The Defence of Poesy

Literary writings

Like the best of the Elizabethans, Sidney was successful in more than one branch of literature, but none of his literary output was published until after his death. His finest achievement was his connected sequence of 108 love sonnets. These sonnets which owe much to Petrarch and Ronsard in tone and style, place Sidney as the greatest Elizabethan sonneteer except Shakespeare. Written to his mistress, Lady Penelope Rich, though dedicated to his wife, they reveal true lyric emotion couched in a language delicately archaic. In form Sidney usually adopts the Petrarchan octave (ABBAABABA), with variations in the sestet which include the English final couplet. His artistic contacts were more peaceful and more significant for his lasting fame. During his absence from court, he wrote Astrophel and Stella (1591) and the first draft of The Arcadia and The Defence of Poesy. His pastoral romance The Arcadia (1598) is an intricate love story, emboding the ideals of the medieval chivalry, so congenial to Sidney's own spirit. The story is diffused and involved and many secondary love stories interwoven with the main one distract attention. The characters are vague and idealized. The style, in both its strength and its weaknesses, is that of a poet writing prose; melodious, picturesque, rather artificial and ornamental. The story contains a number of fine lyrics. Somewhat earlier, he had met Edmund Spenser, who dedicated The Shepheardes Calender to him. Other literary contacts included membership, along with his friends and fellow poets Fulke Greville, Edward Dyer, Edmund Spenser and Gabriel Harvey, of the (possibly fictitious) "Areopagus", a humanist endeavour to classicise English verse.


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