Ethopoeia (Rhetoric)

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In classical rhetoric, ethopoeia means to put oneself in the place of another so as to both understand and express his or her feelings more vividly. Ethopoeia is one of the rhetorical exercises known as the progymnasmata. Also called impersonation. Adjective: ethopoetic.

From the point of view of a speechwriter, says James J. Murphy, "[e]thopoeia is the ability to capture the ideas, words, and style of delivery suited to the person for whom the address is written. Even more so, ethopoeia involves adapting the speech to the exact conditions under which it is to be spoken" (A Synoptic History of Classical Rhetoric, 2014)


"Ethopoeia was one of the earliest rhetorical techniques that the Greeks named; it denoted the construction—or simulation—of character in discourse, and was particularly apparent in the art of logographers, or speechwriters, who worked usually for those who had to defend themselves in court. A successful logographer, like Lysias, could create in a prepared speech an effective character for the accused, who would actually speak the words (Kennedy 1963, pp. 92, 136)....Isocrates, the great teacher of rhetoric, noted that a speaker's character was an important contribution to the persuasive effect of the speech." (Carolyn R. Miller, "Writing in a Culture of Simulation." Towards a Rhetoric of Everyday Life, ed. by M. Nystrand and J. Duffy. University of Wisconsin Press, 2003)

Two Kinds of Ethopoeia

"There are two kinds of ethopoeia. One is a description of a character's moral and psychological characteristics; in this sense, it is a characteristic feature of portrait writing....It can also be used as an argumentational strategy. In this sense ethopoeia involves putting oneself into someone else's shoes and imagining the feelings of the other person." (Michael Hawcroft, Rhetoric: Readings in French Literature. Oxford University Press, 1999) 

Ethopoeia in Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1

"Do thou stand for me, and I'll play my father...

"[T]here is a devil haunts thee, in the likeness of a fat old man; a tun of man is thy companion. Why dost thou converse with that trunk of humours, that bolting hutch of beastliness, that swoll'n parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak-bag of guts, that roasted Manningtree ox with the pudding in his belly, that reverend Vice, that grey Iniquity, that father Ruffian, that Vanity in years? Wherein is he good, but to taste sack and drink it?" (Prince Hal impersonating his father, the king, while Falstaff--the "fat old man"--assumes the role of Prince Hal in Act II, Scene iv, of Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare)

Ethopoeia in Film

"By leaving out of the frame what a person cannot or does not see, and including only what he can or does, we are putting ourselves in his place—the figure ethopoeia. It is, when seen in another way, an ellipsis, the one that always lurks behind our backs...

"Philip Marlowe is sitting in his office, looking out of the window. The camera retreats from his back to bring in a shoulder, head, and hat of Moose Malloy, and as it does, something prompts Marlowe to turn his head. He and we become aware of Moose at the same time." (Murder My Sweet, Edward Dmytryk)

"The leaving out of the frame something expected in the normal course of events, or conversely, including the unusual, is a sign that what we are seeing may only exist in the awareness of one of the characters, projected into the world outside." (​N. Roy Clifton, The Figure in Film. Associated University Presses, 1983)

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Nordquist, Richard. "Ethopoeia (Rhetoric)." ThoughtCo, Mar. 10, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, March 10). Ethopoeia (Rhetoric). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Ethopoeia (Rhetoric)." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).