Classical Writing Shakespeare

Progymnasmata Description and Characterization
 ~ High School


Shakespeare is planned to be our final enrichment book, with a potential availability of 2018. It focuses on the two progymnasmata Description (writing descriptive passages) and Speech-in-Character (writing dialogue). Our models will be taken from Shakespeare’s plays, as well as from the novels of great English authors like Austen, Dickens, Eliot, Defoe, and Richardson.

Our mascot is the great Bard of Avon, who requires no introduction.

In Shakespeare, we address all the canons of rhetoric but with particular emphasis on the canon of style. The canon of style deals with the word choices, the phrases, the lengths of sentences, how we choose to express what we want to say. Style creates the feel one gets when reading something, whether it sounds arrogant, eloquent, intellectual, peppy, or 'dumbed down'. The style we choose when we write depends on whom we are writing to (a four year old, Grandma, a professor, the public). It also depends on the occasion for the message. One would not use the same relaxed jovial tone at a funeral as one would at a birthday party.

It is our aim with this book to get students to contemplate style carefully, not only as their own personal expression of who they are, but also to try to understand others by analysis of the style used in various passages chosen from the Great Books.

Each style will not only decorate its message in a certain way, but also communicate to the reader what its writer thinks about life. For example George Eliot’s comments and explanations throughout her novels imply that there are reasons for everything that happens in life and she will give them to us as the all-seeing narrator. Hemingway’s clipped brevity with few if any clauses and causal explanations leave the reader with a more factual account without explanations because few can be had anyways. So much of life makes so little sense to Hemingway, and he depicts life, in his books, as he sees it.

When we teach the canon of style, we work with grammar, with the three appeals, with levels of ornamentation, and with figures of speech. style is closely (but not exclusively) aligned with the appeal to pathos, which is the last of the three appeals, the one we cover in this text. As always, we work with Content and Arrangement, the two first rhetorical canons also.  

The key ancient source text will be Aristotle’s Poetics, which the students will study and analyze in this course. Our key modern source text will be Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature by Erich Auerbach and Willard R. Trask.  

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