How does Sidney defend poetry in An Apology for Poetry ? | Four Charges against poetry

An Apology for Poetry is one of the major works of Sir Philip Sidney written in the Sixteenth century. Sidney wrote this work in 1580 but it was published posthumously in 1595. Sidney wished to guard poetry and reinstate the greatness of the poet which has tainted in his age. Sidney thought poetry to have greater assertion for defense and justification. Sidney turns to disprove the allegation imposed upon poetry by Stephen Gosson and other Elizabethan critics.

Throughout “An Apology for Poetry” Sidney criticizes attackers of poetry for being thoughtless readers. But the ultimate counter-argument comes in the second part of this essay, where Sidney denies four major allegations leveled against poetry. At the very start of the “An Apology for Poetry”, Sidney considers those ungrateful who insults poetry because in Sidney’s view, insulting poetry means insulting the first light-bearer to ignorance. Thereafter, Sidney concedes that critics of that time attacking poetry because of receiving attention. The dignity and integrity of poetry are so distinct and obvious that, Sidney proposes, he should only sum up them to justify. 

Poetry is only a waste of time:

The first allegation imposed in opposition to poetry was that poetry is only a waste of time. A person may consume his hours more productively obtaining knowledge elsewhere than learning poetry. Sidney put forward a radical comment that there is no branch of knowledge relatively more productive than poetry. It is only poetry that educates righteousness and virtue and encourages men to do ethical acts. This twofold aim of ‘teaching moving’ is achieved by poetry very successfully. Poetry is higher and loftier than all other branches of knowledge as it educates us self-realization which can be utilized for well-being as well as for virtuous action. Sidney concedes that poetry has been the earliest light-bearer to ignorance in all dialects and countries. 

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Poetry represented nothing but illusion and falsity:

The second charge that was leveled against poetry was that poetry represented nothing but illusion and falsity. To this Sidney counters by stating that a poet not ever affirms anything and thereby we cannot accuse him of lying. To proclaim or declare something as the truth is to lie but as the poet never claims that his artistic creation is true, he cannot be charged with lying. Actually, if we compare a historian, an astronomer, a physician, and a geometrician, a poet is the least liar.  We cannot look for anything other than the truth from a historian; still, there are numerous falsities in history. In the same way, there could be miscalculations and lapses in the thesis by the knowledgeable scientist. But considering the fact that the poet does not ever claim anything as truth, he can never be considered a liar

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Poetry corrupt our minds:

The third charge levied against poetry was that poetry corrupt our minds by altering them to malicious and turning the youth spiritless and effeminate. Sidney asserts that it is the immoral minds of a few poets which cause them to compose poetry representing scenes of lust and erotic. Poetry by its very nature is virtuous. The proper usage of poetry can motivate and ennoble us and our souls. Sidney also asserts that the misapplying of any art form can be evenly threatening for society. If a physician misuses his medical learning, it can turn out to be disastrous. In the same way, if a lawyer uses his learnings of the law in a wrong way then even an innocent person can be punished and it may cause further injustices and inequality.  Sidney maintains that superior poetry can move men to righteous action like Abraham abandoning his son Isaac or young David battling with giant Goliath. 

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Plato removed poets from his ideal state:

Those who imposed allegations against poetry proclaimed that the famous philosopher Plato removed poets from his ideal state. But Sidney clarifies that Plato banished preposterous and nonsensical poets, not poetry itself. Sidney asserts that Plato’s “Dialogues” itself are composed in the form of verse. Sidney maintains that Plato himself took out much learning from poetry and his works were also greatly poetical. Plato’s criticism against poetry emerged from the case that gods were not portrayed as being kind-hearted and benign but as immodest and vengeful. Here Sidney clarifies that the images of gods portrayed by the poets were in line with the contemporary beliefs of the time. 

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In conclusion, we can say that Sidney condemns wicked minds to have immoral poetry but it cannot be turned down that seductive illustrations of courtship, stories of temptation, liaison do have an unfavorable effect on youth and easily affect minds. Concurrently all love poets cannot be neglected as immoral only because their purpose is to initiate a perception of judgment in the readers and to assist them to differentiate between good and evil and make the proper choice. The core of Sidney’s justification is that poetry, like everything, might be misused by unprincipled and inept poets, but that the misemployment of poetry must be regarded as the exception and not the decree. 

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