Allegory in Renaissance literature  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

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).

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". 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".

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).


The Elizabethan age was the age of the renaissance, but the Elizabethans were much closer to a medieval way of thinking than to our modern world picture In England it brought a reduction of the power of the church and large properties of land were confiscated the church services were made simpler and in English man had a free will and could therefore be responsible for his own actions at the same time there was a belief in fate, which shaped the life of man The Elizabethans believed in a hierarchical ordering of all existence from heavenly bodies to a hierarchical ordering in society with a semi-divine monarch at the head to a hierarchical ordering of human physiology and psychology. These hierarchies were connected by a complex of "correspondences." Astronomy: order in the universe The order of the universe was fixed. 9 spheres, with god at the top the earth was the centre of the universe, surrounded by spheres, with the moon closest to the earth. What was below the moon is not stable Many of Shakespeare's plays are about what happens when the order is disturbed through men's actions, and this is always very dangerous.

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