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Philip Sidney

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Philip Sidney

Sir Philip Sidney (November 30, 1554October 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 a writer of sonnets.

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, Duke of Northumberland, and the sister of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. His younger sister, Mary Sidney, married Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke. She was important as a translator and as a patron of poetry; Sidney dedicated his longest work, the Arcadia, to her.

Philip was educated at Shrewsbury School and Christ Church College, Oxford. He was much travelled and highly learned. He was knighted in 1582, and three years later became governor of Flushing in the Netherlands. He married Frances, daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham.

Sir Philip's life ended prematurely when he suffered a fatal wound at the Battle of Zutphen. His great work, Arcadia, was only published after his death.

The most famous story about Sir Philip (intended as an illustration of his noble character) is that, while dying, he gave his water-bottle to another wounded soldier, saying, "Thy need is greater than mine". An early biography of Sidney was written by his friend and schoolfellow, Fulke Greville.

His work, Astrophel and Stella (1591), is a series of love poems. Stella is Penelope Devereux, Lady Rich, his uncle Robert's step-daughter.

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


Preceded by:
The Earl of Warwick
Master-General of the Ordnance
1585–1586
(jointly with The Earl of Warwick)
Succeeded by:
The Earl of Warwick

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Works

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  • Astrophel and Stella The first of the famous English sonnet sequences, "Astrophel and Stella" was probably composed in the early 1580s. They were well-circulated in manuscript before the first (apparently pirated) edition was printed in 1591; only in 1598 did an authorized edition reach the press. The sequence was a watershed in English Renaissance poetry. In it, Sidney partially nativized 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, 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 sparked interest, the extant version was fleshed out with material from the first version.
  • A Defence of Poesy (Also known as the Apology for Poetry) Sidney wrote the Apology 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. 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.

References

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature. Volume 3. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910.

Fulke Greville.Life of the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney. London, 1652.

C. S. Lewis. English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1954.

Philip Sidney. A Defense of Poetry and Poems. London: Cassell and Company, 1891.cy:Philip Sidney de:Philip Sidney nl:Philip Sidney sv:Philip Sidney fr:Philip Sidney

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