English R1A

Reading & Composition: The Art of Persuasion

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
5 Fall 2015 Mansky, Joseph
TTh 8-9:30 222 Wheeler

Book List

Cicero: Political Speeches; Donne, John: The Complete English Poems; Shakespeare, William: Julius Caesar; Shakespeare, William: Othello; Swift, Jonathan: A Modest Proposal and Other Satirical Works

Other Readings and Media

12 Angry Men (film), dir. Sidney Lumet (1957); To Kill a Mockingbird (film), dir. Robert Mulligan (1962)

Course reader including excerpts from rhetorical theory (Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Quintilian, Erasmus, Kenneth Burke); and political speeches (John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr.).


Every author must face the problem of what constitutes persuasive speech. From Plato and Aristotle in fourth century B.C.E. Greece to the twentieth-century philosopher Kenneth Burke, theorists have struggled to understand rhetoric: what is it? How does it persuade? Is it inherently moral? In this class, we will read a series of literary and political texts from a wide variety of times and places in order to understand how each author or character understands rhetoric and seeks to persuade his or her audience. We will attend to both the similarities and the differences among these speakers and writers in order to examine how the time, place, and goal of each determine his or her rhetorical strategies.

Of course, every student (and most professionals) must also face this problem of how to persuade. Even as you read samples of famously persuasive rhetoric from Cicero, Shakespeare, Swift, Kennedy, and King, you will also consider how their strategies of persuasion may or may not succeed in your own writing. By interrogating the goals and audiences of each writer on the syllabus, you will learn to examine critically the rhetoric of your own writing and that of your peers. You will consider what makes an argument persuasive, using what you learn to develop your skills in argumentative and expository writing.

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