A Different Kind Of Rhetoric

I had a thought the other day and immediately tweeted it. It read ‘Is rhetoric to Public Relations what subliminal messaging is to Advertising?’. I actually meant ‘Shakespearean Rhetoric’ as opposed to the bog standard rhetoric. This brief cognition stemmed from a momentary recollection of a lecture in my second year of Uni.

Hungover, unshaven, hair unkempt and generally looking as rough as a dogs I made a rare appearance at  the only 9 o’clock start on my timetable. Daydreaming and partially asleep I was mentally scheduling the rest of my day: walk home, brew, cigarette off the balcony, nap, lunch and so on and so forth. Then something intriguing and poignant interrupted my train-of-thought; the lecturer was talking about rhetoric.

Not just rhetoric as the art of persuasion language technique, but rhetoric as a powerful tool of changing someone’s opinions or attitudes through language by almost implanting the idea in their head, without the person realising. I can’t remember my lecturer’s exact words (I cant even remember his name either, hence ‘my lecturer’) but he spoke of how the earliest rhetoricians Isocrates, Quintillian, Cicero, Plato and Aristotle developed the practice of rhetoric and secretly toyed with the idea of attempting to harness and exert it’s full power by directly altering a persons mindset, without them knowing. Instead of persuasion…implantation.

The philosophers’ shady behaviour was of interest to Shakespeare who went on to try and practice this extreme form of rhetoric in his work, see ‘Twelfth Night’ and ‘Othello’. Anyway as a student aspiring towards a career in Public Relations all this was of great interest to me. I thought just imagine if a PR practitioner was a master of this rhetoric; every news release they sent out would get placed, every PR campaign would be successful and each PR stunt would resonate positively. However, this would be surely be illegal, thus why I likened it to subliminal messaging in my tweet; subliminal messaging is considered taboo in the advertising world and as far as I am aware, it’s illegal also. Captivating notion though…. kind of wish I’d done my dissertation on alternative business practices or something.

Think I’m becoming an amateur rhetorician already, because now you’re agreeing with me that this ‘other’ rhetoric would indeed be an effectual PR tool?!


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