Rhetoric and Pedagogy: Its History, Philosophy, and Practice: Essays in Honor of James J. Murphy

By Winifred Bryan Horner; Michael Leff | Go to book overview

Chapter 15
Shakespeare and the Ars Rhetorica

Heinrich F. Plett
University of Essen


PROLEGOMENA

Rhetoric has long failed to receive the critical attention it justly deserves. The reasons for this neglect are obvious. One of them is that the knowledge of Elizabethan rhetoric was comparatively poor. Though its major representative, Thomas Wilson Arte of Rhetorique ( 1553), was made accessible again as early as 1909 in G. M. Mair's thorough, though by present-day standards not entirely satisfactory edition, this was to remain an isolated landmark for several decades.1 A lack of source-texts did not, however, prove to be the only reason for the lasting disinterest in rhetoric. Of equal, if not greater, importance were the contempt and disrepute into which this discipline had fallen under the sway of idealistic philosophy. Ever since Plato's criticism of sophistic rhetoric, it was reputed to be a technique of illusion and delusion, a notion that has been transmitted by Kant, Hegel, and their followers up to the present time. But not enough that this technique (techne, ars) was discredited as such; it was also reduced, at first to stylistics and then to the so-called rhetorical figures, the totality of which

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1
The situation is aptly described in James J. Murphy programmatic essay "One Thousand Neglected Authors: The Scope and Importance of Renaissance Rhetoric", Renaissance Eloquence: Studies in the Theory and Practice of Renaissance Rhetoric, ed. James J. Murphy ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983) 20-36. His pioneering bibliography Renaissance Rhetoric ( New York: Garland, 1981) points out a large number of source-texts still waiting for editorial treatment and critical comment.

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