Allegory in Renaissance literature

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Allegory is used extensively in Renaissance literature. Growing out of the use of allegory in the Middle Ages, Renaissance literature exhibits an increased emphasis on courtly love.[1]

The most famous example of an allegorical work from the Renaissance is probably Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene. In book 4 Agape has three sons, Priamond (from one), Diamond (from two), and Telamond (from téleios, perfect, but emended by Jortin to Triamond in his 1734 edition). The three sons correspond to the three worlds, born of love. Cambell's battle with the three sons is an allegory of "man's battle with the three worlds to find his place in the universe, to establish harmony in God's creation, and ultimately to achieve salvation".[2] Furthermore, since any triad may be an analogue of another, the three brothers could also be an allegory of the three worlds of man's soul: the vegetative, the sensitive, and the angelic".[2]

Another example of allegory in Renaissance literature is Roman de la Rose, a French poem styled as an allegorical dream vision. It is a notable instance of courtly literature. At various times in the poem, the "Rose" of the title is seen as the name of the lady, and as a symbol of female sexuality in general.

Kenneth Borris has argued that Philip Sidney and John Milton were also major allegorists.[3] The theory of allegory is also discussed in Sir John Harington's Apology for Poetry (included in his translation of Ariosto's Orlando furioso, 1591).

By the 16th century allegory was firmly linked to what is known as the Elizabethan world picture, taken from Ptolemy and Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. This theory postulates the existence of three worlds:

Pico della Mirandola discusses the interrelations between these three worlds in the introduction to his Heptaplus: 'For euen as the...three worlds being girt and buckled with the bands of concord doe by reciprocall libertie, interchange their natures; the like do they also by their appellations. And this is the principle from whence springeth & groweth the discipline of allegoricall sense' (translated by Pierre de la Primaudaye in The French Academie, London, 1618, p. 671).


  1. ^ C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love, 1936.
  2. ^ a b Thomas P. Roche: The Kindly Frame, 1964, excerpted in Paul. J. Alpers (ed): Elizabethan Poetry. Modern Essays in Criticism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967: 418
  3. ^ Kenneth Borris, Allegory and Epic in English Renaissance Literature: Heroic Form in Sidney, Spenser, and Milton, 2000.

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