Astrophel and Stella, 1591 (pirated edition printed by Thomas Newman), 1598 (first authorized edition)
Certaine Sonnets, 1598
The Psalmes of David, Translated into Divers and Sundry Kindes of Verse, 1823 (with Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke)
The Complete Poems of Sir Philip Sidney, 1873 (2 volumes)
The Poems of Sir Philip Sidney, 1962 (William A. Ringler, Jr., editor)
The Psalms of Sir Philip Sidney and the Countess of Pembroke, 1963 (J. C. A. Rathmell, editor)
Arcadia, 1590, 1593, 1598 (originally titled The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia)
The Lady of May, pr. 1578 (masque)
Fortress of Perfect Beauty, pr. 1581 (with Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke; Phillip Howard, the earl of Arundel; and Baron Windsor of Stanwell)
Defence of Poesie, 1595 (also published as An Apologie for Poetry)
Miscellaneous Prose of Sir Philip Sidney, 1973
Philip Sidney’s father, Sir Henry Sidney, was a member of a highborn family, and most of his near relatives were titled, but Sidney was poor throughout his life. He was a man of steadfast character, and his influence on English literature was that of a chivalrous, courtly poet, critic, and patron.
Sir Philip Sidney
Sydney entered Shrewsbury School, near Ludlow Castle, in 1564 and from there was sent to Oxford in 1568; he also studied at Cambridge. Throughout his life Sidney was intensely interested in learning, and in 1572 he capped his formal education with an extended tour of Europe. By his peers he was generally recognized as a young man of charm, intelligence, and good judgment.
After his return to England in 1575 he remained at court until he was sent to Austria and Germany in 1577. While in England, he labored sedulously to defend his father’s policies and position. By 1578 he was becoming known in the world of letters. In that year he wrote The Lady of May, a masque performed before Queen Elizabeth I, but his success at court was short-lived; he was forced to share the disgrace of the earl of Leicester, in whose affairs he had become involved. His virtual banishment to the home of his sister, the countess of Pembroke, may well have been a blessing, for it was there that he began writing Arcadia for his sister’s amusement. This work, begun in 1580, was later revised and expanded.
After being permitted to return to court, Sidney wrote the great sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella. The “Stella” in this largely autobiographical poetic narrative was Penelope Devereux, the daughter of the earl of Essex, who had intended her for Sidney. In 1581 she instead married Lord Rich, and, in serious play, Sidney’s sonnets equate unfulfilled sexual desire with frustrated political ambition.
In 1583 Sidney was knighted, and in the same year he married Frances, the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham. Before and during these events Sidney had been working on what was probably his most influential piece of writing, his Defence of Poesie, which set an almost wholly new set of standards for English poetry. By poesie Sidney meant any form of imaginative writing that inspired virtue by example.
Sidney was more than a courtier or literary figure; he was also a man of affairs. A champion of the Protestant cause in Europe, with his primary animosity directed against Spain, in 1585 he was given a command in Holland and made governor of Flushing. He engaged valiantly in several battles during that year. On September 22, 1586, he was severely wounded in a cavalry charge. The famous story is often told, as an example of Sidney’s fine sense of humanity and chivalry, of how he refused a cup of water and ordered it to be given to a soldier near him on the battlefield. Sidney died of his wound on October 17, 1586. Following his death he was widely mourned and elegized.
Because none of his writing was actually published during his lifetime, most of Sidney’s widespread influence was posthumous; nevertheless, it was considerable. The proto-novel Arcadia, although essentially a romance, achieves epic qualities and contains some richly developed passages. Astrophel and Stella, perhaps the most fully written sonnet sequence in English, rivals the subsequent sonnets of Edmund Spenser and William Shakespeare. With the writing of Defence of Poesie he injected moral and artistic standards into English literature. The influence of his genius was felt throughout English writing in the centuries that followed.