English 245 with Dr. G @ SUNY TC3   




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Syllabus & Schedule





1. Classical Britain

2. Beowulf 1

3. Beowulf 2

4. Middle Ages

5. Romance

6. Sir Gawain

7. Malory

8. Chaucer's Miller

9. Wife of Bath

10. Religious Protest

11. Biblical Drama

12. Play of Mankind

13. Early Modern Period

14. Thomas More

15. Philip Sidney

16. Print Culture

17. Walter Raleigh

18. Twelfth Night 1

19. Twelfth Night  2

20. Civil War

21. An Age of Irreverence

22. Aphra Behn

23. Reading Papers

24. Gulliver

25. Rape of the Lock

26. School for Scandal

27. New God

28. Revolution

Final Exam




*** 15. Censorship & Criticism ***



A Man of Books Defends Himself
(but dies)
Vol. 1B, pages 993-1036 from Longman 3rd ed.
"Philip Sidney," "Apology for Poetry,"
"The Apology and Its Time"

The Apology for Poetry is available online
at Project Gutenberg.


The lesson includes both a quiz and a journal writing assignment to be submitted on the interactive course site at  SUNY Learning Network.


Write for an hour (or more if you have time). Summarize the readings or make notes that you will find useful on the final essay. Some other journaling ideas for today might include the same questions that Sidney attempts to answer:

Is literature a waste of time?
Is literature a pack of lies?
Is literature immoral?
Does literature help us see a better future?

Does any of the literature that we have read in this course possess any of the qualities that Sidney praises in his Apology? Does any deserve to be censored?

Sidney writes: Who readeth Aeneas carrying old Anchises on his back that wisheth not it were his fortune to perform so excellent an act? Isn't it true that life imitates art, that art inspires behavior? And if so, then surely art should be regulated just as behavior is regulated?










See General instructions on Journaling for this course. For a sample journal, see Dr. G's 2007 Brit Lit 1 Journal.


These notes are adapted from David Damrosch, et al.,
Teaching British Literature (New York: Longman, 2003).

Like Thomas More, Philip Sidney (1554-1586) was a courtier who counseled his sovereign against an intended marriage. His punishment worked out better than More's, however.

Banished temporarily from Queen Elizabeth's court for opposing her supposed plan to marry a French Duke, Sidney had leisure enough to compose a sonnet sequence (the first great sequence in English), a long prose romance with songs (arguably the first full length English novel), and The Apology for Poetry (the first great work of literary criticism in English). All of these eventually were published after Sidney's heroic death in battle at age 32. They directly influenced Shakespeare and others in the golden age of English literature, the late Elizabethan period.

Like More, Sidney received a classical education including Greek as well as Latin studies. Unlike More, however, Sidney was a thorough Protestant, indeed a Puritan. Hence, although
The Apology uses the word "poet" in the Greek sense of "maker," Sidney further defines the word in a moralistic way that few Greeks (other than maybe Socrates) would have shared. He answers Puritan attacks on literature with a Puritan defense.

The poet, says Sidney, is one who feigns "notable images of virtues, vices or what else" in order to create "delightful teaching." In this view, we humans live in a bad world, but our minds are capable of forming images of a "golden" world that can inspire us to do good and praiseworthy things. This golden world is delightful, because it is better than our everyday surroundings, but it is also instructive, since it illustrates how people ideally can act. Critics who attack poetry as falsehood, therefore, are not simply missing the point: they are destroying the hope that poetry offers for human improvement. 







Left: Renaissance image (colorized) of a melancholy young man, thought perhaps to be Philip Sidney at the family estate at Penshurst.



As if to demonstrate that literature instructs, The Apology is bookish, its content stuffed with learned references and citations. Art of the ancient world is viewed as more "golden" than anything created in contemporary Britain, though the ancient bards of Ireland and Wales, as well as Chaucer and More, are held in esteem. Little value is placed on poetry that fails to follow "the rules" prescribed by Aristotle, Horace and other ancient writers. Popular English theater is criticized because its extended plots and far-flung settings are not found in Sophocles, Terence and other classical playwrights that Sidney has read.

Like his writing Sidney himself was a product of his reading. He courted his unrequiting mistress by writing sonnets to her in the fashion of Petrarch, Dante and other old Italian master poets. He died heroically in a cavalry charge, no doubt inspired by the literature that he praises in the Apology, where Homer's Iliad, the ballad of Percy and Douglas (heroic figures who fought against Henry IV, after he usurped the throne of Richard II), and other heroic poetry that is "the companion of camps."

Philip SidneySidney was self-aware of his poetry addiction but seemingly in denial that it could be  harmful.  Like millions of other soldiers from the Renaissance through World War I, he was making an old fashioned frontal assault when he was fatally hit by a gun shot. (There had been no guns in the days of Percy and Douglas.) The bravery that was effective in the old literature of hand-to-hand combat had become delusional in the age of gunpowder, but nonetheless the celebration and imitation of the old glories went on like living anachronisms.  

















Left: portrait of dashing Philip Sidney, died in an English effort to break off Holland from the Spanish empire. This economic war was described in religious terms by its participants as the attempt to free Dutch Protestants from their Catholic exploiters.

"The poet doth grow in effect another nature in making things either better than nature bringeth forth, or quite anew, forms such as never were in nature . . . Nature never set forth the earth in so rich a tapestry as diverse poets have done . . . Her world is brazen, the poets only deliver a golden"  (999-1000).


Literary form
of the Apology

Even the form of The Apology is taken from books. The essay's form is that of a
classical oration, as described by Cicero and other ancient analysts of speeches.

The Apology starts with an Induction which instructs the reader or listener in the terms of the debate and establishes the author’s good character (995-996). It then describes the History of the subject from its origin citing the main authorities who have defended poetry (996-1000). It then makes an analysis or "Partition" of the subject, poetry being divided into divine poetry, philosophical poetry, and historical poetry (1000-1015). In the divine category, Sidney remarkably includes Biblical poetry: not only King David's Psalms and the works of Solomon but also the parables of Jesus. The ideal form of poetry, however, Sidney situates between philosophy and history because it is the most effective in teaching. Then comes the Refutation of arguments against poetry: that poetry is a waste of time (1015), that poets are liars (1015-1016), and most importantly that poetry encourages lust and other bad behavior (1016-1020). It was against censorship of literature by fellow Puritans that Sidney took practical aim with his essay, but he is careful not to endorse all literature. A Digression criticizes particular practices by English poets, especially popular playwrights (1020-1027). A Conclusion briefly wraps up (1027-1028).

Left: classical bust of Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE), scholar and lawyer during the last days of the Roman Republic.





“The Apology” and Its Time:
the censors attack

The Early Modern debate about the value of literature is part of a larger argument over arts and other pleasure-giving activities in a culture increasingly criticized as immoral by individuals and groups who set themselves up as religious authorities in place of the Roman and Anglican churches. Would the emerging Protestant churches accept literature or wouldn't they?

Some would not accept it. Sidney's defense responds to, among other condemnations of literature, Stephen Gosson’s The School of Abuse. Gosson and Sidney agree that literature has influence in motivating real world actions; they disagree on how much of that influence is good or bad. Gosson and other censors attacked theater, as Hollywood movies still are attacked today, primarily for promoting sexual license. This objection led to the prevention of women from appearing on stage in early modern English theater. With boys taking women's roles, the theater was next charged by its opponents with corrupting boys and promoting homosexuality.

Within fifty years after Sidney's death, a Parliament controlled by Puritans and others outside of the Catholic and Anglican traditions would close the theaters and make the performance of plays illegal throughout the Commonwealth. The censors did not lose their grip until 1660, when the Puritans lost political power after Cromwell's death.

Other books on writing
More numerous than the works of censorship in Renaissance England were "how-to" books. George Puttenham’s The Art of English Poesie was one of the best-known of the sixteenth-century treatises on literature, as it contains a comprehensive discussion of the figures of rhetoric and how to produce “copy”—that is, arguments that are as fully developed or “amplified” as the subject requires. In the portion of his treatise printed in our anthology Puttenham also gives ideas on how to justify poetry as part of a civil society: many of these ideas are echoed by Sidney.


George Gascoigne’s Certain Notes of Instruction is an informal, practical work that focuses on poetic language. It illustrates the extent to which English had risen to prominence by Elizabethan times. Overt nationalism was rising, as England defined itself in opposition to Catholic Europe. Gascoigne urges writers to use words of a single syllable because “most ancient English words are of one syllable” and writers who use them will seem “the truer Englishman.” Gascoigne's preoccupation with simplicity and clarity in writing anticipate later arguments for plain style in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.



Left: George Gascoigne



Samuel Daniel (1609)Like Puttenham and Gascoigne, Samuel Daniel’s A Defence of Rhyme is concerned with the craft of the poet. Daniel's sense of a national identity as the product of particular uses of language includes a consideration of what might be called historical relativism.

Daniel rejects a blanket endorsement of “antiquity” as authoritative. Each age, he insists, evolves the authorities appropriate to its culture: “we [i.e., the English people] are not so placed out of the way of judgment but that the same sun of discretion shineth upon us” as upon the writers of the past. Goths, Vandals and Lombards contributed as much as Greece and Rome to Europe's development (1036). Today's debates on multiculturalism and the selection of works that should be read in schools (the so-called "canon" of literature) are anticipated in Daniel’s approach to the problem of literary  authority.




Left: Samuel Daniel from the cover of his epic The Civil Wars (1609).









 Below: contemporary drawing of the funeral of the hero Philip Sidney.


Samuel Daniel A Defence of Ryme from Renascence Editions

Stephen Gosson, The School of Abuse from Renascence Editions.

George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesy (1589) from Oxford University.

Philip Sidney at Luminarium. Mary Sidney at Luminarium

Philip Sidney, Defense of Poesy from Bartleby.



If you know of an excellent website that would wonderfully  complement this lesson, please send it to Dr. G.

 Copyright 2008-12 by Gary Homer Gutchess