Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Marco Sgarbi


  • Véronique MontagneEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_1143-1


During the Renaissance, irony was seen as a macro-textual figure that could run through an entire discourse and/or as a trope (or microtextual figure), with irony being built on a succession of tropes. This classification issue – already present in Quintilian’s work – also appears in Antoine Fouquelin’s La rhétorique française (1555; French Rhetoric); while irony is among the tropes analyzed, the author also identifies a type of “extended” irony (Fouquelin, Antoine. La rhétorique française, Traités de poétique et de rhétorique de la Renaissance. Paris: Le livre de poche, 1990).


Classification System Numerous Technique Verbal Type Linguistic Process Multiple Figure 
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The tropes constituting irony are extremely diverse. Fabri’s Le grand et vrai art de pleine rhétorique (1521; The Great and True Art of Rhetoric) is based on a classification system that has been used since antiquity (Quintilian 1932), differentiating between antiphrasis (which may be based on preterition), praise (simulated), “repugnance” (the speaker concedes a fact to discredit their opponent), “non-injurious” confession (or concession), permission (to agree at the right moment on certain incriminating facts), and mockery (Fabri 1969). Like Quintilian, Melanchthon, and (Soarez 1569), Mosellanus examines irony and antiphrasis as specific types of allegory in his Tabulae de schematibus et tropi (1516). This “odd” classification (Le Guern 1976) is the result of allegory being commonly seen as inversion, a device that presents a meaning different from what is expressed on the surface. Verbal types of allegory include enigma, irony, sarcasm, proverbs, urbanity (astysmus), antiphrasis, and artfully veiled insults (charientismus) (Mosellanus 1533). In Thesaurus rhetoricae (1599), Bernardo cites numerous techniques mentioned above, adding a trope introduced by Rufinianus in De figuris sententiarum et elocutionis: chleuasmos, or epicertomesis, a “verbal act of self-accusation” that must deceive the listener or reader (Molinié 1992).

The wide range of linguistic processes is further enhanced by gestures. Melanchthon evokes a form of criticism expressed by mycterismos (Quintilian 1932), a movement of the nostrils (Melanchthon 1532) that is both hostile and opposed to any restraint.

Irony is thus a category encompassing multiple figures with different meanings and effects, depending on the context in which they are used. Wecker’s Artis oratoriae praecepta (1582) clearly recognizes the ambivalence of the concept. Wecker examines ironia, or dissimulatio, identifying two categories: urban irony and hostile irony. While hostile irony is thoroughly explored in the essay, Wecker only cites two processes for urban irony: asteismos, which aims only to please and is linked to urbanity and playfulness, and charientismus, which is associated with euphemism (Wecker 1582).



Primary Sources

  1. Bernardo, Giovanni Battista. 1599. Thesaurus rhetoricae in quo insunt omnes praeceptiones: quae ad prefectum Oratorem instituendum, ex Antiquis, et recentioribus rhetorum monumentis. Venise: Haeredes Melchioris Sessae.Google Scholar
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  4. Mosellanus, Pierre. 1533. Tabulae de schematibus et tropis Petrus Mosellani, in rhetorica Philippi Melanchthonis, in Erasmi Roter. Libellum de duplici copia. Antwerp: Martin César.Google Scholar
  5. Quintilien. 1932. Institution oratoire. Paris: Panckoucke.Google Scholar
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Secondary Sources

  1. Le Guern, Michel. 1976. Éléments pour une histoire de la notion d’ironie. L’ironie, Linguistique et sémiologie 2: 47–59.Google Scholar
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  3. Molinié, Georges. 1992. Dictionnaire de rhétorique. Paris: Le Livre de Poche.Google Scholar
  4. Montagne, Véronique. 2012. Douceur et ironie à la Renaissance, à propos d’une analyse de Jean Sturm. RHR 74: 25–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CNRS, BCL, UMR 732Université Nice Sophia AntipolisNiceFrance