E 387R • Shakespeare and Renaissance Rhetoric
3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Cultures can be seen as being constituted in and through a collection of discourses, some of which are privileged and all of which are multiform, complex, even self-contradictory. In the Renaissance, one of the most important discourses, one which everyone encountered in formal education, is that of rhetoric, and it consequently offers us insight into the social and political, philosophical and artistic, indeed the basic anthropological assumptions, principles, and values of people in the period. Perhaps rather than speak of the discourse of rhetoric, as though there were some single, unified model, it would be better to speak of fields of discourse or discourse-systems. For in the Renaissance the discourse of rhetoric could be either monarchical-absolutist or subversive-republican, a means for social advancement or social exclusion, deterministic or voluntaristic, gendered as male or as female, comely or indecorous and grotesque, depending on which texts, or parts of texts, one focuses on. In all cases, rhetoric is profoundly involved in questions of identity, the social order, power, subjection, and resistance. The first goal of this course, consequently, will be to analyze that discourse in light of the issues specified above by reading carefully through a number of important rhetorics produced in England and Europe during the Renaissance (beginning with a study of what is arguably their most important classical predecessor). The second concern of the course will be with Shakespeare and with the question of what it means to read his plays "rhetorically." We will depart from traditional modes of rhetorical reading in two different ways. First, we will approach plays not as collections of rhetorical tropes and figures or as repetitions of oratorical structures, but rather as modelings of rhetorical interactions which actualize the prescriptions for such interactions found in rhetoric treatises. Second, we will relate those plays not to rhetoric conceived ahistorically, but to rhetoric as it was specifically defined in the Renaissance. We will thus approach the plays as repetitions of themes and procedures and issues from the contemporary discourse of rhetoric, repetitions which serve both to extend and clarify it while simultaneously subjecting it to qualifications and criticisms.
In this course each student will do the following: write very brief "position papers" on each of the texts we read together as a class; write a short essay reporting on an outside reading and deliver an oral report on that text to the class; and lead the discussion of the particular play chosen for investigation and write a long final paper on that play which will be due at the end of the semester.