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Allegorical Poetics and the Epic

Allegorical Poetics and the Epic: The Renaissance Tradition to Paradise Lost

Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 392
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    Allegorical Poetics and the Epic
    Book Description:

    Literary allegory has deep roots in early reading and interpretation of Scripture and classical epic and myth. In this substantial study, Mindele Treip presents an overview of the history and theory of allegorical exegesis upon Scripture, poetry, and especially the epic from antiquity to the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, with close focus on the Renaissance and on the triangular literary relationship of Tasso, Spenser, and Milton.

    Exploring the different ways in which the termallegoryhas been understood, Treip finds significant continuities-within-differences in a wide range of critical writings, including texts of postclassical, patristic and rabbinical writers, medieval writers, notably Dante, Renaissance theorists such as Coluccio Salutati, Bacon, Sidney, John Harrington and rhetoricians and mythographers, and the neoclassical critics of Italy, England and France, including Le Bossu.

    In particular, she traces the evolving theories on allegory and the epic of Torquato Tasso through a wide spectrum of his major discourses, shorter tracts and letters, giving full translations. Treip argues that Milton wrote, as in part did Spenser, within the definitive framework of the mixed historical-allegorical epic erected by Tasso, and she shows Spenser's and Milton's epics as significantly shaped by Tasso's formulations, as well as by his allegorical structures and images in theGerusalemme liberata.

    In the last part of her study Treip addresses the complex problematics of readingParadise Lostas both a consciously Reformation poem and one written within the older epic allegorical tradition, and she also illustrates Milton's innovative use of biblical "Accommodation" theory so as to create a variety of radical allegorical metaphors in his poem.

    This study brings together a wide range of critical issues -- the Homeric-Virgilian tradition of allegorical reading of epic; early Renaissance theory of all poetry as "translation" or allegorical metaphor; midrashic linguistic techniques in the representation of the Word; Milton's God; neoclassical strictures on Milton's allegory and allegory in general -- all of these are brought together in new and comprehensive perspective.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6166-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. Part I. Theory of Allegory in Poetry and Epic from Antiquity to the Renaissance

    • ONE Antiquity to the Middle Ages
      (pp. 3-17)

      Certain tensions or oppositions may be perceived to recur throughout the history of allegory. Even though in allegorism no more than in other literary modes can the distinction between “content” and “form” sustain itself for long, one broad opposition which we shall find recurring historically is that between “allegory” conceived as meaning (hidden thought) and allegory defined as a feature of rhetoric, usually a brief rhetorical trope. For Aristotle and Quintilianallegoriais a rhetorical figure (sometimes defined aspermutatioorinversio), or a trope which works by saying one thing while meaning another—the ordinary definition in theOxford...

    • TWO Renaissance Theoretical Developments
      (pp. 18-27)

      The development of theory of allegory from the early to the later Renaissance shows interestingly divergent or often apparently self-contradictory directions; nonetheless, strong continuities with traditional theory and modes of allegory may also be found.¹ One may observe a sustained effort to define all poetry and the whole language of poetry as in themselves allegory or “translated” (secondary) discourse—since both poetry and allegory share a basis of metaphor. This view is coupled with more professional and technical, if sometimes fragmented, efforts to arrive at more functional definitions of the workings of allegorical rhetoric and narrative methodology in poetry. A...

    • THREE The English Mythographers and Their Tradition
      (pp. 28-41)

      One of the most confusing initial impressions of Renaissance critical allegoresis is that the older three- or fourfold framework, as seen in scriptural exegesis or in the older way of interpreting secular fables, often seems to persist, yet the levels of meaning extrapolated do not quite fit the older “senses”. We have the impression that Renaissance interpretation is still layered. But the “levels” as used by Renaissance mythographers are not those which pertained before, even though many of the older scriptural disciplined procedures used in defining and clearing the ground, prior to interpreting an allegorical text, may still be present....

    • FOUR “Idea”
      (pp. 42-50)

      Other apprehensions of allegory in the Renaissance developed in directions better suited than those of the mythographers to the consideration of allegorical poetry as a specialized art of communication, as well as a purveyor of hidden truths. Such views had already been theoretically initiated by Dante and other medieval critics when they affirmed that the reading of a text may be seen as falling into two broad divisions, rather than always a hierarchy of meanings. These two divisions were thesensus literalisand thesensus spiritualis, thesensus spiritualisbeing a single, embracing and fluid secondary figurative dimension, which was...

  6. Part II. Theory of the Allegorical Epic from Tasso, Spenser and the Neoclassicals to Milton

    • FIVE Tasso: The Practical Problems of the Allegorical Epic
      (pp. 53-68)

      It is apparent that Tasso—the most significant theorist and practitioner of allegorical epic in the Italian Renaissance, whose criticism will be considered in greater detail from this point¹—passed through a difficult evolution of thought, partly reflecting some of the divided conceptions of allegory in the Renaissance or earlier, and during which his own conception of allegory underwent a progressive broadening. Cognizant of purely rhetorical definitions of allegory in the classical oratorical tradition, he became dissatisfied with their restrictiveness. In a letter of 1576 (No. 79), explaining the progress of hisGerusalemme liberataand his evolving allegorical conception of...

    • SIX Tasso, the Discorsi: Aesthetics of the Allegorical Epic
      (pp. 69-79)

      We may now begin to address that third and more elusive conception of Tasso, suggested in the last section of the preceding chapter, in which the entire poem seems to become one comprehensive allegorical metaphor for all that the poet has to say. Tasso’s position here must be approached via his more philosophical statements on art. It was earlier observed that Tasso, while endeavouring to resolve the critical problems involved in the construction of theGerusalemme liberataand to tighten up its whole intellectual scheme, had located the allegory of that poem in a rather distinctive body of psychological-moral thought...

    • SEVEN Tasso, the Major Tracts: The Poetics of the Allegorical Epic
      (pp. 80-94)

      In this chapter we shall explore the final stages of Tasso’s increasingly confident formulation of an allegorical epic poetic based upon his own preferred concept of the “verisimilar”. There are three practical contexts. The first has to do withplotand the old question of narrative unity in the epic, considered against the twinned problems of “diversity” or multiple actions, and “necessity” or causality in narrative sequence. This is a question rendered acute by Tasso’s need to defend interpolated episode in romance epic against the strictures of Italian neoclassicism, with its emphasis on single plot-line. The second context, very central...

    • EIGHT Spenser as Allegorical Theorist
      (pp. 95-105)

      Before turning to neoclassical developments, we may look at Spenser’s statements on epic allegory. Spenser’s theories on allegory are included at this point, rather than earlier in the general section on Renaissance allegory, because the direct line of influence, Tasso-Spenser-Milton, is such an important one; to consider the views of the two English epic artists next to Tasso’s helps to reveal their affinities and, frequently, their indebtedness. Some of Spenser’s views on allegory may seem on the face of it more archaic than Tasso’s. But in point of fact, each phase of Spenser’s poetical art and theory is preceded by...

    • NINE Neoclassical Epic Theory: The Debate over Allegory
      (pp. 106-118)

      Much of latecinquecentocriticism on the epic had turned on Aristotle and the debates between stricter and more generous interpretations of “unity” in plot, history versus romance, and other issues. One of the main defences of romance episode, multiple plot, or fantasy was that these could most effectively embody allegorical “truth”. Tasso had effected a form of compromise between the linear historical epic and a revitalised treatment of romance-interpolated epic by joining both in the new thematic or allegorical unity of the “marvellous-verisimilar”. Although it is often supposed that a total shift in taste or some gap supervened between...

    • TEN Le Bossu on the Epic
      (pp. 119-125)

      In this chapter we shall consider in rather more detail that vein of late seventeenth-century criticism on the epic which most clearly seems to perpetuate the valuable and imaginative compromise in epic art effected by Tasso. The more liberal side of the continental neoclassical critical tradition is summed uppar excellencein the influential treatise of Le Bossu,Traité du Poëme Épique(1675), which unequivocally supports a view of the epic as allegory notable at that date.¹ Famous enough in the eighteenth century to be parodied by Pope, taken by Johnson as a yardstick by which to measureParadise Lost,...

    • ELEVEN Debts to Renaissance Allegory in Paradise Lost
      (pp. 126-137)

      The moment has come to gather together the threads of the preceding historical discussions of theories of allegory, and to try to determine, beyond the brief indications already given, how far such Renaissance or earlier conceptions of allegory in critical exegesis, in poetry, and especially concerning epic subject and structure, affected and helped to shape Milton’s practice. It does not seem necessary to argue the question of whether Milton did employ allegory inParadise Lost, or whether his use of such a mode was a conscious use. Allegory is not only a conscious but a self-conscious artistic mode in his...

    • TWELVE Allegorical Poetics in Paradise Lost
      (pp. 138-149)

      There should be little need to demonstrate Milton’s familiarity with the Renaissance theorists and practitioners of allegory in poetry and epic whose views and applied practices have been outlined in the foregoing pages. Such familiarity, especially with the Italians and notably with Tasso, is unambiguously indicated in Milton’s own fragmentarily sketched poetic in his prose writings of the early 1640s.¹ Such familiarity is also seen in his parallel ambitions to those of the ancients and modems to achieve a great poem, probably in the “Epick form” and professedly didactic (“doctrinal and exemplary to a Nation”),² which would vie with Virgil’s,...

    • THIRTEEN Allegory and “Idea” in Paradise Lost
      (pp. 150-168)

      The shared fundamental conception of a hidden Idea underlying the epic narrative is that which links Milton most surely with the humanist tradition of allegorical epic. From Boccaccio to Sidney and Tasso to Milton, through the Italian, French and into the English neoclassical traditions, the argument or assumption continued that epic (or indeed all poetry) expresses some anterior Idea, an abstract intellectual concept which is more than simply the poem’s preconceived aesthetic design or its surface “moral”. The conviction continued that such an intention or master plan was, as Tasso had said, the soul of the epic (“Imitation” of external...

  7. Part III. “Real or Allegoric”:: Representation in Paradise Lost

    • FOURTEEN Historical Problems in Reading Paradise Lost
      (pp. 171-180)

      In the preceding two Parts of this study, Milton’s allegorical “Idea” and allegorical artistry inParadise Losthave been set and measured against earlier traditions of critical commentary on allegory and of allegory in written epic stretching from medieval or earlier commentators to the eighteenth century. In this last Part, I shall attempt to measure Milton’s understanding of epic allegory against Protestant contexts of interpretation of Scripture in Milton’s time, and more specifically, against Milton’s own statements bearing on the subject of allegory in his prose and his indirect statements within his epic poem. These discussions cannot take place without...

    • FIFTEEN Scripture and the Figurative Reading of Paradise Lost
      (pp. 181-190)

      Milton not only did not repudiate allegory, he not infrequently mentions the term in a positive way and makes use of it in his prose writings, including his theological treatise. In Milton’s poems the word “allegory” (apart from its sole use inParadise RegainedIV.389-90) is not found as such, although the concept is certainly present. The related words “type” and “shadow” occur a number of times, the first being used more strictly to render the predictive level of Christian meaning inherent in certain parts of the Old Testament, the second in a looser way. Instances inParadise Lostof...

    • SIXTEEN Theory of Metaphor in Paradise Lost
      (pp. 191-203)

      The questions which arise over the principle of “accommodation” inOf Christian Doctrinenecessarily carry over intoParadise Lost. Two observations are to be made at the outset. First, I believe that the too close identification of the “accommodation” question, as it is raised inOf Christian Doctrineor potentially inParadise Lost, with Neoplatonism has been the cause of profound and unnecessary confusion.¹ Neoplatonism is, historically, linked with an Idealist aesthetic or poetic the literary expressions and expositions of which from Tasso to Sidney or even later were of importance to Milton. Occasionally, as we have seen in Tasso...

    • SEVENTEEN Typology and the Figurative Dimension in Paradise Lost
      (pp. 204-221)

      Many readers of Milton have not found it easy to interpretParadise Lostalong the lines of any such widely embracing theories of metaphor and allegorical poetics as those suggested in the foregoing chapters. One may surmise that readers have been inhibited by historical preconceptions, recently given a new twist, concerning the necessity for literal truth and a literalist aesthetic in religious poetry and notably in a scriptural epic such asParadise Lost. Contemporary Milton criticism therefore seems to be in something of an irreconcileable divide. On the one hand we have seen a huge development, dating from the 1950s,...

    • EIGHTEEN Protestant Homiletics and Allegory in Paradise Lost
      (pp. 222-230)

      In this chapter we will consider the relationship of recognised contemporaneous Protestant modes of reading the Bible, in non-doctrinal contexts, to Milton’s allegorical enterprise inParadise Lost. There are in certain Protestant or earlier traditions of scriptural interpretation continuing elements which go much further than typology toward explaining what Milton’s art is sometimes trying to accomplish. These elements involve the use of Old Testament “types” in a manner which bears some superficial resemblance to orthodox typology, but is best considered as a separate kind of practice. Such aspects relate more broadly tohomiletics; and it seems strange that there has...

    • NINETEEN “Accommodation” in Paradise Lost: The Internal View
      (pp. 231-238)

      In the foregoing chapters the questions raised concerning poetic representation and “truth” in poetry and the nature of mimesis inParadise Losthave been considered against a background of theoretical considerations relating to Protestant modes of scriptural interpretation, to Milton’s own views on scriptural exegesis and his theory of metaphor implicit inParadise Lost, and to Renaissance theory of epic, and allegory in the epic. The basic question underlying my discussions has been this: wasParadise Lostreally intended by Milton to be, as some have supposed, a direct literal rendering of reality, that is to say, of Old and...

    • TWENTY Toward an Allegorical Poesis in Paradise Lost
      (pp. 239-250)

      InParadise Lostplot and description as well as character can present contradictory swings between extreme realism and unrealism, the latter carried sometimes to acute implausibility. Incongruous details appear in the most “realistic” passages. For example, there are Milton’s seeming difficulties in the handling of the supernatural epic machinery in Heaven and Eden, raising such questions as why the angels deputed to guard the approaches to the Garden in Book IV prove so remarkably inefficient about their duties, especially after such a parade of military efficiency as is shown there (lines 776-90), or why Oriel’s warning and the subsequent angelic...

    • TWENTY-ONE The “Language of Allegory” and Milton’s Allegorical Epic
      (pp. 251-256)

      We may conclude with the question with which the final Part of this study began: the problem of “realism” and “literal” representation inParadise Lost, versus the fictive, figurative and allegorical. We have now to ask whether the two modes need necessarily be regarded as incompatible or out of harmony with each other. Rather than suppose that Milton, the most precise and conscious of artists, is being repeatedly and unwittingly inept in the management of his fiction, that he introduces all manner of inappropriate elements, small and large, into it, that he cannot control his own plot or characterizations or...

  8. APPENDIX A. Bibliographical Essay on Tasso
    (pp. 257-262)
  9. APPENDIX B. “Idea”
    (pp. 263-266)
  10. APPENDIX C. Tasso and Spenser
    (pp. 267-274)
  11. APPENDIX D. The Literal Level and the “Literal Commentators”
    (pp. 275-277)
  12. APPENDIX E. “Accommodation” and Figuration in Paradise Lost
    (pp. 278-281)
  13. APPENDIX F. Typological Criticism
    (pp. 282-286)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 287-334)
  15. List of Works Cited
    (pp. 335-349)
  16. Index
    (pp. 350-368)