Neutered Rhetoric: Representations of Orators in the Long Eighteenth Century
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This dissertation tracks representations of orators in a constellation of British texts throughout the long eighteenth century, ranging from plays, novels, and poems to religious, scientific, and pedagogical texts. These colorful and persuasive orators are linked to the disruptive power of mass persuasion, the slipperiness of the spoken word, and the apparent failure of rhetoric as a discipline. From the order of the Restoration to its re-establishment after the Glorious Revolution to the emergence of a Georgian polite culture characterized by its moderation, privileged stakeholders announced both a current and future stability that orators continually threaten. My chapters focus on four discourses in which real and fictional orators play a central role: experimental philosophy, attacks on Methodism, Alexander Pope's poetry, and Scottish Enlightenment rhetorical treatises. I locate an imperative to limit the potential power of the orator, which echoes a general cultural move to "neuter" rhetoric of its affective capabilities and to regulate the troubling instabilities of language. <italic>Neutered Rhetoric</italic> interrogates the traditional critical narrative of British rhetoric in the period by considering the resurgence of rhetorical theory in the 1750s as both a reaction to and a revision of the vexed cultural status of the orator as presented in literary texts. In charting literary representations of orators and their relationship to the shift in rhetoric from an oral to a written discipline, I present a new avenue for exploring the changing shape and influence of rhetorical theory during the period. I argue that representations of orators - whether real or fictional - can be read as theories about the nature of rhetoric, its inherent value and the problems of its effects. Whenever orators speak, they both represent and provoke cultural responses to rhetoric: its tradition, propriety, integrity, and future in a polite society.