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date: 24 June 2017

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter traces the origins of improvisation as a principle of classical rhetoric emerging from Greek declamation. The work of Alcidamas, contemporary of Plato, figures prominently in this survey with its seminal treatment of kairos, the Greek concept of timeliness and opportunity. With Cicero and Quintilian, the ex tempore dicendi facultas is incorporated fully in the theoretical underpinnings of rhetorical Latinity with reverberations in 15th- and 16th-century neo-Latin humanism. Extemporaneity is further highlighted and developed in the work of major Renaissance authors like Erasmus, Castiglione, and Rabelais, where the theme of timeliness and extemporaneity reemerge in vernacular literary texts. The pervasiveness of these rhetorical settings for discussions of extemporal time finds corroborating support in the wide popularity of the emblem tradition in the 16th century. With the publication of Nicolas Bérault’s treatise on improvisation in 1534, the topic achieves full theoretical legitimacy as a feature of neoclassical rhetorical thought.

Keywords: rhetoric, Alcidamas, Cicero, Quintilian, kairos, extemporaneity, emblem, timeliness, opportunity, Renaissance humanism

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