Saint Joan

Rhetoric Over Evidence: The Inquisitor's Speech in "Saint Joan" 11th Grade

The English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley described man as one who obscures facts and evidence with "aimless rhetoric," in order to "distract the attention of his hearers from the real point at issue by eloquent digressions and skilled appeals to religious prejudice."  Skilled rhetoric has been a flawed tactic of persuasion for centuries in Huxley's opinion.  One example of rhetoric's power lies in George Bernard Shaw’s play, Saint Joan,which depicts the trial that condemned Joan of Arc for heresy.  In one of the most well known scenes, the Inquisitor argues her guilt to the church court.  In this speech, he successfully appeals to the audience through the persuasive rhetorical strategies of ethos and pathos.  He furthers these appeals with a paradox and selective diction.  Even though there is no tangible evidence, the Inquisitor is ultimately able to convict Joan by using rhetoric and literary strategies that presents her as a frightening character.

During his speech, the Inquisitor continually persuades his audience through appeals to authority.  He begins this strategy, known as ethos, from the first sentence of his argument: “If you had seen what I...

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