What is the Second Persona?

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Second persona is a term introduced by rhetorician Edwin Black (see below) to describe the role assumed by an audience in response to a speech or other text. Also called an implied auditor.

The concept of the second persona is related to the concept of the implied audience.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "We have learned to keep continuously before us the possibility, and in some cases the probability, that the author implied by the discourse is an artificial creation: a persona, but not necessarily a person. . . . What equally well solicits our attention is that there is a second persona also implied by a discourse, and that persona is its implied auditor. This notion is not a novel one, but its uses to criticism deserve more attention.

    "In the classical theories of rhetoric the implied auditor--this second persona--is but cursorily treated. We are told that he is sometimes sitting in judgment of the past, sometimes of the present, and sometimes of the future, depending on whether the discourse is forensic, epideictic, or deliberative. We are informed too that a discourse may imply an elderly auditor or a youthful one. More recently we have learned that the second persona may be favorably or unfavorably disposed toward the thesis of the discourse, or he may have a neutral attitude toward it.

    "These typologies have been presented as a way of classifying real audiences. They are what has been yielded when theorists focused on the relationship between a discourse and some specific group responding to it. . . .

    "[B]ut even after one has noted of a discourse that it implies an auditor who is old, uncommitted, and sitting in judgment of the past, one has left to say--well, everything.

    "Especially must we note what is important in characterizing personae. It is not age or temperament or even discrete attitude. It is ideology . . ..

    "It is this perspective on ideology that may inform our attention to the auditor implied by the discourse. It seems a useful methodological assumption to hold that rhetorical discourses, either singly or cumulatively in a persuasive movement, will imply an auditor, and that in most cases the implication will be sufficiently suggestive as to enable the critic to link this implied auditor to an ideology."
    (Edwin Black, "The Second Persona." The Quarterly Journal of Speech, April 1970)
  • "The second persona means that the actual people making up the audience at the beginning of the speech take on another identity that the speaker convinces them to inhabit through the course of the speech itself. For example, if a speaker says, 'We, as concerned citizens, must act to take care of the environment,' he is not only trying to get the audience to do something about the environment but also attempting to get them to identify themselves as concerned citizens."
    (William M. Keith and Christian O. Lundberg, The Essential Guide to Rhetoric. Bedord/St. Martin's, 2008)
  • "The second persona relationship provides interpretative frameworks for making sense of the information enacted in communication. How that information is interpreted and acted on is likely to be the result of what receivers see as the intended second persona and whether they are willing or able to accept that persona and act from that point of view."
    (Robert L. Heath, Management of Corporate Communication. Routledge, 1994)

Isaac Disraeli on the Role of the Reader

  • "[R]eaders must not imagine that all the pleasures of composition depend on the author; for there is something which a reader himself must bring to the book, that the book may please. . . . There is something in composition like the game of shuttlecock, where if the reader do not quickly rebound the feathered cock to the author, the game is destroyed, and the whole spirit of the work falls extinct."
    (Isaac Disraeli, "On Reading." Literary Character of Men of Genius, 1800)