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Patrick Henry’s “Speech to the Virginia Convention” is full of highly effective rhetorical devices, including the following:
- Alternation of long sentences and short sentences, so that the short sentences receive greater emphasis. A good example of this technique involves the first three sentences of the address. The initial sentence is long; the second sentence is even longer, but the third sentence is emphatically abrupt: “This is no time for ceremony.”
- Frequent use of metaphors, or implied comparisons. Thus, thinking is compared to seeing (“We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth”); experience is compared to a lamp (“I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience”); and so on.
- Personification, as when he compares false hopes to the song of a siren.
- Allusions, as when he echoes the Bible (Mark 8:18) when he speaks
of those who, having eyes, see not, and having ears, hear not . . . .
- Numerous rhetorical questions, as when he asks,
Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?
- Emphatic repetition, as when he says of British war preparations that “They are meant for us; they can be meant for no other.”
- Use of single-word sentences for emphasis, as when he asks,
Have we anything new to offer on the subject? Nothing.
- Use of anaphora, or repetition of the same words at the beginnings of sentence, clauses or phrases, as when he declares:
We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne . . .
or when he asserts that
Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded . . .
- Listing or cataloging, as when he refers to “the vigilant, the active, the brave.”
These are just a few of the methods that Henry uses with such skill.
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