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THE Art of Reading and Speaking with expressive distinctness constitutes what is now called Elocution.
According to this definition, Elocution may be divided as follows: 1. Vocality. 2. Articulation and Pronunciation. 3. Inflection and Modulation. 4. Emphasis. 5. Gesture and Action.
I. In VOCALITY we consider the power of expression by the voice. A properly disciplined voice should have the power of forming three series of sounds; namely, the Natural voice, the Orotund voice, and the Falsetto voice.
The Natural voice is that which is heard in ordinary conversation, in narration and argument. It is the middle tone, between the higher and lower notes of the voice.
The Orotund voice is a deep mellow voice, the attainment of which is usually dependent on great vocal exercise. It seems to be directed more freely into the pharynx than the Natural voice. It may be exerted to a great extent without fatigue or injury.
The Falsetto voice is rarely employed in the pronunciation of whole sentences; but it is occasionally heard in the expression of distance, in strong surprise, or vehement exclamation.
A modification of these three series of sounds is heard in the Guttural voice, which is particularly expressive of hatred, horror, and all feelings approaching to these.
The proper development of vocality can be attained only by judicious practice. The student will be surprised at the new powers which he will find in his voice after a diligent and well-directed course of vocal gymnastics. The voice should be most frequently practiced on a middle key. If it is pitched too high, there is harshness produced when force is attempted; and shrillness, or a tendency to break, when loudness; if too low, the throat becomes dry, and the voice husky. The daily practice of reading aloud cannot be too early commenced, or too perseveringly continued. To strengthen
weak respiration, the practice of energetic reading in a strong, loud whisper, or gruff voice, will prove beneficial. Above all, exercise in the open air will be found of advantage. The ancient rhetoricians practiced declamation while walking or running up a hill-side before breakfast, or standing by the sea-shore, face to the wind, and endeavoring to out-bellow the tempest. Respiratory exercises should not be practiced immediately after a full meal.
II. ARTICULATION is the correct formation, by the organs of speech, of certain sounds which add to vocality literal and verbal utterance. Every word of more than one syllable is distinguished by the heavy utterance (called ACCENT) of one particular syllable, and the light - utterance of the other, or others. The following words afford examples of accent: -A compound, to com-pound'; blas'phe-mous, blas-phe'ming; com-mand'er, com-man-dant'.
PRONUNCIATION is the exact employment of the proper vowel and consonant sounds and accents, which custom has established. The correct accentuation and pronunciation of words can be best acquired by the study of the standard dictionaries of the English language.
The power of distinct and forcible enunciation is the basis of delivery. Between deliberate, full-toned, and energetic speaking, and feeble, indistinct, and spiritless utterance, there is the difference of live and dead oratory. The rudiments of speaking are few and simple. Vowels should have a bold, round, mellow tone. A slight, short, mincing pronunciation of the accented vowels is a most disagreeable fault.
Audibility depends chiefly on articulation; and articulation depends much on the distinctness with which we hear the final consonants.* A strong delivery is to be constantly cultivated — that is, an energy that shall prevent drawling, and, at the same time, a moderation that shall avoid mumbling words, or chopping half the sounds away, as in hasty speaking. Take time to fully articulate and intonate. Speak "trippingly," without tripping. If you must be extreme, better be solemn than hasty.
III. INFLECTION and MODULATION have reference to the changes of tone, and pauses of the voice, suitable for the expression of certain ideas and passions. All inflections are either Acute or Grave, or a combination of these. When the inflection slides upward, it is called
*For exercises in the elementary vowel and consonant sounds, and in pronunciation, see Sargent's Standard Fifth, Fourth, or Third Reader.
Rising; and when it slides downward, Falling. The same mark used in dictionaries before an accented syllable is sometimes used by elocutionists to denote the rising inflection; as, Was he rewarded"? The mark known as the grave accent may be used to designate the falling inflection; as, He was rewarded. But any other arbitrary mark may be used to designate the inflections.
The rising inflection is that upward turn of the voice which we generally use at the comma, or in asking a question which begins with a verb; as, “Did he say no?”
The falling inflection is generally, though not always, heard at the colon and semicolon, and must necessarily be heard in answer to the last question; "He did; he said no`." Both these inflections are found in the following passage:
"Does Cæsar deserve fame', or blame'?”
The slide upward, primarily, signifies suspension or incompleteness; and the downward slide, completion. The former should be used wherever the hand and eye must necessarily be elevated in action; as, for example, when exalted ideas, amiable and exhilarating sentiments, or ennobling attributes, are alluded to; and the latter, when the contraries of these are mentioned.
The circumflex, which is subdivided into the rising and falling circumflex, is a combination of the acute and grave accents, the rising being marked thus (^); and the falling, thus (v). When a syllable begins with a falling and ends with a rising inflection, it is said to have a rising circumflex; but when it begins with a rising and ends with a falling inflection, a falling circumflex. These two forms of the circumflex are frequently used in words spoken ironically. We have examples of both in the following passage :
"Hear him, my lord; he is wondrous condescending."
Certain passages require a continuance of one tone through many words, and, occasionally, through lines: this is called a monotone; it is usually indicated by the mark of a long vowel, thus ; and is well exemplified in the middle paragraph of the following passage from Portia's speech on mercy:
PERSUASIVE ENTREATY; SOFT, MIDDLE TONE.
The quality of mercy is not strained;
It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes;
SOLEMN MONOTONE; LOWER.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
RAPTURE; HIGH, STRONG TONE.
But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's,
Parenthetical clauses require to be spoken in a lower tone of voice, and with a more rapid utterance, than the principal sentence; a slight pause both before and after the parenthesis adds to the effect:
"If there's a power above us
(And that there is, all nature cries aloud
Through all her works), he must delight in virtue ;
IV. EMPHASIS is that peculiar stress which we lay on words when we wish to impress particularly the ideas that they represent.
The more important emphatic words are, principal verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs when not used in a connective sense. comparatively unimportant words are, auxiliary verbs, pronouns, conjunctions, connecting adverbs, prepositions, and articles. Generally, also, the names and attributes of the Deity, of persons and places, are emphatic. Emphasis is well illustrated in the following remark:
I do not ásk; I demand your attention.
Words are also emphatic which have an antithesis either expressed or understood, as in the following example:
"And put a tongue
In every wound of Caesar, that should move
The stones of Rome to rise and mutiny."
The mark of the diaresis over the e shows that it should commence a separate syllable.
EMPHASIS AND GESTURE.
It may also be laid down as a general rule respecting emphasis, that the positive member of a sentence uniformly requires the emphatic falling, and the negative member the emphatic rising inflection; as,
Did he do it voluntarily, or involuntarily'?
He did it voluntarily', not involuntarily'.
He acted justly', not unjustly'.
The emphasis which is suggested by the sense is the best guide. Let a person make sure of the sense, and his emphasis will be natural and varied. An active and original conception can alone produce that personality of enunciation which is the chief charm of oratory. Conception is the sole governor of intonation.
A clergyman who, in his younger days, was disposed to undervalue the importance of accurately disposed emphasis, one day found his mistake by the laughter created on his reading this text: "And he spake to his sons, saying, Saddle me, the ass, and they saddled him." Of this same clergyman it is told that a man whom he reprimanded for swearing replied that he did not see any harm in it. "No harm in it?" said the minister; "why, do you not know the commandment, Swear not at all'?"-"I do not swear at all," said the man; "I only swear at those who annoy me."
V. GESTURE AND ACTION. - Modulation, inflection, and vocal expression, however perfect, would fail to give delivery its full impressiveness, if the face and whole body did not sympathetically manifest the feeling which vibrates in the tones. Nothing can be more spiritless and unnatural than rigid stillness on the part of an orator. Unaided by language, a person may, by gesture alone, convey his meaning to another; whereas, without it, the most powerful language will often be tame and inefficient. Cicero directs the orator to bestow the chief care on the management of the eye, and Quintillian observes that "the action of the hands is the common language of all mankind, without which all gesture is weak and impotent." "With the hands alone," says Sheridan, "we can demand a promise, call, dismiss, threaten, supplicate, ask, deny, manifest joy, sorrow, detestation, fear, admiration," &c.
But the tendency to gesticulate is so natural, that instruction will generally be needed rather to subdue and chasten, than to produco gesticulation. To a speaker of any animation, the greatest difficulty