Rhetoric and Theater

McDonald, Russ. 2017. Rhetoric and Theater. In: Michael MacDonald, ed. The Oxford Companion to Rhetoric. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 449-460. ISBN 9780199731596 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

This chapter demonstrates the impact of rhetorical training in shaping the Elizabethan theater at the end of the sixteenth century. English schoolmasters had translated the Latin rhetoric of Cicero and Quintilian into the vernacular, and these verbal forms—schemes, tropes, and figures—became a central feature of Tudor pedagogy; two classroom exercises in rhetoric were prosopopoeia (the impersonation of a character) and argumentum in utramque partem (defending both sides of a debating question). Thomas Kyd and Christopher Marlowe first exploited these rhetorical and poetic forms theatrically in the 1580s, and shortly thereafter William Shakespeare built on their model in the abundant poetic artifice of his early history cycle, a feature especially apparent in Henry VI, Part Three. Crucially, for Shakespeare and his contemporaries, the possibilities of rhetoric as a persuasive art served to complicate the drama and thus to immerse the audience in the process of interpretation.

Item Type:

Book Section

Identification Number (DOI):



Tudor pedagogy, rhetoric, prosopopoeia, argumentum in utramque partem, Shakespeare, interpretation

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


16 November 2017Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

14 Sep 2015 14:43

Last Modified:

22 Mar 2019 12:18



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