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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: January ::
Rhetoric and the Art of Persuasion
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 8.0105.  Wednesday, 22 January 1997.

From:           Eric Armstrong <
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Date:           Tuesday, 21 Jan 1997 10:16:13 -0500
Subject:        Rhetoric and the Art of Persuasion

I am a teacher of voice and text (including Shakespeare) at an acting school in
Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Following the thread on Rhetoric this fall, I have
decided to work with my students on recognizing the potential for rhetorical
style in speeches in Shakespeare. The idea is that they will find a
monologue/soliloquy and try to see whether it follows the 6 parts of an oration
(EXORDIUM, NARRATION, DIVISION, PROOF, REFUTATION AND PERORATION- to be
precise). We have taken a few speeches through this process of analysis and
found that many of them follow these steps, give or take a step or two, or
perhaps flipping/swapping a few of the steps.

I find that
a/ it helps to establish a feeling for the concept of "thinking rhetorically"
as an actor - that is using the steps as a way of clarifying what acting
teachers call "tactics",
b/ this process underlines what I think about the Elizabethan training of
speakers/actors in that they knew more about the form of speaking and oration
than we might and gives actors a concrete way of including some of that
background in their playing,
c/ the idea of rhetorical argument, which must have an "audience", helps to
consolidate the actor's commitment to her audience, so that she is trying to
convince them to see things her way.

A good example of this was in RIII when Richard turns to the audience with "Was
ever woman..." One discovery that really made a big difference in helping
students with  the structure was to go backwards through the speech, sentence
by sentence (in a modern edition; perhaps colons or semi-colons are good
check-points in an early edition). This allowed us to approach the argument
from both ends, looking for the climax of the oration and its summary first and
then establishing what the character was going for from that. It works
remarkably well.

Knowing that (practically) everything in the world of Shakespeare has been done
before, I am wondering whether others have looked at the rhetorical structure
of speeches, and in particular these 6 steps. I am particularly interested in
whether characters NOT in a political situation might use this structure (e.g.
not a king or royal or courtier-like character, or perhaps one of those in a
more personal/private setting). I am willing to try this kind of search with
any speech,  but has much been written on it? I understand that Sister Miriam
Joseph wrote well on this topic but her book(s?) seem to be out of print and
every library I go to seems to lack her work. Any tips?

Regards,
Eric Armstrong
 

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