This book investigates the role of exemplarity as a rhetorical device in late Elizabethan and Jacobean literature and culture. Ullyot argues that exemplarity is driven by both reader and author, and that positive moral examples were presented as aspirational models in posthumous biography.
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In this study, Michael Ullyot makes two new arguments about the rhetoric of exemplarity in late Elizabethan and Jacobean culture: first, that exemplarity is a recursive cycle driven by rhetoricians' words and readers' actions; and second, that positive moral examples are not replicable, but rather aspirational models of readers' posthumous biographies. For example, Alexander the Great envied Achilles less for his exemplary life than for Homer's account of it. Ullyot
defines the three types of decorum on which exemplary rhetoric and imitation rely, and charts their operations through Philip Sidney's poetics, Edmund Spenser's poetry, and the dedications, sermons, elegies, biographies, and other occasional texts about Robert Devereux, second earl of Essex, and
Henry, Prince of Wales. Ullyot expands the definition of occasional texts to include those that criticize their circumstances to demand better ones, and historicizes moral exemplarity in the contexts of sixteenth-century Protestant memory and humanist pedagogy. The Rhetoric of Exemplarity in Early Modern England concludes that all exemplary subjects suffer from the problem of metonymy, the objection that their chosen excerpts misrepresent their missing parts. This problem also
besets historicist literary criticism, ever subject to corrections from the archive, so this study concedes that its own rhetorical methods are exemplary.