Declamation originated from the Latin declamare, meaning to cry or shout. A declamation speech is a loud, oratorical, rhetorical, and emotional speech, which originally was intended to protest or condemn. With the passage of time it was also used to project an idea or a person. Anyone desirous of going into public service had to learn rhetoric and logic among Romans and Greeks. A declamation speech is currently considered the presentation of an original speech after rehearsal.
1. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream
On August 28, 1963 Martin Luther King delivered, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a memorable declamation speech to an audience exceeding 250,000. The speech famously known as the I Have a Dream speech was the defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement. The speech is considered a masterpiece of rhetoric. In his speech King cited the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the United States Constitution. The speech contained the famous line ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today’.
2. Lend me your ears/ Mark Antony
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears, is the first line of Mark Antony’s speech from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, Act III Scene 2. It is a famous example of an emotionally charged rhetoric. After Caesar’s death Brutus delivered a declaiming speech to defend his action and the crowd turned in his favor for a short time. Mark Antony then delivered an eloquent speech and dexterously turned the mob against Brutus and in his favor. Antony first agreed with Brutus that he would not blame the conspirators but in the end turned the mob against the conspirators, saying, ‘Romans, countrymen, and lovers! hear me for my cause, and be silent, that you may hear: believe me for mine honour, and have respect to mine honour, that you may believe’¦If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of Caesar’s, to him I say, that Brutus’ love to Caesar was no less than his. If then that friend demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer:”œ Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more’¦’.
3. Quit India/ Mahatma Gandhi
To gain independence for India, Mahatma Gandhi delivered the famous Quit India speech on August 8, 1942 at the Gowalia Tank Maidan in Bombay. Immediately after his speech all the main leaders of the movement were arrested, but the movement ultimately achieved its objectives. Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘Ours is not a drive for power, but purely a non-violent fight for India’s independence. In a violent struggle, a successful general has been often known to effect a military coup and to set up a dictatorship. But under the Congress scheme of things, essentially non-violent as it is, there can be no room for dictatorship. ‘¦ The power, when it comes, will belong to the people of India, and it will be for them to decide to whom it placed in the entrusted’¦I believe that in the history of the world, there has not been a more genuinely democratic struggle for freedom than ours. ‘¦’.
4. The Gettysburg Speech
On November 13, 1863 the U.S. President Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Popularly known as the Gettysburg Address, it is considered one of the greatest speeches in the U.S. history. He began with the iconic phrase ‘Four score and seven years ago,’ and recalled the Declaration of Independence as well as the sacrifices of those who gave their lives in Gettysburg. He said that the ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
5. Pericles’ Funeral Oration
Pericles, the famous Athenian politician, delivered a historic declamation speech on the occasion of an annual public funeral for the war dead at the end of the Peloponnesian War. It was customary for the Athenians to deliver such a speech as the last part of the funeral ceremony. Thucydides recorded this speech in the second book of his History of the Peloponnesian War. The speech glorified not only the deeds of the dead but also the achievements of the Athenians, and it was described by some critics as ‘a eulogy of Athens itself’¦’ Pericles said, ‘If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences’¦ The freedom we enjoy in our government extends also to our ordinary life….’
6. I Am The First Accused/Nelson Mandela
On April 20, 1964, at the opening of his defense in the trial, Nelson Mendala began with ‘ I am the first accused’. In his defense he said ‘At the outset, I want to say that the suggestion made by the State in its opening that the struggle in South Africa is under the influence of foreigners or communists is wholly incorrect’¦During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.’
7. We Shall Fight On The Beaches/Winston Churchill
On June 4, 1940 Winston Churchill delivered a speech to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The declamation speech is an excellent example of emotional rhetoric, eloquence and elegant style. Commonly referred to as We Shall Fight on the Beaches speech, he said ‘We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender’¦’
8. Speech To the troops at Tibury/ Queen Elizabeth ÃŽâ„¢
Queen Elizabeth I of England delivered an inspiring, emotional and an eloquent declamation speech to the forces in Tilbury, in Essex. Addressing them as My Loving People, she spoke ‘I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king and of a king of England too’¦’
9. Responding To Landmines/ Princess Diana
Princess Diana’s key note address at a conference convened by the miners’ advisory group, on June 12, 1997, occupies a special place in the most remembered speeches. After a welcome note, she said ‘the mine is a stealthy killer. Long after conflict is ended, its innocent victims die or are wounded singly, in countries of which we hear little.’¦ I was in Angola in January with the British Red Cross – a country where there are 15 million landmines in a population, Ladies and Gentlemen, of 10 million – with the desire of drawing world attention to this vital, but hitherto largely neglected issue. ‘
10. Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech/ H.H.Dalai Lama
H. H. the fourteenth Dalai Lama delivered the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo on December 10, 1989. Taking a humble start, he presented his point of view in an elegant yet forceful style, saying ‘I am very happy to be here with you today to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace. I feel honored, humbled and deeply moved that you should give this important prize to a simple monk from Tibet I am no one special. But I believe the prize is recognition of the true value of altruism, love, compassion and non-violence which I try to practice, in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha and the great sages of India and Tibet.’
Essentials of a declamation speech include beautiful words, an elegant style, and emotion packed with a strong initial impact and lasting effect. Another distinguishing feature of a declamation speech is that it is not time-bound and remains fresh for a long time in future. Declamation speeches are, in fact, like painting in words and serve as the historical record of the evolution of mankind.