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The Orator as Stage Director in Roman Rhetoric. A Case Study of Cicero's Perorations

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Initially perceived as an element of vulgarity in rhetoric, theatricality became a key feature of Roman oratory. Therefore I aim to examine the information provided by Greek and Latin rhetorical treatises with reference to the role of stage direction in the conception and delivery of a speech and subsequently to analyse the perorations of Cicero’s judicial speeches from a theatrical perspective, i.e. to look more closely into those elements of stage management which the orator’s performance may have actually involved on the stage of the trials.

In the reconstitution of the stage management of Cicero’s perorations it is imperative to establish a hierarchy of the theatrical scenarios according to the degree of probability of their actual performance. The first level could be the immediate stage directions, about which we can safely say that, if they are authentic, they were followed accordingly.

The second level contains certain scenarios, about which we cannot say for sure that they were actually being performed while the speeches were being pronounced. All these scenarios require complex theatrical abilities both from the orator and the other participants in the rhetorical / dramatic act and therefore the degree of likelihood of their performance is lower. I suggest that there was a common terminology specific to the perorations, the source of which may have been theatre or, more precisely, tragic plays. I believe this emotional vocabulary, however clichéd it might have been, to describe authentic performances in the case of the scenarios involving the client and his family, but I doubt that the intensity of the theatrics attributed by Cicero to the judges and to himself was exactly as reported in the written version of the speeches.

This talk is part of the Caius MCR/SCR research talks series.

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