ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Common Features of the Pre-Battle Speech: From Twelfth Century King Arthur to Mel Gibson in Braveheart

Updated on December 22, 2011

The speech before battle has long been a staple of epic war movies. From Braveheart to Independence Day to the Lord of the Rings, there's nothing like the hero making a rousing speech before leading his men into battle to get our spines tingling and adrenaline flowing. It's even gotten to the point where we expect the battle speech, and feel a bit let down if the director hasn't managed to come up with something spectacular.

But the pre-battle speech is more than just a Hollywood staple, and can actually be found in texts as early as the middle ages. In the 12th century, one Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his chronicle on King Arthur, managed to pen a pre-battle speech that puts Jerry Bruckhiemer to shame, especially since it kicks the pants off the rather lame speech made in Bruckheimer's 2004 big-screen version of King Arthur (directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Clive Owen as Arthur).

Mel Gibson's Braveheart battle speech is one of the best-known and best-loved.
Mel Gibson's Braveheart battle speech is one of the best-known and best-loved.

Writing a Good Pre-Battle Speech

So what are some elements that make up a good pre-battle speech? The specific rhetoric used often varies according to time and place, and whether the "good guy" or "bad guy" is speaking, but there are still some key elements by which audiences often subconsciously judge and identify this very particular type of speech.

In film, even though the clothing or the stampeding hordes in the distance signify that a battle speech is being made, the words themselves need to have some resonance with the audience, and be recognizable as a part of this tradition. To do so, the structure of the speech must fulfill the preconceptions that audiences, and society at-large, have deemed acceptable and appropriate for this situation, however fictionalized.

In literature it is much the same, though the burden rests solely on the author to set the stage through narrative choices, rather than the more multifaceted interweaving of setting, screenshots, costume choice, ambient sound, etc.

The movie 300 is known for its inspiring pre-battle speech.
The movie 300 is known for its inspiring pre-battle speech.

Common Features of the Pre-Battle Speech

  • Appeal to masculinity - Use of designations such as men, soldiers, knights. This appeals to a sense of personhood, connoting maturity, (men, not boys), loyalty his men), and choice (as a man, they choose to fight for their leader or country, rather than as a conscripted soldier or war prisoner). The question also implies a level of respect, of choice. The leader does not simply command, he asks the men to follow him, and asks them to question their own actions.
  • Defense of the homeland - Calling upon the obligation or deep-seated rights to land or territory is a great motivator. In a call to defend their land, the implication is not simply about territory, but about defending an overall culture and way of life.
  • Differentiation from the enemy - This is a common tactic, and can come on lines of moral, cultural, or even ethnic superiority. The opposing army is not presented as a worthy adversary or worthy of respect due to political, ideological, or even ethnic differences. Dehumanization of the opposing side can be a powerful tool in justifying injuring or killing others, removing feelings of guilt or shame from what would otherwise be considered an immoral act.
  • Call for complete destruction - Frequently when a battle speech draws on the theme of differentiation from the enemy, especially dehumanizaton, a secondary theme involves a complete vanquishing of the opposing faction. This theme can function by calling upon bloodlust or battle-madness, and eschewing expressions of mercy or tolerance. The act of emasculation and dehumanization supports this viewpoint, as it is far easier to condone and engage in such widespread slaughter and destruction when the other side is not seen as possessing the same important attributes of humanity, masculinity, right and might.

Excerpts from Geoffrey of Monmouth's Battle Speech

While the language is somewhat archaic, even in translation, this battle-speech still makes for a great read-- especially if you can imagine it being spoken by the likes of Mel Gibson (Braveheart), Laurence Olivier (Henry V), or Viggo Mortensen (Lord of the Rings), dressed in full armor and facing a massive invading Roman army. From History of the Kings of Britain:

My countrymen, who have made Britain the mistress of thirty kingdoms, I pay tribute to your valor, which I judge to be not failing but rather flourishing more and have...perservered, and you have put the Romans to flight. Provoked by their own pride, they wanted to deprive you of liberty, advancing with a greater number, they began to wage battle...they desired to make your country a tributary and to make slaves of you. We who have prevailed in harder conflict shall surely prevail in this easier fight, if with equal passion we labor to crush those half-men. What great honors each of you will possess if as faithful soldiers you obey my will and my orders!"

King Arthur's Battle Speech, 2004

A Montage of Famous Battle Speeches

Includes footage from Lord of the Rings, Thanks to QuoteMotivational for putting this together.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Anaya M. Baker profile imageAUTHOR

      Anaya M. Baker 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi JKenny, thanks for stopping by! I agree, the Independence Day speech is actually a pretty good one! Anaya

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 

      7 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi Anaya, great hub. I really love a good pre-battle speech, especially the ones that give you goosebumps. My favourites are Mel Gibson's in Braveheart, and the ones given by Aragorn and Theoden in Return of the King. I also remember getting goosebumps from Bill Pullman's speech in Independence Day; I think it was because it was all of Humankind vs. the Aliens, made it more dramatic somehow.

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi and Merry Christmas Anaya. This was a very interesting one to see and read. Have always taken the pre-battle speechs as a given and never really thought too much about all that goes into the best of them. I researched one that had a victorious effect on the Over-the -Mountain-Men in the Battle of Kings Mt. Braveheart was one of the better film ones for sure. Haven't paid any attention to any Bruckheimer stuff since that historical travesty Pearl At any rate, thanks for the enjoyable enlightenment Anaya.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)