Philip Sidney as a Literary Critic

Philip Sidney as a Literary Critic

Q. Write a note on Philip Sidney as a literary critic.


Sir Philip Sidney, an eminent Elizabethan poet, courtier, and literary critic, holds a distinctive position in the history of English literary criticism. “The Defence of Poesy” is widely acknowledged as one of the first significant pieces of literary criticism in the English language.

Notably, Sidney initiated the tradition of ‘judicial’ criticism in England and marked a new phase in the development of English literary criticism.

A Classicist at Heart

Sidney’s classical tendencies are evident in his reliance on Aristotelian principles, particularly the concept of ‘mimesis’ or imitation.

However, Sidney reinterpreted this concept to reflect the context of the English Renaissance. In his view, the poet’s role was not to merely replicate reality but to enhance it through imaginative embellishment.

It enabled the poet to construct an ‘ideal’ world, providing moral examples for readers to follow. Sidney’s classicist leanings also shine through his argument for the superiority of poetry over other forms of literature.

Drawing from classical notions of the didactic purpose of art, Sidney argues that poetry, through its unique capacity to ‘teach and delight,’ can have a more profound impact on its audience than philosophy or history.

A Blend of Classical and Renaissance Ideals

Sidney’s critical work integrates classical Aristotelian ideas with the humanistic values of the Renaissance. Drawing from Aristotle’s concept of ‘mimesis’ or imitation, Sidney redefines it to suit the context of the English Renaissance.

For Sidney, the poet’s role is not merely to imitate reality but to imaginatively enhance it. It allows the poet to create an ‘ideal’ world, hence providing moral examples for readers to emulate.

A Forebearer of Romanticism

Despite his firm grounding in classical principles, Sidney’s criticism also foreshadows elements of Romanticism. He championed the creative autonomy of the poet, viewing him as a ‘maker’ or ‘creator.’

This concept, which emphasizes the poet’s capacity to create new worlds and possibilities through their imagination, resonates strongly with the Romantic ideal of the artist as a unique, creative genius.

Furthermore, Sidney’s emphasis on the emotional aspect of poetry aligns with Romantic principles. He contended that while philosophy presents truth in an abstract form and history merely records events, poetry can communicate universal truths through emotionally engaging narratives, thereby deeply moving its audience.

Sidney as a Creative Critic

This creative reinterpretation of classical ideas not only underscored Sidney’s originality but also emphasized his belief in the transformative power of the imagination.

This belief would later resonate with Romantic critics, highlighting Sidney’s role as a bridge between classical and romantic literary criticism.

Moreover, Sidney’s creativity is apparent when he combines the classical focus on moral instruction and the Renaissance emphasis on imaginative autonomy.

This innovative synthesis of elements demonstrated his ability to transcend the conventional boundaries of criticism.

Sidney was also creative in his evaluative approach to criticism, which he demonstrated in his critique of contemporary English poetry. Rather than just describing the state of English poetry, he made evaluative judgments, paving the way for a more judicial form of criticism.

This approach, which departed from his predecessors’ predominantly rhetorical and grammatical analysis, further shows his creative contribution to literary criticism.

Sidney and the Advent of Judicial Criticism

Before Sidney, literary criticism in England predominantly revolved around rhetorical and grammatical analysis. It neglects the artistic and aesthetic evaluation of scholarly works.

However, judicial criticism emerged as a transformative approach characterized by a meticulous and evaluative literature analysis. This method involves assessing the merits and flaws of literary works based on specific criteria or standards.

Sidney shifts the focus of literary criticism towards a more comprehensive and thoughtful examination of literary texts, highlighting their artistic and aesthetic qualities.

However, Sidney’s “Defence of Poesy” shows a more evaluative, judicial approach to criticism. He critiques the contemporary state of poetry in England and sets forth his views on what good poetry should be, thereby not just offering commentary but also making evaluative judgments.


In conclusion, Sir Philip Sidney’s contribution to literary criticism was groundbreaking. His work seamlessly blended classical ideals with Renaissance humanism and foreshadowed elements of Romanticism, thereby encapsulating a broad spectrum of critical thought.

Moreover, his initiation of judicial criticism in England marked a significant shift in the landscape of literary criticism. Sidney’s innovative and evaluative approach to criticism laid the groundwork for later critics.

As a creative critic, he didn’t merely adhere to classical concepts but reinterpreted them in the context of his era. His emphasis on the creative autonomy of the poet, the didactic purpose of poetry, and the emotional aspects of verse underscore his unique critical perspective.

Philip Sidney’s views on poetry’s superiority not only captivate but also educate and inspire readers. These views further emphasize his unique position as a distinguished critic.


Leave a comment