From Hull AWE
A conceit is the name given in literary studies to a particular kind of image.
- This is a very far-fetched or unlikely comparison, often extended, as when John Donne (1572-1633) wrote a whole poem using the image of a flea to persuade his mistress to go to bed with him. It may help some students to know that, in this sense, a conceit is the same word as concept, or idea. Here, one of Hamlet's soliloquies may be illuminating:
- Is it not monstrous that this player here,
- But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
- Could force his soul so to his own conceit
- That from her working all his visage wann'd,
- Tears in his eyes, distraction in's aspect,
- A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
- With forms to his conceit? and all for nothing!
- For Hecuba!
- What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
- That he should weep for her?
- (Shakespeare, Hamlet, III ii).
- Sometimes, confusingly, the word conceit is used for a sudden spark of insight, a quick, very imaginative and highly telling image.
(In more everyday English, conceit is a characteristic of personality.
- If someone is conceited (a common expression of the idea), he has too high an opinion of himself: he thinks he is more valuable, or better, than anyone around him believes him to be.)
- It used to be more neutral. The phrase 'in my conceit' meant simply 'in my opinion' or 'in my understanding' - according to the concept I have.