Rhetoric and Moliere: a study of comic 'agon'
In seventeenth-century France, rhetoric constituted an ensemble of precepts governing all forms of discourse. The influence of this art of persuasion and eloquence on the dramatic literature of the period has been the subject of studies primarily devoted to Cornelian and Racinian tragedy. This dissertation examines the relationship of rhetorical theory and practice to comedy, and to Moliere in particular Part One of the study brings into historical perspective the ancient affiliation of the ars poetica and the ars oratoria and explores the interrelated comic and rhetorical traditions of the agon form. The normative influence of rhetorical ideals and modes of expression on literature is shown to have persisted throughout the centuries-long dominance of the artes liberales in Western Europe. The contributions of rhetoric to the neo-classical canons of French drama are subsequently examined in light of Marvin Herrick's work, which establishes that rhetorical analysis of comedy was standard critical practice during the Renaissance, even after Aristotle came to influence poetic thought and dramatic criticism In Part Two, rhetorical principles of invention, disposition, and elocution serve to analyze selected verbal debates, or agones, that parallel the judicial and deliberative genres of rhetoric. Moliere exploits to comic end the moral and psychological dimension of hapless plaintiffs and frustrated raisonneurs whose attempts at persuasion are seldom successful. The comic poet's Aristotelian sense of persuasion as demonstration is manifest in his use of role reversal, a valuable source of comic irony and dramatic interest: accusers become accused and raisonneurs caution against the limitations of logic Considerable evidence is adduced to support Lane Cooper's hypothesis that a serious kind of dianoia characterized by formal rhetorical proofs is proper to comedy. However, reasoned discourse serves primarily to highlight the broader archetypal context of Moliere's works. The defeat of the alazon-imposter and the ultimate vindication of the young are not effects of rhetorical argumentation. Rhetoric enters comedy as a subsidiary art capable of illuminating but not superceding the inexorable comic justice that requires the triumph of the new order over the old and makes of Molieresque comedy the celebration of life itself