Petrarchan conceit: A type of conceit that presents an exaggerated portrait of a beautiful, cruel woman and the suffering, lovestricken man who worships her. The Petrarchan conceit typically employs analogy, hyperbole, and oxymoron to figure one or both lovers and was particularly popular among Renaissance sonneteers. The Petrarchan conceit has been imitated both seriously and satirically; certain comparisons, such as that of the lover to a ship in a stormy sea, are so common that they have become clichés.
EXAMPLE: The fifty-fourth sonnet from Edmund Spenser’s Amoretti (1595) contains a Petrarchan conceit:
Of this world’s theatre in which we stay,
My love like the spectator ydly° sits;idly
Beholding me that all the pageants° play,roles
Disguysing diversly my troubled wits.
Sometimes I joy when glad occasion fits,
And mask in myrth lyke to a comedy:
Soone after when my joy to sorrow flits,
I waile and make my woes a tragedy.
Yet she, beholding me with constant eye,
Delights not in my merth nor rues° my smart:pities
But when I laugh she mocks, and when I cry,
She laughs and hardens evermore her heart.
What then can move her? if not merth nor mone,°moan
She is no woman, but a sencelesse stone.