For the second week of Political Studies Program, fellows will continue their exploration of political philosophy.

Fellows will again have a choice between two seminars. One seminar will delve into the principles of political rhetoric – both what it is and what its potential virtues and vices may be. Fellows will study classic examples of rhetoric and contemporary political speeches, with a view toward understanding the interrelationship between political rhetoric and emotions, and how these connections can be both useful and dangerous, especially for democracies. Our second seminar will examine two Shakespearean plays – King Lear and The Tempest – and what they reveal about the political themes of ambition and honor, love and friendship, rulers and usurpers.

Image Credit: Gustav Klimt, Pallas Athena, 1898

Robert C. Bartlett on Aristotle's Guide to the Good Life


Robert C. Bartlett

Robert C. Bartlett is the Behrakis Professor of Hellenic Political Studies at Boston College. His principal area of research is classical political philosophy, with particular attention to the thinkers of ancient Hellas, including Thucydides, Plato, and Aristotle. He is the co-translator of a new edition of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.

Mary P. Nichols

Mary P. Nichols is Professor Emerita of Political Science at Baylor University. She is author of Thucydides and the Pursuit of Freedom, and Socrates on Friendship and Community: Reflections on Plato’s Symposium, Phaedrus, and Lysis. She has delivered lectures on ancient political theory, Shakespeare, and film.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session


  • Aristotle, Rhetoric, Book 1, Chs. 1–3
  • Socrates’s Account of Rhetoric in Plato’s Gorgias (463a–c, 464b–466a)

Epideictic Rhetoric

  • Rhetoric, 1.9
  • Gorgias, Encomium of Helen (414 BC)
  • Gouverneur Morris, “Alexander Hamilton” (July 14, 1804)
  • Frederick Douglass, “Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln” (April 14, 1876)
  • Robert Kennedy, “Remarks on the Assassination of MLK” (April 4, 1968)

Judicial Rhetoric

  • Rhetoric, 1.10, 1.12, 1.14
  • Socrates’ Address to the Athenian Jury after His Conviction (36a–end)
  • Emile Zola, “The Dreyfus Affair” (excerpts) (January 13, 1898)
  • Clarence S. Darrow, “A Please for Mercy” (Leopold and Loeb case) (April 22 & 23, 1924)
  • Johnnie Cochran, “Closing Argument” (Trial of O.J. Simpson) (September 27, 1995)

Deliberative Rhetoric

  • Rhetoric, 1.4, 1.6, 1.8
  • Demosthenes, Second Philippic (excerpts) (344–343 BC)

Discussion Questions:

  • What is Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric?
  • What is the gist of Aristotle’s critique of the “technical writers” who dealt with rhetoric before him?
  • Can you think of recent examples of deliberative rhetoric?


On Pathos

  • Aristotle, Rhetoric, 2.1–2 (on anger) & 2.8 (on pity)
  • Cleon on the Fate of the Mytileneans (Thucydides, 3.36–49)

On Ethos

  • Rhetoric, 2.12–17
  • Richard Nixon, “Checkers” Speech (September 23, 1952)
  • Barack Obama, “A More Perfect Union” (March 18, 2008)

On Logos

  • Rhetoric, 1.28–19, 2.22, 2.25
  • Frederick Douglass, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” (July 5, 1852)

Discussion Questions:

  • How does Cleon’s speech to his fellow Athenians exemplify the use of pathos as a mode of persuasion? How well does it do so?
  • As between Nixon and Obama, who in your judgment more effectively portrayed his own character in a favorable light?


Rhetoric & Style

  • Rhetoric, 3.1–2
  • Mark Twain, “Die Schrecken der Deutsche Sprache” [“The Horrors of the German Language”] (November 21, 1897)
  • General George S. Patton, “Speech to the Third Army” (June 5, 1944)
  • Woody Allen, “My Address to Graduates” (August 10, 1979)

Rhetoric in Times of Crisis & Doubt

  • Abraham Lincoln, “On the Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions” (January 27, 1838)
  • Neville Chamberlain, “Munich Agreement” (September 30, 1938)
  • Duff Cooper, “Speech in the House of Commons” (October 3, 1938)
  • Winston Churchill, “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” (May 13, 1940)
  • John F. Kennedy, “Cuban Missile Crisis Speech” (October 22, 1962)
  • Jimmy Carter, “Crisis of Confidence” (July 15, 1979)
  • Bill Clinton, “I did not have…” (January 26, 1998)
  • Allan Bloom, “Western Civ” Address at Harvard (December 7, 1988)

Discussion Questions:

  • How well does the style of Patton’s speech reflect its purpose and content?
  • As between JFK, Carter, and Clinton, who in your estimation dealt with the crisis facing him most effectively?


  • Martin Luther King, “I Have a Dream” (August 28, 1963)
  • Malcolm X, “The Black Revolution” (April 8, 1964)
  • Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I a Woman?” (1851)
  • Susan B. Anthony, “On a Woman’s Right to Vote” (1873)
  • Lucy Parkman Scott, “Be Women and Do a Woman’s Work” (April 10, 1895)
  • Josephine Jewell Dodge, “Woman Suffrage Opposed to Women’s Rights” (November 1911)
  • Gloria Steinem, “Living the Revolution” (May 31, 1970)
  • Phyllis Schlafly, “What’s Wrong with Equal Rights for Women?” (January 1, 1972)
  • Ambassador Samantha Power, “Commencement Address at Barnard College” (May 17, 2015)
  • Christina Hoff Sommers, “The Real Oppression That Campus Feminists Aren’t Talking About” (June 8, 2015)

Discussion Questions:

  • Evaluate the arguments, and the manner of presenting of the arguments, of any of the anti-suffrage speakers.
  • Who makes the better argument: Power or Sommers—and why?


  • Special Assignment: The Corinthian/Corcyrean Debate


  • King Lear, Acts I and II

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does the opening conversation between Kent and Gloucester tell us about the current political setting of the play? How does it hint at problems and themes that will come to dominate the play?
  2. Does Lear’s division of the kingdom serve the future good of England? Does the outcome of the first scene serve the future good of the country? Is Lear a good ruler?
  3. Is Lear a good father? Might Lear’s being a good father and being a good ruler be in conflict? Is Cordelia a good daughter?
  4. Who serves Lear best in the first scene? Who loves him most? Consider Kent and the fool in your answer.
  5. What does the play gain by Shakespeare’s inclusion of a subplot (story of Gloucester and his sons)?
  6. Does Shakespeare show any sympathy for the play’s villain, Edmund? If so, how does he do so?


  • King Lear, Acts III and IV

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does Edgar’s disguise as a “poor Tom” from the London madhouse teach us about Edgar?
  2. Why does Lear take such an interest in poor Tom, and even call him a philosopher? Is he correct when he calls Tom “the thing itself,” “unaccommodated man”? (III.4.107).
  3. What does Edgar learn while disguised as poor Tom?
  4. Is Edgar justified in “trifling thus with his [father’s] despair” (IV.6.134)? What is he trying to teach him?
  5. To what extent are Lear’s ravings when he meets with Gloucester “matter and impertinency mixed; / Reason in madness” (IV.6. 174–75)?


  • King Lear, Act V; The Tempest, Act I

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does Edgar intrude on Albany’s arrest of Edmund? Why does he challenge him to armed combat?
  2. What has Lear learned from his sufferings? Was his tragedy necessary?
  3. What do Edgar’s last words at the end of the play mean? Will Edgar be a good king? Is it likely that his rule will differ from Lear’s?
  4. Why does Shakespeare make “nothing” and “all” reverberate throughout the play?
  5. How does the short opening scene set the stage for The Tempest? How does it hint at problems and themes that emerge as the play unfolds?


  • The Tempest, Acts II, III, and IV

Discussion Questions:

  1. Once the ship is wrecked and its occupants cast upon shore, there are several visions of a new political order, such as plans to usurp power. There is Gonzalo’s utopian vision of the island as a commonwealth that he would administer “without sovereignty” (II.1.139–60). How does this play reflect on political foundings?
  2. Is Ferdinand a good match for Miranda? Is Prospero a better matchmaker than Lear?
  3. While Caliban describes Prospero as “a tyrant, / A sorcerer, that by his cunning hath / Cheated me of the island” (III.ii.41–43), Ferdinand says that he is “so rare a wond’red father and wise / Makes this place Paradise” (IV.I.123–24). Which is more correct? How would Shakespeare comment on their statements?
  4. Why did Shakespeare include such strange beings as Caliban and Ariel in his play?


  • The Tempest, Act V

Discussion Questions:

  1. In the last scene of the play, several characters seek and grant forgiveness. Forgiveness also plays a large part in the resolution of Lear. What do we learn from these plays about forgiveness? Is there a place for forgiveness in ruling and in political life, more broadly?
  2. Does Gonzalo’s concluding observation about the outcome of the play ring true—that “all of us [have found] ourselves / When no man was his own”? (V.i.204–13). Does this apply to Prospero as well?
  3. Prospero orchestrates the last scene of the play almost as if he were a stage director bringing his play to a fitting close. How does Shakespeare offer a mirror to his own dramatic art in Prospero? Are there ways in which he is like and unlike Prospero?
  4. By the end of both Lear and the Tempest, a new political order has come into existence. Compare Prospero’s rule to Lear’s. Does King Lear offer sobering lessons for the future rulers in the Tempest?

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