The poetry of Spenser, Sidney, and their contemporaries viewed as rhetorical discourse
A Ciceronian Sunburn reconsiders the complexion of Tudor poetics by demonstrating the ways in which poets and pedagogues appropriated the rhetorical brilliance of Cicero to inform their approaches to learning. By recasting the poetic texts of Edmund Spenser and Sir Philip Sydney as works that participated in sixteenth-century debates on learning, E. Armstrong challenges conventional views of Tudor poetics. He argues that the poetry of Spenser, Sydney, and others of the period reflects a more fully developed understanding of Ciceronian rhetoric than is evident in the sources to which historians of humanistic rhetoric most frequently turn, namely, the lectures, pedagogical handbooks, and treatises of early modern scholars.
Reclaiming poetics as a substantive force for the rhetorical tradition, Armstrong finds that the poetry of the period confirms Cicero's dictum that "the poet is the nearest kinsman to the orator." By showing how the poets' work contributed to and was appropriated by those immersed in the Tudor controversies on learning, Armstrong brings to the fore an argument that prizes the practical, ethically directed, and civic-minded over the moral and philosophical detachment for which the poets traditionally are revered.
Armstrong offers a study that operates on three interrelated levels. First he analyzes the writings of a circle of Tudor poets and scholars, all known to one other and in a sense conversing—Lodowick Bryskett, Spenser (and his glossarist E.K.), Abraham Fraunce, William Temple, and Sidney. On another level Armstrong broadens the context for the conversation by locating it within the divergent visions of learning and rhetoric advanced by Erasmus and Peter Ramus. On the third level Armstrong grounds these early modern disputes, both historically and intellectually, in topics discovered in Cicero's De oratore and De officiis.
E. Armstrong teaches rhetoric and composition at Purdue University North Central in Westville, Indiana.
"A Ciceronian Sunburn makes a powerful original addition to the history of rhetoric and poetics, the understanding of Renaissance and contemporary humanism, and the understanding of the poetics, poetry, and political work of Edmund Spenser. Armstrong's argument against Ramist readings, then and now, deserves a wide hearing, for the rhetorical Ciceronian poetics he articulates is a humane, thoughtful, and ethically and politically important contribution to reintegrating rhetoric and poetics in Renaissance studies and in contemporary criticism."—Don H. Bialostosky, University of Pittsburgh
In A Ciceronian Sunburn, Armstrong shows how abiding and pervasive Cicero's influence was in sixteenth century English humanism; and in doing so provides us with an original and enlightening rhetorical reading of Spenser's more important works. His grasp of the rhetorical tradition is sure, his account of the tensions in the reception of Cicero brought about by Ramist reform lucid, and his command of Spenser and Spenserian scholarship impressive."—Tom Conley, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign