The negative politeness principles of non presumption and non co ercion clearly

The negative politeness principles of non presumption

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The negative-politeness principles of non-presumption and non-co- ercion clearly guide Molyneux’s risk- fi lled answer to Sidney’s rebuke. Strategic non-presumption explains his inclusion, for example, of the parenthetical conditional clause, ‘‘yf it may soe lyke you,’’ to mitigate even a highly deferential assertion about Sidney’s power to command him (something one might have thought it was safe to make assump- tions about). Again varying the conventional expression, ‘‘If it please your lordship [or other title],’’ Molyneux later ‘‘crave[s] yt maye lyke [Sidney] to accept’’ his vow of obedience. The injured Molyneux goes to even greater extremes to unmake apparently unavoidable as- sumptions about Sidney’s ‘‘pleasure’’ when he acknowledges Sidney’s harsh letter as ‘‘a speciall Note of your lovinge Favour, that it wold please you to write vnto me.’’ This formulation seems entirely in contradiction with the general aim of this letter of protest, but its contradiction fi ts the overall pattern of negative politeness. Again, it asserts the writer’s non-presumption: by registering even Sidney’s act in writing to him as something Molyneux does not take for granted, he signals how far he is from making assumptions about Sidney’s ‘‘pleasure.’’ To mitigate the risk involved in answering back, Molyneux also takes great pains to establish that his speech action is not coercive. He does  The rhetoric of politeness
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this by repeatedly making explicit the large power di ff erence between them: you have . . . full Power and good Warrant to commaund me. I have neither Will nor Power to hurt in this Case if I wolde, havinge onlie to walke in the Pathe I am directed: For assure your selfe, you and yours have, and ever shall have, that vndowbted Interest in me, as I will obey your Commaundement, as farre as in Dewtie and Credit I may. Elizabethan practices for asserting non-coercion include not only stra- tegies like those Molyneux uses here for elevating the status of the hearer; they also include strategies for humbling the status of the speaker. William Cecil having o ff ended Queen Elizabeth, for example, writes as her ‘‘poore servant and most lowlye subject, an unworthy Secretory,’’ beseeching her pardon for ‘‘this my lowlye suite.’’ ⁴⁵ Al- though Molyneux does choose the verbs ‘‘crave’’ and ‘‘beseche’’ to signal his humble self-positioning relative to Sidney, nonetheless he does not employ in any profusion the self-deprecating rhetorical practices that usually mark Elizabethan ‘‘negative politeness.’’ The very frequent testimonies to Sidney’s great power seem calculated to o ff set this omis- sion of testimonies about his servant’s worthlessness and to keep Mo- lyneux’s language within the boundaries of subordination even while he manages through this omission a quiet assertion of his own dignity and worth.
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