The Defence of Poesy Study by Sir Philip Sidney

An Apology for Poetry Study: Summary and analysis
The Defence of Poesy Study

The Defence of Poesy Study by Sir Philip Sidney: Summary and Analysis

“The Defence of Poesy,” also called “An Apology for Poetry,” is a famous work written by Sir Philip Sidney, a poet and playwright who lived during Queen Elizabeth I’s time. Sidney wrote this piece around 1579, a period known for Pope Gregory XIII’s rule, but it wasn’t shared with the world until 1595, after Sidney had passed away. This work is special because it stood up for poetry at a time when many people were questioning its importance.

In another one of his works, “Astrophil and Stella,” Sidney responds to someone named Stephen Gosson. Gosson criticized poetry and theater for their moral impact on people. Sidney argued back, saying that poetry has a long and honorable history, appeals to everyone, and can teach us deep lessons. He believed that poets are like creators or even like God because they can make new things from their imagination. These creations help us understand big truths and good qualities.

In “The Defence of Poesy,” Sidney breaks down his argument into different parts. He talks about the role of poetry in history, its importance in learning, and how it can positively affect our morals.

The Defence of Poesy Summary

The division into specific sections can vary depending on the interpretation. There are no actual sections as follows. Remember please these are only formed for argumentative analyzing

  1. Introduction and Context: Sidney sets the stage for his defense, addressing the criticism of poetry and outlining his intentions.
  2. Central Arguments:
  • The antiquity and universality of poetry.
  • Poetry’s superiority over philosophy and history in conveying moral and ethical truths.
  • The foundational role of poetry in the dissemination of knowledge.
  • The unique ability of poetry to move and delight its audience.
  • The conceptualization of poetry as a divine gift and poets as creators.
  1. Digression on English Poetry: This section specifically addresses the state of English poetry, critiquing contemporary practices and urging a return to higher standards.
  2. Objections and Refutations: Here, Sidney anticipates and addresses potential criticisms against poetry, defending its value and purpose.
  3. Conclusion (Peroration): Sidney concludes with a powerful appeal for the recognition of poetry’s noble purpose and societal value.


In the introduction of “The Defence of Poesy,” Sir Philip Sidney sets the stage for his defense of poetry against its critics. He begins by acknowledging the existence of these criticisms, pointing out that poetry has been undervalued and attacked in his time. Sidney indicates his intent to stand up for poetry, highlighting its significance and the unjust nature of the criticisms it faces.

He frames his argument as a necessary defense against those who question some moral and practical values of poetry. He also suggests that such critiques are both misguided and unfounded. Sidney presents himself as a champion of poetry prepared to articulate its virtues and its essential role in culture and education. The introduction effectively prepares the reader for a detailed and passionate argument in favor of poetry, setting up the structure for the rest of the work.

What Makes Poetry Superior to Philosophy and History according to Sir Philip Sidney?

Sidney presents a compelling argument for the superiority of poetry over philosophy and history in conveying moral and ethical truths. But what underpins this assertion? Sidney’s insights not only highlight the unique capabilities of poetry but also its profound impact on human consciousness and society.

The Essence of Poetry

For Sidney, poetry represents the epitome of artistic and intellectual expression. Unlike philosophy, which often cloaks its teachings in abstraction, or history, constrained by the factual accuracy of past events, poetry transcends these boundaries. It engages the imagination and the emotions, allowing it to impart wisdom and ethical insights in a manner that is both accessible and deeply resonant.

The Vividness and Imagination of Poetry

Sidney argues that the strength of poetry lies in its vividness and its use of imagination. Through the creation of compelling narratives and characters, poetry can illustrate moral virtues and dilemmas in ways that readers can directly empathize with and understand. This imaginative engagement is something Sidney sees as lacking in the dry, abstract discourse of philosophy and the rigid factualness of history. Poetry does not just tell or explain; it shows and inspires, making the lessons it imparts far more impactful. On the other hand, Philosophy talks about big ideas and morals in a very serious and often complicated way. It can be hard for some people to connect with these ideas because they feel too distant or abstract. History tells us about real events from the past, sticking to the facts. It can teach us lessons but doesn’t often explore what could have happened or the deeper meanings behind these events

Poetry’s Universal Appeal

Another dimension of poetry’s superiority, according to Sidney, is its universal appeal. Poetry speaks to the human condition in a language that resonates across cultural and temporal divides.  Philosophy might make us think, and history might show us what happened in the past, but poetry does something special. It makes us feel connected to others and understand deep truths about being human. Sidney believes that this emotional connection is what makes poetry a unique and powerful way to bring people together and teach them about life, love, and morality.

The Creative Freedom of Poetry

Sidney also celebrates the creative freedom inherent in poetry. Unlike historians, who are bound by the truth of what happened, and philosophers, who are often tethered to logical argumentation, poets enjoy the liberty to explore ‘what could be.’ This speculative aspect allows poets to craft ideal examples and scenarios that exemplify moral and ethical ideals in a way that is aspirational and inspiring. Poetry, in Sidney’s view, is thus a form of creative and moral exploration that surpasses the capabilities of philosophy and history.

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