“Words Made Visible” and the Turn against Rhetoric
This book concludes with a discussion of rhetoric's apparent demise in early modern Europe. It begins with an analysis of Cicero's myth of the orator and how it provided one of the enabling fictions not only of Renaissance humanism but also of the particular form of vernacular humanism articulated by sixteenth-century English writers. It then considers the relationship between civil order and rhetoric and how rhetoric's civilizing mission acquired a specific purpose in the manuals of rhetoric in English: the transformation of the English people from a savage and barbaric condition to a settled and orderly community, clothed and housed by the art of rhetoric. It also discusses the different circumstances in which rhetoric found itself at the end of the seventeenth century. Finally, it examines Samuel Shaw's play Words Made Visible; or, Rhetorick Accommodated to the Lives and Manners of Men (1679), in which the tropes and figures of speech are the principal actors, to highlight the disrepute into which rhetoric has fallen at the end of the seventeenth century.
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