civic o ffi cials Given the limits on literacy in the sixteenth century neither

Civic o ffi cials given the limits on literacy in the

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civic o cials. Given the limits on literacy in the sixteenth century, neither the existing letters nor the letter manuals can give a comprehen- sive view of the microstructures of verbal interaction in early modern England, but the handbooks provide crucial insight into the verbal interaction of those who had power and those who aspired to that power.  Eloquent relations in letters
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   ‘‘       ’’ As one begins to read Erasmus’s treatise, one cannot help feeling a bit lost. Suddenly, you fi nd yourself in the midst of a heated conversation or argument: told that it is ‘‘absurd’’ to ‘‘impose a narrow and in exible de fi nition’’ on what is ‘‘capable of almost in fi nite variation’’; asked what is meant by saying a letter should be brief; urged to recognize the stupidity of arguing, based on Cicero’s practice, that the diction of a letter ‘‘should stay close to everyday speech,’’ when Cicero’s letter to Octavian obviously ‘‘rises to storms of oratory and even ends on a note of tragedy.’’ And later you wonder whose idiocy Erasmus is heaping such scorn upon when he denounces ‘‘that absurd practice . . . of addressing a single person in the plural’’ (  ) or using epithets like ‘‘Most holy lord of ours’’ (  ) for the Pope. In ‘‘Erasmus on the Art of Letter-Writing,’’ Judith Rice Henderson expertly situates Erasmus’s vehement reactions as a two-fold rejection of formulaic prescriptions, both from the new humanist epistolography and from the medieval ars dictaminis : the former invectives, she demonstrates, are directed against a too rigid ideal of Ciceronian imitation emerging in humanist prescript and practice, while the latter are addressed against practices encouraged by the medieval formulary handbooks. Henderson shows how Erasmus joins such humanist colleagues as his German contemporary Heinrich Bebel in rejecting the medieval idea of the letter as an o cial communication in a high oratorical style, the fi ve-part structure required by the medieval formula of salutatio , exordium or captatio benevolentiae , narratio , petitio , and conclusio , and the numerous and elaborate formulas for the salutatio , each one marking precise discrimi- nations between the social station of writer and recipient. The human- ist epistolography condemns this public and hierarchical rhetoric and adopts instead the classical de fi nition of the letter as a ‘‘mutual conversa- tion between absent friends’’ (  ). The humanist preference is to imitate Cicero’s simpler modes of salutation – to position the writer’s name before the addressee’s, to address a single person in the singular form, to extend a simple greeting, and to add only an unembellished title to the addressee’s name. Nonetheless, Erasmus apparently regards humanist
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