Epistolary declamation: Performing model letters in medieval English classrooms

Martin Camargo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Medieval teachers inherited the grammatical and rhetorical pedagogy of antiquity and adapted it to their own needs. Letters came to replace speeches as the predominant target genre for composition instruction, and the model letters found in most medieval textbooks on letter writing (artes dictandi) resemble the classical declamationes in important respects. Their clearly articulated structure is modeled on that of an oration, their distinctive stylistic features presuppose oral presentation, and their typical pairing almost certainly reflects a continuing tradition of classroom disputation. We cannot know exactly how these texts would have been performed by medieval students, but there are enough clues in the surviving treatises to justify an attempt to re-create at least some features of such performances. Several short model letters, including one letter paired with its response, illustrate the performative and controversial rhetoric that characterized the classroom practices of dictatores in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)345-363
Number of pages19
JournalHuntington Library Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016


  • Compendium artis dictatorie
  • Geoffrey of Vinsauf
  • Letters as rhetorical training
  • Medieval textbooks on letter writing
  • Oral performance of model letters
  • ACADEMIC disputations
  • TEACHERS -- History
  • EDUCATION -- History
  • LETTER writing -- History
  • LETTER writing -- Study & teaching

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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