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.
Robert E. Stillman is a Professor in the English Department at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, USA.
’The strength of Stillman’s study - and a great strength it is - lies in the detailed reading of the Defence against specific treatises, such as Melanchthon’s Loci communes and Elementorum rhetorices libri duo, and Mornay’s De veritate religionis christianae and Vindiciae contra tyrannos. Critical analysis of this kind simply does not exist in Sidney studies. Philip Sidney and the Poetics of Renaissance Cosmopolitanism breaks new ground and will be a necessary text in the field for years to come.’ Renaissance Quarterly '... the book is as beautifully written as anyone familiar with its author would expect... To call this a seminal book would be inadequate. It is the Sidney study for a generation. It answers the crucial questions that remained about his writing and his career in such a way as to be both completely convincing and stimulating to younger scholars. ... It will transform our understanding of that stellar Elizabethan and perhaps, by doing so, help answer many questions about the relations in that period between faith, public life, and literature.' Modern Philology ’Stillman offers refreshing and invigorating challenges to new critical and new historicist treatments of Sidney... For scholars trained within the English canonical tradition, Stillman’s work is a treasure of scholarly depth and deep insight about the larger world in which Sidney read, thought, and lived.’ Sixteenth Century Journal