Internet Shakespeare Editions

Editor: Michael Best
Not Peer Reviewed

The Defense of Poetry


Sidney's Defense of Poetry, also published as An Apology for Poetry, was written in 1579, just before the arrival of a group of well-educated young men brought a new vitality and variety to English drama. Sometimes referred to as the "university wits," the group included John Lyly, Christopher Marlowe, and Robert Greene, all authors of sparkling plays that on the whole followed local English traditions of drama rather than Aristotelian classical models. Sidney's remarks on the early drama are typical of the educated opinion of the time. Not until Samuel Johnson, writing in the mid eighteenth century, did a serious critic defend the practice of early English dramatists in their use of time and place on stage.

It is tempting to believe that Shakespeare re-read the Defense just before writing King Lear, and reacted with some amusement at Sidney's critical pronouncements about English tragedies for "mingling kings and clowns, not because the matter so carrieth it, but thrust in the clown by head and shoulders to play a part in majestical matters with neither decency nor discretion." The character of the Fool is a brilliant rebuttal of Sidney's neo-Aristotelian view.