These are selections from Dudley Fenner’s The Artes of Logike and Rethorike (1584), one of many similar books published during Shakespeare’s lifetime. It gives an insight into one of the key ways in which the language of Julius Caesar is constructed.
What is rhetoric?
Rhetoric is the art of speaking persuasively in public. Its techniques and their names, are derived from the classical world of ancient Greece and Rome. One popular Elizabethan metaphor for how it worked was an orator, or speaker, dragging his audience around by golden chains tied to their ears.
How was it taught?
According to the critic Brian Vickers, more textbooks of rhetoric were published during the period in which Shakespeare was writing than in any other in history. One example of how the information in them was used survives from Canterbury School, which was attended by Shakespeare’s contemporary, the poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe. In the fifth form there, boys were expected to memorize rhetorical figures. The critic Garry Wells describes these figures as ‘the signature devices of the ancient orators: for the Roman rhetorician Quintilian, a figure was anything which goes beyond an obvious and ordinary statement’. They are also referred to as tropes, schemata or ornaments, and generally reflect their classical heritage by having Greek names.
One example would be anaphora, the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of a clause to hammer home a point. In epiphora, a word or phrase is repeated at the end of successive clauses.
Shakespeare himself attended Stratford Grammar School, where the curriculum would have been similar. Besides the memorising of figures, boys would probably have been expected to practice rhetoric through suasorie: formal speeches of persuasion delivered for and against a certain argument. In this way of teaching, one set exercise might be to argue in favour of or against marriage. Pupils might also be expected to argue a point from a certain imagined position, which would all add up to an excellent training for a future dramatist.
Indeed, according to the critic Garry Wills, the characters in Julius Caesar ‘speak the way Elizabethan schoolboys were taught that Romans had spoken’.
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Rhetoric was a much-valued skill in Renaissance England, as it was in ancient Rome. Kim Ballard discusses the connections between rhetoric and power in Julius Caesar, one of Shakespeare's Roman plays.
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