On Not Defending Poetry: The Economics of Sidney’s Golden World

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@ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Monday Seminar:

Catherine Bates

Solmsen Fellow (2014-2015)

English and Comparative Literature, University of Warwick


One of the foundational texts of early modern poetics, Philip Sidney’s Defence of Poetry (1595) makes the case that poetry profits both the individual and the state to which he or she belongs by promoting ethical ideals of heroic love and political action. That, at least, is how most critics interpret the text. This talk reconsiders Sidney’s famous image of the poet’s golden world in order to suggest an alternative reading: one in which the Defence is shown to reveal a profound discomfort with the model of profitability and to feel its way toward a radically different – and modern – aesthetic.


Catherine Bates is a Professor of Renaissance Literature at the University of Warwick. She specializes in sixteenth-century English literature: in particular, courtly forms such as epic, lyric, and romance. Her books include The Rhetoric of Courtship in Elizabethan Language and Literature (1992), Play in a Godless World: The Theory and Practice of Play in Shakespeare, Nietzsche, and Freud (1999), Masculinity, Gender and Identity in the English Renaissance Lyric (2007), and Masculinity and the Hunt: Wyatt to Spenser (2013). She is also currently editing the Blackwell Companion to Renaissance Poetry. She has previously held positions at Oxford (1987-1990) and Cambridge (1990-1995), and has been at the University of Warwick since 1995. She served as Head of the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies there from 2009 to 2014. She is at work on a book entitled Perversion in Arcadia.