished the poets from his ideal world.
Sidney has answered these charges in the following ways:
Poetry is a source of information and a civilizing force for Sidney. Gosson attacks poetry, saying that it corrupts the individuals and it’s a waste of time. Sidney says that no learning is so good as that which teaches and strikes to virtue and that nothing can each teach and amuse so much as poetry does. Poetry was the first source of education and isn’t a waste of time.
Sidney solutions that the poet doesn’t lie for the second charge because he never affirms that his fiction is valid and can never lie. The poetic truths are perfect and universal. Therefore, poetry can’t be a mother of lies.
Sidney rejects that poetry is the supply of abuse. To him, it’s individuals who abuse poetry. Abuses are more nursed by philosophy and history than by poetry, by describing battles, bloodshed, violence, and so forth. Poetry helps keep morality and peace by avoiding such violence and bloodshed.
Sidney views that Plato in his Republic needed to banish the abuse of poetry, not the poets. He was not free from poetically, which we can additionally discover in his dialogues. Plato never stated about banishing the poets.
For Sidney, art is the imitation of nature; however, it’s not a slavish imitation as Plato views. On the contrary, it’s an artist who turns dull nature into golden color. He employs his artistic faculty, imagination, and presentation model to decorate the raw materials of nature. For Aristotle, human action is more necessary, however for Sidney, nature is essential.
Artists are to create arts contemplating the extent of readers. The only function of art is to show and delight, like the whole tendency of Renaissance. Sidney favors poetic justice possible within the poet’s world where good is rewarded and wicked persons are punished.
Plato’s philosophy on ‘virtue’ is worthless on the battlefield; however, the poet teaches men the right way to behave under all circumstances. Moral philosophy teaches virtues through abstract examples, and history teaches virtue through concrete examples; however, both are defective. Poetry leads to virtue by example as well as by percept.
In the poet’s golden world, heroes are ideally introduced, and evils are corrupt. Among the different types of poetry like the lyric, elegy, satire, comedy, etc., epic is the perfect kind. It portrays heroic deeds and inspires heroic deeds, and encourages individuals to become courageous and patriotic.
In this way, Sidney defines all the charges against poetry and stands for the universal and timeless quality of poetry, making us know why the poets are universal geniuses.
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