English R1B

Reading & Composition: Persuasion

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
7 Spring 2014 Moore, Stephanie Anne
MWF 12-1 225 Wheeler

Book List

Shakespeare, William: Julius Caesar; Shakespeare, William: Othello; Williams, Joseph: Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace

Other Readings and Media

A course reader of short essays and excerpts from the following theorists (though probably not all): Plato, Aristotle, Quintilian, Cicero, Erasmus, Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, Thomas Sprat, and Kenneth Burke.


This class is about persuasive writing—both as a genre and as a skill. Which is to say, we will follow Quintilian, who says that the best way to become eloquent is to imitate the masters. Of course, standards of eloquence have changed, but not the situation of rhetoric itself, which is not just speech or writing, but speech or writing done at a particular time and place and for a particular purpose, with a specific audience in mind. In other words, to write persuasively, you must think about why you are writing and who you are writing for. Thus we will read writers from many different times and places with an eye toward how they accomplish a specific purpose and what they must assume about their audience to do so. We will also read theorists of rhetoric both ancient and modern, paying particular attention to their remarks about evidence and proof.

As we move from reading to writing, your job will not just be to imitate but to evaluate, deciding which strategies to adapt for your own purposes and how. You will also enter into larger questions about the ethics of argument and persuasion, such as: What does it mean to “prove” a claim through argument? Is it our responsibility to advance a sound argument, or merely a persuasive one? Is “interestedness” something to fight against when we speak and write, or is it an unavoidable condition of human communication? To deepen our sense of the troubles that haunt the scene of persuasion, we will read Othello and Julius Caesar by Shakespeare, a writer who understood the perils of eloquence better than most. Finally, we will look into techniques and strategies for doing research, which will culminate in a final project in which you address a rhetorical problem specific to your own field of study, whatever it may be.

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