Shakespeare's overlooked speeches
November 29, 2008 8:17 AM   Subscribe

What are some good (relatively) obscure monologues from Shakespeare?

I've decided I'd like to memorize at least one short (~one to two minutes) monologue from each of Shakespeare's plays. Male or female parts, but I'd like them to be non-obvious, i.e., no "St. Crispian's Day" or "Now is the winter. . ." Any suggestions?
posted by EarBucket to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I always liked Hamlet's first monologue "O, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt..." He is so sad and so angry about his mother's behavior, and he doesn't even know what is really going on at this point. He just seems so hopeless here, and it is so sad.

It's not obscure, exactly, but it certainly is no "To be or not be."
posted by waywardgirl at 8:39 AM on November 29, 2008

Ulysses on degree in Troilus and Cressida? Not 'non-obvious' in the context of the play, but relatively obscure in terms of the popular consciousness of Shakespeare.
posted by holgate at 8:43 AM on November 29, 2008

I like "a foot of honor better than I was" from King John. There are a lot of good speeches in Othello...."put out the light" might be too well-known, but Iago has three or four great monologues. Hamlet's "how all occasions do inform against me" isn't all that famous compared to other monologues from the play.

"My desolation does begin to make a better life" from Antony and Cleopatra is good and not as famous as Enobarbus's "the barge she sat in..." (which is also good). Um, let's see..."time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back" or "this is Diomed's Cressida" from Troilus and Cressida. Edmund's astrology speech from King Lear "this is the excellent foppery of the world". "Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie" from All's Well. Hmm. For JC, of course, "I come to bury Caesar"--the first few lines are famous but the rest isn't.
posted by phoenixy at 8:46 AM on November 29, 2008

In A Midsummer's Night's Dream, anything by Peter Quince is good- or Bottom's death scene at the end of the play-within-the-play.
From All's Well That Ends Well, Parroles' speech about how "Virginity is a withered pear" tends to bring down the house.
In Romeo & Juliet, I like the Nurse's fond explanation of that time toddler Juliet announced that when she was older she would "fall backward" (raunchy slang).
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:48 AM on November 29, 2008

The "misogynistic" speech from "Cymbeline":

...Could I find out
The woman's part in me—for there's no motion
That tends to vice in man, but I affirm
It is the woman's part: be it lying, note it,
The woman's; flattering, hers; deceiving, hers;
Lust and rank thoughts, hers, hers; revenges, hers;
Ambitions, covetings, change of prides, disdain,
Nice longing, slanders, mutability,
All faults that name, nay, that hell knows,
Why, hers, in part or all; but rather, all;

--act II, scene IV.
posted by grumblebee at 9:31 AM on November 29, 2008

(If you want even more obscure speeches, check out Postumous in "Cymbeline." He has several great ones, and aside from the one I quoted, above, most people have never heard them.)
posted by grumblebee at 9:33 AM on November 29, 2008

* The Prince of Morocco trying to choose the right casket in "Merchant of Venice."

* ...So many hours must I tend my flock;
So many hours must I take my rest;
So many hours must I contemplate;
So many hours must I sport myself...
-- Henry VI Part 3, Act 2, Scene 5
posted by grumblebee at 9:40 AM on November 29, 2008

I recently read Henry IV Part One, and it's such an excellent, underrated play.

Falstaff is always bawdy and comedic: "I be not ashamed of my soldiers," casts a contemporary eye on the subject of buying poor, uneducated soldiers whose lives are valued little. He has a funnier speech in the beginning when he meets Hal at an inn. Falstaff is best played drunk and rowdy, methinks.

Shakespeare gives Hotspur, the angry, romantic young usurper, the best prose in the play. "I did deny no prisoners" is ripe for mockery, wounded pride, and simpering.

Prince Hal is the Obama figure of history plays, articulate and insightful, emotional without swooping into treacle. "For worms, brave Percy" is lovely.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:02 AM on November 29, 2008

I love the early overenthusiastic stuff:

Love's Labour's Lost has "And I, forsooth, in love", Berowne appalled at but simultaneously pleased with himself for falling in love; or if that's too obvious, Berowne arguing himself and the other lords out of their oaths in a bravura display of rhetoric: "Consider what you first did swear unto / To fast, to study, and to see no woman; / Flat treason 'gainst the kingly state of youth".

Henry VI II has Margaret seething with such fantastic bitterness: "The pretty vaulting sea refused to drown me / Knowing that thou wouldst have me drowned on shore / With tears as salt as sea through thy unkindness".

Titus Andronicus is full of angry awful people being angry and awful, well past the point of hilarity, but the best of them is Aaron's matter-of-fact no-seriously-listen-I'm-the-evil-one-here: "Even now I curse the day - and yet, I think / Few come within the compass of my curse - / Wherein I did not some notorious ill / As kill a man, or else devise his death".
posted by severalbees at 2:07 PM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Richard III's opening soliloquy in the play of the same name.
posted by Precision at 3:09 PM on November 29, 2008

Any of Timon's rants from Timon of Athens would be good.
posted by luckypozzo at 6:37 PM on November 29, 2008

Richard III's opening soliloquy in the play of the same name.

Great speech, but EarBucket wants obscure soliloquies. I suspect that one is the third-best-known of all Shakespeare Speeches, following "To be or not to be" and "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow."
posted by grumblebee at 8:09 PM on November 29, 2008

One of my all-time favorites is Leontes' "I have drunk and seen the spider" speech from "Winters Tale." Unfortunately for most readers, its power comes from a rather obscure image: a spider at the bottom of a cup. The idea is that if there's a spider in your cup, you're drinking poison (the spider's venom). But you're relatively lucky, because the murky liquid hides the spider, so though you're drinking something fatal, you're doing it in ignorance. You're happily unaware of your fate. But poor Leontes has drunk and SEEN the spider!

LEONTES (realizing that his wife has cheated on him)
How blest am I
In my just censure, in my true opinion!
Alack, for lesser knowledge! How accurs'd
In being so blest! There may be in the cup
A spider steep'd, and one may drink, depart,
And yet partake no venom, for his knowledge
Is not infected; but if one present
Th' abhorr'd ingredient to his eye, make known
How he hath drunk, he cracks his gorge, his sides,
With violent hefts. I have drunk, and seen the spider.
posted by grumblebee at 8:15 PM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Although obviously it depends on what your type is and what you're going for, I always liked (and used to audition with) a short one of Beatrice's from Much Ado (3.1):
What fire is in mine ears? Can this be true?
Stand I condemn'd for pride and scorn so much?
Contempt, farewell! and maiden pride, adieu!
No glory lives behind the back of such.
And, Benedick, love on; I will requite thee,
Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand:
If thou dost love, my kindness shall incite thee
To bind our loves up in a holy band;
For others say thou dost deserve, and I
Believe it better than reportingly.
posted by booksandlibretti at 9:58 PM on November 29, 2008

You know, I'll just say this as a only semi-relevant side note: I was setting up a Bard search keyword for this and found most advertised "Shakespeare search engines" to be woefully inadequate. None were fuzzy enough to recognize the difference between "oh" and "O", or "honour" and "honor."

What I ended up doing was creating a site search for, and Google's fuzziness did the trick:
posted by WCityMike at 3:18 PM on December 12, 2008

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