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Theory of Rhetoric




Admission Requirements

Similarly tagged 100-level courses. Students that do not meet this prerequisite should contact the instructor regarding the required competencies before course allocation.


Why do we consider some politicians as great orators? Do we because of their ideas, or do other factors play a role in such a judgment as well? In this course we will study both ancient and modern theories on persuasion and manipulation and apply them on pieces of rhetorical discourse. First, we will deal with the history of classical rhetorical theory as articulated by, for example, Aristotle and Cicero, and as expressed in some handbooks from anonymous authors. These theories should provide us with complete picture of the classical rhetorical system. Second, we will address some modern approaches of rhetorical discourse, such as The New Rhetoric by Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca, the theory of strategic manoeuvring by Van Eemeren and Houtlosser and recent experimental research on persuasion. We will occupy ourselves with rhetorical practice not only by applying the theories we have dealt with on historical speeches, but also on more recent examples of oratory.

Course Objectives

  • Knowledge of the ancient background of rhetorical theory

  • Knowledge of the revival of rhetorical theory in the 20th century

  • Being capable of applying this knowledge on rhetorical discourse

  • Improve your ability to read scholarly material carefully, critically, and with greater dispatch

  • Improve your oral presentation skills

Mode of Instruction

In this course we will discuss parts of books and articles. Active participation is paramount. The reading work has to be prepared by uploading weekly web postings. During class, all students are expected to engage in discussions. Each week a number of students will be asked to prepare and lead the group discussion about the assigned literature.


Assessment: In-class participation
Percentage: 15%
Deadline: Ongoing Weeks 1 – 7

Assessment: Weekly web-postings (300 words)
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Weeks 1 – 7

Assessment: Group presentations (2 per student)
Percentage: 25%
Deadline: Weeks 1 – 7

Assessment: Final written exam
Percentage: 40%
Deadline: Week 8


The literature for each class will be placed on Blackboard, where you will find the majority of articles and chapters. Students are required to print the compulsory literature themselves, and bring to class. In the case that material cannot appear on Blackboard due to copyright restrictions, a web link will be placed. Again, students will then need to retrieve and print the compulsory literature themselves.

Contact Information

Drs. Maarten van Leeuwen, m.van.leeuwen@hum.leidenuniv.nl

Weekly Overview

Week 1: The beginning: the Sophists and Attic speakers
Week 2: Aristotle
Week 3: Cicero
Week 4: Modern Rhetoric: argument types
Week 5: Rhetorical analyses of advertorials
Week 6: Rhetoric in politics / Platonian criticism on rhetoric
Week 7: Rhetoric and the free market place of ideas

Preparation for first session

Homework for the first session will be published on blackboard, a week before the course starts.