THE ELEMENTS OF ELOQUENCE: Mark Forsyth
Published: November 2013
Hardback: 978 1848 316218 (RP 12.99)
eBook: 978 1848 316225 (RP 7.99)
Review: 25 11 13, Alexander Ray Edser
Better than a box of chocolates
Mark Forsyth has a rare gift – he manages to combine the academic with the humorous. So while his book is a kind of encyclopaedia of rhetorical terms, his honest-to-goodness chatting manner constantly brings a smile to your face.
Underlying Forsyth’s humour is an acknowledgment that his chosen topic is slightly anoraky (anorakie?) And he’s right; to read about the forty-odd figures of rhetoric does feel a bit dusty – though this is, in itself, a major factor in the pleasure of reading the book. On the other hand, how can we truly think we examine the work of our great writers without this vital tool?
Forsyth is correct in his assertion that Shakespeare and others would knowingly have employed rhetorical devices – they would have been taught them. Indeed, he often points out how Shakespeare tries them out and gradually becomes more and more proficient with them; or on occasions gets fed up with specific techniques and drops them.
In modern times it’s unlikely (until now) that we would or could knowingly use these devices; but word patterning bring power to writing and speech and they are still used and still effective. Another delightful element of this cleverly executed book is the wide range of rhetorical examples. Examples that show us their effectiveness in different contexts. (You’ve just read an anadiplosis by the way.) The Beatles’ line: ‘Please, please, me’ is, for instance, a polyptoton.
Let not Forsyth’s chatting manner fool you. His erudition enables him to craft a powerful tool-box. It will enable the reader to analyse texts far more efficiently and accurately, as well as write more powerful and memorable texts themselves.
And the names have a magic and beauty all of their own. Just read this list of types of rhetorical question: anacoenosis, anthypophora, aporia, erotesis. Will a rhetorical question ever be the same again?
There are 39 chapters, each dealing with one rhetorical figure (except when the chapter deals with closely related ones.) It would be easy to dip in an out of the book, savouring each chapter like a delicious chocolate. However, cunningly Forsyth finishes each section by introducing (relay race fashion) the next chapter. So it’s hard to put the book down. Fear not; this is a lot less bad for you than doing the same with chocolates.