Declamation: Analysis and Interpretation

A speech is nothing without a compelling performance. Even the most wonderfully written speeches can be turned into boring recitations without strong speaking skills. In order to be capable of delivering a polished, moving speech a speaker must first understand the text. To do that, good analysis and interpretation skills are necessary. Using the following methods to approach a piece, a speaker can better their ability to comprehend.

Analysis vs. Interpretation

First, it is wise to apprehend what is meant with analysis and interpretation. The distinction is what will be the difference between knowing a piece and being able to transmit that knowledge to the audience. Analysis at its most basic is to break something down to its components and study these parts. Interpretation is to take these parts and apply some meaning to them and offer a supported opinion.

If Goldilocks and the Three Bears were to be used as an example, an interpretation of the moral of the fairy tale could be that unless someone is in an extreme circumstance, and death is possible, it is wrong to steal from others. This is only one interpretation of the piece; there are certainly many more. For any work there can be multiple interpretations of a theme, line, or even portion of that piece. It is the analysis mixed with interpretation of these parts that supports the interpretation of the whole.

For the Goldilocks example, a person could cite that Goldilocks was only going for a walk, with no indication of starvation, when she decided to eat the bears’ food just because she could instead of going home for a snack. Also, Goldilocks is extremely picky with her food, chair, and bed selections. These are yet other signs that she is not in a dire circumstance where her basic needs are not being met, and she is therefore a trespassing thief. Hence, her thieving is why she is chased from the home when she is discovered--she never needed help. Anyway, this sort of analysis and interpretation style can be put to use for a Declamation to give depth to a performance. Merely saying the words is not enough to win, but having conviction supported by an understanding of the text will lead to a convincing performance.

Analysis

Second, when doing an analysis of a Declamation there are several components that should be looked at. (These are not the only parts, but parts that tend to help a speaker the most.) These include: diction, references, literary devices, language style, and structure.

Diction

Good authors know that the use of one word instead of another can convey a completely different meaning and feeling for a piece. Compare the use of the words “bad” and “awful.” The later has more weight and impact upon a reader. In part this is because of the slight variation of meaning between the synonyms. It could also be because “awful” has one syllable more, making its structure “heavier.” Further, this could also be because of it being rarer in use than the commonplace “bad.” Regardless, when a speaker uses a word that catches the attention of the reader/audience it is most likely not an accident. These bold word choices, or even odd choices that add some perplexing subtext/interpretation, are done to emphasize something from the text. Make note of these words and interpret why they were used over another word.

References

When a Declamation speech references an event, person, place, or idea it is to the benefit of the speaker to research the details of that particular reference. Like diction, references are often done deliberately to either make a point or as a joke. If the reference is spoken with little understanding there might be a whole subtext being ignored. For example, if a speech about persecution makes reference to Arthur Miller or The Crucible, and this reference was not researched, the speaker would miss the entire point that a comparison is being made to McCarthyism; which may alter the tone or interpretation of this line.

Literary Devices

Literary devices are the technical terms for common tactics used in writing to help tell a story or develop an idea. Examples include: foreshadowing, allusion, metaphor, simile, pun, climax, personification, and so on. As with references and diction, when an author uses a literary device it could be merely for style OR to point the reader onto an aspect of the work the author deems important. Why should the writer use a pun in this circumstance? Are they trying to hint at something larger than what is being perceived? Is there a reason for using a metaphor? Granted, in most Declamations few literary devices will be deployed. However, it is always worth being aware of their use.

Language Style

Most Declamations will use straightforward language. Declamations with direct, to-the-point text are usually meant to be delivered in such a way. There should be no need to perform in an elevated sense. However, some speeches are more “flowery” in nature--meaning they use more literary devices and sound more poetic. These types of pieces tend to work better with a performer that uses some showmanship and is not afraid of large, yet appropriate and non-cheesy gestures. Even more obvious is the division between Comedic and Dramatic language and tones found throughout a piece. Even when reading a text, most jokes or dramatic builds are easily found due to the language of that section. Anyway, the overall feel of the text should be conveyed in the performance’s interpretation.

Structure

Sometimes the structure of a piece is suggestive for how it could be interpreted. A majority of Declamations will be unaffected by structure. However, some speeches written by more creative types might use it to help influence tone and the reader’s/listener’s reaction to the piece. For instance, a sentence’s structure can be influenced by its punctuation. A sentence with many uses of punctuation might be trying to indicate many pauses and thus hint at that line being important or emotional. OR if a particularly long sentence composed most of a paragraph, while the surrounding paragraphs were written “normally” or even with shorter sentences, than that could be the author’s indication of that long-sentenced paragraph holding crucial information. Look for markings or forms that are unique to the piece and vital aspects to the speech might be found.

Interpretation

Finally, interpretation is the art of taking all the analysis and observations made and applying a personalized, though supported, meaning. What does all this mean? Why is this speech important; why is that aspect of the speech important to the whole? Search for the reason behind the analysis. The wonderful thing about interpretation is that most works can have multiple meanings behind them. While one looks at Goldilocks as a fairy tale with a simple message of “do not thieve,” another may interpret it as an allegory of learning to do what is right as one matures (with the bears representing authority; Goldilocks as naïve youth), with still more interpretations available. The thing is, as long as the interpretation can be backed with proper analysis and support then it can be valid. Build a cause for an interpretation by looking for support within the text. Simple.

Conveying interpretation becomes slightly harder. To do so, look for tactics to carry out an interpretation. For instance, going back to a speech making a reference to The Crucible as a means to criticize McCarthyism, if the reference was found to be indicating the ridiculous nature of blacklisting, find a tactic that mimics this. A sarcastic tone could be used to call attention to the slightly mocking nature of the reference. Add a hand gesture to physically represent the blatancy of the line, and that reference has been interpreted for the performance. Remember, internalize the interpretation--own it--and devise a way to personalize the delivery of that line.

Speeches are bland and dull when they mean little to the performer. Anyone can say lines. It takes a true speaker to make them mean something. And in order for a speech to mean anything, a Declamation speaker must analyze and interpret the speech so it becomes personal. Believe in what is being said. Then the piece can connect to both performer and audience and avoid being mere words with no substance.