Essays on Classical Rhetoric and Modern Discourse

Essays on Classical Rhetoric and Modern Discourse

Essays on Classical Rhetoric and Modern Discourse

Essays on Classical Rhetoric and Modern Discourse


Eighteen essays by leading scholars in English, speech communication, education, and philosophy explore the vitality of the classical rhetorical tradition and its influence on both contemporary discourse studies and the teaching of writing.

Some of the essays investigate theoretical and historical issues. Others show the bearing of classical rhetoric on contemporary problems in composition, thus blending theory and practice. Common to the varied approaches and viewpoints expressed in this volume is one central theme: the 20th-century revival of rhetoric entails a recovery of the classical tradition, with its marriage of a rich and fully articulated theory with an equally efficacious practice. A preface demonstrates the contribution of Edward P. J. Corbett to the 20th-century revival, and a last chapter includes a bibliography of his works.


The last thirty years have seen an evolution in the teaching of written discourse so profound as almost to deserve the title of a revolution. From being, as I. A. Richards said in 1936, the dreariest part of a college education, rhetoric has become one of the most vital and exciting areas of study within departments of English. Each year brings new insights and better methods to the study and teaching of writing, and it now seems certain that rhetorical studies will be at the heart of the English curriculum of the future. We seem, indeed, to be witnessing the rebirth of rhetoric in departments of English.

One of the primary elements in this rebirth is the rediscovery by composition scholars of the tradition of classical rhetoric. This classical tradition, over twenty-five hundred years old and composed of theorists as divergent as Plato and Quintilian, had been nurtured in departments of speech after English departments rejected rhetoric in the early part of this century and only relatively recently has classical rhetoric come again to be an informing principle for the study of written -- as opposed to oral -- discourse. It was English departments' misfortune that classical doctrines were lost to them for so long, as we are learning now. Scholars investigating written discourse and teachers of writing are being aided immeasurably by the classical rhetorical tradition, which as the most completely developed body of rhetorical theory provides a touchstone against which all other theory and practice can be measured.

There are several scholars in the last thirty years who might without irony be called Promethean figures, men who are responsible for the reintroduction of classical theory into the rhetoric of written discourse:

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