English R1A

Reading & Composition: Tanto melior: The Rhetoric of Superiority

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
15 Fall 2012 Saltzman, Benjamin A.
TTh 12:30-2 305 Wheeler

Book List

Boethius: The Consolation of Philosophy; Milton, John: Paradise Lost; Shakespeare, William: The Winter's Tale; Strunk, William and E. B. White: The Elements of Style

Other Readings and Media

Other readings will include selections from Chaucer, Gregory the Great, Quintilian, George Orwell, and Dante, along with an assortment of critical literature.


“Tanto melior: ne ego quidem intellexi!” [So much better: even I couldn’t understand it!]

So goes the famous compliment than an ancient orator once gave to his student. In response to this example of rhetorical praise, this course will explore what it means to be a “superior” writer by exploring the meaning of superiority across several pieces of literature from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. We will ask not only how superiority is constructed within these texts (how the balance between dangerous pride and godly excellence operates in sections of Paradise Lost, for example), but also why these texts have been deemed superior literary specimens (why, for example, Shakespeare is considered famous for his literary genius). In the process, we will encounter the very question on which our education depends: what makes for superior writing?

This course will develop the student’s reading comprehension and writing skills as we learn how to ask a good question, construct a strong argument, and compose that argument in clear, compelling prose. We will write four short essays, and strategies for revision will form a major focus of the course. All papers, save the diagnostic essay at the start of the semester, will also undergo work and feedback at the prewriting and draft stages of composition.

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