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JTB_5

Teaching Rhetoric with The Poet and The Bard

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I've heard Andrew Kern say that a course in rhetoric could be taught using Homer exclusively. I believe it, since Laurent Pernot notes that, "I. J. F. de Jong has calculated that in the Iliad, speeches in direct discourse, by number of verses, represent 45 percent of the entire length of the poem," not to mention that the sheer variety of speech forms in Homer's works covers the spectrum of classical genres. Similarly, much of Shakespeare's work comprises speeches in direct discourse. Though I've not read it myself, Quentin Skinner wrote a book on Shakespeare's use of formal elements from forensic rhetoric. The Poet and The Bard display the full language of life rendered most apt and most beautiful (isn't that what we want to bring about in ourselves and our students?). Not all of the speeches in Homer and Shakespeare are imitable, thus some serve as negative examples to analyze and avoid. Good modeling includes examples on every level (good, bad, mediocre).

What is notable for the purposes of teaching rhetoric is that both Homer and Shakespeare afford theory and imitation, which can be put into practice--and theory, imitation, and practice make up the whole program of rhetoric in the classical tradition. One of my long-term goals is to construct a one-year course of rhetoric that used Homer and Shakespeare exclusively. In the meantime I'm trying to incorporate more Homer and Shakespeare into the courses I already teach.

What do you all think of the prospect of such a project? Any else tried using Homer and/or Shakespeare to teach rhetoric?

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