All rhetorically oriented discourse is composed in light of those who will hear or read that discourse. Or, in other words, rhetorical analysis always takes into account how an audience shapes the composition of a text or responds to it.
In classical times, the audience had to do with the settings or occasions in which genres of oratory were practiced (See branches of oratory). Later theorists have taken into account the multiple audiences to which discourse is presented, intentionally or not (for example, the secondary audiences that the printed version of a speech reaches across place and time, or the multiple audiences present in the theater: those onstage who hear a given character's speech, and those in the public audience observing all of this).
Rhetoric's preoccupation with audience can be seen in direct contrast to philosophical discourse that prefers orienting itself to truth rather than to the doxa or opinion, of the unlearned public. See Plato's Gorgias.
| Sample Rhetorical Analysis:
Martin Luther's passionate response to Erasmus on the issue of free will had less to do with his desire to correct Erasmus than it did with his wish to influence the public who would read the exchanges made between the two great Renaissance thinkers. Luther's intent was to create an ethos of confidence in the face of Erasmus's intellectual ambivalence, inciting the public to follow his strong lead. Thus, Erasmus was only the nominal audience. One must interpret Luther's arguments and rhetoric in light of the broader populace whom he was really addressing.
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Gideon O. Burton, Brigham Young University
Please cite "Silva Rhetoricae" (rhetoric.byu.edu)