English 165

Special Topics: The Pleasures of Allegory

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Fall 2019 Wilson, Evan
MWF 12-1 note new location: 126 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

Course reader containing: The Dream of the Rood; Old English and Anglo-Latin riddles; medieval saints' lives; excerpts from the New Testament and The Romance of the Rose; ancient, medieval, and modern critical and theoretical texts


If you want to understand both how stories are put together and how we experience stories, allegory is not a bad place to start. Broadly speaking, an allegory is a story that demands to be read on more than one level. One version of this—maybe the most classic or typical—features personified abstractions such as "Peace," "Justice," or "Wrath" acting out their identities or explaining who they are. But the boundary between allegory and related phenomena like symbolism and metaphor is anything but clear, and allegory may be more like a tendency than a discreet category. Oh, and just to complicate things more, it's also a method of reading.

How do we know when we're reading a text with symbolic meaning? When are we justified in reading texts symbolically, and when not? What role does allegory play in shaping narratives and our experience of reading those narratives? These are some of the questions we'll pursue as we read ancient, medieval, and modern allegories and theories of allegory and symbolism. Our texts may sometimes use allegory to make a point, but they also create unique and unforgettable literary experiences. We'll consider what role allegory plays in that process—what sparks may fly from the tension between symbolic and narrative logic.

Note: All texts not in Modern or Middle English will be read in translation.

Course readings: The Song of Roland; Chaucer, Dream Visions and Other Poems; Dante, Inferno; Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene

This section of English 165 satisfies the pre-1800 requirement for the English major.

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