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The Ethos of Drama

rhetorical theory and dramatic worth

Robert L. King

Publication Year: 2012

For the first time in the history of drama criticism this book uses traditional rhetorical theory to evaluate moral values in plays from Shakespeare's time to the present

Published by: The Catholic University of America Press

Front Cover

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Title Page

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p. iii


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p. iv


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

Five summer awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities gave me opportunities for research and collegial discussions of my work. Matching one of its challenge grants, the Elms College joined with the NEH to create a fund for development of humanities faculty at the college. The Elms also provided...

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1. Rhetorical Ethos and Dramatic Theory

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pp. 1-29

This book investigates how a play in performance leads an audience to accept its dramatic vision. That is to say, it raises a basic question that rhetoric has asked of political speech for centuries: How and how effectively does the work earn its credibility and project its worth? Since rhetoric is broadly social in its goals, it concerns itself with people acting communally...

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2. Syntax, Style, and Ethos

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pp. 30-75

The sentences that a dramatic artist shapes provide an actor, dramaturg, and director the fundamental units for appreciating and realizing a character. When sentence structure is an artistic choice, its syntax is part of a rhetorical strategy. Indeed, rhetorical critics from ancient times to the Renaissance often...

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3. The Worth of Words

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pp. 76-130

In the seventeenth century, John Dryden wrote when language reformers attacked abstract words as meaningless, and in our time, David Hare and others have written when words themselves were reduced by some to marks on a page. In Dryden’s time, “insignificant” was the pejorative attached to words like...

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4. Memory and Ethos

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pp. 131-153

In his valuable, comprehensive survey of memory in the Encyclopedia of Rhetoric, William N. West notes “the vagueness of its role in rhetoric,” yet other summary comments of his broaden an understanding of memory beyond its use as a mnemonic to a rhetorical place with clear theoretical applications to narrators...

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5. Shaw, Ethos, and Rhetorical Wit

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pp. 154-173

Unlike the authors of the escapist drama he castigated, G. B. Shaw needed to create a credible ethos to persuade audiences to accept his social positions. He articulated those positions with didactic clarity in his ample prefaces and his theater criticism, and his commitment to them as a public man was well known. His values were current before the curtain rose on his plays with the result...

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6. Athol Fugard’s Dramatic Rhetoric

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pp. 174-190

In his introduction to the Samuel French edition of The Blood Knot, Athol Fugard writes: “I am a South African, white skinned. There are three million of us. There are also twelve million darkskinned South Africans.”1 Since the premiere of that play in 1961, such matters of fact about Fugard himself and South Africa in...

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7. Rhetoric and Silence in Holocaust Drama

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pp. 191-214

Only a relentless bigot would deny the factual reality of the Holocaust. The “Is it?” of stasis theory is indisputable. The “What is it?” inevitably pushes the language of any answer beyond the connotations of words like horror and, as its application has extended to other events, genocide. Humanistic literature, facing...

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pp. 215-221

This study has argued that, from the basic elements of expression, syntax, and the word, to the staging of a play, the ethical proof of rhetoric has continuing critical relevance from Shakespeare’s plays to Tom Stoppard’s. “Ethical proof” encompasses the values that a play embodies, and “rhetoric,” the means...


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pp. 223-230


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pp. 231-234

E-ISBN-13: 9780813218113
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813217413

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 812915029
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Ethos of Drama

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Subject Headings

  • English drama -- History and criticism -- Theory, etc.
  • Rhetoric -- Moral and ethical aspects.
  • Theater ǂx Philosophy.
  • Theater audiences.
  • Persuasion (Rhetoric).
  • Literature and morals.
  • Ethics in literature.
  • Values in literature.
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