The Parts of a Speech in Classical Rhetoric

Parts of a speech in rhetoric
(Cicero Denouncing Catiline, engraved by B.Barloccini, 1849/Getty Images)

In classical rhetoric, the parts of a speech are the conventional divisions of a speech (or oration), also known as arrangement.

In contemporary public speaking, the major parts of a speech are often identified more simply as the introduction, body, transitions, and conclusion.

Examples and Observations

Robert N. Gaines: From late fifth through late second century BCE, three traditions of handbooks characterized theory and instruction in rhetoric. Handbooks in the earliest tradition organized precepts in segments devoted to the parts of a speech. . . . [A] number of scholars have proposed that early handbooks in this tradition typically dealt with four speech parts: a proem that secured an attentive, intelligent, and benevolent hearing; a narration that represented facts of the judicial case favorable to the speaker; a proof that confirmed the speaker's claims and refuted the arguments of the opponent; and an epilogue that summarized the speaker's arguments and aroused emotions in the audience favorable to the speaker's case.

M. L. Clarke and D. H. Berry: The parts of a speech (partes orationis) are the exordium or opening, the narratio or statement of facts, the divisio or partitio, that is, the statement of the point at issue and exposition of what the orator proposes to prove, the confirmatio or exposition of arguments, the confutatio or refutation of one's opponent's arguments, and finally the conclusio or peroration. This six-fold division is that given in De Inventione and Ad Herrenium, but Cicero tells us that some divided into four or five or even seven parts, and Quintilian regards partitio as contained in the third part, which he calls probatio, proof, and thus is left with a total of five.

James Thorpe: The classical tradition of oratory was carried on for a great many centuries in oral performance. It was also carried on in written texts, most purely in written works that take the form of orations. Although they were not intended for oral performance, they translate features of oratory to the written word. Including some sense of the writer and the reader. Erasmus's Praise of Folly (1509) is a model example. It follows a form of the classical tradition, with Exordium, Narration, Partition, Confirmation, and Peroration. The orator is Folly, and she steps forward to speak to the crowded assembly that is her audience--all of us readers.

Charles A. Beaumont: The essay is organized in the manner of a classical oration, as follows:

Exordium - Paragraphs 1 through 7
Narration - Paragraphs 8 through 16
Digression - Paragraphs 17 through 19
Proof - Paragraphs 20 through 28
Refutation - Paragraphs 29 through 30
Peroration - Paragraphs 31 through 33

Julia T. Wood: To move from one to another of the three major parts of a speech (i.e., introduction, body, and conclusion), you can signal your audience with statements that summarize what you've said in one part and point the way to the next. For example, here is an internal summary and a transition between the body of a speech and the conclusion:

I've now explained in some detail why we need stronger educational and health programs for new immigrants. Let me close by reminding you of what's at stake.

. . . Transitions are vital to effective speaking. If the introduction, body, and conclusion are the bones of a speech, the transitions are the sinews that hold the bones together. Without them, a speech may seem more like a laundry list of unconnected ideas than like a coherent whole.