Allegory was an established feature of Elizabethan life, and was mentioned by a range of contemporary literary commentators.
As Sir John Harington emphasised in theintroduction to his translation of
(1591), the honeyed sweetness of theverse is not where the underlying meaning of an Elizabethan text is to be found, andthose of stronger stomachs should look beneath the surface to digest the allegory.
Traces of allegories being employed on the English Renaissance stage include the playsof John Lyly, personified figures such as Rumour in the plays of Shakespeare, the stagedirections in Wilson’s plays, the administrative papers that describe the symbolism of
, and occasional accounts of audience reactions to plays like
The Cradle of Security
or the political allegory in
The Game at Chess
The morality plays had alsotaught audiences to appreciate religious allegory, although due to the blasphemy laws,overt religious figures could no longer appear on the Elizabethan stage. They thereforere-appeared in covert fashion, the Vice became re-created as the fool,
a typical moralitystruggle between a good and evil angel for the soul of man was re-created as
and the traditional dramatic Christological theme of the harrowing of hell wasallegorically re-created as the porter’s scene in
On a larger scale, the wholeof
has been interpreted as a covert religious allegory.
This paper examines one particular play
A Midsummer Night’s Dream,
and focuses not on the contemporary/ political allegory, which has already been well explored, but upon how covert allegory isused to convey radical religious meanings.