Introduction to allegory

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Introduction to allegory

Post by Sonia Fanucchi on Fri Sep 01, 2017 5:35 pm

The nature of Medieval allegory has become a point of contention among critics in recent years. Various kinds of allegory have been identified but they are not so easy to distinguish from one another and often overlap in Medieval texts. In Pearl one can see evidence of parable-allegory with its didactic function, figural allegory (an allegory that arises out of an historical dimension), sacramental or liturgical elements (where symbols have a ritual quality). At its most basic an allegory is simply an extended metaphor but it has become increasingly clear to critics over the years that this is in fact a rather rigid definition.

The notion of a "figural allegory" was developed by Eric Auerbach. You can find Auerbach's famous essay on "figura" at the address below:

http://complit.utoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/COL1000H_Erich_Aurbach.pdf

In his letter to Cangrande della Scala, Dante tries to explain allegory as comprising moral and 'anagocical' or spiritual/ transcendent elements:

http://faculty.georgetown.edu/jod/cangrande.english.html

The following article focuses on Dante's theory of allegory in Convivio (which we will discuss in more detail when we do Purgatorio). It is, however, a useful introduction to the distinction between poetic allegory (the kind of allegory that Spencer uses in the Faerie Queene for example ) and figural allegory (which has a historical dimension). The article is called "Dante's "Allegory of Poets" and the Mediaeval Theory of Poetic Fiction" by Richard Hamilton Green. It can be found on the JSTOR database:

http://www.wits.ac.za/library/researchresources/electronicdatabases/595/titlelisting.html#j

Sonia Fanucchi
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