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 16
The Borromeo Rings:
Rhetoric, Law, and Literature
in the English Renaissance

Richard Schoeck
University of Colorado

The Borromeo family was a powerful one in the area to the south of Switzerland in the north of Italy centering in Milan; but it is not of that family itself that I wish to discuss. Rather, I want to borrow an emblem associated with their coat of arms, the Borromeo rings, which were three rings so designed that they interlocked and no one could be detached without breaking one of the other two rings.1 You will agree that it is a fine symbol of interconnectedness, and I want to use that emblem as a model for my thesis that during the Renaissance period law, rhetoric, and literature were so interconnected that we detach one from the others only at the risk of breaking relationships and of making it difficult to see the original working even of the one ring that we might be studying. My essay is largely historical, rather than theoretical, so far as rhetoric and literature are concerned; and to offer critical readings evincing legal structures and embodying concepts of justice must lie beyond its scope.

Whether we are studying Thomas More, whose daily life was filled with the multifarious activities of the law--at the time of writing his Utopia he complained of the demands of appearing in court, arranging arbitrations, making judgments, handling wills, and other such activities--or another busy common lawyer and

____________________
1
On the three rings, see R. J. Schoeck, "Mathematics and the Languages of Literary Criticism", Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 26 ( 1968): 370-371. See R. J. Schoeck, "Rhetoric and Law in Sixteenth-Century England", Studies in Philology 50 ( 1953): 110-127; and R. J. Schoeck, "Lawyers and Rhetoric in Sixteenth-Century England", in Renaissance Eloquence: Studies in the Theory and Practice of Renaissance Rhetoric, ed. J. J. Murphy ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983) 274-291.

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