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9 - Shakespeare’s Language and the Rhetoric of War

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 August 2021

David Loewenstein
Affiliation:
Pennsylvania State University, University Park
Paul Stevens
Affiliation:
University of Toronto
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Summary

Given the challenges war posed for direct physical representation on the Elizabethan stage, much of Shakespeare’s mimetic success depends on his techniques of linguistic construction, especially of narrated war scenes and dialogic encounters. For narrated scenes, Shakespeare follows Marlowe in translating the “high-astounding terms” of the classical grand style to the Elizabethan stage, a choice with ideological implications explored in the chapter. Shakespeare often favors the prospective narration of imagined war scenes, turning potentially static description into the terrorizing speech acts of Henry V and other leaders. In dialogic encounters, Shakespeare develops the dynamics of verbal quarrels and of diplomacy as themselves central events of war. Plays like King John parse war as dysfunctional communication and explore what meager possibilities verbal diplomacy affords for remediation. The chapter assesses contradictions inherent in a rhetorical culture that idealizes eloquence as peacemaking and yet makes eloquence the default language for violent militarism.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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References

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