This monologue is one of my personal favourites and one I often turn to in theatre auditions. It’s exciting, complex, and yet beautifully succinct. Hopefully by the end of this article you will love it as much as I do and have a better understanding of how to perform it.
As with all our monologue breakdowns we will start by looking at the play. Understanding the play is the key to performing a monologue well. After that we look at the meaning and clarity of the piece, which is the essential work actors must do on a monologue. Finally we look at how to perform this monologue to help you smash your audition. So let’s get started!
Step 1: Understand the Play
Measure for Measure is referred to as a problem play. This means it doesn’t fit neatly into the definitions of Tragedy, Comedy or History. Productions vary from the dark and dramatic to the ludicrously comic. This is an important point as it can influence how you perform the monologue.
Let’s start with a basic run down of what has happened before the monologue…
Angelo is the stand-in Duke of Vienna. The society that is established in the play is one of rigid laws, that under the previous Duke Vincentio have become lax. Angelo begins the play as a precise, by-the-book ruler, who we understand will enforce the laws in an uncompromising way. Claudio, who the play centres around, has committed the act of fornication and is sentenced to death. Lucio, a friend of Claudio, goes to Claudio’s sister, Isabella, who lives in a convent, and entreats her to help free her sister.
Isabel meets with Angelo to beg for her sister’s life. She is persuasive and articulate in her dealings with Angelo, but he seems stubborn. However, after she leaves their first meeting (Act 2 Scene 2), we see Angelo deeply affected by his feelings towards Isabella. For the first time in his life he feels a strong desire to be with a woman. He asks her to return the next day. In the following scene (the one the monologue is featured in) he puts forward his simple demand: sleep with me and your sister lives. Isabella is horrified and says she will tell the world what a man Angelo is, his response is this monologue…
Full synopsis: Spark Notes Measure for Measure
Step 2: Understanding the Monologue
Full text (Act 2 Scene 4)
Angelo: Who will believe thee, Isabel?
My unsoil’d name, the austereness of my life,
My vouch against you, and my place i’th’ state
Will so your accusation overweigh,
That you shall stifle in your own report,
And smell of calumny. I have begun,
And now I give my sensual race the rein:
Fit thy consent to my sharp appetite;
Lay by all nicety and prolixious blushes,
That banish what they sue for. Redeem thy brother
By yielding up thy body to my will;
Or else he must not only die the death,
But thy unkindness shall his death draw out
To lingering sufferance. Answer me tomorrow,
Or, by the affection that now guides me most,
I’ll prove a tyrant to him. As for you,
Say what you can: my false o’erweighs your true.
Modern translation of Angelo Monologue
Who is going to believe you, Isabel?
My perfect reputation, my moral way of living, my respected word against yours, and my position in this city will all outweigh your accusation.
You’ll be silenced and discredited, and accused of defamation. The gate is open now, and now my desires have been set free. Feed my desire—no more of your modesty and time-wasting blushes, which charm me and then banish me for being charmed. Save your brother by sleeping with me, or he’ll be sentenced to death. And not only that, but it’ll be death by torture, drawn out by your cruelty.
Accept my offer by tomorrow, or by the passion I have now, I’ll punish him. As for you, say what you want. My lie will be taken as more true than your truth.
Austereness: strict or severe in discipline.
Stifle: to hold back; cut off.
Prolixious: time-wasting, tedious, protracted
Calumny: The making of false and defamatory statements about someone in order to damage their reputation; slander.
Step 3: Performing the Monologue
Angelo is dealing with a lot of new feelings. He is a man who seemingly lives by an impeccable moral standard, and is all of a sudden consumed by his desire for Isabella. He finds himself in the position of power and is now faced with the eternal question of whether to use that power to get what he wants. He decides he will.
Is Angelo conflicted?
Shakespeare monologues are often difficult in that they lack a clear “want”. There can appear to be no desire underpinning the monologue. As actors we need this. Angelo is very explicit about what he wants in this monologue: Isabella. The challenge is working out how far you push that power. How conflicted you are about that desire?
We have to remember that he until now says he hasn’t ever felt these feelings before. It is assumed he is being truthful here, and I think Angelo genuinely is just madly attracted to Isabel.
Playing for sense
Regardless of your intention as an actor, always play for clarity. This monologue is best when you are a clear intention underpinning every line. Take the time to do the work on understanding the language so that you can be free to play on the floor.
Even though Angelo is seemingly hypocritical for what he is doing, he still uses his same logic and stubbornness in his arguments. He is precise and clear about what he is saying. I think this is a small, but important point to raise.
Angelo is a contensious character and you might find in an audition context a director will have a completely different impression of the character. It is especially important with this monologue to prepare it in a way that is flexible. Experient with different actions and intentions and don’t lock in anay choices to rigidly. It’s alwasy important in theatre auditions to show your ability to take direction.
What a fun monologue! I hope you love this monologue as much as I do and add it to your catelog of monologues. If you want more tips on preparing a Shakespeare monologue.
Remember preparation is the key to any audition. Work it with another actor or a director and make sure you are always flexible and ready to respond to what a director asks of you.