It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
May 24, 2007 8:45 AM   Subscribe

Please help me choose a Shakespeare speech for a short class on "Playing Shakespeare".

My questions are always so long; sorry. I did try to edit this one down, but everything seems equally important...

On Sunday, I start a six-week, 12-hour-total class for actors "at all levels"; the first half will focus on "speeches" and the second half on scenes. It's been a while since I read Shakespeare, and there's so much out there, I'm a little overwhelmed by the number of possible choices.

Something that works well with my strengths & weaknesses would be nice; I'm learning about interpreting text here, not shoring up my known problems. I'm creative, can be very real and in-the-moment, sometimes funny (I don't seem to have a lot of control over this, though), and can occcasionally summon true emotional intensity, but not consistently. I have the rare good moment. My "study" of acting is almost entirely in a few individual classes taught over the years by various local theater companies, plus a bit of reading (Uta Hagen, Group Theater/Stanislavsky, a few others).

I love relating to other characters on stage, so a speech spoken to another character, rather than a soliloquy, might be easier for me. I'm female, 30s, but don't want to limit myself to female characters or to a certain age range.

Portia's "The quality of mercy is not strained" speech seems possible -- a gentleman gave me a printed copy years ago, saying I'd be "perfect" for it, though he's not an actor or director -- but I wonder if this is too famous/difficult/obvious. Also, the whole "Jew" thing would need to be dealt with. I'm not wholly opposed to this speech, but I wonder if there are better alternatives.

I'm pretty sure I'll get a chance to explore different interpretations of the same text, so something that supports that well would be nice. Bonus points if the speech leads into a song (I'm also working on a Shakespearean song project, separately).

If you've read this far, you're probably interested in Shakespeare, so here's a thank-you offering in case you don't know about it: OpenSourceShakespeare.
posted by amtho to Society & Culture (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
"I left no ring with her: what means this lady?" (Viola/Twelfth Night)

"How happy some o'er other some can be!" (Helena/Midsummer Night's Dream)

"Lo, she is one of this confederacy!" [the beautiful "double cherry" soliloquy] (Helena/Midsummer Night's Dream)

No song cues, sorry.
posted by La Cieca at 9:17 AM on May 24, 2007

Hamlet Act II, scene ii

I have of late--but wherefore I know not--lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.
posted by gallois at 9:24 AM on May 24, 2007

Why not "Once more into the breach", from Henry IV Part 2? If you want a challenge, not to mention a degree of gender bending.

Or the "St. Crispins Day" speech from earlier in that same play.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:29 AM on May 24, 2007

Beatrice has a lot of work to do in Much Ado About Nothing - I believe it's Act IV - after Hero's failed wedding in particular. It's a favorite though, of a lot of people. Also in Much Ado, Act III Scene 1, with Ursula - that can be very, very funny. While I'm on Much Ado, if you want to do a scene with some gender bending (maybe for the latter part of your class) - take Conrade from Much Ado and make it Constance - as a girl, this character is about 500 times more interesting.

For a lesser known play, the Princess in Love's Labour's Lost has several good speeches and a lot of verbal sparring - I love in particluar the one that begins "'Fair' I give you back again;" (II,1,581). Rosaline also has a lot of fun stuff in that show - particularly the exchange that begins at II,1,603 with Biron's line.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:37 AM on May 24, 2007

Steven: Those speeches are from Henry V, and it's "Once more unto the breach."
posted by cerebus19 at 9:50 AM on May 24, 2007

Fair enough. But when they're delivered well, they are very stirring. And the OP asked for speeches delivered to other characters; those certainly are.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:54 AM on May 24, 2007

Risky choice: Twain's Shakespeare parody in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
posted by LarryC at 9:55 AM on May 24, 2007

It's a soliloquy, but I've always loved the opening speech of Richard III. It's also a good speech with which to play around with different interpretations.
posted by cerebus19 at 10:02 AM on May 24, 2007

If you really want a challenge, you could do the Lear part from Act III, Scene 2. It's probably one of the hardest scenes in Shakespeare to perform believably.
posted by cerebus19 at 10:06 AM on May 24, 2007

Halmet's speech to the actors? Act 3, scene 2. "Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounc'd it to you,
trippingly on the tongue..." Sort of apropos for an acting class, no?
posted by backseatpilot at 10:22 AM on May 24, 2007

Prologues from Henry V and R&J are nice and solid. Not the same as speeches speeches, of course, but meaty and offering the opportunity to interpret the whole story of the play in various ways depending on your delivery.
posted by fidelity at 11:08 AM on May 24, 2007

You know, a lot of Shakespeare's sonnets are wonderful vehicles for what you're after, if you'd like to consider that avenue.
posted by Skot at 11:10 AM on May 24, 2007

I was going to recommend Helena from A Midsummer Night's Dream, too.

Emilia's monologue (right at the bottom of the page; I'd start with "But I do think") is fun. It's a hugely heightened emotional moment, but she's trying to lighten the mood a bit, so you get emotional intensity plus some comedy, if you play it as Emilia trying to cajole Desdemona into a better mood.
posted by occhiblu at 11:50 AM on May 24, 2007

(Oh, and there is a song in that scene, though it's Desdemona's.)
posted by occhiblu at 11:51 AM on May 24, 2007

1) I strongly second Skot and the sonnets.
2) They are self-contained, they contain multiple objectives with
high stakes, they vary in quality but are rewarding.
3) Don't forget-- a soliloquy IS spoken to "some other
4) If you choose a speech from a play, be sure to read the entire
play. Several times. This is most likely self-evident, but I know
plenty of seasoned actors who forget this or are too lazy to do
5) Through out the Stanislavsky, et al. Keep the Hagen.
Just saying.
6) DON'T FORGET: Acting is DOING. Not Feeling. Feeling is a
lovely by-product of ACTION. I do this for a living. Please
trust me on this one.
7) You are gonna have a BALL. Shakespeare is the cooliest!
posted by Dizzy at 12:02 PM on May 24, 2007

whoops: Through=throw.
And burn 'em before you throw 'em out.
posted by Dizzy at 12:03 PM on May 24, 2007

For my part, Hermione’s speeches to Leontes in The Winter’s Tale, Act III, Scene 2, spring to mind. She is a queen who has been wrongfully accused of adultery by her husband. She is dragged before a tribunal to answer this accusation only moments after giving birth to her second child. Powerful stuff. I prefer the later one, which begins, "Sir, spare your threats, the bug which you would fright me with, I seek...."

Constance’s speeches to the Dauphin and Phillip from King John, Act 111, Scene 4 are truly beautiful. I prefer the one that begins, “Thou art not holy to belie me so; I am not mad, this hair is tear is mine.” Constance believes her son, Arthur, has been murdered. Grief stricken, she cries out for justice.

Lady Anne's speech to Gloucester from Richard III, Act 1, Scene 2, is another wonderful option. She stands over the bloody corpse of her husband, King Henry, and accuses Gloucester of his murder, which he denies. Look at the one which begins, "Foul Devil, get thee hence, and trouble us not..." (I think that's paraphrased, so my apologies.)

On a much lighter note, Viola from Twelfth Night, Act 11, Scene 2. Viola, disguised as a man, realizes that Olivia has fallen in love with her, believing her to be a dashing young swain. The speech begins, “I left no ring with her; what means this lady?”
posted by TryTheTilapia at 1:20 PM on May 24, 2007

She stands over the bloody corpse of her husband, King Henry

Not quite. Lady Anne's husband was Edward of Westminster, son of Henry VI, so it's her father-in-law's corpse over which Richard woos her.
posted by cerebus19 at 1:34 PM on May 24, 2007

Whoops! Cerebus19 is right; working from drama school memories on that one. Still, a wonderful monologue.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 1:38 PM on May 24, 2007

mark antony addressing the roman senate in "julius caesar", or the opening of richard iii.
posted by bruce at 1:44 PM on May 24, 2007

Some thought to consider before making your speech. No matter what the speech, consider crafting a short one-minute-ish introduction explaining the context. It can add so much to the recitation if you can catch the audience up on what has led the character to make the speech, particularyly for those who may not be familiar with the piece. I can't imagine this being frowned on by any prof. or group.

Also, consider doing something that is not exactly known by everyone. For example, everyone knows Romeo and Juliet from film or from an old high school reading of the play. And I would down the Hamlet idea right away. Way overdone.

Good luck. I know you will do well.
posted by boots77 at 2:29 PM on May 24, 2007

I've done sonnets as monologues, and I've never been hugely thrilled with the results. They end up sounding more like lectures and less like you're embodying a character -- I'm not sure how useful they'd be for an acting workshop.
posted by occhiblu at 2:29 PM on May 24, 2007

We do Shakespeare, and we've had people audition sonnets -- they're actually usually very nice. Certainly a change of pace when I've been sitting through two days of auditions, anyway. Someone actually did XVIII and explained that is was suppoably about Will's son rather than a lady love and really put a lot of heart into it - it went quite well. Tomato/Tomahto I suppose.
On a much lighter note, Viola from Twelfth Night, Act 11, Scene 2. Viola, disguised as a man, realizes that Olivia has fallen in love with her, believing her to be a dashing young swain. The speech begins, “I left no ring with her; what means this lady?”
That is a good one - I'd forgotten about it. It can be really awesome.
posted by Medieval Maven at 2:37 PM on May 24, 2007

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