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Title: Self-referential rhetoric : the evolution of the Elizabethan 'wit'
Author: Kramer, Yuval
ISNI:       0000 0004 7232 3810
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2017
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The thesis traces the evolving attitudes towards rhetoric in the highly-rhetorised English-language prose of the late sixteenth century by focusing on a term that was itself subject to significant change: 'wit'. To wit's pre-existing denotations of intellectual acumen, capacity for reason and good judgement was added a novel meaning, related to the capacity for producing lively speech. As a term encompassing widely divergent meanings, many Elizabethan and early Stuart works explored 'wit' as a central theme or treated the term as significant to explorations of the human mind, its capacity for rhetoric, and the social and moral dimensions of this relationship. The research centres on how 'wit' is seen and how it corresponds to rhetorical wittiness as produced in practice, and questions the implications of this for understanding the social and moral dimensions of the authorial wit. By focusing on the early vernacular manuals of rhetoric by author such as Thomas Wilson and Roger Ascham, on Lyly's and Greene's euphuist prose, and on Thomas Lodge's and Sir Philip Sidney's prose defences of poetry, the first half of the thesis explores the term's conceptual ambiguity. Potentially both reformative and deceptive, this ambiguity becomes a useful tool for the author looking to construct a profitable persona as a Wit, or a brilliant-yet-unruly master of rhetoric. The second half of the research notes how 'wit' tends to outlive its usefulness as a multivalent term in later writings when these seek to move away from the social commodification of an author's rhetoric. Examining Sidney's theological and political aims in The New Arcadia, Thomas Nashe's carnivalesque questioning of the idea of profit, and Francis Bacon's systematic interpretation of Nature, the research suggests that rhetoric and 'wit' maintain both their significance and their ambiguity into the seventeenth century. A meta-rhetorical signpost, 'wit' comes to reflect through its use and disuse both the issues at hand and the inherent self-reflexivity of any attempt to deal directly with rhetoric.
Supervisor: Burrow, Colin Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Early Modern Literature ; Rhetoric ; Early Modern Prose ; Wit ; Gabriel Harvey ; Euphuism ; Roger Ascham ; John Lyly ; Philip Sidney ; Thomas Nashe ; Francis Bacon ; Robert Greene