Rhetoric and Oration: It’s a Walk in the Park
It is a calm sunny day in the park while Blanca Pizarra looks over her grammar homework. A Frisbee lands near her and she looks up to see a group of men racing each other to get to it first. The group includes Isocrates, Cicero, Augustine, Francis Bacon, and John Locke. Bacon dives for the Frisbee but the others trip over him as he skids to a halt – Blanca’s papers go flying all around. A conversation ensues as the group helps gather her work…
Bacon: I observed the Frisbee land here! I can see the Frisbee in my hand. I can also feel the Frisbee in my hand. Therefore, I conclude, that I’ve got it!
Augustine: Oh, please forgive us young lady! Allow us to assist with gathering your scattered parchments. My dear Franny! Where are your manners! The way you spoke just now confirms how hardly anyone can speak well while keeping to the rules of oratory! (Bizzell 457).
Blanca: It’s quite alright. I needed a break as it was.
Cicero: (wiping grass from a paper to observe the name) Ah, Ms. …Pizarra! It looks to me as if you’re studying your, grammars? Good on you! My name is Cicero, the fellow with the Frisbee is Franny Bacon, the gentleman just there is St. Augustine, and these guys here are Johnny Locke and Isocrates – we call him Ice.
Blanca: Pleasure to meet you all. My name’s Blanca, and yes, I’m actually trying to write a speech but I want to make sure it’s correct; I’m going over some grammar rules, but finding that it’s all just so difficult!
Cicero: A speech! Well, it may be difficult, but keep in mind that the foundation of everything is wisdom – so ignorance, even in this area, could lead to great mistakes - in writing, poetry, prose, and even mistakes in your very life! (Bizzell 339).
Blanca: Oh, I know. I’ll get it done, but I just don’t think I was meant to do this – like, my mind is drawn to other things. I think that’s what makes it so difficult.
Bacon: Well, you might have something there.
Blanca: What do you mean?
Bacon: After all, invention, especially of a speech, isn’t so much an invention per se, but rather a drawing forth of knowledge which we’re already in possession of. Much like my possession of this Frisbee here – I can present it to you because I’m already in possession of it (Hands Blanca the Frisbee) (Bizzell 740).
Isocrates: (Takes the Frisbee from Blanca) …not necessarily. In my experience, ability – whether in speech or any other activity – emerges from those graced by nature, and of course those that have practical experience of said ability. In fact, I think that even with formal training, one cannot be a good writer or debater without a natural aptitude (Bizzell 74).
Blanca: (Grabbing the Frisbee) Aren’t you both telling me the same thing!? It sounds as if you are saying that if I can’t present this speech naturally then I can’t do it at all. I may be having a hard time with it, but I know I can do it.
Locke: Indeed, you can! Just make sure the ideas behind your language are sound and are fully understood by you. Although, this may be difficult, so remember, it’s only by learning and retaining that knowledge that you can engage in a coherent discourse with others through the language of your speech… (Bizzell 818).
Blanca: I see.
Augustine: If I might add, however, perhaps your studies in grammar are more of a hindrance than a help to your writing process?
Blanca: They are a bit bothersome, come to think of it.
Augustine: I would suggest perusing through the written speeches given by an eloquent orator – or better yet, listening to their speech in person. You seem to me to be an astute and passionate individual – I think that may assist you more than reading the rules of eloquence alone (Bizzell 457).
Locke: Yes! What a grand suggestion Augustine! The way we obtain knowledge is through Experience so Blanca should go experience a speech being given! (Locke 73).
Blanca: You’re saying I should just go watch a speech and I’ll learn how to do all the things I’m trying to understand from these grammar study sheets? That seems too simple…
Locke: Well, let me explain. I like to think of the human mind as “white paper” which is clear from any markings or characters, and completely lacking any ideas. But how, you might ask, do we eventually come to have all the markings of reason and knowledge? (Locke 73).
Blanca: How do we?
Locke: I believe it’s through Experience! Our observations are either taking in “external sensible objects” or reflecting on what has already been perceived by our mind – both of which provides our minds with the building blocks of thinking! It’ll definitely start you off! (Locke 73).
Blanca: Oh! I’ve heard of this! It’s called the, uh, the Tabula Rasa or the, umm, the Blank Slate – right?
Locke: Both actua-
Isocrates: -well hold on there! I think you’re discounting the necessary aptitude initially required of the student. Also, Blanca, are you versed in the various forms of discourse? Has your teacher made explicit “the principals of the art with the utmost possible exactness?” (Bizzell 74).
Blanca: Well ye-
Bacon: Pardon me, but I must disagree with you Johnny. The Tabula Rasa? In truth, Blanca, the human mind twists and sullies our understanding of the nature of things. Anything that comes into our mind is warped as it melds with our own nature (Bizzell 745).
Cicero: Come now Franny, are you telling her that she can’t trust her own eyes?
Bacon: Not necessarily. I am merely advocating the strength of observation. Additionally I think the only remedy for this warping of our understanding by our mind is by forming our own ideas and principals by the process of true induction (Bizzell 745).
Cicero: Well, that’s hardly the case. She is obviously being educated in this skill, and “I hold that eloquence is dependent upon the trained skill of highly educated men” err, women in this situation.
Blanca: Well, I’m working on it, but it’s pretty difficult.
Cicero: Yes, this is not a small undertaking – a student of oratory must have “the complete history of the past and a store of precedents…retained in memory.” Through education I’m confident that she will obtain a level of mastery (291).
Isocrates: I do agree - if I might finish my thought - that a speech demands a lively and original mind in order to fill it “with striking thoughts and to clothe it in flowing and melodious phrase”- and only an adept student with a learned teacher will succeed in this. But, speaking to this Tabula Rasa, the nature of man is unchangeable. In fact, “I hold that there does not exist an art…which can implant sobriety and justice in depraved natures” (Bizzell 75).
Blanca: Well Tabula Rasa or not, I still have to give this speech. I like the idea of watching others give a speech but I think I still need to make sure I understand the rules as well.
Augustine: Just keep in mind that “we know many who are more eloquent without the rules of rhetoric than many who have learned them, but none are eloquent without having read and heard the discussions and speeches of the eloquent” (Bizzell 457).
Blanca: Ok, but what would you say is most important for a speech?
Augustine: I believe orators should be honest, practiced and faithful. After all, good speaking comes from God, but one can become good through much practice (Bizzell 465).
Blanca: Well, I am trying to practice through my preparations.
Augustine: I think in any discourse clearness is key. A speaker should first and foremost strive to be understood even by those that are slow in understanding, “For what is the good of correctness of speech if the understanding of the hearer does not follow it” (Bizzell 465).
Blanca: That makes a lot of sense.
Cicero: Eh hem, I like to think of oration as being a combination of three parts, would you like me to elaborate on them? (Bizzell 339)
Blanca: Oh of course! I’d appreciate all the help I could get!
Cicero: First of all, you need to remember that in oration, as well as in life itself, nothing is more difficult than deciding what is appropriate. So, when considering how to combine these three functions of the orator, one will need to utilize a rare and keen judgment. “There are three styles, the plain style for proof, the middle style for pleasure, the vigorous style for persuasion; and in the last is summed up the entire virtue of the orator” (339).
Cicero: Precisely. The one speaking in the third style has the greatest power. Theirs is the kind of speech that has influenced “admiring nations to let eloquence attain the highest power in the state”. This style of eloquence is capable of influencing the minds of men in every possible direction (Bizzell 342).
Blanca: Whoa! Hold on though, could you please explain the other two before you go into more detail about the last one?
Cicero: The first style is, as I had said, the plainest style of oration. So plain in fact, that initially those listening to his speech would believe they themselves could easily imitate it, but this is furthest from the truth – in fact, nothing is more difficult that this plainest of styles. This style of speech is freed from “the bonds of rhythm”, which allows the orator to move freely, to remain “loose but not rambling” (Bizzell 340).
Blanca: But how are his words to remain loose without rambling?
Cicero: By utilizing words that are “short and concise” and those which have the best sound or that express the idea in the clearest fashion. He will use the commonest words and he will also only use the “mildest of metaphors”. Finally, he will be rather tame in voice as well as style (Bizzell 340).
Blanca: And what of the second style?
Cicero: The second is a style of pleasure – it’s fuller and more vigorous than the first, but still not yet as grand as the third. All ornamentation of speech is appropriate for this style as it is “a brilliant and florid, highly coloured and polished style in which all the charms of language and thought are intertwined” (Bizzell 342).
Blanca: That style sounds familiar to me…
Cicero: It should. This style finds its origin in Sophistry, but the plainer style wouldn’t have it. Neither would the grand style which rejected it. So it finds its place on the middle ground. The third style of oration, however, as I’ve briefly described already, must never remain as a style independent of the others (Bizzell 342).
Blanca: And why is that?
Cicero: Because, this “orator of ours whom we consider the chief, - grand, impetuous and fiery, if he has natural ability for this alone, or trains himself solely in this, or devotes his energies to this only, and does not temper his abundance with the other two styles, he is much to be despised” (Bizzell 342).
Blanca: Then why is this one considered the best?
Cicero: Simply because to be eloquent one must be able to decide what is appropriate for various situations (Bizzell 343).
Blanca: I see.
Cicero: Indeed, “He in fact is eloquent who can discuss commonplace matters simply, lofty subjects impressively, and topics ranging between in a tempered style”. Although I’ve yet to meet the individual that embodies this, it’s an ideal that I think best for all to reach for (Bizzell 343).
Blanca: Very interesting. Now I’ll have to spend some time to consider what style my speech should be in!
Cicero: So you see, it is through extensive education and great understanding of eloquence that one becomes a great orator. It is not something that arises from a natural born talent (Bizzell 290).
Locke: Perhaps I can take this opportunity to expand on my initial comments about the Tabula Rasa, to help clear up some questions?
Blanca: Oh please do! I’ve heard of it but I’d love to know more about what it means to you.
Locke: In my day, it was widely accepted that men were born with natural ideas; their characters were original and imprinted on their mind from the moment they were born. But I felt otherwise – I believe “all ideas come from sensation or reflection” (Locke 73).
Blanca: So, like you were saying before, where sensation means our observations and reflection is what our mind does with those sensations?
Locke: Exactly, but remember, all this stems from Experience (Locke 74).
Blanca: How so?
Locke: “The objects of sensation are one source of ideas”. Our experience of these sensible qualities we observe in external objects conveys to our mind what it is that produced those perceptions. “And thus we come by those ideas we have of yellow, white, heat, cold, soft, hard, bitter, sweet, and all those which we call sensible qualities” (Locke 74).
Blanca: So, if sensations are one source from which we get our ideas, what is the second?
Locke: The second is from our mind itself. Those perceptions that were conveyed to the mind by external sensations, those very ideas that arose from the sensations are examined by the mind, and “when the soul comes to reflect on and consider, do furnish the understanding with another set of ideas, which could not be had from things without” (Locke 74).
Blanca: It’s just from these two experiences that all the thoughts a person has have arisen from?
Locke: Well, yes. “We have nothing in our minds which did not come in one of these two ways…though perhaps, with infinite variety compounded and enlarged by the understanding” (Locke 75).
Blanca: So, how can this help me with structuring my speech?
Locke: It should initially dispel any anxieties you may have had about needing a natural ability to master the art of eloquence.
Blanca: Yes, it has.
Locke: Secondly, you should realize that all your experiences – even this one now – are constantly and diversely affecting you. “When the eye is but open; sounds and some tangible qualities fail not to solicit their proper senses, and force an entrance to the mind” (Locke 75).
Blanca: Absolutely! I can say that I’ve definitely got many more things to consider now. But, what would you say is most important when writing my speech?
Locke: The ideas behind your words are of the most importance (Bizzell 817).
Blanca: The ideas?
Locke: Yes. I partly agree with Augustine here - insofar as a speaker should strive to be understood. After all, the principal end of language in communication is to be understood, and “when any word does not excite in the hearer the same idea which it stands for in the mind of the speaker”, it does not serve well to our principal end (Bizzell 817).
Blanca: Ok, that makes sense to me.
Locke: So, be sure when composing your speech that all the words you are utilizing have a very distinct idea behind them. Otherwise, you’d “only make a noise without any sense or signification”, and clear understanding will not come from that (Bizzell 825).
Bacon: In a slightly different way, I like to think that the ultimate aim and duty “of Rhetoric is to apply Reason to Imagination for the better moving of the will” (Bizzell 743).
Blanca: What do you mean?
Bacon: To begin, I would like to emphasize that you should consider the science of Rhetoric, or, in the same way, the Art of Eloquence, as an excellent science and an entirely good thing to labor towards (Bizzell 742).
Blanca: But, even if I’m not enjoying it...
Bacon: Surely, because although “the profoundness of wisdom will help a man to a name of admiration…it is eloquence that prevails in an active life” (Bizzell 743).
Blanca: What did you mean by applying reason to imagination?
Bacon: Think of Rhetoric as an advocate for Reason. If the aim of Logic “is to teach a form of argument to secure reason”, and if the aim of Morality is to obtain the desire to obey that reason, then “the end of Rhetoric is to fill the imagination to second reason, and not to oppress it” (Bizzell 743).
Blanca: So Rhetoric is the same as Reason?
Bacon: No, not quite. If mankind were fully devoted and obedient to reason, there would be absolutely no need for utilizing persuasions and insinuations to reinforce reason – so ultimately no need for rhetoric (Bizzell 743).
Blanca: I see. As it is, man is not entirely obedient to his reason so Rhetoric is used to remind and persuade him back to a more correct path.
Bacon: Exactly. Although, it is true that both our desires –or affections- and our reason “carry ever an appetite to good”, the main difference between the two is that our affections see only the present and our reason can see the future “and the sum of time” (Bizzell 743).
Blanca: What does that mean?
Bacon: Well, since our affections see only the present, and the present can fill up our imagination more, and “reason is commonly vanquished” as a result. It is through the force of eloquence and persuasion that makes “things future and remote appear as present”, which allows our imagination to revolt and for reason to prevail (Bizzell 743).
Blanca: So, how would you say this could help me in writing my speech?
Bacon: To remember that Logic and Rhetoric are made up of basically the same thing. In fact, “Logic differeth from Rhetoric, not only as the fist from the palm, the one close the other at large; but much more in this, that Logic handleth reason exact and in truth, and Rhetoric handleth it as it is planted in popular opinions and manners” (Bizzell 744).
Bacon: So, when presenting your speech keep in mind that the presentation of Logic is for all men “indifferent and the same”, but when it comes to the persuasions of Rhetoric, these should vary according to the audience you are presenting to (Bizzell 744).
Blanca: Oh ok! So you’re saying I should consider my audience when putting together my speech?
Bacon: In a way, yes. If you are going to speak the same thing to several people, you should speak to “them all respectively and several ways” (Bizzell 744).
Blanca: Alright! That makes a lot of sense.
Augustine: Remembering that you might be speaking to a diverse audience is very good advice Franny.
Bacon: I like to think so.
Augustine: I happen to maintain that obtaining a mastery of Rhetoric is also a necessary skill “since through the art of rhetoric both truth and falsehood are pleaded” (Bizzell 456).
Blanca: So I should learn it so I can plead either case?
Augustine: No, not at all. It is my belief that the power of eloquence should be acquired by the good to do service for the truth (Bizzell 457).
Blanca: You’re saying that even though rhetoric can be used to persuade others to falsehoods, a “good” orator should only persuade those listening to an understanding of the “truth”? How do I know what is the truth?
Augustine: Well, that might make for a completely different conversation, but, the truth is “the supernal wisdom which comes down from the Father of lights” (Bizzell 458).
Blanca: Oh, ok… But how might an understanding of rhetoric help with that? If it’s the truth, then everyone should already know it – right?
Augustine: No, quite the contrary. It is the obligation of both student and teacher “of the Holy Scriptures, who is the defender of the true Faith, and the opponent of error, both to teach what is right, and to correct what is wrong” (Bizzell 458).
Blanca: But if the audience being addressed is as diverse as we had imagined…
Augustine: It would then be the duty of the orator, if the audience is in need of information, to make perfectly clear the history of what they are missing (Bizzell 458).
Blanca: And if they are already aware?
Augustine: Then it is his duty “to simply make clear a doubtful matter, there is need of argument and the presentation of evidence” (Bizzell 458).
Blanca: But what if you are speaking to an audience that is already aware of this evidence?
Augustine: Then “greater powers of oratory are required” (Bizzell 458).
Blanca: Why? Since they are already aware of the argument and the evidence, what more is needed?
Augustine: Then it would seem to me that “the audience needs to be aroused rather than to be informed, in order that they may not be slow in living up to what they already know” (Bizzell 458).
Blanca: Ok, so the power or Rhetoric would allow me to do this.
Augustine: Not rhetoric alone. One must possess wisdom before rhetorical understanding (Bizzell 458).
Blanca: So wisdom is more important than rhetoric?
Augustine: In a manner of speaking, yes, because even if one has no power of eloquence, but has wisdom, one can still benefit his audience – although it may “be less than if he could at the same time use eloquence in speaking” (Bizzell 458).
Blanca: Interesting. So obtaining wisdom is more important than rhetoric.
Augustine: Not quite more important. Try to think more that eloquence closely follows wisdom (Bizzell 458).
Blanca: But what would you suggest as advice for my present speech, with the “wisdom” I have right now?
Augustine: Well, “a well-known orator has said, and has said truly that an orator ought to speak in such a way as to instruct, to please, and to persuade” (Bizzell 466).
Cicero: Hey! That sounds familiar? Are you talking about me?
Augustine: I am!
Cicero: Aww! Please go on…
Augustine: This well-known orator goes on to say that “instructing belongs to necessity; pleasing, to interest; persuading, to victory” (Bizzell 466).
Blanca: So if I want my speech to “win” I should aim for persuasion?
Augustine: Well you must keep all three in mind (Bizzell 466).
Blanca: So the end isn’t simply victory?
Augustine: “Of these three, that which is given first place, the necessity of instructing, depends upon the things we say; the other two, upon our manner of saying them” (Bizzell 466).
Blanca: Oh ok, so first place goes to instructing.
Augustine: Exactly. This is why I had told you previously that a speaker should strive, first and foremost, to be understood. “The man who speaks with the view to [instruct], as long as he is not intelligible, should consider that he has not yet said what he wishes to say to the one whom he wishes to instruct” (Bizzell 466).
Blanca: I see. I should strive to make my speech as clear as possible so all in the audience can understand me.
Augustine: Indeed. It is necessary when urging something to be done through oration, that the speaker “should not only teach in order to instruct, and please in order to hold, but also move in order to win” (Bizzell 467).
Blanca: But is it ok to use all three – styles? – Or is it just better to reach and understanding with the audience?
Augustine: By all means use every one! “No one should suppose that it is against the rule to mingle these three styles. On the contrary, as far as it can properly be done, one should vary his diction by using all three” (Bizzell 478).
Blanca: Oh that’s good to have that cleared up!
Augustine: In fact, when a speech is too much focused on one of the styles it doesn’t hold the audience’s attention for very long (Bizzell 478).
Blanca: That makes sense. As they say – variety is the spice of life!
Augustine: Truly. Oh, one last thing: strive to bring your audience to tears (Bizzell 480).
Augustine: Yes, by their applause alone “they [show] that they understood and were pleased, but that they were won, they made evident by their tears” (Bizzell 480).
Blanca: Oh wow! I would never have thought of that!
Augustine: In my experience, “I have found out that men manifest the effect of the grandeur of grave eloquence not by shouting, but rather by groans, sometimes by tears, finally by change of life” (Bizzell 480).
Blanca: Well you’ve all been most helpful!
Cicero: It was the least we could do after spoiling your calm afternoon in the park with our game of Frisbee.
Blanca: Ah, yes! Here’s your Frisbee back. (Hands Frisbee to Cicero).
Locke: I’m sure you will do well on your upcoming speech.
Blanca: I feel a lot more confident after speaking with all of you. I’m not sure if it’s true that I am a blank slate, but I definitely feel that my experiences today have entered into my mind and are already affecting my thoughts.
Locke: I’d like to think so.
Blanca: I also understand the importance of making sure the ideas behind my words are sound – I don’t want to simply make noise without sense or signification!
Locke: I should hope not!
Blanca: I will strive to learn all the various forms of discourse and learn the principals of eloquence to the “utmost possible exactness”! (Winks at Isocrates).
Isocrates: It’s a long shot, but it’s also your best chance.
Blanca: I will remember to keep my audience in mind when I am using the Rhetoric of persuasion.
Bacon: Yes, make yourself a strong ally for reason!
Blanca: I will remember that it is the most important job of the orator to decide what style of speech is appropriate for the situation.
Cicero: Indeed. But remember all stems from Wisdom, so be sure to keep up with your education.
Blanca: Oh, I will! And lastly, I will make it a point to be as clear as possible to be sure that all in my audience understand my ideas.
Augustine: Very good. And study the Holy Scriptures as well.
Blanca: Oh of course. Well, thank you again!
Bizzell, Patricia, and Bruce Herzberg. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin's, 1990. Print.
Locke, John. "Book II: Of Ideas." An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Kitchener, Ontario, CAN: Batoche, n.d. 73+. Batoche Books, 2001. Web. 24 Mar. 2014. :http://site.ebrary.com.libproxy.csun.edu/lib/csun/docDetail.action?docID=2001993>.