The Ethos of Drama

The Ethos of Drama: rhetorical theory and dramatic worth

Robert L. King
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    The Ethos of Drama
    Book Description:

    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

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-1811-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Rhetorical Ethos and Dramatic Theory
    (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—as drama ordinarily does both within the boundaries of the stage and in relating to an assembled audience beyond it. In rhetorical theory, moral authority is indispensable to winning the assent of such audiences, so Aristotle understandably...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Syntax, Style, and Ethos
    (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 assume a direct relationship between style and personal values, but no critic examines the creative or simply persuasive implications of “I” in the grammar basic to any style that asserts the character of its speaker. Criticism has, accordingly, bypassed a fundamental stage in determining the ethical proof, fundamental because anyone fashioning a personal...

  6. CHAPTER 3 The Worth of Words
    (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 “conscience”; in Hare’s time, “indeterminacy” to words like to “truth” and “faith.” The practice of these dramatists and others, however, has rebuked the theoretical position that abstract value terms carry no verifiable or practical meaning.

    John Dryden’s name appears frequently in scholarly accounts of language reform in the seventeenth century in England...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Memory and Ethos
    (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 in plays by Tennessee Williams, Brian Friel, to the autobiographical Hally in Fugard’s “Master Harold” . . . and the boys, and to the collective, reconstructed memories of the three historical characters in Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen. Beginning in classical times, West writes, “memory serves as the locus of personal history...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Shaw, Ethos, and Rhetorical Wit
    (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 that his personal ethos as a controversialist and admirer of Ibsen determined the shape of his dramatic forms, the bases of his plays’ credibility. As a corollary, many of his plays take on...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Athol Fugard’s Dramatic Rhetoric
    (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 general have become more familiar to theater audiences in the United States, but the early explanation remains significant for the clues it offers about Fugard’s dramatic priorities. As in Master Harold, he will posit, not dwell on, the facts informing social or political issues. Indisputable...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Rhetoric and Silence in Holocaust Drama
    (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 its greatest challenge to the values proclaimed by civilized societies, tries to answer or at least pose the moral question: What is it worth? Without raising this question, drama and especially film can represent the factual details graphically and provoke intense emotional reactions. But they do so at a...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 215-222)

    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 of communicating those values to a theater audience, which, by the nature of theater and rhetoric, participates in the discovery and judging of those values. Including ethos in dramatic criticism exposes by implication the danger or inadequacy of a play’s dominant or unaccompanied appeal to pathos or logos, the first leading...

    (pp. 223-230)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 231-234)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-236)