Lindal Buchanan’s Regendering Delivery: The Fifth Canon and Antebellum Women Rhetors. Conclusion.

October 18, 2007


 Lindal Buchanan’s Regendering Delivery points out the assumptions that were made regarding the fifth canon:

  1. All rhetors are male
  2. Discourse evaluation only considered the speaker’s vocal performances and physical presentation
  3. Proper body position:  Males stood and faced their audience
  4. Social context was “overlooked.”

The identified “blindspots,” were a reflection of the larger social dynamics of the period, Buchanan called for a “Regendering” of the Fifth Canon.  Buchanan argued for the “total” rhetorical experience, which accounted for inclusive representations of women and other marginalized speakers; recognition of social, historical, cultural, and political constraints that influenced public address at a given time; and evaluation of the individual motivations of the speaker.  Traditional stage performances were not delivered in a vacuum, and antebellum women were a part of the rhetorical tradition.  Still, she points out that the rhetorical performances mirrored the internal and external biases that were in place beyond the stage.


Buchanan suggested a comprehensive social approach would open the rhetorical framework and give a complete picture of the rhetorical form.  “Delivery thus becomes a site for investigating the intersection of variables like gender, sexuality, race religion, nationality, ethnicity, age, class, or disability with power and discourse in particular settings, for what transpires on the public platform is simply a microcosm of larger social and ideological forces” (160).


Buchanan narrowed her scope to identify six “topos” that related to the antebellum female and the social context:

  1. Education:  Elocutionary instruction of women as defined by the social norms.  Regendering the Fifth Canon considered the education of antebellum women and the “reciprocal relationship” of public delivery
  2. Access to the Public platform:  Women were denied participation.  Regendering the Fifth Canon looked at when, where, and for what reason antebellum women were allowed to speak.
  3. Evaluation of space:  Evaluated Ownership of the public platform.
  4. Discursive Genre:  Considered strict delivery codes that restricted women.
  5. The Female Body:  Evaluation of the proper appearance of the female body in public.
  6. Social intersection of “gender,” “delivery,” and “power” that antebellum women encountered.

By presenting this view of the antebellum women, Buchanan hoped to encourage scholarly evaluations of the oratory practices of female rhetoricians.  She voiced the importance of considering gender, power, and social context for a comprehension understanding the antebellum women rhetors.  Buchanan said, “I throw open the doors and invite all interested scholars to enter the theoretical home afforded by the regendered fifth canon, confident that our examinations of delivery from multiple perspectives and through multiple lenses will ultimately make the classical canons, the rhetorical tradition, and the discipline itself more inclusive, pluralistic, and compelling” (163).