SIR PHILIP SIDNEY by Katherine Duncan-Jones


Courtier Poet
Email this review


 A spirited, speculative, scholarly account of the brief life (1554-86) of the Elizabethan courtier, soldier, diplomat, author, patron--to some the embodiment of the Renaissance ideal--by Duncan- Jones (English/Oxford). ``It is entirely possible,'' ``in fact, most probable,'' and ``bluntly apparent''--to use some of the author's decisively uncertain terms, that the illustrious Sir Philip Sidney considered himself a failure, his life spent as an ``aspirant administrator'' waiting for preferments, as well as for appropriate and endowed brides who would accept him without a title; even recognition as a writer was delayed until after his death. As close to being a prince as a commoner could get--godson of Elizabeth I, heir to two earls, son of a Knight of the Garter who governed England and Wales, and, in his father's absence, the crucial Royal Cupbearer- -Sidney may have lived in the silliest period in English royal history for a man of talent, breeding, and education to excel at court--which required winning the favor of a capricious, vain, and aging Queen, addressed as a ``Glorious Nymph'' by petitioners who sang to her from hiding places in the trees as she walked in the garden below. Sidney apparently found relief from the pressures and constraints of being a court supplicant by writing, among other works, the sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella; Arcadia, a pastoral romance that Virginia Woolf considered the origin of English fiction; and A Defense of Poesie, defending the morality of verse as well as his practice of writing in English. Although her style is plodding and her tone oddly antagonistic, Duncan-Jones offers a contemporary, psychological reading of Sidney, depicting a quarrelsome, status-conscious, insecure, and--however gifted--petty individual, intensely private in his passions, preferring the company of bachelor friends and older men to his 16-year-old bride. If not the best, this is certainly the most humanizing of Sidney biographies. (Sixteen pages of b&w illustrations--not seen.)

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 1991
ISBN: 0-300-05099-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1991