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EN953 Rhetoric and Renaissance Literature

NB - this module is not available 2013-14

Tutor: Peter Mack

Time: Spring Term: Tuesday 09.30-11.30


The revival and reorientation of Rhetoric was one of the defining characteristics of both the Italian and the English Renaissance. Rhetorical education conditioned the way in which sixteenth-century people read and wrote books and understood their relation to the people around them. This course aims to provide you with access to the primary sources of renaissance rhetoric. The course will be invaluable primarily to students intending to specialize in Renaissance literature or history or Shakespeare but the primary knowledge of rhetoric (and the case studies of the relationship between rhetoric and literature) which it offers will be helpful to literary students in all periods. The principles of rhetoric (and rhetoric’s analysis of the examples of Montaigne and Shakespeare) are useful to students in their own writing and in teaching writing and close textual analysis.

After analysing the content and teaching of the fundamental ancient textbook of rhetoric, Rhetorica ad Herennium, which remained the most important classical rhetoric manual in renaissance schools, we shall turn to the primary sources of renaissance invention (Agricola’s De inventione dialectica, for which we will be the first users of a new translation currently in progress) and amplification (Erasmus’s De copia). From the ideas which underpin renaissance rhetoric we shall turn our attention to understanding and evaluating the way rhetoric was taught in English renaissance schools and universities, concentrating on school documents, on Apthonius’s Progymnasmata, perhaps the most successful of all schoolbooks in the renaissance and an extraordinary source for the building blocks of texts, and Erasmus’s letterwriting manual, De conscribendis epistolis. The proverbs and stories collected in Erasmus’s Adagia will be an important source both for school rhetoric and for issues of style. The theoretical and educational section of the module will conclude in week five with a discussion of renaissance and modern approaches to the analysis of sixteenth-century prose style.

In the second part of the module we shall analyse various different kinds of renaissance text in the light of renaissance theories of expression and practices of reading and writing. We shall begin with texts which aimed to achieve practically important goals through the oral medium envisaged in the classical textbooks, then we shall look at Sidney, who can be linked with the Ramist thread of rhetoric, Montaigne and Shakespeare.

Students will be asked to give a short presentation in the first theoretical part of the module and a longer presentation, which may, if they wish, form part of the initial draft of their essay, as part of the rhetorical discussion of literary texts in the last four weeks of the module.



Week by week Plan

1. The theory and syllabus of ancient rhetoric: Rhetorica ad Herennium


2. Theories of Renaissance Rhetoric I: Agricola, De inventione dialectica


3. Theories of Renaissance Rhetoric II: Erasmus, De copia


4. Rhetoric in the School and University Syllabus: Statutes, Apthonius, Erasmus, De conscibendis epistolis


5. Style: the properties of neoclassical Latin, the ornate style and Euphuism, Senecanism


6. Renaissance oratory: sermons and parliamentary speeches


7. Rhetoric in Sidney’s Arcadia and Astrophil and Stella


8. Montaigne, De l’institution des enfants, Du repentir, De la vanité and other essays


9. Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Coriolanus


10. Shakespeare, Hamlet, King Lear


English Translations of the Latin and French texts are available in the library or will be provided.



 Outline Reading List


In addition to the Primary Texts listed above:



T.W. Baldwin, Shakspere’s Small Latine and Lesse Greeke


M. Baxandall, Giotto and the Orators


T. Cave, The Cornucopian Text


J. Chomarat, Grammaire et rhétorique chez Erasme


M.T. Crane, Framing Authority


H. Freidrich, Montaigne


M. Fumaroli, L’Age de l’éloquence


G. Hunter, John Lyly: The Humanist as Courtier


P. Mack, Renaissance Argument


P. Mack, Elizabethan Rhetoric


K. Meerhoff, Rhétorique et poétique en France au 16 siècle


A. Moss, Printed Commonplace Books and the Structuring of Renaissance Thought


B. Vickers, In Defence of Rhetoric