Oracy is a term that represents a concept first proposed in the mid-1960s by Andrew M. Wilkinson, a researcher and educator at the University of Birmingham in England. Defined simply, oracy is listening well and speaking well. It is an ability to comprehend the spoken word and to express oneself clearly and confidently in formal and informal situations.
Wilkinson conceived of oracy primarily as a teaching tool based on four essential skills: reasoning and evidence; listening and response; expression and delivery; and organization and prioritization.
Proficiency in oracy speaking skills is absolutely essential to every one of Shakespeare's characters, not only so they can understand each other but also so the audience can comprehend what the characters are saying for their own understanding of the play. A certain level of oracy listening skills is also required of the audience, particularly regarding the characters' vocabulary and the literary devices that Shakespeare's characters use in their individual speeches and multi-character dialogues.
Shakespeare's audience had a distinct advantage over modern audiences in that they already knew and understood the words and phrases that Shakespeare used in his plays. Modern audiences need to develop their oracy listening skills in order to fully understand what Shakespeare's characters are saying. Nevertheless, Shakespeare's characters are so adept at oracy speaking skills that modern audiences can understand what they're saying without knowing the meaning of every word and phrase that they use.
In Richard III, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, paints contrasting pictures of war and peace and tells the audience exactly what he feels about his place in the current peaceful situation in England.
RICHARD. Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York,
And all the clouds that loured upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths,
Our bruisèd arms hung up for monuments,
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smoothed his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barbèd steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
... And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determinèd to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days. (Richard III, 1.1.1-31)
In that opening speech of the play, Richard demonstrations his oracy skills in reasoning and evidence, expression and delivery, and organization and prioritization. Richard has reasoned this through, organized and prioritized his thoughts, and clearly expresses every aspect of his thought process to the audience.
A little later in the play, Richard wins over Lady Anne with only his words even though he killed her husband, Prince Edward, and her step-father, King Henry VI. Richard remarks on his ability to win her over and provides a touch of villainy for good measure.
RICHARD. Was ever woman in this humor wooed?
Was ever woman in this humor won?
I’ll have her, but I will not keep her long. (Richard III, 1.2.247-249)
In Othello, Iago tells the audience exactly how he feels about Othello and how he manipulates Othello and other characters in the play. With just a few words, Iago makes his motivations for villainy and his means of pursuing his villainy perfectly clear to the audience.
IAGO. Though I do hate him as I do hell-pains,
Yet for necessity of present life,
I must show out a flag and sign of love,
Which is indeed but sign.
... Thus do I ever make my fool my purse;
For I mine own gain'd knowledge should profane,
If I would time expend with such a snipe
But for my sport and profit. I hate the Moor. (Othello, 1.3.166-1709, 393-396)
Even in a quieter, emotional moment when he's told that Lady Macbeth is dead, Macbeth nevertheless demonstrates the key principles of oracy that weren't explored until more than 400 years after these words were written for him so say:
MACBETH. She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. (Macbeth, 5.5.19-30)