Conceit (2554 words)

Literary/ Cultural Context Essay

  • David Reid (University of Stirling)


Literally meaning a ‘concept’, an ingenious comparison between things seemingly unlike. Shakespeare’s sonnet which begins “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” makes fun of standard Renaissance conceits which were to an extent modelled on those of Petrarch (1304-74). “Metaphysical conceits,” used in the early seventeenth century by Donne and others, established connections between many aspects of the new sciences, the world of commerce, and human existence. Mocked by Johnson, they were reinstated in critical respect by T.S Eliot. Donne’s “Valediction forbidding Mourning” builds a famous conceit around the idea of ‘compasses’:

Our two souls, therefore, which are one,
Though I …

Reid, David. "Conceit". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 21 March 2002; last revised 30 December 2004.
[, accessed 10 December 2016.]