English Rhetoric

Rhetoric traditionally played an important role in the development of literature, language and philosophy. Since the ancient epoch, rhetoric was a powerful tool, which orators used to convey their ideas to the audience and convince the audience in their righteousness. At the same time, the rhetoric evolved considerably in the course of time. For instance, by the Middle Ages the ancient rhetoric gave in to the rhetoric which had predominantly theological background and was not only related to the promotion of Christian ideas and philosophy but also borrowed a lot of elements from Christian teaching.

Nevertheless, it is possible to single out specialists and philosophers who were particularly successful in the development of the rhetoric and whose ideas produced a profound impact on its development. For instance, it is possible to name Geoffrey of Vinsauf, Erasmus and Herber Spencer as probably the most outstanding philosophers of their epoch, whose contribution in the development and understanding of the rhetoric can hardly be underestimated. At the same time, it is important to underline that all the three philosophers marked a considerable change in the rhetoric or, to put it more precisely, on views of people on the rhetoric in different epoch. Basically, on analyzing views of Geoffrey of Vinsauf, Erasmus and Herbert Spencer on the rhetoric, it is possible to trace the evolution of the perception of the rhetoric as practically a subject of art to its practical, even to a certain extent utilitarian use. To put it more precisely, the views on the rhetoric evolved from Geoffrey’s perception of rhetoric as a powerful tool of the impact on human emotions conveying certain meaning, to Erasmus view on the rhetoric as a kind of art, and, finally, to Herbert Spencer’s pragmatic, Darwinist approach to the rhetoric as a tool of the maximization of the efficiency of speech and communication.

In such a way, these three philosophers represent different and often practically opposite views on the rhetoric. This is why it is important to analyze the position and ideas of each philosopher to better understand his way of the perception and interpretation of the rhetoric.


Geoffrey of Vinsauf

Speaking about Geoffrey of Vinsauf, it is important to underline the profound impact of his socio-cultural environment and his epoch on his views concerning the rhetoric. Basically, Geoffrey of Vinsauf attempted to develop the rhetoric since he believed that it is a very effective tool to convey the meaning and emotions. At the same time, he did not really pay all his attention to the problem of the rhetoric. In fact, he believed that the rhetoric should not be viewed as a dominant field. In actuality, he did not share the admiration of ancient orators and philosophers, such as Cicero concerning the rhetoric. For Geoffrey of Vinsauf it was an efficient tool of conveying the meaning and affecting the emotions of the audience but he did not put the rhetoric above all.

Nevertheless, he managed to succeed in the development of the rhetoric and it is even possible to estimate that he contributed to the advancement of the rhetoric on the new, higher level. On analyzing his views on rhetoric and his contribution to its development, it should be pointed out that Geoffrey of Vinsauf stood on the ground that the rhetoric should enrich consistently the language and due to the development of the rhetoric it was possible to make the language more diverse and picturesque. In such a context, it seems to be quite natural that he had managed to define and develop various stylistic devices and artistic details which contributed to the considerable progress of the rhetoric in that time.

He conveyed his major ideas and views on the rhetoric in his famous book “Poetria Nova”. At the same time, he attempted to elevate the rhetoric from the routine use in different spheres of life such as politics to the level of poetry, where he proved to be particularly successful in the application of his original rhetoric techniques and style.

However, his work was not really innovative. Instead, he just summarized the findings of his predecessors and other specialists working on the problem of rhetoric. In other words, he systematized the knowledge about the rhetoric that naturally facilitated consistently to use the rhetoric methods and techniques.

The cornerstone of his views on the rhetoric was the idea that it is impossible to use rhetoric spontaneously and write without any preparation. In other words, he insisted on the necessity of the creation of the outline before writing.

According to Geoffrey, the outline is a major condition of the successful writing and presentation of the author’s ideas to the audience. In such a way, he implies that the rhetoric writing is based on the strict outline. Naturally, such an approach to the rhetoric makes it a bit rigid since the existence of outline apparently limits the possibilities for improvisation and changes in the process of creation of a poem, or any other work where the rhetoric is applied.

Nevertheless, the significance of the outline was so great for Geoffrey that he compared it to the house, while the construction of the rhetoric writing resembled the construction of the building. In such a context, he metaphorically compares the outline to the foundation of the building (509).

Furthermore, Geoffrey of Vinsauf lays emphasis on the necessity of using the experience of other orators and philosophers who worked on the problem of the rhetoric, who developed new rhetoric techniques, styles, etc. In this respect, Geoffrey viewed the experience of other writers and orators who created rhetoric works very helpful since they provided clear and good examples of the rhetoric work. In other words, he insisted on the necessity of using good rhetoric works for the creation of new works. At this point, it is necessary to underline that Geoffrey recommended to use only good rhetoric works, since only this works could be useful for the development of rhetoric skills, abilities and experience. In stark contrast, poor rhetoric works are not worthy attention, according to Geoffrey of Vinsauf. He believed that poor rhetoric works could be even dangerous because they provide poor examples and poor rhetoric techniques and tools which should not be copied and used in new rhetoric works, while he did not object copying good rhetoric works.

In general, Geoffrey of Vinsauf had made a great contribution in the development of the rhetoric since he systematized and structure knowledge about the rhetoric, its techniques, methods, styles, etc. In this respect, it is worth mentioning some of his recommendations concerning rhetoric techniques. For instance, he recommended while creating a rhetoric work to “start out with the end” (508). He argued that such a technique might be very effective because it could draw the attention of the audience to the message conveyed by the author. Basically, he discusses a variety of other techniques, the use of generalization, abbreviation and various stylistic devices, such as oxymoron, metonymy and others. He underlined that all these techniques and devices could be successfully applied in a good rhetoric work. At the same time, he argued that one of the major goal of the application of various rhetoric techniques, styles, devices and artistic details was to enrich the rhetoric work. According to Geoffrey, a good rhetoric work should be colorful. He recommended: “let your discourse to color itself” (519). The latter was possible only when the variety of techniques and the richness of the language are amply used in the rhetoric work.

In such a way, Geoffrey of Vinsauf made a significant contribution in the development of the rhetoric, though his contribution was not really innovative but rather systematic because he managed to collect the knowledge on the rhetoric and present in a solid work.


Similarly to Geoffrey of Vinsauf,  Erasmus also produced a significant impact on the development of the rhetoric, though his views consistently differed from those of Geoffrey. To put it more precisely, the work of Erasmus on rhetoric marks the beginning of absolutely new epoch and new philosophy, which naturally affected the development of the rhetoric. In this respect, it should be said that Erasmus distances from mediaeval ideas and traditions, which apparently dominated in views of Geoffrey. Instead, Erasmus attempts to develop totally new concepts and approaches to the rhetoric, which actually have little in common with the principles ideas of Geoffrey, or even contradict them. However, on comparing views and beliefs of Geoffrey and Erasmus in relation to the rhetoric, it should be pointed out that Erasmus could not totally reject all the ideas and achievements of Erasmus. In fact, he rather suggested changing the approach to and view on the rhetoric, than to change some techniques or styles. For instance, it proves beyond a doubt that the achievement of Geoffrey in the field of stylistics and definition of various rhetoric techniques they were still relevant even in the time of Erasmus and later epochs.

On the other hand, the work of Erasmus and his views on the rhetoric are consistently more independent and free of the mediaeval biases, stereotypes and boundaries, which were typical to the work of Geoffrey. In actuality, the latter basically systematized the existing views and ideas concerning the rhetoric, while Erasmus generated totally new ideas and approaches to this field. In such a way, it is possible to speak about Erasmus’ views on the rhetoric as more progressive and creative compared to views of Geoffrey.

Speaking about the major differences between Geoffrey and Erasmus views on the rhetoric, it should be pointed out that Erasmus rejected the rigidity of Geoffrey’s rhetoric. In this regard, he denied the necessity of the creation of a strict outline on the basis of which it is necessary to construct a rhetoric work. Instead, he argued that it is necessary to rely more on the creativity and intuition of an individual. In actuality, instead of the creation of a strict  outline, Erasmus rather preferred to use a kind of brainstorming technique, which he believed could provide larger opportunities for the creation of a successful rhetoric work because the author is not limited by rigid boundaries of the outline. Moreover, the use of such a techniques allows the author to introduce some new ideas, change the technique or style, use more original stylistic devices depending on the change of the flow of ideas of the author in the process of the creation of a rhetoric work, while all these could hardly be fully used when the author stick to a particular outline. In fact, he suggests “inventing as many propositions as possible” (613) that he believes is one of the best ways to create a successfully rhetoric work.

However, brainstorming is just one of many techniques developed and defined by Erasmus. In this respect, it should be said that he ranked all techniques he describes in his work and the first ten positions are given by Erasmus to his unique techniques which are consistently different from traditional ones. The latter were basically described in Geoffrey’s work and were considered to be classical, but Erasmus neglected these techniques as not really effective in the process of creation a rhetoric work. Instead, he believed that his techniques, such as brainstorming are consistently more effective than traditional ones. On analyzing his methods and techniques, it is possible to underline that Erasmus basically laid emphasis on the originality of a rhetoric work and this is another point where his views differed substantially from those of Geoffrey. Erasmus argued that a successful and effective rhetoric work should be primarily an original and unique work, where the individuality of the author, his authentic message and style can be traced. In this respect, he denied Geoffrey’s admiration with the samples of good rhetoric works.

Erasmus believed that such works can hardly enrich an author. Moreover, they can even produce a negative impact as they could contribute to the formation of stereotypes and clichés that an author would use in his rhetoric, which was absolutely unacceptable for Erasmus since it decrease the originality of a rhetoric work.

Also, it is worth mentioning the fact that Erasmus understood the importance of the development of close relationship between the theory of the rhetoric and material of a rhetoric work. In this respect, he argued that “now that you have a theory you’ll need material” (621). In such a way, he underlined the importance of the combination of a theory and material. In actuality, this means that the theory could contribute to the adequate and effective presentation of the material, while the material should be based on the theory of rhetoric in order to achieve the best results in the presentation of a rhetoric work.

Thus, Erasmus modified the views on the rhetoric considerably bringing in more freedom and originality in the rhetoric work. In fact, he made the rhetoric a kind of art, where he emphasized the abundance of the stylistic and rhetoric richness of the language, which can lead to the creation of a really good and effective rhetoric work.

Herbert Spencer

The work of Herbert Spencer on rhetoric marks another shift in the western cultural and socioeconomic development. In fact, Herbert Spencer took Darwinist ideas for the basis of his own views on the rhetoric. Basically, it was another revolution, in a way, similar to that of Darwin, but this time it was the revolution in the field of the rhetoric. However, it would be more precisely to estimate that it was another significant change rather than a revolution in view on the rhetoric. Nevertheless, his views are consistently different from those of Geoffrey and Erasmus. Herbert Spencer closely intertwined the development of the rhetoric with socioeconomic and cultural context. This means that he emphasized a significant social impact on the rhetoric. At the same time, he does not share Erasmus’ view on the rhetoric as a kind of art, neither he could agree with Geoffrey’s admiration with perfect rhetorical works which should be treated as samples and basis for new, good rhetoric works. He could not accept it because, according to Herbert Spencer, each epoch had a different socio-cultural context. Therefore, techniques and methods used in the past epochs could not work in the present epoch, while present techniques could hardly work in the future. In such a way, it is the social and cultural context that defines the essence and the quality of a rhetoric work.

Moreover, Herbert Spencer developed a very pragmatic view on the rhetoric. According to him, the rhetoric should be viewed rather a kind of instrument than an art, and the major criterion of the quality of a good rhetoric work and its ultimate goal is its efficiency. In other words, a good rhetoric work should be efficient and meet the goal of the author, if it failed it did not worth anything. Herbert Spencer stated that “the pen is mightier than the sword” (1163).

In such a way, he underlined the importance of the rhetoric, its great power and impact on the audience, but, at the same time, he indicated to the efficiency as the major goal of a rhetoric work, which makes it purposeful and significant.

Consequently, Herbert Spencer debunked the myth about the rhetoric as a kind of art. Instead, he created another myth about the rhetoric as a powerful tool to reach pragmatic objectives of the author and the more efficient the rhetoric is the better for the author.





Thus, taking into consideration all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the development of the rhetoric in different epochs was characterized by substantial changes. The analysis of works of Geoffrey of Vinsauf, Erasmus and Herbert Spencer reveals the fact that the rhetoric gradually evolved from the mediaeval rigidity to the level of art in the epoch of Erasmus, while Herbert Spencer pulled the rhetoric down to the level of pragmatism, which defined the quality of a rhetoric work by its efficiency. In such a way, the significance of the rhetoric gradually increased, since for Geoffrey the rhetoric had never being primary, while Erasmus made it a powerful art. Finally, Herbert Spencer revealed probably the full power of the rhetoric as instrument that can not only convey the meaning and affect emotions of the audience, but it can also make people believe and follow the orator or the author of a rhetoric work.

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