I. What is a Harangue?
A harangue is a lengthy and intense speech, lecture, or spoken attack. The term as we know it comes from the 14th century Middle French word of the same spelling, meaning “a public speech.” Likewise, to harangue (verb) is the action of giving this type of speech. A harangue is always given to an audience, and often acts as some kind of call to action or delivers a strong message.
The subject matter and delivery of harangues is always quite serious—they are forceful and stern, and can often be persuasive, grim, and aggressive in nature. Some harangues are scolding or demanding, like a principal giving a lecture to a group of students, or a commander instructing his soldiers before battle; or, they can be heated and emotional, like a politician giving a passionate speech to followers or someone tirelessly preaching their views to their peers.
II. Example of a Harangue
Here’s a selection from a harangue given to a group of students by their principal:
Today, our school is lucky to receive a visit from the President of the United States. Now, those of you who would seek to disrupt this event, BE WARNED—misbehavior will not be tolerated. You will NOT give this school a bad name. You will NOT embarrass me, your teachers, or the school district itself. You will listen to the President’s speech, and ask appropriate questions. You will NOT curse, yell, or disrespect him in any way. Anyone who does will face severe punishment. This is your opportunity to learn something and show that you are the future leaders of our nation. I encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity. DO NOT LET ME DOWN.
The principal’s stern harangue is both warning and encouraging the students—don’t act out and misbehave, but don’t fail to take advantage of an opportunity either. The audience to his speech can certainly feel the seriousness of his words, and are being asked to take them to heart.
III. Importance of Harangues
As a literary device, a harangue’s importance lies in the image it creates of the speaker and the impact it has on the audience. It can encourage a change, bring crucial matters to light, or address major issues that have affected the plot and the characters or will affect them in the future. As a powerful form of speech delivered with passion and strength, harangues often have monumental roles in stories.
IV. Examples of Harangue in Literature
Many of Shakespeare’s plays include harangues from major characters, particularly those that include a major battle as part of the plot. In the historical drama Henry V, King Henry gives several fiercely motivational harangues to his men, like these famous words from the St. Crispin’s Day speech:
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
Henry’s harangue is the perfect example of a call to action. His words are used to light a fire in his men before the heat of battle arrives. His words convince them that with this battle, their names will live on in glory, while also bitterly expressing that those who don’t fight will forever know themselves to be inferior men.
In A Dance with Dragons, the fifth book of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (which you may know from the Game of Thrones TV series), character Hugo Wull gives a grim speech as they talk about an upcoming battle:
What men want does not matter. Winter is almost upon us, boy. And winter is death. I would sooner my men die fighting for the Ned’s little girl than alone and hungry in the snow, weeping tears that freeze upon their cheeks. No one sings songs of men who die like that. As for me, I am old. This will be my last winter. Let me bathe in Bolton blood before I die. I want to feel it spatter across my face when my axe bites deep into a Bolton skull. I want to lick it off my lips and die with the taste of it on my tongue.
This selection from Wull’s harangue expresses his angry desire for blood and battle in the face of impending conflict. The only thing he wants before he dies is to “bathe in Bolton blood.”
V. Examples in Popular Culture
In this famous speech from A Few Good Men, Colonel Jessup is on the stand to speak about the murder of a fellow marine. As military lawyer Kaffee presses him for information, Jessup soon responds by bursting into this harangue:
Jessup’s harangue begins with the now well-known line “You can’t handle the truth!” He continues by giving a heated, angry testimony and speech to the audience, attempting to show them that they truly have no idea what it takes to protect their nation.
In this grim and powerful harangue from the movie Independence Day, President Whitmore passionately speaks to both the surviving armed forces and civilians before him, reminding them that the future of the human race was up to them:
Here, the President is heartbroken and outraged by the alien attacks that caused so many deaths. Not wanting to give up the planet without a fight, he tunnels his determination into a compelling harangue about how they need to fight united if everyone wants to survive.
VI. Related Terms
A speech is the verbal delivery of information to an audience. It is a broad term that pretty much includes any type lengthy spoken address, regardless of subject matter or tone. Likewise, a harangue itself is a speech; but, it is a very specific type.
A lecture is a stern “talking to” from one person to other(s) about an important issue or circumstance. It is usually scolding in nature, and somewhat demeaning to the person being lectured. Depending on its subject, a harangue can be like a lecture in nature, but its delivery is more powerful.
To conclude, harangues have an important place in entertainment—they’re powerful, expressive, and serious, and will always have an effect on those who witness its delivery. If you need a forceful speech that delivers a strong message, then a harangue is a great literary device to use.