College of Arts and Sciences
Master of Arts in English (MA)
Primary Subject Area
History, Medieval; History, European; Literature, English; Literature, General; Literature, Medieval; Religion, General
Allegory, English Restoration Literature, John Bunyan, Medieval Literature, The Holy War, Vice and Virtue
Christianity | English Language and Literature | History | Literature in English, British Isles | Medieval Studies | Religion
Madsen, David, "Weaver of Allegory: John Bunyan's Use of the Medieval Theme of Vice and Virtue as Devotional Writer and Social Critic in The Holy War" (2013). Masters Theses. 273.
The literary artistry of Bunyan's The Holy War is overshadowed by the longstanding popularity of his greatest-known work The Pilgrim's Progress. However, The Holy War displays an impressive intricately-woven story with several complex strands of allegorical meaning. One such strand is its emphasis on the theme of virtue and vice in literature of the Middle Ages. In The Holy War, Bunyan applies this thematic thread from the Medieval Psychomachia and morality plays to his allegory in seventeenth-century Restoration England. The present research begins with an exploration of allegory as story with emphasis on Bunyan's role as storyteller in general and allegorist in particular. Bunyan not only well understood his contemporary literary context but also recognized that allegory was an apt means of engaging his audience. The research then explores Bunyan's role as a devotional writer with a focus on the spiritual challenges within the individual soul. Bunyan's primary duties were pastoral, and his ultimate goal as a writer was the spiritual transformation of an individual reader's life. The research concludes with a discussion of Bunyan as a social critic of Post-Restoration politics and cultural life. The English Succession Crisis of 1681 presented an opportunity for Bunyan to comment on the political tension that existed between the government of Charles II and Religious Dissenters. This tension is exemplified in the juxtaposition of The Holy War with another literary work of the Succession period, John Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel. All in all, Bunyan emerges as a writer aware of how story, devotion, and social criticism can form a powerful voice in allegory.