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Quotations on storytelling - what the sages say about stories

Storytelling and language

Language is an oral phenomenon.

Walter Ong, The Orality of Language, page 6.

In all the wonderful worlds that writing opens, the spoken word still resides and lives. Written texts all have to related somehow, directly or indirectly to the world of sound, the natural habitat of language, to yield their meanings. "Reading a text" means converting it to sound, aloud or in the imagination, syllable-by-syllable in slow reading or sketchily in the rapid reading common to high technology cultures.

Walter Ong, The Orality of Language, page 8.

Transfer of meaning and knowledge through stories

But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house,
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze they young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part,
And each particular hair to stand an end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) Hamlet, Act I, scene v

Horatio, what a wounded name,
Things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me.
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,
To tell my story.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) Hamlet, Act V, Scene ii

For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) King Richard II, (Act III, scene ii)

And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe,
And then from hour to hour, we rot and rot;
And thereby hangs a tale.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) As You Like it, (Act II, scene ii)

Yet by your gracious patience,
I will a round unvarnished tale deliver.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) Othello (Act I, scene iii)

A sad tale's best for winter.
I have one of sprites and goblins.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) A Winter's Tale (Act II, scene i)

But that's another story.

Laurence Sterne (1713-1768) Tristram Shandy, book i chapter 1

Said my mother, "What is all this story about?"
"A Cock and Bull," said Yorick.

Laurence Sterne (1713-1768) Tristram Shandy, book ix chapter 33

Young man, there is America - which at this day serves for little more than to amuse you with stories of savage men, and uncouth manners; yet shall, before you taste of death, show itself equal to the whole of that commerce which now attracts the envy of the world.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) Speech: Conciliation with America: March 1775

I cannot tell how the truth may be;
I say the tale as 'twas said to me

Sir Walter Scott

Performing a story

Soft as some song divine, your story flows.


He always cuts to the chase, and hurries his readers into the midst of the story as they knew it before.

Horace, Ars Poetica, 148.

RICHARD. Be eloquent in my behalf to her.
ELIZABETH. An honest tale speeds best being plainly told.
RICHARD. Then plainly to her tell my loving tale.

William Shakespeare, Richard III, (Act IV, scene iv)

A story should to please, at least seem true,
Be apropos, well told, concise and new.


The impact of storytelling

Life as a story
Even such is time, which takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, and all we have,
And pays us but with age and dust,
Who in the dark and silent grave,
When we have wandered all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days...

Sir Walter Ralegh (1552-1618) written on the night before his exeuction

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