Laurence Olivier playing Hamlet

Most actors, at some point in their career, will be faced with delivering a classical speech. Most drama schools of any worth require the auditionee to prepare at least one speech from a play by Shakespeare or one of his contemporaries. The young male actor faces some challenges in selecting a soliloquy that will showcase them to the best of their ability. Firstly, they will need to find a speech that is age-appropriate. Secondly, it would be best to avoid obvious choices that the panel will be sick of seeing or are out of the young actor’s current emotional repertoire; I’m talking about ‘To be or not to be’ or monologues of similar stature.

What do classical monologues offer the actor?

Classical monologues are gifts to the young actor. They offer something that many modern speeches don’t; range. They are full to the brim with the stuff that makes drama dramatic and theatre theatrical; tension, risk, conflict, heroism, danger and scale. The last item on the list is of particular note. Classical theatre makes demands on the actor to be brave and bold physically, mentally and emotionally and the weight of the text gives you permission to do just that. The speeches are perfect pockets of a story, ideally suited to auditions.

Approaching classical theatre

It takes some young actors a little while to come to terms with the magnitude of classical text, but it is vital to avoid being timid or puny in your approach to these speeches.  They require a strong vocal energy and a fearless physicality, but most of all they require expansive imagination. Allow yourself to be immersed in the text and take leaps of faith. Don’t think too naturalistically. Most classical speeches employ heightened rhetoric; your job is to communicate this in a compelling way to your audience.

How I have selected the speeches

In my selection of the following speeches from classical plays, I used the following criteria:

  • They are all for men in their late teens to early thirties.
  • None of them are run-of-the-mill obvious choices.
  • Although I include a couple of Shakespeare’s soliloquys I wanted to offer some alternatives that fall under the ‘classical’ bracket.
  • All of the speeches are suitable for auditions

One last piece of advice

Make sure you always read the play from which the monologue is taken. You can’t get a strong enough sense of character by approaching the speech in isolation. It is vital to see the person you are playing in a wider frame of reference; this is the only way to fully understand their journey to the point at which the speech takes place.

List of classical speeches for young men

I have not provided the speech in its entirety here. Rather I have given a brief description of each speech and a point of reference for you to find the speech yourself. In some cases I have linked to free online transcripts of the plays. I have also given a short amount of information about the character and the story. However, this should in no way be taken as direction on how to play the role; that is up to you in your personal interpretation.

Play: Arden of Feversham

Playwright: Anonymous (1592)

Scene: Act 3, Scene 5. Arden’s house at Feversham

Character: Mosbie

Mosbie is the ambitious steward of Lord Clifford and is having an adulterous affair with Mistress Alice. Together, they have plotted the murder of Alice’s husband Thomas Arden(a wealthy gentleman of Feversham). They have also put together a crew of low accomplices. Things don’t go to plan and several attempts of Arden’s life fail. Mosbie then starts to suffer guilt and stress, which he discloses in this speech. It is full of paranoia and neurosis.

Start: Disturbed thoughts drives me from company…

End: But here she comes, and I must flatter her.

Play: Edward II

Playwright: Christopher Marlowe (1594)

Scene: Act 1, Scene 1. London. A street.

Character: Gaveston

This speech is the opening moment of the play. Gaveston enters reading a letter. He is a favourite of King Edward II and will later be made an Earl. He was previously banished from court by Edward’s father, but the newly crowned king has summoned him back. In this speech, Gavescon muses on what influence he will have over the monarch.

Start: ‘My father is deceas’d, come Gaveston…

End: But how now what are these.

Romeo and Juliet(103807)Play: Romeo and Juliet

Playwright: William Shakespeare (1595)

Scene: Act 5, Scene 1. Mantua. A street.

Romeo is tackled a lot by young actors, but this speech is often overlooked. Romeo is in exile from Verona having killed Tybalt. Early on in the scene he speaks of a dream he's had of Juliet and feels content and cheerful. Balthasar, his servant, arrives with news from Verona of Juliet’s death. Balthasar tells Romeo she is buried in her family tomb. Romeo’s mood switches and he becomes wild with panic and fear. He resolves to commit suicide so that he can be with Juliet in death; he decides to seek out poison from a nearby apothecary.

Start: If I may trust the flattering truth of sleep…

End: What ho, apothecary!

Play: A Woman Killed with Kindness

Playwright: Thomas Heywood (1603)

Scene: Scene 6. Yorkshire. A room in the home of Master John Frankford.

Character: Wendoll

Wendoll is a gentleman who is contemplating seducing the loyal wife of his friend and host, Master John Frankford. In this monologue, he reveals his desires and verges on the obsessive.

Start: I am a villain, if I apprehend…

End: A villain and a traitor to his friend.

Play: Volpone

Playwright: Ben Johnson (1605)

Scene: Act 3, Scene 1. Venice. A street.

Character: Mosca

Mosca is assistant to Volpone, a rich Venetian. He is a parasite who helps Volpone in his quest to trick several fortune-hunters out of their wealth. As their plans begin to success, Mosca begins to show signs of megalomania. This speech opens the third act and should be spoken directly to the audience..

Start: I fear I shall begin to grow in love…

End: Are the true parasites, others but their zanies.

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