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Rhetoric in Western Europe: Britain

Sean Patrick O'Rourke


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The tradition of rhetorical theory and practice in Britain is longstanding and vibrant. In the Middle Ages, Britain produced important contributions to rhetorical theory. The Venerable Bede (c. 672/73–735), for instance, provided a treatment of the stylistic aspects of discourse in his De schematibus et tropis , and Alcuin (c. 735–804), the British-born tutor of and advisor to Charlemagne, left us his Disputatio de rhetorica et de virtutibus , a dialogue in which emperor and teacher explore the theoretical underpinnings of civic discourse in the Ciceronian tradition (→  Rhetoric, Medieval ). While the practice of public address was quite limited during the period, British rhetorics explored the persuasive elements of verse, and monastic libraries in the British Isles preserved manuscripts of some of the key rhetorical texts of late antiquity. While the Renaissance came relatively late to Britain, it brought continental influence to the rhetorics Britain produced (→  Rhetoric, European Renaissance ). Humanist texts such as Leonard Cox's Arte or crafte of rethoryke (1530) and Thomas Wilson's Arte of rhetorique (1553) had a decidedly Ciceronian flavor. Cox treated invention (the ancient canon of discovering ideas or developing lines of argument) by drawing upon Roman theories of the loci communes (argumentative commonplaces; →  Invention and Rhetoric ). Wilson offered a full-blown ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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