Sir Philip Sidney

By Philip Sidney; Katherine Duncan-Jones | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

WHETHER we approach Sidney primarily through his literary works or his biography, the fact of his soldier's death in 1586 at the early age of thirty-one stops us short, casting long shadows back over all the rest. The inevitability of this is accepted in the present collection, in which some of the documents relating to Sidney's death and its impact on his contemporaries are included in the Appendices. They comprise an obituary by his father's secretary, Edmund Molyneux, which has never been reprinted in modem times; a rather idealized account of his last days by an unknown clergyman; three out of the two hundred or more1 elegies which appeared in the decade after his death; and his friend Fulke Greville's account of the skirmish at Zutphen and Sidney's wounding. This extract includes the famous, but almost certainly spurious, anecdote of the wounded Sidney passing a water bottle to a common soldier with the words 'Thy necessity is yet greater than mine' (329).

However, the fact of his early death, so obvious to us, was not available to Sidney himself. His last letter (313) shows him still desperate for life the night before he died, and must modify the credence we give to some of the accounts of his death-bed. If Sidney's works are suffused with melancholy and a sense of sudden, inconclusive endings, the reasons must be sought elsewhere. Indeed, in leaving the manuscript of his revised Arcadia with Fulke Greville when he left England for the Netherlands in November 1585, Sidney was probably declaring a private determination to return to his literary work in progress at a future date. The half-sentence with which the revised portion ends may have been a deliberate device to aid his memory when he got back to work on it. This ambitious, wide-ranging, and boldly exploratory romance (from which four extracts are included here, 253-73) marks the point Sidney had reached when he left England for active political and military service. Yet the long New Arcadia fragment leaves him, as a writer, still on the middle ground; still in process of self-discovery; still, perhaps, in quest of both the genre and the audience which would bring his powers to their greatest fulfilment.

The question of audience--for whom did Sidney write?--is an important one to ask, though a hard one to answer, for it must have a bearing on a yet more fundamental question: why did Sidney write at all?

____________________
1
According to the DNB.

-vii-

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Sir Philip Sidney
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Oxford Authors i
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • Acknowledgements xix
  • Chronology xxi
  • Note on Text xxv
  • A Dialogue Between Two Shepherds, Uttered in a Pastoral Show at Wilton 1
  • The Lady of May 5
  • Certain Sonnets 14
  • The Old Arcadia 42
  • Lamon's Tale 139
  • Asthrophil and Stella 153
  • The Defence of Poesy 212
  • The New Arcadia the Pitiful Story of the Paphlagonian Unkind King 253
  • Psalms Psalm Vi: Domine Ne in Furore *
  • Letters 279
  • Appendices 299
  • Notes 330
  • Further Reading 409
  • Selective Glossary 411
  • Index of First Lines 412
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