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Spectacular Speeches – Emotions, rhetorical practices, and the new canon of public speaking in France and Italy (1750-1815)

© Paris, Musée Carnavalet

Religious sermons and public speeches of political activists are among the social experiences that contributed to the feeling rules of the eighteenth century. Historiography has thoroughly explored the changes generated by the print revolution or the blossoming of theatre in those years, but we do need to pay more attention to the oral culture of the Age of Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Through listening to a speech in a public square most people experienced the new way of feeling, fostered by authors such as Richardson, Diderot or Rousseau – whether that speech was a Lent sermon or a political tirade during a civic festival. Prominent Enlightenment figures and leading revolutionaries were well aware that their success depended on their ability to deliver a spectacular speech.

Bringing the lessons of the affective turn to the study of rhetoric will illuminate some of the most important aspects of the lives of the men and women during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: the way they engaged with speeches delivered in the public sphere, the feelings they were expected to have, and what they actually felt. To what extent did the emotional postures propagated by public speeches become the new emotional standards and norms for the citizens of the new political age? In a nutshell: How did people learn to cope with new emotional states?