So you’ve got an audition coming up, and they’ve asked you to prepare a Shakespeare monologue. You pull out your trusty “I left no ring with her. What means this lady?” or “Thou, Nature, art my goddess” and think, there must be something else I could do. Now, I don’t think you’re going to find a secret monologue that no one’s ever heard of before that will amaze a director, or a drama school panel, into casting you. But, there is something to be said for bringing in something they won’t have already seen twenty times that day. It shows you’ve read Shakespeare widely (and please,please do make sure you’ve read the play before your audition) and makes it less likely that whoever you’re presenting the monologue to has a really fixed view on how it should be delivered. Here is our top ten Shakespeare speeches that are often underused and overlooked.
#1 Timon – Timon of Athens
ACT IV SCENE I.
Let me look back upon thee. O thou wall
That girdles in those wolves, dive in the earth
And fence not Athens! Matrons, turn incontinent;
Obedience, fail in children; slaves and fools,
Pluck the grave wrinkled senate from the bench
And minister in their steads. To general filths
Convert o’th’ instant, green virginity,
Do’t in your parents’ eyes. Bankrupts, hold fast;
Rather than render back , out with your knives
And cut your trusters’ throats! Bound servants, steal:
Large-handed robbers your grave masters are
And pill by law. Maid, to thy master’s bed,
Thy mistress is o’th’ brothel. Son of sixteen,
Pluck the lined crutch from thy old limping sire,
With it beat out his brains. Piety and fear,
Religion to the gods, peace, justice, truth,
Domestic awe, night-rest and neighbourhood,
Instruction, manners, mysteries and trades,
Degrees, observances, customs and laws,
Decline to your confounding contraries –
And let confusion live! Plagues incident to men,
Your potent and infectious fevers heap
On Athens, ripe for stroke. Thou cold sciatica,
Cripple our senators that their limbs may halt
As lamely as their manners; lust and liberty,
Creep in the minds and marrows of our youth
That ’gainst the stream of virtue they may strive
And drown themselves in riot. Itches, blains,
Sow all th’Athenian bosoms, and their crop
Be general leprosy; breath, infect breath,
That their society, as their friendship, may
Be merely poison. Nothing I’ll bear from thee
But nakedness, thou detestable town.
Take thou that too, with multiplying bans .
Timon will to the woods, where he shall find
Th’unkindest beast more kinder than mankind.
The gods confound – hear me, you good gods all! –
Th’Athenians both within and out that wall,
And grant as Timon grows his hate may grow
To the whole race of mankind, high and low!
#2 Shylock – The Merchant of Venice
ACT IV SCENE I.
What judgement shall I dread, doing no wrong?
You have among you many a purchased slave,
Which, like your asses, and your dogs and mules,
You use in abject and in slavish parts ,
Because you bought them. Shall I say to you,
‘Let them be free, marry them to your heirs.
Why sweat they under burdens? Let their beds
Be made as soft as yours, and let their palates
Be seasoned with such viands ?’ You will answer:
‘The slaves are ours.’ So do I answer you.
The pound of flesh which I demand of him
Is dearly bought; ’tis mine, and I will have it.
If you deny me, fie upon your law:
There is no force in the decrees of Venice.
I stand for judgement: answer, shall I have it?
#3 Constance – King John
ACT III SCENE IV.
No, no, I will not, having breath to cry.
O, that my tongue were in the thunder’s mouth!
Then with a passion would I shake the world
And rouse from sleep that fell anatomy
Which cannot hear a lady’s feeble voice,
Which scorns a modern invocation.
Lady, you utter madness, and not sorrow.
Thou art not holy to belie me so!
I am not mad: this hair I tear is mine,
My name is Constance, I was Geoffrey’s wife,
Young Arthur is my son, and he is lost.
I am not mad; I would to God I were,
For then ’tis like I should forget myself.
O, if I could, what grief should I forget!
Preach some philosophy to make me mad,
And thou shalt be canonized, Cardinal:
For, being not mad, but sensible of grief,
My reasonable part produces reason
How I may be delivered of these woes
And teaches me to kill or hang myself.
If I were mad, I should forget my son,
Or madly think a babe of clouts were he.
I am not mad; too well, too well I feel
The different plague of each calamity.
#4 Jailer’s Daughter – The Two Noble Kinsmen
ACT II SCENE IV.
Enter Jailer’s Daughter alone.
Why should I love this gentleman? ’Tis odds
He never will affect me: I am base,
My father the mean keeper of his prison,
And he a prince. To marry him is hopeless;
To be his whore is witless. Out upon’t,
What pushes are we wenches driven to
When fifteen once has found us! – First, I saw him;
I, seeing, thought he was a goodly man;
He has as much to please a woman in him,
If he please to bestow it so, as ever
These eyes yet looked on. Next, I pitied him
And so would any young wench, o’ my conscience,
That ever dreamed, or vowed her maidenhead
To a young handsome man. Then, I loved him,
Extremely loved him, infinitely loved him!
And yet he had a cousin fair as he too,
But in my heart was Palamon and there,
Lord, what a coil he keeps! To hear him
Sing in an evening, what a heaven it is!
And yet his songs are sad ones. Fairer spoken
Was never gentleman. When I come in
To bring him water in a morning, first
He bows his noble body, then salutes me, thus:
‘Fair, gentle maid, good morrow; may thy goodness
Get thee a happy husband.’ Once, he kissed me.
I loved my lips the better ten days after:
Would he would do so every day! He grieves much
And me as much to see his misery.
What should I do to make him know I love him?
For I would fain enjoy him. Say I ventured
To set him free? What says the law then?
Thus much for law or kindred! I will do it!
And this night, or tomorrow, he shall love me.
#5 Marina – Pericles, Prince of Tyre
ACT IV SCENE V.
Do anything but this thou dost. Empty
Old receptacles or common shores of filth,
Serve by indenture to the common hangman,
Any of these ways are yet better than this.
For what thou professest a baboon, could he speak,
Would own a name too dear. O, that the gods
Would safely deliver me from this place!
Here, here’s gold for thee. (Gives Bolt the money.)
If that thy master would make gain by me,
Proclaim that I can sing, weave, sew and dance,
With other virtues which I’ll keep from boast,
And I will undertake all these to teach.
I doubt not but this populous city will
Yield many scholars.
#6 Leontes – A Winter’s Tale
ACT II SCENE I.
How blest am I
In my just censure, in my true opinion!
Alack, for lesser knowledge – how accursed
In being so blest. There may be in the cup
A spider steeped, and one may drink, depart,
And yet partake no venom, for his knowledge
Is not infected; but if one present
Th’abhorred 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.
Camillo was his help in this, his pander.
There is a plot against my life, my crown;
All’s true that is mistrusted. That false villain
Whom I employed was pre-employed by him.
He has discovered my design, and I
Remain a pinched thing – yea, a very trick
For them to play at will. How came the posterns
So easily open?
#7 Cleopatra – Antony and Cleopatra
ACT IV SCENE II.
Where art thou, Death?
Come hither, come! Come, come and take a queen
Worth many babes and beggars!
O temperance, lady!
Sir, I will eat no meat; I’ll not drink, sir;
If idle talk will once be necessary,
I’ll not sleep neither. This mortal house I’ll ruin,
Do Caesar what he can. Know, sir, that I
Will not wait pinioned at your master’s court,
Nor once be chastised with the sober eye
Of dull Octavia. Shall they hoist me up
And show me to the shouting varletry
Of censuring Rome? Rather a ditch in Egypt
Be gentle grave unto me! Rather on Nilus’ mud
Lay me stark naked, and let the water-flies
Blow me into abhorring! Rather make
My country’s high pyramides my gibbet
And hang me up in chains!
#8 Falstaff – Henry IV Part 1
ACT IV SCENE II
If I be not ashamed of my soldiers, I am a soused gurnet. I have misused the King’s press damnably. I have got, in exchange of a hundred and fifty soldiers, three hundred and odd pounds. I press me none but good householders, yeomen’s sons; inquire me out contracted bachelors, such as had been asked twice on the banns, such a commodity of warm slaves as had as lief hear the devil as a drum, such as fear the report of a caliver worse than a struck fowl or a hurt wild duck. I pressed me none but such toasts-and-butter, with hearts in their bellies no bigger than pins’ heads, and they have bought out their services; and now my whole charge consists of ensigns, corporals, lieutenants, gentlemen of companies – slaves as ragged as Lazarus in the painted cloth where the glutton’s dogs licked his sores – and such as indeed were never soldiers, but discarded unjust servingmen, younger sons to younger brothers, revolted tapsters and ostlers trade-fallen – the cankers of a calm world and a long peace, ten times more dishonourable-ragged than an old feazed ensign . And such have I to fill up the rooms of them as have bought out their services that you would think that I had a hundred and fifty tattered prodigals lately come from swine-keeping, from eating draff and husks. A mad fellow met me on the way and told me I had unloaded all the gibbets and pressed the dead bodies. No eye hath seen such scarecrows. I’ll not march through Coventry with them, that’s flat. Nay, and the villains march wide betwixt the legs as if they had gyves on, for indeed I had the most of them out of prison. There’s not a shirt and a half in all my company, and the half-shirt is two napkins tacked together and thrown over the shoulders like a herald’s coat without sleeves; and the shirt, to say the truth, stolen from my host at Saint Albans or the red-nose innkeeper of Daventry. But that’s all one; they’ll find linen enough on every hedge.
#9 Berowne – Love’s Labour’s Lost
ACT III SCENE I
And I, forsooth, in love! I, that have been love’s whip,
A very beadle to a humorous sigh,
A critic , nay, a night-watch constable,
A domineering pedant o’er the boy,
Than whom no mortal so magnificent!
This wimpled, whining, purblind, wayward boy,
This Signor Junior , giant dwarf, Dan Cupid,
Regent of love-rhymes, lord of folded arms,
Th’anointed sovereign of sighs and groans,
Liege of all loiterers and malcontents,
Dread prince of plackets, king of codpieces,
Sole imperator and great general
Of trotting paritors – O my little heart!
And I to be a corporal of his field
And wear his colours like a tumbler’s hoop!
What? I love, I sue, I seek a wife?
A woman that is like a German clock ,
Still a-repairing, ever out of frame
And never going aright, being a watch,
But being watched that it may still go right!
Nay, to be perjured, which is worst of all;
And among three to love the worst of all,
A whitely wanton with a velvet brow,
With two pitch-balls stuck in her face for eyes;
Ay, and by heaven, one that will do the deed
Though Argus were her eunuch and her guard.
And I to sigh for her, to watch for her,
To pray for her! Go to, it is a plague
That Cupid will impose for my neglect
Of his almighty dreadful little might.
Well, I will love, write, sigh, pray, sue and groan.
Some men must love my lady, and some Joan.
#10 Imogen’s – Cymbeline
ACT III SCENE VI
Enter Imogen, in boy’s Clothes.
I see a man’s life is a tedious one,
I have tir’d myself: and for two nights together
Have made the ground my bed. I should be sick,
But that my resolution helps me: Milford,
When from the mountain-top Pisanio show’d thee,
Thou was within a ken. O Jove! I think
Foundations fly the wretched: such, I mean,
Where they should be reliev’d. Two beggars told me
I could not miss my way. Will poor folks lie,
That have afflictions on them, knowing ’tis
A punishment, or trial? Yes; no wonder,
When rich ones scarce tell true. To lapse in fulness
Is sorer than to lie for need: and falsehood
Is worse in kings than beggars. My dear lord,
Thou art one o’ th’ false ones! Now I think on thee,
My hunger’s gone; but even before, I was
At point to sink, for food.—But what is this?
Here is a path to’t: ’tis some savage hold:
I were best not call; I dare not call: yet famine,
Ere clean it o’erthrow Nature, makes it valiant.
Plenty and peace breeds cowards: hardness ever
Of hardiness is mother. Ho! who’s here?
If any thing that’s civil, speak: if savage,
Take, or lend. Ho! No answer? Then I’ll enter.
Best draw my sword; and if mine enemy
But fear the sword like me, he’ll scarcely look on’t.
Such a foe, good heavens!
Exit, to the cave.
I hope you’ve found something in our list to inspire you for your next Shakespeare audition! Make sure you’ve read the play, and understand the context of your speech, before you begin working on it. In particular, take note of what has just happened in the scene that has instigated your character to speak this speech. If you want to check out some more monologues, explore more Shakespeare Monologues and have a look through our Monologues Unpacked series for a deeper look at some old favourites.
Didn’t see your favourite on the list? Let us know in the comments below!