Captatio benevolentiae

Captio benevolentiae is a rhetorical stylistic device that can be found in all literary genres. Captio benevolentiae describes the fact that the author of a text – or the voice that precedes the actual text – turns directly to the receiver (reader, listener, spectator) with flattering words to ask him to accept the following in a benevolent manner , In most cases, she is anchored in the prologue of a work, sometimes concealing herself in the epilogue of a drama when the protagonist or another figure turns to the audience and asks for forbearance or applause. The Captatio benevolentiae has been documented since antiquity and can be discovered mainly in speeches as well as in theater plays, but can also be found in prose. In the widest sense, however, this figure means any formula that is used to achieve the benevolence of the audience. The apostrophe is related.

Term & example
This sequence of words can be derived from the Latin, and means, in some measure, a desire for benevolence. As a result, the translation of the stylistic figure shows what is at stake: namely, that the author, writer, or speaker directly and flatterly addresses the addressees of the respective text and favors his benevolence. Let us look at an example of Søren Kierkegaard:

My dear reader! Forgive me for speaking so confidently to you, but we are among ourselves. Though you are a poetical person, you are by no means a plurality, but only one, so we are only You and I […] (Aus: S. Kierkegaard, Die Wiederkehr, Letter at the end of the book)

In the above example, the reader’s address is clearly communicated, and it is also flattered, albeit indirectly. It is said that the reader is a poetic person and is perceived beyond. In the example, the reader is not one among many, that is to say, by no means a plurality, but something special. This allows the figure to be manipulative.

Above all, in rhetoric, the captatio benevolentiae is an essential part of the speech and belongs to the prooemium or exordium, ie the introduction. Very often, in this introduction, the speaker tries to gain the favor of the audience in advance. He could, among other things, underline the importance of the listener, appeal to his wisdom, or speak his own meaning, and thus, to a certain extent, submit to the public. Another example of Thomas Mann:

By tying the feather […] even if tired, very tired (so that I will be able to walk only in small stages …) […] the fidgeting hesitates me whether I have grown to this intellectual enterprise am. (From: T. Mann, Confessions of the Hochstapler Felix Krull)

The above example shows the first lines from Thomas Mann’s unfinished novel confessions of the high-payer Felix Krull. In this case, it is not the author or speaker who turns to the recipient, but the protagonist of the work itself. Felix Krull is here who makes himself small when he reports that he is very tired and doubts whether he is the idea of ​​putting the whole paper on paper at all. This small-mindedness is also a way to get the benevolence of the reader.

In the Middle Ages the Captatio benevolentiae was regarded above all as a means to obtain the favor of the judges and to convince them of their own innocence before the actual trial, or of the correctness of the prosecution. As an essential representative, who served as an ephemeral figure, Guillaume Durand (1230 – 1296), who often praised the benevolence of the tribunal by praising the judicial wisdom.

Short overview: The most important thing about the Stilfigur at a glance
The Captio benevolentiae is a rhetorical stylistic means and means the flattering address of the recipient of a speech or a literary text. Their purpose is to undermine the benevolence of the addressee, which is why they can be regarded as manipulative and, above all, have an influencing function in rhetoric.
In the broadest sense, however, the captatio benevolentiae means not only a direct salutation of the recipient in order to receive his favor, but any formula in a work aimed at preserving the sympathy of the reader. Such formulas are often anchored in the prologue, but they can also appear in the epilogue or appear in the middle of a text. For example, when an auctorial narrator turns to the reader.
Note: Since 1996, the Duden has been proposing to write the stylistic device with a large “B”, ie Captatio Benevolentiae, but this amendment should only be a recommendation since the stylistic means is now familiar in the “old” spelling.

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