Understanding Declamation Rhetoric

In Declamation it is your job as the speaker to deliver a speech that is faithful to the idea of the material.  To accomplish this you must fully interpret the text and grasp the meaning behind the words.  As you are working with a speech, a majority of it should be fairly straightforward.  Most speeches are, after all, written to be accessible by the largest possible audience.  This does not equate to lax interpretation, however.  To present a Declamation with confidence and competence, understanding the script's rhetoric is how to excel.

The first step is to print out several copies of the script.  Save one as a clean copy for any referencing you may need to do in the future.  All other copies are to be marked-up with every scribble of thought.  Save all copies as reminders of your thought process.  Make use of underlining, circling, writing notes, etc as you mark words/phrases/parts that are important and what they mean according to you.  Marking-up any piece is a successful way to connect to your material, to begin the memorization process, and to remind yourself of any powerful bits.  

In relation to rhetoric, try to keep these points in mind:

  • Diction. Look at the word choices made for this speech.  In this Declamation are there any words that are repeated?  Are there any striking adjectives used?  What are some words that caught your eye/ear as holding weight?  Authors often take time to consider what word to use at a specific moment.  If a word stands out to you it most likely was not accidental.  WHY choose that particular word?  Strong diction will help you determine what parts of the speech are important and what could be stressed.
  • References. Are there references made to events or people in the speech?  WHY are these names, events, or places dropped into the piece?  Are they there to inform, as a joke, as a warning?  Figure out WHY they are there (again, author's carefully select what gets added to a text) and the tone for that part of the speech will become clear. 
  • Flowery/direct language. We have all read literature where the writing was rather poetic and descriptive, or flowery.  This is a stark contrast to more direct, forward language.  Both may reach the same point, but they reach their destinations with opposing vehicles.  When looking at your Declamation you can get a sense of the flow/performance based on whether or not this speech is flowery or direct.  Flowery language elicits use of more elaborate, grandiose vocals and gestures.  Rhetoric that uses direct language might be better suited for an intense delivery.
  • Message. Sometimes strong rhetoric is employed to hide that a speech lacks much support.  Appealing to the emotions, rather than logic, can still be an effective way to win a crowd.  Ask yourself, does this Declamation have a well-supported message?  If no, that is not to say the speech should be discredited.  It simply means that your showmanship must be spot-on to sell this speech--much like it was sold by the original speaker.

Rhetoric is all about manipulating language to work for you.  You might not have written this speech, but you sure need to display ownership.  Declamation can be won not necessarily because a speech was the best written but rather because the speaker understood the rhetoric and worked it exquisitely.