Laughter vs delight: poesy as the ultimate art form

Sydney Tate

Digital Humanism

Professor Henrichs


Word count: 497


Throughout Phillip Sidney’s “Defense of Poesy” he talks about the distinctions between history, philosophy, comedy and poetry, and makes a defense for poetry being the best art form. Throughout his work, he seems to reference back often to the words delight and laughter, however he does not seem to be using these words interchangeably. Delight and laughter are completely different reactions to Sidney are created by different circumstances. But what exactly is the difference between them? You can first look at the difference in definition of the words: delight and laughter. According to the Miriam Webster dictionary, delight can be defined as “something that gives great pleasure” whereas laughter can be defined looking at the archaic definition, as “a cause of merriment”. One of the distinctions that Sidney makes between the two is that Delight can be obtained without laughter, but laughter cannot be obtained without delight. He distinguishes the two primarily through looking at comedy as a form of medium. Comedy, elicits laughter, and in a sense, elicits a certain type of superficial delight. Sidney sees comedy as a lower medium form, saying “Third is, how much it abuseth men’s wit, training it to wanton sinfulness and lustful love: for indeed that is the principal, if not only, abuse I can hear alleged. They say the comedies rather teach than reprehend amorous conceits.” (Sidney, 35) Comedy is what elicits laughter, not poetry. Comedy is turning to the darkest parts of humans, and mortal sin to bring emotion. Whereas delight is elicited by something bigger, delight is elicited by Truth. “making a school of art that which the poets did only teach by a divine delightfulness, beginning to spurn at their guides, like ungrateful prentices were not content to set up shops for themselves, but sought by all means to discredit their masters; which, by the force of delight, being barred them, the less they could overthrow them, and the more they hated them.” (Sidney, 39). Poets search for Truth, and these truths that they write bring out delight both in them and in any of their readers. “even Turks and Tartars are delighted with poets.” (Sidney, 37) Now how exactly does this connect back to Sidney’s defense? Sidney’s defense of poesy focuses on the idea the poesy (or the art of writing poetry) is more effective than both philosophy, history and comedy because it pulls the great parts of both of those fields and those categories into one art form. The point of all of these categories is to teach people, and lead them towards virtue. Sidney argues however that poesy not only teaches the readers, but that its main purpose is also to delight the reader in order for the reader to continue being taught. Posey argues that we as people are delighted by the truth. Poets are seeking out to find truth and again, lead people to virtue. Delight is rooted in Truth where as laughter is rooted in mortal sin and fleeting pleasure.



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