Philip Sidney

Philip Sidney

Sir Philip Sidney (November 30, 1554 – October 17, 1586) became one of the Elizabethan Age's most prominent figures. Famous in his day in England as a poet, courtier and soldier, he remains known as the author of "Astrophil and Stella" (1581, pub. 1591), "The Defence of Poetry" (or "An Apology for Poetry", 1581, pub. 1595), and "The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia" (1580, pub. 1590).

Life and family

Born at Penshurst, Kent, he was the eldest son of Sir Henry Sidney and Lady Mary Dudley. His mother was the daughter of John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, and the sister of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. His younger sister, Mary Sidney, married Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke. Mary Sidney, whom upon her marriage became the Countess of Pembroke, was a writer, translator and literary patron. Sidney dedicated his longest work, the "Arcadia", to her. After her brother's death, Mary Sidney Herbert reworked the Arcadia, now known as The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia.

Philip was educated at Shrewsbury School and Christ Church, Oxford. He was much travelled and highly learned. In 1572, he travelled to France as part of the embassy to negotiate a marriage between Elizabeth I and the Duc D'Alençon. He spent the next several years in mainland Europe, moving through Germany, Italy, Poland, and Austria. On these travels, he met a number of prominent European intellectuals and politicians.

Returning to England in 1575, Sidney met Penelope Devereaux, the future Penelope Blount; though much younger, she would inspire his famous sonnet sequence of the 1580s, "Astrophel and Stella." Her father, the Earl of Essex, is said to have planned to marry his daughter to Sidney, but he died in 1576. In England, Sidney occupied himself with politics and art. He defended his father's administration of Ireland in a lengthy document. More seriously, he quarrelled with Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, probably because of Sidney's opposition to the French marriage, which de Vere championed. In the aftermath of this episode, Sidney challenged de Vere to a duel, which Elizabeth forbade. He then wrote a lengthy letter to the Queen detailing the foolishness of the French marriage. Characteristically, Elizabeth bristled at his presumption, and Sidney prudently retired from court.

His artistic contacts were more peaceful and more significant for his lasting fame. During his absence from court, he wrote the first draft of "The Arcadia" and "A Defense of Poetry". Somewhat earlier, he had met Edmund Spenser, who dedicated the Shepheardes Calendar 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 classicize English verse.

Sidney had returned to court by the middle of 1581. That same year Penelope Devereaux was married, apparently against her will, to Lord Rich. Sidney was knighted in 1583. An early arrangement to marry Anne Cecil, daughter of Sir William Cecil and eventual wife of de Vere, had fallen through in 1571. In 1583, he married Frances, teenage daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham. The next year, he met Giordano Bruno who subsequently dedicated two books to Sidney.

Both through his family heritage and his personal experience (he was in Walsingham's house in Paris during the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre), Sidney was a keenly militant Protestant. In the 1570s, he had persuaded John Casimir to consider proposals for a united Protestant effort against the Roman Catholic Church and Spain. In the early 1580s, he argued unsuccessfully for an assault on Spain itself. In 1585, his enthusiasm for the Protestant struggle was given a free rein when he was appointed governor of Flushing in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, he consistently urged boldness on his superior, his uncle the Earl of Leicester. He conducted a successful raid on Spanish forces near Axel in July, 1586.

Later that year, he joined Sir John Norris in the Battle of Zutphen. During the siege, he was shot in the thigh and died twenty-six days later. According to story, while lying wounded he gave his water-bottle to another wounded soldier, saying, "Thy necessity is yet greater than mine".Charles Carlton (1992). "Going to the Wars: The Experience of the British Civil Wars, 1638–1651",Routledge, ISBN 0415103916. [,M1 p. 216] ] This became possibly the most famous story about Sir Phillip, intended to illustrate his noble character.

Sidney's body was returned to London and interred in St. Paul's Cathedral on 16 February 1587. Already during his own lifetime, but even more after his death, he had become for many English people the very epitome of a courtier: learned and politic, but at the same time generous, brave, and impulsive. Never more than a marginal figure in the politics of his time, he was memorialized as the flower of English manhood in Edmund Spenser's "Astrophel", one of the greatest English Renaissance elegies.

An early biography of Sidney was written by his friend and schoolfellow, Fulke Greville.

The Rye House conspirator, Algernon Sydney, was Sir Philip's great-nephew.

In Zutphen, the Netherlands a street has been named after Sir Philip. A statue for him can be found in the park at the Coehoornsingel, where the English soldiers who fell in the Battle of Zutphen were also temporarily buried. A memorial at the location where he was mortally wounded by the Spanish can be found at the entrance of a footpath at the Warnsveldseweg, southeast of the Catholic cemetery.


*"Astrophel and Stella" — The first of the famous English sonnet sequences, "Astrophil and Stella" was probably composed in the early 1580s. The sonnets were well-circulated in manuscript before the first (apparently pirated) edition was printed in 1591; only in 1598 did an authorised edition reach the press. The sequence was a watershed in English Renaissance poetry. In it, Sidney partially nativised the key features of his Italian model, Petrarch: variation of emotion from poem to poem, with the attendant sense of an ongoing, but partly obscure, narrative; the philosophical trappings; the musings on the act of poetic creation itself. His experiments with rhyme scheme were no less notable; they served to free the English sonnet from the strict rhyming requirements of the Italian form.
*"The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia" — The "Arcadia", by far Sidney's most ambitious work, was as significant in its own way as his sonnets. The work is a romance that combines pastoral elements with a mood derived from the Hellenistic model of Heliodorus. In the work, that is, a highly idealized version of the shepherd's life adjoins (not always naturally) with stories of jousts, political treachery, kidnappings, battles, and rapes. As published in the sixteenth century, the narrative follows the Greek model: stories are nested within each other, and different story-lines are intertwined. The work enjoyed great popularity for more than a century after its publication. William Shakespeare borrowed from it for the Gloucester subplot of "King Lear"; parts of it were also dramatized by John Day and James Shirley. According to a widely-told story, King Charles I quoted lines from the book as he mounted the scaffold to be executed; Samuel Richardson named the heroine of his first novel after Sidney's Pamela. "Arcadia" exists in two significantly different versions. Sidney wrote an early version during a stay at Mary Herbert's house; this version is narrated in a straightforward, sequential manner. Later, Sidney began to revise the work on a more ambitious plan. He completed most of the first three books, but the project was unfinished at the time of his death. After a publication of the first three books (1590) sparked interest, the extant version was fleshed out with material from the first version (1593).
*'Defense of Poetry" [gutenberg author| id=Sidney+Philip+Sir | name=Sir Philip Sidney] (also known as "A Defence of Poesie") — Sidney wrote the "Defence" before 1583. It is generally believed that he was at least partly motivated by Stephen Gosson, a former playwright who dedicated his attack on the English stage, "The School of Abuse", to Sidney in 1579, but Sidney primarily addresses more general objections to poetry, such as those of Plato. In his essay, Sidney integrates a number of classical and Italian precepts on fiction. The essence of his defense is that poetry, by combining the liveliness of history with the ethical focus of philosophy, is more effective than either history or philosophy in rousing its readers to virtue. The work also offers important comments on Edmund Spenser and the Elizabethan stage.

In pop culture

*T. S. Eliot invokes Sidney in his poem "A Cooking Egg".

*Supt. Harold Gaskell of the Metropolitan Police Vice Squad is repeatedly mistaken for Sir Philip Sidney in a "Monty Python's Flying Circus" sketch (ep. 36).

*Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, played by Joseph Fiennes, in Elizabeth (1998) quotes Sir Philip Sidney's 'My True-Love Hath My Heart'

*The fantasy novel Armor of Light by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett is an alternate history with the premise that Sir Philip Sydney did not die of his wounds at Zutphen. The Arcadia is one of Sydney's works mentioned in the novel.



Carlton, Charles (1992). "Going to the Wars: The Experience of the British Civil Wars, 1638–1651", Routledge, ISBN 0415103916.

Further reading

*Craig, D. H. "A Hybrid Growth: Sidney's Theory of Poetry in "An Apology for Poetry"." "Essential Articles for the Study of Sir Philip Sidney." Ed. Arthur F. Kinney. Hamden: Archon Books, 1986.
*Davies, Norman. "". London: Pimlico, 1997.
*Frye, Northrup. "Words With Power: Being a Second Study of the Bible and Literature." Toronto: Penguin Books, 1992.
*Garrett, Martin. Ed. "Sidney: the Critical Heritage." London: Routledge, 1996.
*Greville, Fulke."Life of the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney". London, 1652.
*Hale, John. "The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance". New York: Atheeum, 1994.
*Jasinski, James. "Sourcebook on Rhetoric: Key Concepts in Contemporary Rhetorical Studies". Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2001.
*Kimbrough, Robert. "Sir Philip Sidney". New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1971.
*Leitch, Vincent B., Ed. "The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism". New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.
*Lewis, C. S. "English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama". Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1954.
*Robertson, Jean. "Philip Sidney." In "The Spenser Encyclopedia". eds. A. C. Hamilton "et al." Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990.
*Shelley, Percy Bysshe. "A Defence of Poetry." In "Shelley’s Poetry and Prose: A Norton Critical Edition". 2nd ed. Eds. Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2002.
*Sidney, Philip. "A Defence of Poesie and Poems". London: Cassell and Company, 1891.
*"The Cambridge History of English and American Literature". Volume 3. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910.

*Acheson, Kathy. "' [ Outrage your face] ': Anti-Theatricality and Gender in Early Modern Closet Drama by Women." "Early Modern Literary Studies" 6.3 (January, 2001): 7.1-16. 21 October 2005.
*Bear, R. S. " [ Defence of Poesie: Introduction] . In "Renascence Editions." 21 October 2005.
*Griffiths, Matthew. [ English Court Poets and Petrarchism: Wyatt, Sidney and Spenser] . 25 November 2005.
*Harvey, Elizabeth D. [ Sidney, Sir Philip] . In "The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory & Criticism". 25 November 2005.
*Knauss, Daniel, Philip. [ Love’s Refinement: Metaphysical Expressions of Desire in Philip Sidney and John Donne] ., Master's Thesis submitted to the Faculty of the North Carolina State University. 25 November 2005.
*Maley, Willy. [ Cultural Materialism and New Historicism.] 8 November 2005
*Mitsi, Efterpi. [ The "Popular Philosopher": Plato, Poetry, and Food in Tudor Aesthetics.] In "Early Modern Literary Studies". 9 November 2004.
*Pask, Kevin. [ "The "mannes state" of Philip Sidney: Pre-scripting the Life of the Poet in England."] 25 November 2005.
*Staff. [ Sir Philip Sidney 1554-1586] , Poets' Graves. Accessed 26 May 2008

*Stump, Donald (ed). [ "Sir Philip Sidney: World Bibliography] , Saint Louis University. Accessed 26 May 2008. "This site is the largest collection of bibliographic references on Sidney in existence. It includes all the items originally published in "Sir Philip Sidney: An Annotated Bibliography of Texts and Criticism, 1554-1984" (New York: G.K. Hall, Macmillan 1994) as well updates from 1985 to the present."

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