Teaching the Tropes in the
Middle Ages: The Theory of
Metaphoric Transference in
Commentaries on the Poetria nova
Marjorie Curry Woods
The University of Texas at Austin
In a plenary lecture at the 1983 Fourth Biennial Conference of the International Society for the History of Rhetoric, Brian Vickers argued that we should stop studying medieval rhetoric: C. S. Baldwin had been right in his condemnation of this confused and confusing field 50 years earlier.1 Time spent on medieval rhetoric and poetic could, according to Vickers, be spent more profitably on the history of rhetoric during other periods.
There are many who agree with Vickers and Baldwin, although few are so bold as to say so. Those of us in the academy who, following James J. Murphy's example, began to work on medieval rhetoric because it was there must provide____________________
I have taken up the issue of fragmentation in Marjorie Curry Woods, "The Teaching of Writing in Medieval Europe", A Short History of Writing Instruction From Ancient Greece to Twentieth-Century America, ed. James J. Murphy (Davis, CA: Hermagoras Press, 1990) 80; and I will do so in greater detail in the future. What I wish to emphasize here is the devastating effectiveness and longevity of Baldwin's assertions so many academic generations ago; see Charles Sears Baldwin, Medieval Rhetoric and Poetic [to 1400] Interpreted from Representative Works ( New York: Macmillan, 1928).