Language, Rhetorical Education, and the Development of National Identity in Sixteenth-Century England

Open Access
Lundin, Rebecca Wilson
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
October 22, 2010
Committee Members:
  • Cheryl Jean Glenn, Dissertation Advisor
  • Cheryl Jean Glenn, Committee Chair
  • Stuart Selber, Committee Member
  • Linda Woodbridge, Committee Member
  • Dan Beaver, Committee Member
  • Thomas Wilson
  • English language
  • nationalism
  • Renaissance
  • rhetoric
  • Angel Day
Scholars of rhetoric and composition have readily applied the connections between language, education, and national identity to conversations about modern pedagogy. However, few have addressed the relevance of such connections to the study of rhetorical and cultural history. The relationships between these three terms have great capacity to enrich rhetorical history. Given that language is important in shaping and expressing identities, it follows that historical attempts to form or control language use reveal much more than disagreements over linguistic matters: they reveal disagreements over cultural and political issues that language use affects. In this dissertation, I use the triangulation between language, education, and national identity to examine the ways these issues affected each other during the extreme cultural upheavals of sixteenth-century England. Specifically, I ask: how did sixteenth-century English rhetoric interact with the development of English national identity? By analyzing a series of English-language rhetorical treatises published in the sixteenth century, I construct three overall arguments about such interactions. First, that sixteenth-century rhetorical texts could be, and were, regarded as politically and culturally important by their contemporaries. The influence of rhetorical texts was seen to stretch far beyond the narrow educational boundaries of schoolrooms, and understanding that fact is crucial to understanding the texts themselves. Second, viewing a rhetoric text in its larger cultural context can reveal how what may appear to be simple instructions on writing actually guide readers toward specific behaviors. Ultimately, this guidance and shaping of readers encourages them to adopt and perform a specific national identity, embodying Englishness through their language and behavior. And third, the complex interrelationship between various facets of education and culture in the early modern period means that attempts to analyze one must necessarily take the others into account. Ultimately, I encourage scholars of rhetoric (and of sixteenth-century rhetoric in particular) to become more deeply attuned to the important influences rhetorical education could have on the national identity of English speakers.