"Do your will": Shakespeare's use of the rhetoric of seduction in four plays

Jason James Nado, Marquette University


The relationship between rhetoric and power in many of Shakespeare's plays is undeniable. Rhetoric is the primary agent for directing characters' actions against one another. In a sense, rhetoric creates power differentials which can only be explored through the language that certain characters express toward one another. Rhetoric establishes relationships, creates characters, destroys characters, affirms allegiances, builds tension, and resolves conflict. Rhetoric is constantly in motion, producing effects that several of the characters cannot possibly foresee. The Tragedy of Richard III (1592-93) is one of the earliest Shakespearean plays to explore the power of rhetoric. One of the crucial aspects of the play is Richard's ability to seduce other characters through this rhetoric. In later plays, namely Othello (1604) and Julius Caesar (1599), other characters, particularly Iago and Cassius, adopt a similar means for seducing individuals through their words. But even more significantly with Julius Caesar , Shakespeare begins to examine how an individual, namely Caesar himself, can become a "rhetorical instrument," an icon, used to seduce the mass population. Shakespeare follows a similar line of thinking in Coriolanus (1607), when Volumnia creates her son, the "Coriolanus-image," as a rhetorical agent to sway the mob and ensure her success. Over the course of these four plays, Shakespeare demonstrates an interest in the relationship between rhetoric and seduction. Relying upon "the language theories of our day," this dissertation will focus on the notion of power, as it is infiltrated into studies of rhetoric. By using these works and others, Shakespeare's use of the rhetoric of seduction, in the context of Renaissance rhetoric, can be demonstrated.

Recommended Citation

Nado, Jason James, ""Do your will": Shakespeare's use of the rhetoric of seduction in four plays" (2006). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3210972.