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Rhetorical Analysis: Pre-writing Essay

Learning how to identify and analyze rhetorical tools is an important part of the collegiate experience. This handout emphasizes several tools which can aid in the analysis of rhetoric in an effective, well-organized paper.

Questions to Ask

Speakers use rhetorical tools in order to appeal to logic (logos), emotion (pathos), or authority (ethos). Asking yourself specific questions regarding the effect of rhetorical tools you encounter is a good place to begin expanding and improving the analysis within your paper. The following are some suggestions to get you started. If the tool has an ethical effect, ask:

What authority does the speaker hope his audience will trust? Is the authority of the speaker himself/herself in question, or is it the authority an outside source? Why does the speaker choose that particular kind of authority? What connections is the speaker trying to make in the minds of the audience? Is it likely that the audience will accept this authority? Why or why not? How does establishing trust in this authority help persuade people to trust the speaker? If the tool has a logical effect, ask:

Why does the speaker use a logical argument instead of a pathetic or ethical one? What is the audience’s likely reaction to this sort of logical reasoning? How selective or particular is the logic? Is there any evidence of logical fallacy? If so, why? Does the fallacy undermine the argument, or strengthen it? Note: For more information on logical fallacies, see the handout “Logical Fallacies.” Is the speaker using logic to persuade his audience about a highly emotional issue? If so, why? If the tool has a pathetic (emotional) effect, ask:

What emotion is the speaker highlighting? Why is that particular emotion highlighted? Why would this emotion would be more powerful for the audience the speaker is addressing? What particular tool is the speaker using to manipulate or arouse these emotions? Does it work? Why or why not? Once the speaker has created an emotion in his listeners, how does he connect that emotion with the purpose of his speech? Is this effective? Why or why not? In other words, how does establishing an emotional connection help persuade people to follow the speaker?

Note: Silva Rhetoricae, an online resource developed by Dr. Gideon Burton, describes many specific rhetorical tools and their functions and provides examples of rhetorical analyses of these tools. It can be found at http://humanities.byu.edu/rhetoric/silva.htm. For a more basic commentary on rhetorical tools and how to analyze them, check the Writers at Work workbook, pages 99-104.

The Analytical Process: A Sample

In rhetorical analysis, writers must first show the connection between each rhetorical tool identified and the way the speaker uses those tools to create a reaction in his or her audience, and then show why each tool was effective for that particular audience.

The following example demonstrates an effective analytical process, taking a samplefrom the speech “Against the Spanish Armada” by Queen Elizabeth I: I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart of a king, and of a king of England, too; and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realms: to which, rather than any dishonor should grow by me, I myself will take up arms. Upon reading this segment, the student has a powerful, postive reaction. The student decides his stance: he will argue that the speech is effective.

Next, the student needs to determine the rhetorical tools that Elizabeth uses to make her argument. Looking at the segment critically, the student notices that Elizabeth manages to logically connect the fact that she is a Queen with the responsibility to defend her realm. He sees that Queen Elizabeth ironically juxtaposes the fact that she is a “feeble woman” against the invading European “princes.” He also sees that Elizabeth references herself many times in the segment.

The student decides to focus on one tool: Elizabeth’s repetitive references to herself. Looking carefully at the passage, he discovers that Elizabeth refers to herself seven times, and that five of those references show Elizabeth as the subject of the clause. The student then asks himself, Why would Elizabeth refer to herself so often? He then lists the possibilities: Elizabeth was reminding her troops how important she was Elizabeth wanted to have her troops remember her when they were in battle Elizabeth wanted to appear confident

Elizabeth was egomanical
Elizabeth was emphasizing her role as a Queen
Elizabeth was using repetition of a subject to create a dramatic feeling in her audience

Reviewing the list, the student decides that the most likely possibility is that Elizabeth wished to establish her authority in the eyes of her subjects. This is only one possible analysis of many possibilities; however, he feels that she can explore this aspect in depth. The student then asks: How does referring to herself so often help Elizabeth’s troops accept her as their leader? Looking at each specific reference, he notices that in every instance Elizabeth portrays herself as active and powerful. By attaching herself to verbs commonly associated with power and ruling, he reasons, Elizabeth is able to repetitively emphasize her position as the ruler of the English people.

The student is now ready to write a paragraph of rhetorical analysis: Example: In the passage, Elizabeth refers to herself no fewer than seven times. In each instance, Elizabeth connects herself to active verbs which emphasize her dynamic and powerful status: I have, I know, I think foul scorn, I will take up arms. This repetition of her autonomous identity is a powerful way of reminding her troops that she is, in fact, their queen and military leader. By demonstrating her own personal power, Elizabeth shows that she is just as capable as “any prince of Europe” of defending her lands and people; the repetition of that idea with her carefully chosen verbs connects her power as a person (and as a “kingly” woman) with her power as a queen.

Even at this point, the student can analyze more deeply: Why was it so important for Elizabeth to establish herself as a “king?” What elements of the verbs Elizabeth chose communicate power and monarchy to the audience? Is there any aspect of her word choice that would be more stirring to a military audience than a civilian one? After exploring the issues, the student discovers many other aspects of the repetitive word choice that he can analyze and write about.

Danny Nelson, Summer 2005

Effective Communication Used by Benevolent Leader, Queen Elizabeth I

Persuasion is a difficult skill to master. One has to take into account the ideologies held by the audience and how those relate to one’s own intentions of changing minds. In order to encourage her troops to fight courageously in defense of England, Queen Elizabeth I utilizes Aristotle’s principles of effective communicationthat include logos, pathos and ethos in her Speech to the English Troops at Tilbury, Facing the Spanish Armada.

The first principle that Queen Elizabeth I introduces into her speech is logos, as she uses reason and inference to assure her soldiers of her faith in their resolve to fight for the good of England. She warns her soldiers that she has been told to “take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery.” This warning is from a source that is concerned with not only her safety, but also the safety of her subjects and, despite that concern, she claims that it is the tyrants who should be fearful.

Since she has “placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good will of my subjects,” she has no reason to worry because she is not a tyrant like her enemies. As a result of investing and drawing her strength from the people of her kingdom, Queen Elizabeth I has little to fear unlike the tyrants who cannot trust their own armies. The trust that she has placed in her armies to protect the kingdom leads to the use of the second of Aristotle’s principles of effective communication.

Queen Elizabeth I uses pathos to appeal to soldiers through their emotions by reminding them that she is on the field with them to die for her subjects (them), just as she is asking them to die for her. She is not on the battlefield with them for her own amusement; the Queen is determined to “live or die amongst you all, to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom” and this appeals to the soldiers’ sense of duty. If their own Queen is willing to die fighting, then they also have a duty to do the same.

Queen Elizabeth I appeals to the soldiers’ religious zeal by claiming that she is willing to die primarily for her God and, secondarily, for her country. This order of priorities makes it seem as though her soldiers are not just fighting to prevent the Spanish from invading England, but that, perhaps, they are fighting for a higher cause. Soldiers will fight to defend worldly things, but the fact that she introduces God as something they are protecting gives their cause an added sense of emergency and import. From her appeals to the hearts of her soldiers, Queen Elizabeth I turns to the third and final principle of Aristotle’s guide to effective communication.

Ethos is the final tool that Queen Elizabeth I utilizes to cement her own authority as the Queen of England and her credibility as a benevolent leader who will, in due time, reward the soldiers for their valor. Despite admitting that she has “the body of a weak and feeble woman,” she reminds them that she has “the heart and stomach of a king,” which is more important because without those vital organs the body is rendered useless. By claiming that the energy and will that is used to power her movements are derived from her position as “a king of England,” Queen Elizabeth I reinforces her authority to command her soldiers to sacrifice their lives for the good of the kingdom.

The Queen goes on to introduce her reputation as supreme leader who will “be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.” Not only will she command her army, she will judge their performance and she will reward the deserved. Queen Elizabeth I provides not only the motivation of heroism as its own reward, but she also promises “rewards and crowns…shall be duly paid” to those who have fought and will fight with courage. Ethos is used by Queen Elizabeth I to assert her own authority as their motivation to fight for glory and for reward.

The principles of logos, pathos and ethos are used to put faith in the minds of the soldiers that they are fighting for a noble cause and are being commanded by a valiant leader.

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