Rhetoric, Conscience, and The Playful Positions of Sir Thomas More

James Simpson

in The Oxford Handbook of Tudor Literature

Published in print September 2009 | ISBN: 9780199205882
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

Rhetoric, Conscience, and The Playful Positions of Sir Thomas More

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  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)



This article argues that More is most at home in playing parts, exercising rhetoric from known positions to which he is certainly committed one way or another, but with which he cannot be wholly identified. He occupies positions, that is, each of which ‘knows its stage, adapts itself to the play in hand, and performs its role neatly and appropriately’. He works best wearing the mask of the player. We enjoy his personality in the etymological sense of that word, which derives from the actor's mask through which the voice resounds (per-sonare). However, the possibilities for rhetorical play consistently drain from More's position across his career. This is because More experienced an increasingly menacing social environment, which demanded total, sincere, unequivocal, and consistent commitment to, and identification with, single positions. More was at his best in a culture of expert, shifting, rhetorical play, but found himself in a world that increasingly demanded unbending commitment. He ended up the victim of unplayful philosophical and theological consistency under the punishing demands of ‘conscience’.

Keywords: rhetorical practice; rhetorical play; social environment; conscience

Article.  7904 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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