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Premodern Rhetorics

ENGL 707.401
also offered as: CLST 530
T 12-3:00

This course offers an overview of the ancient, medieval, and early modern western rhetorical traditions, and aims to work very broadly across cultural and textual histories.  It should be useful for students in any fields working in early and later periods (including post-Renaissance) who want a grounding in the intellectual and institutional history of rhetoric, the “discourse about discourse” that was central to curricular formations, aesthetics and theories of the passions, politics, ideas of history, and ideas of canons.  We will read materials from sophistic rhetoric,  from Plato and Aristotle, from Cicero, Quintilian, and rhetorical theorists from late antiquity (including Augustine); we will work through medieval materials from monastic and cathedral schools to the universities, considering how Ciceronian rhetoric carries an overwhelming influence into the Middle Ages; we will consider the professional stratification of various kinds of rhetorical production and theory in the late Middle Ages and look at some crucial literary embodiments of rhetoric; we will consider religious dimensions of rhetoric and its uses in women’s religious communities and devotional writings; we will give some attention to the late medieval recovery of Aristotle’s Rhetoric and to the continuous tension between rhetoric, philosophy, and theology; and we will look at early modern recoveries of certain ancient texts and themes (e.g. Quintilian, the sophists, political education) in terms of new capacities for analysis of stylistics, affect, and deliberative (political) oratory (and we’ll give special attention to early modern English rhetorics and poetics and to continental figures such as Erasmus).  One theme that will help us connect the development of western rhetoric will be the place of emotion in rhetorical theory.  We will also read some modern reflections on the theory and historiography of rhetoric, and the class is open to any combination of theoretical and historical interests.  All of our readings will be accessible in English. 

fulfills requirements