Philip Sidney and the Poetics of Renaissance Cosmopolitanism



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Celebrations of literary fictions as autonomous worlds appeared first in the Renaissance and were occasioned, paradoxically, by their power to remedy the ills of history. Robert E. Stillman explores this paradox in relation to Philip Sidney’s Defence of Poesy, the first Renaissance text to argue for the preeminence of poetry as an autonomous form of knowledge in the public domain. Offering a fresh interpretation of Sidney’s celebration of fiction-making, Stillman locates the origins of his poetics inside a neglected historical community: the intellectual elite associated with Philip Melanchthon (leader of the German Reformation after Luther), the so-called Philippists. As a challenge to traditional Anglo-centric scholarship, his study demonstrates how Sidney’s education by Continental Philippists enabled him to dignify fiction-making as a compelling form of public discourse-compelling because of its promotion of powerful new concepts about reading and writing, its ecumenical piety, and its political ambition to secure through natural law (from universal ‘Ideas’) freedom from the tyranny of confessional warfare. Intellectually ambitious and wide-ranging, this study draws together various elements of contemporary scholarship in literary, religious, and political history in order to afford a broader understanding of the Defence and the cultural context inside which Sidney produced both his poetry and his poetics.


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