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Freedom of speech, 1500-1850$
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Robert Ingram, Jason Peacey, and Alex W. Barber

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781526147103

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.7765/9781526147110

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Thomas Elyot on counsel, kairos and freeing speech in Tudor England

Thomas Elyot on counsel, kairos and freeing speech in Tudor England

(p.28) Chapter 2 Thomas Elyot on counsel, kairos and freeing speech in Tudor England
Freedom of speech, 1500-1850

Joanne Paul

Manchester University Press

It is usually assumed that speech is ‘free’ if it is not met with punishment from governing authorities. ‘Freedom of speech’ involves a right to speak without fear of governmental reprisal. In the Tudor period, discussions around counsel, and the associated ideas of parrhesia and kairos, lead us to another way of considering the ‘freedom’ of speech: that it is not the absence of punishment which makes speech free, but rather the choice to speak freely regardless of such reprisal. In this way, the discussion is not about the limits and boundaries of free speech, but about the way in which speaking truth is itself freeing, regardless of the consequences. This chapter uncovers this way of thinking in the work of Thomas Elyot, especially his two pieces produced in 1533: Pasquil the Playne and Of the Knowledge Which Maketh a Wise Man. Drawing particularly on the work of Isocrates and Plutarch, Elyot sets out that the demands of ‘right timing’ (kairos) necessitate frank speech in order to limit the otherwise unrestrained passions of a monarch, regardless if these will be met with punishment or not. Such speech, Elyot maintains is not just ‘free’ in itself but is itself liberating: for the speaker – no matter the consequences; for the listener – even when forced to listen or obey; and for the commonwealth. In this view freedom of speech moves from a right to a duty, and the mechanism of freedom from the extent of governmental control to the speech act of the individual. This freeing speech can (and ought to for Elyot) exist in contexts in which modern freedom of speech does not.

Keywords:   freedom of speech, parrhesia, Thomas Elyot, counsel, kairos

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