English 245 with Dr. G @ SUNY TC3
2. Beowulf 1
3. Beowulf 2
4. Middle Ages
6. Sir Gawain
9. Wife of Bath
11. Biblical Drama
12. Play of Mankind
14. Thomas More
15. Philip Sidney
16. Print Culture
17. Walter Raleigh
18. Twelfth Night 1
19. Twelfth Night 2
20. Civil War
22. Aphra Behn
23. Reading Papers
25. Rape of the Lock
27. New God
*** 15. Censorship & Criticism ***
READINGS FOR THIS LESSON
A Man of Books Defends Himself
The Apology for Poetry is
ASSIGNMENTS FOR THIS LESSON
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:
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?
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
to marry a French Duke, Sidney had leisure enough to compose a
(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
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.
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."
Sidney 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).
The Apology starts with an
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
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
of literature by fellow
Sidney took practical aim with his essay, but he is careful not to
endorse all literature. A
criticizes particular practices by English poets, especially popular playwrights
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:
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
Left: George Gascoigne
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.
OTHER RESOURCES & AMUSEMENTS
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, 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