‘Sheweth the Image and Ways of Good Living’: Imitation as Educational Practice and Rhetorical Strategy
In Institutio Principis Christiani (1516), Desiderius Erasmus claims, “The main hope of getting a good prince hangs on his proper education” (Jardine 5). The early modern era gave rise to several powerful female figures, leading to anxieties regarding education, rhetoric and gender in relation to the obligations of rank. Erasmus, Thomas More, and Juan Luis Vives addressed such concerns, illustrating the ways in which the principum specula tradition adapted to the exigencies of the early modern moment.
Embedded in their work is a discussion of imitation, overtly encouraging students to practice emulating authors, orators, and historical figures as part of daily training, while quietly constructing one’s daily behavior as a rhetorical act which is informed by audience and purpose. This stress on mimicry, beyond merely drawing on Classical practices, derives from the scholars’ own complicated social status. Correll describes the precarious position of the the humanist instructor within the courtly hierarchy, stating, “… the scheme of tutoring and nurturing one’s superiors retains connections to notions of feminine decorum and duty, and discloses the uneasy presence of the socially constructed feminine, threatening to erupt from its place within the new cultural manhood” (257).
Thus, this presentation explores the dynamic between early modern scholars’ subordinate social status and the mandate to create instructions for a royal, female student. It then examines the subtle incorporation of their personal strategies of mimicry and submission into their curriculum as potential tools for their students, subordinate figures themselves due to their sex, to employ as vital rhetorical strategies in their bid for authority. Particular texts to be considered include Vives’ The Instruction of a Christian Woman (1523) and On a Plan of Study for Children (1524).