The Defence of Poesy

The Defence of Poesy Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Why does the narrator feel the need to stand for poetry?

    The reason why the narrator decided to stand up for poetry is that in his time, many people disregarded poetry and the poets that wrote it; in particular, it was under attack by Puritans. Poetry was criticized and said to be not just good-for-nothing, but in fact the "mother of lies" and an inspiration to lustful sin. Sidney directly addresses the idea that poetry's fictions and inventions lead to all forms of lying and deceit, and he defends the art of poetry from the work of inferior poets. Sidney's personal background and upbringing play into this motivation: as a gentleman and former soldier who "slipped into the title of poet," he felt a need to defend his own vocation.

  2. 2

    Why does Sidney compare the work of philosophers and historians to that of poets?

    The philosopher is presented in a rather bleak manner, clothed in black, a sober man who is against anything that may bring joy. Likewise, the historian is presented as surrounded by dust and books. Sidney presents these thinkers this way in order to contrast their work with the joy and delight inspired by poetry. While Sidney admits that all three arts are focused on the improvement of man, he wishes to emphasize that poetry is best-suited to this task. While philosophy is dry, and historians can only tell you what did happen, rather than what should have happened, poetry can draw on the lessons of both to show man the truth of what should be and how one should act. Sidney believed that learning needed to be accompanied by a healthy dose of pleasure to make lessons more palatable. Thus, he presents philosophers and historians as out-of-touch and humorless.

  3. 3

    What is the connection between poetry and nationhood in the essay?

    Section VI of the essay, the "conclusion" section in a classical essay structure, focuses not on reiterating Sidney's arguments thus far but on making an argument that focuses in particular on the suitability of the English language for making poetry. Throughout the essay, Sidney draws extensively on Greek and Roman examples to demonstrate that poetry is the best means for praising a culture's religion, for celebrating its heroes, and for teaching its citizens its values. In rejecting poetry, Sidney argues, England misses an opportunity to form a national literary identity that can, moreover, improve the character of its citizens. Because the English language is particularly apt for writing metered and rhymed verse, this is a missed opportunity. Sidney's essay thus seeks to do no less than inspire his countrymen to begin writing verse in order to improve the nation itself.

  4. 4

    Why does Sidney criticize the dramas of his time?

    Sidney spends a significant amount of time criticizing plays, including comedic plays that make one laugh without delighting (Section III), as well as tragicomic plays (Section IV). This is in part related to Sidney's goal of defending poetry's "works" as well as its "parts." Because his definition of poetry encompasses all verbal arts, drama is a subset of poetry, and in order to defend the whole, Sidney must defend each of the parts. Because Sidney is defending poetry in particular against his contemporary Stephen Gosson's critiques, he must address drama, which Gosson believed was creating unfavorable social changes. However, his two critiques of drama seem to serve the purpose of urging contemporary playwrights to write works that fulfill the "work" of poetry. In particular, he notes that comedic plays should instruct: we should laugh at man's faults, and though this laughter, become better. At the same time, he attacks the formal qualities of contemporary plays, especially their lengthy time frames and multiple changes in location/setting.