Academic journal article Style

Revisioning Stylistic Analysis and Renaissance Elocutio

Academic journal article Style

Revisioning Stylistic Analysis and Renaissance Elocutio

Article excerpt

A misunderstanding of the predominant rhetorical tradition in the Renaissance has denied to literary, rhetorical, and stylistic studies a rich approach to stylistic exegesis--an approach that combines various branches of contemporary stylistics (1) and that, because it makes evident the natural process of "reading" people, is quite easy to grasp once one connects its guiding principles with one's life experience. This article provides an explication and defense of this approach by first distinguishing its principles from those of Aristotle--the rhetorician whom scholars have customarily, but mistakenly, assumed to be the source of Renaissance doctrines--and second demonstrating its usefulness in textual interpretation, with the practice standing as proof of the principles.

THE SCHOLARLY TRADITION

Dividing the disciplines into nonoverlapping domains, Aristotle assigns to rhetoric the procedures of persuasive speech for public ceremonies, deliberative assemblies, and courtroom arguments, when a philosopher-statesman must convince less educated audiences to just actions or judgments (2): "The duty of rhetoric is to deal with such matters as we deliberate upon without arts or systems to guide us, in the hearing of persons who cannot take in at a glance a complicated argument, or follow a long chain of reasoning [...] for we assume an audience of untrained thinkers" (trans. Roberts, Rhetoric 1.2 I357a1-11). Because a mere tool of expression, (3) the rhetorical art is itself morally neutral, capable of good or ill ends: "And if it is objected that one who uses such power of speech unjustly might do great harm, that is a charge which may be made in common against all good things except excellence" (1.1 1355b4-6).

The same dualistic view applies to his instructions for style. Having assembled one's proofs, one then considers "how to set [these] facts out in language" (3.1 1403b19)--that is, in words and gestures, which are external wrappings of content. Although admitting that the principles of delivery have not yet been theorized, Aristotle declares that they "will produce the same effect as on the stage" (3.1 1404a14). Such a statement assumes a separation between person and persona and accords with his treatment of ethos throughout the Rhetoric as the image of a persona created in the moment of the speech. This image shows no more than the most general outlines of gender, class, age, nationality, and social roles; it does not reflect either a speaker's individual or moral character: "Each class of men, each type of disposition, will have its own appropriate way of letting the truth appear. Under 'class' I include differences of age, as boy, man, or old man; of sex, as man or woman; of nationality, as Spartan or Thessalian [...] for a rustic and an educated man will not say the same things nor speak in the same way" (3.7 1408a27-33).

Aristotle also distinguishes plain and poeticized speech, the first necessary in the privileged disciplines of philosophy and the second characteristic of rhetoric and poetics. Aristotle writes in his Meteorology, "Metaphors are poetical and so [...] as to knowledge of nature [they are] unsatisfactory" (trans. Webster, 357a 25-27), and he prohibits metaphors in logic: "And if one should not argue in metaphors, it is clear too that one should not define either by metaphors or what is said in metaphors" (trans. Barnes, Posterior Analytics 97b 37-38). Plain speech does not need to be taught beyond elementary grammar instruction whereas embellished language, which is "fanciful and meant to charm the hearer," regrettably requires attention in rhetorical training, "owing to the defects of our hearers" (Rhetoric 3.1 140435-6): "Now it was because poets seemed to win fame through their fine language when their thoughts were simple enough, that the language of oratorical prose at first took a poetical colour, e.g. that of Gorgias. Even now most uneducated people think that poetical language makes the finest discourses" (3. …

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