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PHC | Rhetoric | Memorized Speech

The Memorized Speech

Assignment requirements:

Time: 6 minutes

Purpose: To learn by studying a master rhetor. In this speech your aim is to find a speech that interests you enough to work with it awhile, then to memorize about 5 minutes worth of it and interpret it. (See Helps below for tips on how to perform the speech.)

Paperwork: 2 Critique sheets (with your name on them)

Bring a copy of your speech the day you perform.

Pointers: You will receive a lot of pointers in class about how to memorize a large text. One thing to consider at the outset: it takes time. A lot of time. So . . . don't put it off until the last minute!


The rationale for this speech is quite simple: to learn by studying the rhetoric of past masters. Go here, visit some links, and select a speech that looks interesting to you. Select a portion of it that can be performed in 6 minutes (including a brief, extemporaneous introduction that sets the tone for the speech). The key to doing well on this assignment is to practice the speech, out loud, a couple of times a day for at least two weeks. Listen to yourself. Is your inflection appropriate (i.e., does it reflect the intended meaning of the speaker? Emotion?) Does the rhythm enhance or detract from the performance? Are you pronouncing words correctly? Do you understand the significance of the problem to which the speaker addresses him or herself? Through studying a little bit about the historical context of the speech, etc., you should gain an appreciation of the challenges with which the speaker was faced and that appreciation should influence the manner in which you perform the piece.


The object here is not, simply, to be able to recite the speech from memory. You have to perform it. Present it in such a manner that you believe you capture the intended meaning, appropriate emotion and inflection of the original event. Do not over-dramatize the piece. Interpretation of literature is not about turning "I Have a Dream" into some sappy televangelist-style drivel. It's about getting your audience so caught up in the author's intended meaning and emotion that they can actually be, if they will supply the imagination, transported to a place where they experience, in a living way, the beauty, tragedy, or outrage the author intended that they experience.

Pick and cut your speech a couple weeks before your performance, then, twice a day, every day, read it aloud. When you are really comfortable with your inflection, and so on, you're ready to perform the piece. If you're still struggling with memorization, pronunciation and inflection, you'll only embarrass yourself. Nobody will get caught up in your performance if you're still trying to memorize it.

Come to class pointers on how to memorize large amounts of text and how to deliver a speech like yours. I realize you probably have never memorized so much before. That's one reason I assign it. Another reason is that this is the threshold to what you will no doubt consider a very worthwhile learning experience. Please reserve judgment on the difficulty and the "pay off" of this speech until after you've done all three of the major speeches in this course. Thanks. Finally, realize that there will be in class time available for coaching and practice, and I'm always available for coaching.