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Allegorical Characterization in William Dunbar's: The Golden Targe

Symbolism and allegory are two major rhetorical devices throughout the medieval poetic corpus. Both correspond to, or rather originate from, a way of thinking that tends to understand the world and everything in it as a “mask,” as if the surface is always deceptive. Among modern scholars on medieval symbolism and allegory, including Johan Huizinga, C. S. Lewis, Umberto Eco and Alastair Minnis, only Lewis, in his Allegory of Love, clearly differentiates the functioning process of symbolism from that of allegory. And it is Lewis’ definition of allegory that brings us closer to the core spirit of allegorical poetry as a literary genre, of which The Golden Targe, written in Middle English by the Scottish poet William Dunbar, is a fine example. This essay examines Dunbar’s allegorical characterization through a close analysis of The Golden Targe, in the hope of better understanding allegory as a pivotal mode of thought in medieval literature.

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