Author and performer Timothy Mooney presented his monologue
“The Greatest Speech Of All Time,” a combination of eight historical
speeches, on Thursday, Oct. 3 in Chapman Auditorium.
Following the performance, audience members voted on what they
thought was the greatest speech ever written, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I’ve Been to the mountaintop” speech was chosen as the
best of the evening. Dr. Jon Tuttle, professor of English and coordinator of the monologue event, agreed
with the audience’s decision.
“For one thing, because of all [King’s] references to Socrates and so on, his speech
connected all the dots, all the historical moments that had been drawn by the other
speeches” Tuttle said. “For another, King was a very savvy speaker, even when he
extemporized, as he did that evening in Memphis.”
Mooney’s performance included shortened versions of historical
speeches originally given by Socrates, Mark Antony, Frederick Douglas,
Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston
Churchill and Martin Luther King, Jr.
The idea for Mooney’s monologue came when he entered the words
“greatest speech of all time” into Google and saw inspiring and historic
speeches that had an impact on society.
“I think on one level it (the performance) should touch us in a
passionate, personal way,” Mooney said. “But on another level I’d have to say it is an
exposition of rhetoric and how powerful the spoken word can be.”
According to Dr. Tuttle, these speeches contain meaningful phrases or lines that are
remembered and that makes these speeches stand apart.
“One crucial thing is a particular phrase the echoes down the corridors of
time, phrases like FDR’s ‘nothing to fear but fear itself,’ or Lincoln’s ‘of the people, by the
people, for the people,’” Tuttle said. “A riff, a thorn that sticks in your head and becomes
part of the lexicon of a civilization.” Tuttle said that Mooney’s performance
served as a reminder that dynamic personalities can change history, and that words can effect change.
“It’s an underestimated art form, and therefore a powerful and dangerous one,” Tuttle
said. “People get behind the person whose words compel them.”
Mooney chose the speeches with intentions of drawing the audience into the thought
that no matter when or where the speech was given there is a clear and human
connection. “People will realize they are connected to people from hundreds and thousands of
years ago, and that humanity has not changed,” Mooney said. “And when we see that we
are connected to those people then we might feel more connected to the people around us,
Mooney performed these speeches not with the intention of impersonating the
original speakers, but to connect the words as personally and powerfully as he can.
“While it’s very easy to be subjective about all of it, I think at the
same time hopefully this was a…demonstration of how the spoken
word can change people’s minds and lives, and reshape the world,”
Mooney said. “Hopefully at least one or two people who were here will
feel empowered to go out and speak up about something they believe.”
Mooney has published two books, served as the artistic director of
the Stage Two Theatre, taught acting at Northern Illinois University and
published his own newsletter, The Script Review.
Mooney and The Timothy Mooney Repertory Theatre are in their
final year of touring the nation to share performances with high schools