Allegoria Paranoia

To Balk Logic and Practice Rhetoric: Allegories of Rhetoric and Dialectic in Shakespeare’s Plays



Appendix 2:  Allegory as Rhetorical Practice

To begin a consideration of techniques of writing allegory and markers to look for that announce allegory, I shall follow Philip Rollinson's list to amplify the definition of allegory as rhetoric:

1) Allegory as "other-speaking" (alia oratorio) and as metaphor are from Cicero (first century B.C. Latin), who provided basic definitions of what the Greeks called allegory (the Orator XXVII.94) (16).1 Rollinson comments that "saying one thing but meaning something else remains the basic definition of allegory" (16). The Rhetorica ad Herennium (first century B.C., author unknown but believed to have been written by Cicero in the Middle Ages and Renaissance) refers to saying one thing but meaning another as permutatio (16).  This "permutation" destabilizes meaning from what is said to something else.

2) Allegory as a succession of metaphors (translationes) is also derived from Cicero (the Orator, XXVII.94).  While not as pervasive as the first definition, it survives as late as Martianus Capella (V.512) in the fifth century A.D. (16).  Quintilian (first century A.D.) repeats Cicero's definitions, referring to this rhetorical device as both allegoria and the Latin inversio. Quintilian's Institutio Oratorio was little known in the Middle Ages but was preferred to Cicero by some in the Renaissance (xvii).

3) Quintilian speaks of all seven species of tropes except charientismos (euphemism with sarcastic overtones) (17). Diomedes (late fourth-century A.D. Latin grammarian) explains these allegorical tropes in the Ars Grammatica.  He defines terms as follows:

Irony [must be] harshly articulated. . . . Unless this were supported by harsh articulation, it would appear to confirm what it intends to deny. Antiphrasis is a saying, conveying meaning by antithesis, as in the designation for war [bellum (and perhaps a play on belle, nicely, well)],
which is not good [bonum], or for a grove [lucus], which does not shine
[luceat] at all. (95)2

The irony of antiphrasis usually consists of one word used in its opposite sense.  The reversal of meaning is clear from the context, as when someone calls a blind man a "seer," or when Trypho (first century B.C. Greek) notes that the Furies are sometimes called "Eumenides," that is, "the well-disposed" (117).3  Of the other five tropes used in allegory, Diomedes says:
Aenigma [riddle] is an obscure [obscura] meaning conveyed by a hidden similitude of details.  It is a saying not intelligible by the obscurity of allegory, for it reveals one thing openly but conceals something else by means of an obscure contradiction [or incredibility], as in, "The same mother who bore me is soon born to me."  This signifies that ice is frozen water and thaws back to water again. . . . Charientismos [euphemism] is a trope by which disagreeable things are expressed in a  more pleasant way. . . . Paroemia is the application of a common proverb to events and times, when something is meant other than what is said. . . .  Sarcasm is completely hateful and hostile mockery expressed by means of a figure. . . . Astismos [is] the many-faceted  species of allegory with refinement, as is this in Virgil, "Let him who does not hate Bavius love your poem, Maevius, / and let him also harness foxes and milk he-goats. (Eclogues III.
90-91). (95-6)

4) Abstract ideas can be represented through images, which function as symbols (10).  This is a Neoplatonic view of ideas and images.  As such, it does not fit into our category of allegory as rhetoric.

5) Of the qualities of the gods, we have, first, the Stoics who rely on the etymology of the names of the gods to show that the gods stand for the forces of nature.  The Stoic Balbus in Cicero's De Natura Deorum notes that Ceres means grain.  Moreover, as Rollinson tells us,

Balbus not only mentions the grain/Ceres connection . . ., but many of his gods are simply personified abstractions.  And it is the Stoic emphasis on etymology and etymology-based interpretation of those traditional gods and goddesses, whose names do not indicate their abstract identity, which clearly reveals this assumption.  Saturn, etymologically "saturated" in Latin, and Kronos, his Greek name (in Balbus's view) meaning chronos, "time," lead Balbus to interpret the story of Saturn's eating up his sons as meaning that Saturn, the god, really means the concept of being filled up with passing years.  For the Stoics etymology and pseudoetymology, along with numerical symbolism, provided a degree of rational, predictable control in the interpretation of mythical and fictional characters and events whose abstract (physical or scientific) identity was not overtly obvious. (25)

Although the above passage on Stoic etymology is written from the point of view of the reader/interpreter, it became part of the art of rhetoric for speakers and poets to provide characters with names whose etymology could hint at meaning. To Plutarch, Stoic allegorization of the gods as natural forces is atheistic. Instead, Plutarch in the Moralia (374E) urges that the gods be interpreted symbolically; that is, one should read the acceptable parts straight and reinterpret the immoral parts.  Plutarch's habit of moral (mis)reading has a connection to Neoplatonic symbolic reading.  As such, it does not fit into our category of allegory as rhetoric.

6) In the Rhetorica ad Herennium (IV. liii. 66), personification is called conformatio, the impersonation of an absent speaker or the attribution of  human speech, form, and action to mute or inanimate things.  According to Rollinson, for Quintilian (IX. ii. 29-37 and VI. i. 25), impersonation refers to

interior monologue and as the giving of speech to gods, the dead, cities, and absent people, including imaginary conversations. In none of these cases is personification or impersonation associated with allegory. But potential associations of allegory with impersonation and with different kinds of stories construed as having underlying meanings are implicit in the earliest definitions and comments on the figure of speech, allegory. (15-16)

In their rhetorical exercises (progymnasmata) for school children, the Greek grammarians such as Aphthonius distinguished among three different kinds of personification, which were regarded as figures or tropes:  ethopoiia is the making up or re-creation of a person's character, as in, "What words might Heracles say when Eurystheus was giving him orders?  Here Heracles is known, but we shape for ourselves the speaker" (161).  The next is eidolopoiia (phantom-image making), making up a speech in the person of someone dead.  Prosopopoiia makes up a character and his speeches as in a play by Menander (161). The relation of all these school exercises to drama is obvious.

7) Allusion is allegorical in the sense that the speaker/writer provides a partial reference that is not explained.  If the reference is arcane, the allusion is enigma.  As a practical matter, the speaker/writer should use commonplace allusions.  As Rollinson points out, "The study of traditional iconographic equations might indicate that a lady with scales and a sword and otherwise unidentified is probably Justice, depending, of course, on other evidence . . . " (27).  If veiled reference is a matter of personal safety, the speaker/writer may choose to use enigmatic allusions to avoid political repercussions.

8) Since allegory is always other-speaking, the speaker/writer's intended meaning is potentially unstable.  Figures of speech (tropes) tend to be more stable than figures of thought; for instance, antiphrasis is theoretically an easier figure than a more generalized irony of tone.  In terms of the literal concealment of a hidden, inner meaning, the speaker or writer must drop a hint or leave a clue as to what is going on. "For successful communication to take place," Rollinson says, "the allegorical expression must be assisted by some means other than, and beyond, its own verbal expression" (21).  This assumes of course that the speaker/writer is trying to communicate. It also assumes that there is a veil of obscurity to be lifted and that we are not just witnessing a reader/interpreter's willful imposition of meaning.

As Northrop Frye tells us in Anatomy of Criticism, "We have actual allegory when a poet explicitly indicates the relationship of his images to examples and precepts, and so tries to indicate how a commentary on him should proceed" (90).  To ancient theorists of rhetoric, the use of allegorical devices seems to have constituted sufficient hint to the listener or reader, since the incompleteness of allegorical statement ought to suggest such an invitation.4  However, most ancient reader/interpreters needed no such incompleteness of statement as an invitation by the writer before allegorizing.

9) By using a fable as an impossible story, the allegorical speaker or writer provides such a hint or clue to the listener/reader by the suggestive incompleteness of the story.  The fable is one of three types of narrative listed and defined in the first-century B.C. Latin Rhetorica ad Herenniium (I. viii.13) as historia, argumentum, and fabula.

History recounts events which actually happened. Fiction [argumentum] recounts events which did not actually happen but could have (i.e., they are like real events), and, of course, fables recount events which did not happen and could not have happened. Cicero's De Inventione offers the same distinction (I.xix.27), as does Quintilian (II.iv.2). (12)
To Macrobius (fourth-fifth centuries A.D. Latin Neoplatonist) some fables are impossible stories just for entertainment. Some others are impossible stories with a moral. A third kind of fable, the fabulous narrative, is based in truth and can be used in philosophy.  Such a story gives concrete form to the ineffable, invisible, and abstract (13). According to Nicolaus' Progymnasmata (fifth century A.D. Greek), it was up to philosophers to "disclose the allegories" in such fables (147). As for schoolboys, Nicolaus says, of all the preliminary exercises, fables were assigned first.  He places fables in the category of deliberative rhetoric but concedes that fables can be applied to all three: deliberative, forensic (legal), and panegyric (epideictic praise or blame):
For where one says "we exhort" or "we deter," the property characteristic of deliberation is preserved; where we make an attack against wrongdoers and describe false things plausibly, the forensic part is maintained; where we use language that is pure and proceed with plainness at the same time we are praising, we do not keep far from the panegyric form. (147-8)

In another Greek schoolbook, Aelius Theon (first century A.D.) says that for a given fable there could be many suitable epilogues (didactic explanations) based on any number of topics or commonplaces (145-6). In fable as allegory, we can say that if the epilogue does not go with the fable, and the speaker or writer is not incompetent, the writer must have some obscure purpose in mind. Likewise, if the application to specific affairs (as in politics or religion) is not given, the speaker/writer may be suggesting some dangerous application he dare not put in words.

10) According to Quintilian (, hidden biographical allusion is a type of allegorical other-saying that does not involve metaphor, but we can see that it is a sort of hidden similitude from Quintilian's example, the dialogue between Moeris and Lycidas in Virgil's ninth eclogue (lines 7-10), in which Lycidas refers to another pastoral character Menalcas who, we are to understand, is Virgil himself.  Nothing in the lines except the name reveals the allegorical reference, leading Quintilian to warn against the riddling obscurity (aenigma) of allegorical reference ( (17).

11) In classical rhetoric, the techniques of reasoning by analogy--such as comparison, parable, paradigm, and proverb--may be used allegorically. According to Rollinson,

For Quintilian, the only thing explicitly allegorical about proof by example or comparison or about the fabulous species of proof occurs in the use of an abridged form of the fable, which proverbially alludes to the whole story (V.xi.21). (15)
 If the listener or reader is unfamiliar with the fable, the proverb cited will prove enigmatic, but for the knowing listener or reader, the allegorical reference will be clear.  For late-classical grammarians like Diomedes (fourth century A.D.), the allegory "is no longer inherent in the proverb itself.  Rather the allegory consists of the application of the proverb to some specific circumstances, thus emphasizing another kind of other saying" (17).

In his Ars Grammatica, Diomedes shows that the trope homoeosis stabilizes meaning through explicit analogy, using three species of comparison--icon, parable, and paradigm--to give "vivid delineation [demonstratio] of something less known by its similitude to something which is better known" (97).

Diomedes says that icon calls up an image, such as, "like a god in face and shoulders" (Aeneid I.589); parable puts an image into action, as in, "Like the bees busy at work in the flowery countryside under a spring sun" (Aeneid I.430-31) (97).

"Paradigm is the detailed exposition of an example or the report of a past event, indicating persuasion or dissuasion," as when Venus argues to Jupiter for better treatment of Aeneas (Aeneid I.242-49), or when Amata, the mother of Lavinia, objects to Lavinia's betrothal to Aeneas (Aeneid VII. 363-64) (98). As Rollinson points out,

From a rhetorical/grammatical perspective figures involving explicitly indicated analogies [as Diomedes defines homoeosis] are not allegorical, and indeed are never defined as such. (23)

By contrast, when rhetoric is used allegorically, as a trope or figure of other-speaking, the speaker/writer gives over to the listener/reader a greater burden of construing (or misconstruing) meaning than is the case if similitudes and analogies are clearly spelled out. This distinction may seem obvious, but the history of interpretation is full of dodges and (self-)deceptions that allow interpreters to stabilize meaning without actually confronting the inherent difficulties involved in making appropriate meaning out of the twists and turns of allegorical rhetoric.

One way to stabilize a text that shows the allegorical tricks of open-ended rhetoric is to deny that this kind of expression exists.  Another response is to foreclose the instability of meaning by imposing a predetermined, specific context of application that the interpreter assumes is generic to all allegory.  In either case, as Rollinson points out, the interpreter's task is made easier because he or she avoids "the problem of dealing with what is the basic question of any allegorical expression of this kind--determination of some context of reference to which the verbal expression being interpreted was probably intended to apply" (22).

In allegory as a rhetorical practice, allegorical tropes and figures are combined within an overall structure of ethos, logos, and pathos.  I refer not to the way these three are arranged as the ethical, logical, and emotional parts of an oration.  Rather,  I am thinking of their function as rhetorical proof.  Here logos works as a logical principle of order--of particular episode to general idea (Poetics 1451b9)--to achieve a sense of probability or necessity (Rhetoric 1.2.15-16, 1357a35-57b2).  Logos is aided throughout by ethos and pathos as affective "coloring" of character and emotion.5

In rhetorical allegory as I conceive it, the practitioner uses the tools of rhetoric to lead the characters and audience into a labyrinth of words--to create slippery tropes, false logic, false character, false impressions, and multiple interpretations.  It is the task of the characters and the audience to find their way out.

Shakespeare would have had a complete course in classical rhetoric.  A thorough training in Latin grammar, logic, and rhetoric was the goal of grammar schools in Tudor England.  T.W. Baldwin has shown in William Shakspere's Small Latine and Lesse Greeke the excellent sort of training Shakespeare probably received in the Stratford grammar school.6 Lily's Latin grammar might have been used for construing sentences, perhaps followed by Sententiae Ciceronis dictated in English to be translated into Latin and compared to Cicero's Latin original.  The colloquies of Erasmus would lead into Terence's colloquial Latin and perhaps the performance of a play by Terence or Plautus between Christmas and the beginning of Lent.

In the upper forms the older boys would have learned the precepts of topical logic (place logic) through Cicero's Topica and a bit of Susenbrotus' Epitome and Erasmus on how to arrive at pleasing copiousness and how to write letters, concluding with prose models of epistolatory style from Cicero and verse models from Horace and Ovid.  The study of poetry probably began with Italian Renaissance poets such as Mantuan who wrote in Latin.

The program of study would have included all of Ovid and Virgil, Lucan's Pharsalia, Horace's odes, and the satires of Horace, Juvenal, and Persius.  Prose themes preliminary to the oration were derived from textbooks such as Aphthonius' Progymnasmata, including exercises in writing of suasoriae (to move souls to wonder) and controversiae (to argue one side or the other in a dispute).7 Moral sentences from Erasmus' Adagia and other collections of gnomic utterances were copied into a commonplace book for later use as ballast for argument.  The histories of Livy, Sallust, and Julius Caesar provided examples.

The culmination of the grammar school education, the writing and recitation of orations were taught from works such as the Rhetorica Ad Herennium and Quintilian's Institutio Oratoria.  Along with this program, the upper forms learned Greek grammar presented in Latin with readings in Greek from the New Testament, Isocrates, Homer, and perhaps Aesop, Lucian, Hesiod, Pindar, and Plutarch among others.

In Shakespeare's Use of the Arts of Language, Sister Miriam Joseph has amply demonstrated Shakespeare's mastery of tropes, figures, and schemes, including those identified as allegorical in classical rhetoric:  allegory, antiphrasis, enigma, charientismus, paroemia, sarcasm, and asteismus.8  Shakespeare seems to use some of these figures to hint at a larger allegorical purpose. Menenius' fable of the belly is clearly an allegorical figure and may refer as an intertext to Sidney's Apology, which uses the same fable.9  The question for the audience of Coriolanus concerns the larger allegorical purpose to which this allegory in miniature is put.

The same could be said of one of Sister Miriam's examples of the figure of allegory, Iago's epideictic speech to Roderigo on reason, will, and love as lust in Othello:

. . . 'Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus.  Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners; so that if we will plant nettles or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs or distract it with many, either to have it sterile with idleness or manured with industry--why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills.  If the beam of our lives had not one scale of reason to poise another of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us to most preposterous conclusions.  But we have reason to cool our raging motions, our carnel stings, our unbitted lusts . . . . (1.3.322-335)

Iago's speech, with its intertextual references to Plato's Republic Book 4 and Phaedo and echoes of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, resonates throughout the play not as an answer but as a question about our dual nature, which the play as a whole addresses.

Next on the list of rhetorical figures Shakespeare uses to point at his allegory is antiphrasis.  Sr. Miriam's strongest example of antiphrasis is Marc Antony's speech over the body of Julius Caesar to the Roman people.  In his masterful oration, Antony plays throughout on the rhetorical arguments of ethos, pathos, and logos.  In the logical structure of his argument, his repeated use of "honorable" to describe the murderers of Caesar turns to antiphrasis as the crowd is persuaded that the doers were dishonorable.  This rhetorical moment in which antiphrasis turns honor into dishonor suggests larger questions of honor and duty for the whole play, in which the actors are forced to choose and the audience is asked to judge.

For enigma, Sr. Miriam selects lines from Coriolanus where Coriolanus is told, "You have deserved nobly of your country, and you have not deserved nobly."  Coriolanus identifies the figure:  "Your enigma?" (2.3.88-90) (171).  I would add that the same kind of exchange--and to the same purpose--occurs in Much Ado About Nothing when Benedick "indicates" (as deixis) that Leonato's replies to him are "enigmatical" when Leonato says that his daughter has lent Beatrice "an eye" with which to love Benedick, and that Leonato has given Benedick "the sight" to love Beatrice (5.4.20-7).

The immediate context of meaning of this enigma is clear enough when we recall the efforts of Hero and Leonato to give insight to the "sight" of Benedick and Beatrice about their love for each other by creating a fiction. The enigma becomes clear as allegory in a larger sense if we see its connection to the other plot in which Don John provides a fiction of his own to Claudio, who he is just as ready to accept supposed evidence about Hero's unfaithfulness as the other two are to believe in useful fictions about their love for each other. Just as significant is an enigma in Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio's Queen Mab speech, which, when interpreted carefully, reveals an allegory of desire that infects the whole play.10

As for paroemia, the use of proverbs, Shakespeare pillaged books such as Erasmus' Adagia for wise sentences and pious platitudes. Often in the plays, the relation of these sententious statements to the action and characters is less than straightforward. As Keir Elam shows, emblems and maxims are parodied in Love's Labor's Lost as they are made to walk the stage in actual fact: the maxim Festina lente, represented in emblems as Butterfly and Crab, are represented onstage as the characters Moth and Armado (swift and slow) (152).11

In Two Gentlemen of Verona, we are presented with rhetorical games of duelling proverbs, what Keir Elam describes as "see-sawing saw-saying"! (288). In Measure for Measure, "sententious dignity and authority are preserved intact in Isabella's moralizing on the very topic of authority:  'But man, proud man, Dress'd in a little brief authority' (MM 2.2.118ff.; Magitratus virum indicat)" (286). However, as with the sententiousness of Polonius in Hamlet, there is a serious question about how we are to take Isabella's pious proverbs. If Shakespeare is using them as paroemia, a trope with allegorical potential, they may function in a way other than Isabella intends them, as a reflection of her "habit" of mind, as it were.

Of Shakespeare's use of asteismus (astismos), Diomedes' "many-faceted species of allegory with refinement" (Rollinson 96), Sister Miriam includes this trope under puns with three related figures--antanaclasis, paronomasia, and syllepsis (165).

Antanaclasis repeats a word while shifting it from one meaning to another, as when Pistol says, "To England will I steal, and there I'll steal" (H5, 5.1.92) (165).

Paronomasia differs from antanaclasis in that the words repeated are not precisely alike in sound, as in Touchstone's statement to Audrey: "I am here with thee and thy goats, as the most capricious poet, honest Ovid, was among the Goths" (AYLI, 3.3.7) (166). 

Asteismus, as Sister Miriam defines it, "is a figure of reply in which the answerer catches a certain word and throws it back at the first speaker with an unexpected twist" as scoffing or mockery (167). For example Jaques says to Orlando, "By my troth, I was seeking for a fool when I found you," and Orlando throws back at him, "He's drown'd in the brook / Look but in and you shall see him" (AYLI 4.1.92). 

These figures can be used seriously, particularly syllepsis, which uses simultaneously two different meanings, or where one meaning slips into another meaning, as when Henry IV says, "All the soil of the achievement goes / With me into the earth" (2H4, 4.5.190).  In Shakespeare syllepsis is a way of thinking.  The double meanings of words as tropes merge with doubled patterns of meaning as figures of thought.12


1 Philip Rollinson, Classical Theories of Allegory and Christian Culture (Pittsburgh:  Duquesne UP, 1981).

2Rollinson, "Appendix I:  Diomedes on Tropes" 89-98.

3 In Rollinson, "Appendix II:  From Spengel, Rhetores Graeci, translated from the Greek by Patricia Matsen from Leonardi Spengel, ed. Rhetores Graeci, 3 vols., 1853-56 (rpt. Frankfurt: Minerva, 1966).

4 James A. Coulter speaks of the "suggestive incompleteness" of allegorical statement as a hint for the reader to interpret hidden meaning, The Literary Microcosm:  Theories of Interpretation of the Later Neoplatonists (Leiden:  Brill, 1976) 39-60, 66, and 72.  Michael Murrin points out that the Neoplatonic emperor Julian took this view of allegorical interpretation in the Orations V. 170A-B and VII. 222C, The Veil of Allegory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969) 147.

5See Wesley Trimpi's discussion of ethos, logos, and pathos in Muses of One Mind (Princeton:  Princeton UP, 1983) 57-8, 314-20.

6T. W. Baldwin, William Shakspere's Small Latine and Lesse Greeke, 2 vols. (Urbana, 1944), summarized by Sister Miriam Joseph in Shakespeare's Use of the Arts of Language (New York:  Hafner Publishing Company, 1966) third edition, 8-11.

7Training in rhetorical exercises would have been useful to Shakespeare when he began to create disputatious dialogues in comedies, particularly exercises such as controversiae and the back and forth of disputations in utramque partem (on both sides of the question.  Suasoriae, to move souls to wonder, would have provided good training for writing tragedy and romance.

8In Shakespeare's Use of the Arts of Language, Sister Miriam Joseph gives examples of Shakespeare's use of the rhetorical tropes associated in classical rhetoric with allegory:  allegory as a figure (145-6), irony (138-9), antiphrasis (139), enigma and noema (171), paroemia (98-102), sarcasm (255), and asteismus (astismos) (341).  These figures are all described, with examples, in the various rhetoric handbooks in England in the sixteenth century, for those who lacked a proper education (that is, some men and most women) who wanted to be able to understand and use tropes and figures.

9In the Apology, Sidney uses Menenius' fable of the belly as an example of the poet's "winning of the mind from wickedness to virtue" (113):

Infinite proofs of the strange effects of this poetic invention might be alleged; only two shall serve, which are so often remembered as I think all men know them. The one of Menenius Agrippa, who, when the whole people of Rome had resolutely divided themselves from the senate, with apparent show of utter ruin, though he were (for that time) an excellent orator, came not among them upon trust of figurative speeches or cunning insinuations, and much less farfetched maxims of Philosophy, which (especially if they were Platonic) they must have learned geometry before they could well have conceived; but forsooth he behaves himself like a homely and familiar poet. He telleth them a tale, that there was a time when all the parts of the body made a mutinous conspiracy against the belly, which they thought devoured the fruits of each other's labor:  they concluded they would let so unprofitable a spender starve. In the end, to be short (for the tale was notorious, and as notorious that it was a tale), with punishing the belly they plagued themselves. This applied by him wrought such effect in the people, as I never read that ever words brought forth but then so sudden and so good an alteration; for upon reasonable conditions a perfect reconcilement ensued. (114-15).

10A long enigmatic speech like Mercutio's vision of Queen Mab's visitation to the dreams of men is called noema by Puttenham in The Arte of English Poesie.  Sr Miriam Joseph says, "In noema the obscurity of the sense lies, not in a single word, but in an entire speech very subtle and dark" (342).

11Keir Elam, Shakespeare's Universe of Discourse (Cambridge:  Cambridge UP, 1984) 152.

12 Sister Miriam Joseph cites Frank P. Wilson on the use of puns as figures of persuasion:

To an Elizabethan the play upon words was not merely an elegance of style and a display of wit; it was also a means of emphasis and an instrument of persuasion.  An argument might be conducted from step to step--and in the pamphleteers it often is--by a series of puns.  The genius of the language encouraged them. (165)