As rhetoric originally was closely tied to the oral presentation of a speech, delivery, understood as the best management of voice and body, was naturally of interest to the art. Thus, in the traditional rhetorical system, the so-called rhetorical canon, delivery made up the fifth and last part (Greek hypokrisis, Latin actio or pronuntiatio).
Of the five canonical parts, comparatively little has been written about delivery. The subject has been given rather uneven attention in books on rhetoric, from antiquity till today. Apparently Aristotle – perhaps under the influence of a Platonic distrust of rhetoric – only reluctantly accepted delivery as part of the art. In their turn, Cicero and Quintilian, the two major Latin rhetoricians, both evidenced their interest in rhetoric’s practical and educational aspects by including delivery as one of the public speaker’s duties. In John Bulwer’s Chirologia and Chironomia (Bulwer 1974) we have one rhetorical example of the compartmentalized interest in the body typical of the Renaissance, namely a treatise of the natural and the rhetorical hand’s gestures, respectively. Bulwer’s plans for a similar book about the head were never carried out. The high point of interest in delivery was in the eighteenth century, when the elocutionists equated delivery with rhetoric.
Throughout Europe books with rules for the proper management of voice and body, written in the national languages, were published for a growing reading public. The inspiration came from France, and the rules applied to the public speaker of many trades. Gilbert Austin, an Irish-born educator and clergyman, even introduced a notation system for the proper and polite movements of head, arms, hands, and feet. For the elocutionists delivery had several venues. Besides delivering a speech it also encompassed reading aloud, reciting, and stage acting. For the private learner, assorted collections of literature in prose and verse equipped with delivery rules were published well into the nineteenth century in Europe as well as in the USA.
Delivery is predominantly a tacit knowledge because it does not easily lend itself to description or prescription. Apart from cautions against offensive behavior, such as picking one’s nose in public, it proved to be very cumbersome to describe the speaker’s voice and body in detail. The proper body language of any given time would be known to the majority of rhetorical practitioners, or at least to those inside the establishment, for those outside to emulate. The social mobility starting in the eighteenth century gave more people opportunities to speak in a political or an occupational setting. Some of these speakers lacked rhetorical education and therefore felt the need to acquire the skills in other ways. This may be part of the elocutionists’ success and perhaps also explains the demand for modern popular books on body language and voice production.
Present-day rhetorical textbooks still include some commonsense advice for good delivery; however, delivery is first and foremost an integral part of the teaching of public speaking. In the classroom students develop a suitable delivery through practice, often with the aid of visual recording. Philosophically, rhetorical delivery is phenomenological: through delivery speakers signify audibly and visibly to an audience their commitment to the issue at hand.
- Austin, G. (1806). Chironomia; or a treatise on rhetorical delivery. London: T. Cadell and W. Davies.
- Bulwer, J. (1974). Chirologia: or the natural language of the hand and Chironomia: or the art of manual rhetoric (ed. J. W. Cleary). Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press. (Original work published 1644).
- Cicero (1967). De oratore, books I–III (trans. E. W. Sutton). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Fortenbaugh, W. W. (1986). Aristotle’s Platonic attitude toward delivery. Philosophy & Rhetoric, 19, 242–254.
- Johnson, N. (1993). The popularization of nineteenth-century rhetoric: Elocution and the private learner. In G. Clark & S. M. Halloran (eds.), Oratorical culture in nineteenth-century America. Carbondale and Edwardsville, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, pp. 139 –157.
- Onsberg, M. (2002). Body in action: A comparison between an elocutionary and a modern handbook. In P. Harsting & S. Ekman (eds.), Ten Nordic studies in the history of rhetoric. Copenhagen: Nordisk Netværk for retorikkens historie, pp. 127–141.
- Quintilian (2001). The orator’s education, books 11–12 (ed. and trans. D. A. Russell). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Zarefsky, D. (1996). Public speaking: Strategies for success. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.