Allegory and Allegorization
THERE ARE few words in literary criticism so abused as allegory. A work whose meaning is obscure--and there are many such--can often be raised to a high level of literary dignity by designating it as an allegory. Every action, every nuance of character, even, detail of description, every feature of the milieu can be "interpreted," and the method has the superb advantage that the critic himself can determine the frame within which the interpretation is to take place. Is he a social realist? Then every detail can be referred to class struggle, to environmental influences. Is he a man of deep religious feeling? Then the story refers to man's relation to his God. Of "psychological" interpretations it is hardly necessary to speak. Every page of the most innocent story is found to be littered with Freudian symbols.
It may easily be argued that medieval writers allegorized freely and that they constantly interpreted anecdotes from the classics and even works of doubtful morality as parables of Christian revelation. No reader of the Legenda aurea or the Gesta Romanorum would deny the charge, but one important factor must not be overlooked. The interpretation was always within the framework of Christian revelation. The theologically acceptable reading of the Old Testament as a foreshadowing of the New, the acceptance of certain incidents, for example, Daniel in the lions' den, as foreshadowing Christ's descent into Hell, meant that by extension secular material could also be interpreted as reflecting God's purpose. Since all human acts and all events in some way reflect the divine will, they can be interpreted as referring to Christian revelation.
The danger of such a practice lies in the fact that it is uncontrolled, in