Sidney, Philip

   English poet and soldier, the eldest child of an aristocratic family, brother of Robert Sidney, earl of Leicester, and of the writer Mary Sidney. He was educated at Christ Church, Oxford, where he received an excellent humanistic educa-tion. After this study, he travelled on the Continent, and while in Paris he witnessed the infamous St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of French Protestants in 1572. Sidney also visited Italy, Germany, Bo-hemia, Poland, and the Netherlands. Queen Elizabeth I regarded him as such a valuable member of her court that she limited the length of his foreign sojourn. In 1578 he wrote a masque, The Lady of May, in which the queen herself played the leading role. His public letter (1579) to the queen urging her not to marry the duke of Alençon, one of her foreign suitors, angered her, and he may have been banished from court for a time. But in 1583 Sidney was knighted. He married a daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham, one of the most powerful po-litical figures in England. In order to prevent him from joining an ex-pedition to the New World planned by Sir Francis Drake, the queen appointed him governor of the city of Flushing in the Netherlands, which the English occupied militarily. Two years later he was killed in battle with Spanish troops. He was hailed as a hero and received an elaborate funeral in London.
   Three of Sidney's writings had great influence. The Defence of Po-etry (1585) defends the value of the poetic imagination and is strongly influenced by Platonism. This work presents the author's own survey of earlier English literature and urges English poets to create in their own language a literature equal to that of the ancient Greeks and Romans. His second major work is the pastoral romance The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia, written about 1580 for his sis-ter Mary and published posthumously in 1590. It was influenced by earlier Arcadian works by Jacopo Sannazaro and Jorge de Montemayor. Also posthumous was his collection of sonnets, Astrophel and Stella (written 1580-1584 but unpublished until a pirated edition appeared in 1591). Sidney also began the English translation of the Psalms completed by his sister. The biography written by his friend and fellow poet Fulke Greville presents him as a heroic figure and even as a sort of Protestant martyr, since his death in battle occurred as part of England's resistance to the greatest Catholic power of the century, the Spain of Philip II.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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