Definition of Harangue

Harangue is a lengthy and angry speech filled with criticism. Its origins can be traced back to ancient Germanic roots and later evolved through French and Latin, eventually finding its way into late medieval English with the same spelling. Semantically, it denotes a speech that heavily criticizes someone or something, often with an attacking tone. It may also be seen as a forceful lecture or a passionate verbal attack. Public speeches, when marked by such characteristics, can be categorized as harangues. Throughout history, harangues have played a significant role in shaping revolutions and influencing destinies, serving as a potent tool for expressing strong emotions and persuasive arguments.

Examples of Harangue in Literature

Example #1

Braveheart by Mel Gibson

Wallace: Sons of Scotland, I am William Wallace.
Young soldier: William Wallace is 7 feet tall.
Wallace: Yes, I’ve heard. Kills men by the hundreds, and if he were here he’d consume the English with fireballs from his eyes and bolts of lightning from his arse. I AM William Wallace. And I see a whole army of my countrymen here in defiance of tyranny. You have come to fight as free men, and free men you are. What would you do without freedom? Will you fight?
Veteran soldier: Fight? Against that? No, we will run; and we will live.
Wallace: Aye, fight and you may die. Run and you’ll live — at least a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!!!
Wallace and Soldiers: Alba gu bra! (Scotland forever!)

This speech occurs in the movie, Braveheart, directed by Mel Gibson. The tour de force of Mel Gibson presents a commoner Scottish, William Wallace, delivering a harangue to arouse patriotism among his countrymen to fight against the English army. Occasionally interspersed with some conversation from some veteran soldiers, the speech is a classic example of a harangue against the English army of that time, demonstrating a fully verbal attack prior to a physical attack.

Example #2

Animal Farm by George Orwell

“I have little more to say. I merely repeat, remember always your duty of enmity towards Man and all his ways. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend. And remember also that in fighting against Man, we must not come to resemble him. Even when you have conquered him, do not adopt his vices. No animal must ever live in a house, or sleep in a bed, or wear clothes, or drink alcohol, or smoke tobacco, or touch money, or engage in trade. All the habits of Man are evil. And, above all, no animal must ever tyrannise over his own kind. Weak or strong, clever or simple, we are all brothers. No animal must ever kill any other animal. All animals are equal.”

This passage occurs in the speech of Old Major in Animal Farm, a popular novel by George Orwell. This is also a classic piece of harangue as John Major claims that he is a little more to say yet he continues berating the man for all the evils befalling upon the animals disregard of their categories. He appeals to the animals to become equal in one go, creating the persona of the man as their common enemy. This harangue continues to show how people often deliver such speeches against tyranny and oppression.

Example #3

From ‘Inaugural Address’ by John F. Kennedy

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans — born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage — and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

This passage occurs in the popular speech of John F. Kennedy in his Inaugural Address. He reminds the people that they are heir to a revolution that has not occurred without sacrifices and that now the new generations have taken the reins of the country into their hands. However, it seems that the main objective of this harangue is an implicit attack on the countries violating the Western value of human rights.

Example #4

Patrick Henry 1775

The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable — and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come!

This extract occurs in the speech of Patrick Henry delivered in 1775. He seems to propagate the values of democracy and local government instead of foreign-imposed rule. Therefore, this harangue is against the common enemy of the people as the final words of “The war…” suggest. It is the same speech in which he said his famous words “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Functions of Harangue

The functions of a harangue are deeply intertwined with its passionate and emotional nature. Typically directed at the public, a harangue emerges from extreme anger, targeting oppression, tyranny, dictatorship, or any form of injustice. The speech itself exudes intense emotions, igniting a fervor within the listeners, sometimes even evoking sentiments strong enough for individuals to be willing to sacrifice for a cause. Harangues serve a vital purpose in society as they act as a catalyst for raising the collective temperature of public sentiments against prevailing injustices. By addressing and condemning these issues in a forceful manner, they galvanize people to stand up against the common wrongs and fight for change.

In literature, authors strategically employ harangues in both long and short fiction to cultivate a sense of patriotism among their readers. The power of a well-crafted harangue lies in its ability to stir emotions, provoke thoughts, and inspire action, making it a potent tool for rallying the masses and kindling the flames of justice and unity.


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