ENGL 4220 Early Modern Poetry & Rhetoric

In his 1589 how-to for aspiring poets and courtiers, George Puttenham describes poetry as “a manner of utterance more eloquent and rhetorical than the ordinary prose.” The most rhetorical of genres, Puttenham argues, poetry will “sooner invegleth the judgment of man, and carrieth his opinion this way and that,” its persuasive force effected by “all manner of fresh colours and figures.” Fresh they need be, but those colours and figures hearken all the way back to Aristotle, the Greek rhetorician who codified the art of using language to persuade. And, as Puttenham’s Arte of English Poesie makes clear, early modern poetry was as deeply rhetorical as Aristotle’s oratory, an art that aimed to move as much by mimetic truth as well-wrought argument. Examining the symbiosis of poetry and rhetoric in Renaissance thinking, this course considers works by authors of varying classes, decades, and genders in relation to prevailing debates about the nature and purpose of rhetoric. Reading widely and closely, the course also considers the significance of concepts such as invention, imitation, and decorum, the persuasion of rhetoric’s “artificial proofs,” and the effects of its multitude of tropes and figures. The course’s aims are to deepen understanding of early modern poetry and the culture that produced it, to consider rhetoric’s abiding influence on writers of every genre, and to hone skills in close reading, critical thinking, and argument.