The Rousing Speech



There’s always a rousing speech.

When the odds are against you, when the forces of darkness, or the alien invaders, or the giant lizards have gathered and your pitifully small band of heroes stand against them, the single vanguard against annihilation, what does your leader do?

Well, if he’s any kind of leader he starts talking.

MDJackson_rousingspeech_4Motivational speeches keep your team together and focused. Rousing speeches keep your smallish army from losing soldiers due to desertion rather than the upcoming decimation. And it’s got to be a doozy of a speech in order to make otherwise sensible men and women stand with you against almost certain death.

The grandfather of all rousing speeches comes, of course, from Shakespeare. In act 4, scene III of the Bard’s Henry V King Henry exhorts his meager English forces to stand up against the overwhelming numbers of the French shortly before the famous battle at Agincourt. In his St. Crispin’s Day, speech, his cousin, Westmoreland, outwardly wishes that they had more men with them. Henry boldy strides forward and says, no, we have enough guys. In fact, he dares some of them to desert.

That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.

I’m sure one or more of his men seriously considered the offer, but then he shames them with the rest of his speech in which he imagines a future time when the survivors of the upcoming battle mark the anniversary of the victory by drinking and showing off their scars and telling tales of the great feats he performed that day and the noblemen whom he fought alongside.

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 accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

It’s a powerful moment in the play and in both film versions, the one with Laurence Olivier and the one with Kenneth Branagh.

MDJackson_rousingspeech_3But is there an equivalent speech in science fiction or fantasy? If you have to ask that question then you haven’t been paying attention!

We need look no further than the film adaptation of Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings. In the final film, The Return of the King, Aragorn addresses the forces of men arrayed at the black gates of Mordor, about to do battle with the most frightening and supernaturally powered forces of Sauron.

Hold your ground – hold your ground! Sons of Gondor – of Rohan . . . my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. The day may come when the courage of Men fails; when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship; but it is not this day – an hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the Age of Man comes crashing down – but it is not this day!!! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good earth – I bid you stand!

And who can forget Idris Elba’s rousing speech in Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim? Elba plays the leader of the dwindled human forces, Stacker Pentecost. Just before the final battle against the monstrous Kaiju, he addresses the jaeger pilots.

Today. Today… at the edge of our hope, at the end of our time, we have chosen not only to believe in ourselves, but in each other. Today there is not a man nor woman in here that shall stand alone. Not today. Today we face the monsters that are at our door, and bring the fight to them. Today, we are canceling the apocalypse!

It’s short, but it carries the massive punch of the final line.

MDJackson_rousingspeech_2Similarly, Bill Pullman’s character addresses the remnants of humanity as they prepare to fight one last assault against the alien invaders in the movie Independence Day. Despite the fact that it is the entire world, the entire human species fighting to survive, the speech is very American, referencing the US’s independence Day holiday, the 4th of July and can’t help sounding pretty jingoistic.

Today we celebrate our independence day!

Nevertheless, the speech is still rousing and gives the fighter pilots heart to do what they are about to do, take the fight to the alien mothership.

MDJackson_rousingspeech_5One of my favorite rousing speeches comes from an episode of Star Trek. In Return to Tomorrow, a second season episode from 1968, William Shatner throws all the weight of his dramatic acting into a rousing speech: The infamous “Risk is our business…” speech. It doesn’t come before a battle, but before three of the crew, including Kirk, decide to have ancient powerful aliens take over their bodies. Despite the context and the odd placement of the speech which doesn’t really further the plot, the speech has become iconic for its application to the entire Star Trek universe through all the series and movies. It kind of sums up what Star Trek is all about.

Risk. Risk is our business. That’s what this starship is all about. That’s why we’re aboard her.

And with Shatner`s just-shy-of-bombast delivery, the speech is kind of powerful.

These are just the speeches that I could call to mind easily. I`m sure there are a lot of science fiction and fantasy speeches that have even more of an impact that I haven`t mentioned here.

What are some of your favorite rousing speeches?

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