Speak the Speech!: Shakespeare's Monologues Illuminated

Speak the Speech!: Shakespeare's Monologues Illuminated

by Rhona Silverbush, Sami Plotkin

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The most comprehensive sourcebook of Shakespeare's monologues ever available in one volume.

A detailed guide to approaching Shakespearean text, Speak the Speech! contains everything an actor needs to select and prepare a Shakespeare monologue for classwork, auditions, or performance.

Included herein are over 150 monologues. Each one is placed in context with a brief introduction, is carefully punctuated in the manner that best illustrates its meaning, and is painstakingly and thoroughly annotated. Each is also accompanied by commentary that will spark the actor's imagination by exploring how the interrelationship of meter and the choice of words and sounds yields clues to character and performance. And throughout the book sidebars relate historical, topical, technical, and other useful and entertaining information relevant to the text. In addition, the authors include an overview of poetic and rhetorical elements, brief synopses of all the plays, and a comprehensive index along with other guidelines that will help readers locate the perfect monologue for their needs.

More than just an actor's toolkit, Speak the Speech! is also an entertaining resource that will help demystify Shakespeare's language for the student and theater lover alike.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

I celebrate all things that demystify Shakespeare so that artists and audiences alike can breathe and live inside his wonderous words. Speak the Speech! does just that. It is a great resource not just for actors but for anyone who loves the Bard.” —George C. Wolfe, Producer, the Joseph Papp Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429998499
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 09/18/2002
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 1088
File size: 3 MB

Read an Excerpt

Speak the Speech!

Shakespeare's Monologues Illuminated

By Rhona Silverbush, Sami Plotkin

Faber and Faber, Inc.

Copyright © 2002 Rhona Silverbush and Sami Plotkin
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-9849-9



During the Elizabethan era, the Protestant Reformation took firm hold in England, and nationalistic sentiments rose in response to the constant threat of Counter-Reformation forces in Europe. These feelings fueled a strong interest in English history, which in turn gave rise to the development of a popular new theatrical genre, the history play. For the most part, history plays drew their material from the most authoritative historical sources of the time, Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (second edition, 1587) and Edward Hall's The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (1548), both of which reflected the trend toward pro-Tudor historical propaganda encouraged by Henry VII, the first monarch in the Tudor dynasty. With their history plays, Elizabethan playwrights carried on this pro-Tudor approach to please Henry VII's granddaughter, Elizabeth I. Although Shakespeare, who is credited with inventing the genre, was not immune to this pressure, his plays were far less propagandistic than those written by his contemporaries. Unlike his colleagues' works, Shakespeare's Histories examined political dilemmas with a depth that makes them still resonant today. Perhaps for this reason, his are the only examples of the genre still widely read and performed.





PROSE/VERSE: blank verse

AGE RANGE: adult to mature adult

FREQUENCY OF USE (1 — 5) : 2

Philip the Bastard has just come up in the world: he and his brother Robert sought King John's arbitration of their dispute over their father's inheritance. Dad left all the land to Robert, in a will that Philip, as the older son, naturally contested. Having realized that Philip is actually the bastard son of the late King Richard I, Queen Elinor has made her grandson an offer he can't refuse: she has just invited him to join her in fighting France, if he will relinquish his lands to Robert. Philip has jumped at the chance, and King John has knighted him, then and there, Sir Richard Plantagenet, after his father. The Bastard is delighted at his sudden social advancement. He gladly says goodbye to his brother and his lands, then muses over his new social status:

Brother, adieu. Good fortune come to thee,
For thou wast got i' th' way of honesty.
[Exeunt all but the Bastard]
A foot of honor better than I was,
But many a many foot of land the worse.
Well, now can I make any Joan a lady.
"Good den, Sir Richard!" — "God-a-mercy, fellow!" —
And if his name be George, I'll call him Peter,
For new-made honor doth forget men's names:
'Tis too respective and too sociable
For your conversion. Now your traveler,
He and his toothpick at my worship's mess,
And when my knightly stomach is sufficed,
Why then I suck my teeth and catechize
My picked man of countries: "My dear Sir," —
Thus leaning on mine elbow I begin —
"I shall beseech you" — that is Question now,
And then comes Answer like an Absey book:
"O Sir," says Answer, "at your best command,
At your employment, at your service, Sir."
"No, Sir," says Question, "I, sweet Sir, at yours."
And so, ere Answer knows what Question would,
Saving in dialogue of compliment,
And talking of the Alps and Apennines,
The Pyrenean and the River Po,
It draws toward supper in conclusion so.
But this is worshipful society,
And fits the mounting spirit like myself;
For he is but a bastard to the time
That doth not smack of observation,
And so am I, whether I smack or no:
And not alone in habit and device,
Exterior form, outward accoutrement,
But from the inward motion to deliver
Sweet, sweet, sweet poison for the age's tooth —
Which, though I will not practice to deceive,
Yet, to avoid deceit, I mean to learn,
For it shall strew the footsteps of my rising.
But who comes in such haste, in riding-robes?
What woman-post is this? Hath she no husband
That will take pains to blow a horn before her?
O me, 'tis my mother. How now, good Lady —
What brings you here to court so hastily?

180 adieu goodbye (French); Good fortune ... thee May good fortune come to you; 181 got begotten, fathered; way of honesty honest way [got ... honesty conceived within wedlock]; 182 A foot of honor better a foot higher in reputation and good name; 183 many a many foot a great many feet; 184 Joan peasant girl; lady common term for a woman of high social standing; 185 Good den good evening; God-a-mercy God have mercy; may God reward you (a way of saying thank you, used in response to a respectful greeting from an inferior); fellow a form of address to a servant or inferior; 188 respective respectful; 189 conversion change for the better (i.e., change from lower to higher social rank); 190 my worship's my (giving himself a title of honor); mess dining table (where they dine as befits the Bastard's high rank); 191 sufficed satisfied, full; 192 catechize teach by means of questions and answers; 193 pickèd (1) refined; (2) chosen; man of countries traveler [My pickèd ... countries (1) My refined traveler; (2) the traveler I chose (to invite to dinner)]; 195 I shall beseech you I ask you (he is being overly solicitious and polite); Question referring to the questioner (himself); 196 Answer referring to the answerer (the traveler); Absey book (AYB-see) ABC book, child's primer (which sometimes included a catechism); 197 at your best command I am at your best command; 200 ere before; would wants; 201 Saving except for; dialogue of compliment polite conversation, small talk; 202 Apennines (A'-puh-NINES) mountains in Italy; 203 Pyrenean (PEER-eh-NEE'-an) mountains between France and Spain; River Po a river in Italy; 204 It draws toward supper in conclusion so time passes between dinner and supper in this fashion; 205 worshipful society two meanings: (1) the honorable, respectable set (to which he now belongs); and/or (2) reverent, worshipping company (the company of flatterers such as the traveler); 206 fits (1) befits, is appropriate for; (2) is pleasing to; mounting rising (in social rank); 207 but nothing but, only; bastard to the time i.e., unfashionable, out-of-date person; 208 That who; smack of have a taste of, hint of; observation experience (knowledge gained by observing); 209 smack here, he puns on the word smoke; no not; 210 alone only; habit clothing; manner of dressing; device the cut and trim of a garment; 211 accoutrement accessories; 212 motion inclination, impulse; deliver speak, serve up; 213 Sweet, sweet, sweet poison i.e., extreme flattery; for the age's tooth i.e., pleasing to the tastes of this era; 215 Yet rather; to avoid deceit to avoid being deceived, to avoid being had [And not alone ... I mean to learn I intend to learn not only to dress fashionably and have the outward trappings of a nobleman, but also to develop the impulse to speak in the flattering manner of the time — not to deceive others, but to avoid being taken for a ride by them]; 216 strew the footsteps throw petals in the path of (sweeten the path of); my rising my advancement in society; 218 woman-post female messenger (it would be insulting for a gentlewoman to be mistaken as such); 219 blow a horn before her i.e., to announce her arrival, as would befit a woman of stature; 220 How now What are you doing here?


The conversation that has just taken place before King John, Elinor, and Robert leave the stage provides helpful clues to the opening of this piece: the Bastard has just been elevated to a social status superior to that of his brother. In addition, he has just agreed to join the attack on France. Thus, his Brother adieu may be used to pointedly get in a last jab at Robert, simply to say goodbye to him on equal terms, to rub it in that he is off to France on an important mission, or just to be schmancy now that he's a knight. This leads to interesting possibilities for the second line: Is Philip being sarcastic? Or is he simply reiterating a point he made earlier in the scene to his brother — his illegitimate father gave him honor, while Robert's legitimate father gave him land — i.e., that everything in life is a trade-off?

Another helpful hint from the preceding scene is that Philip has chosen to be the illegitimate son of Richard I rather than the landed son of Sir Robert. This is a good clue to where his priorities lie. Philip obviously has a lot more respect for his biological father than for the one who raised him. When he fantasizes about an inferior wishing him Good den, Sir Richard, he is not only relishing his newly bestowed title, but also the identification with his heroic royal father, Richard.

You will notice that if you try to break down the grammatical structure of this monologue, it is not particularly easy to follow: Philip is carried away with excitement over his new status, and uses many run-ons and fragments, which lend the piece a conversational tone. And though it may be impossible to parse in English class, when read aloud it flows beautifully.

The reason it flows so beautifully is that (as one can surmise from this speech) Philip is one smart cookie, and though he may not be familiar with courtly manners, he is witty, sharp, quick with a comeback, and adept at rhetoric: Philip personifies Question and Answer in the early part of the monologue, using them as characters that represent his and the traveler's roles in their dialogue. Later in the speech, he shifts to antithesis. Just as he earlier countered Question with Answer, he now compares thesis to antithesis: not alone in habit and device versus But from the inward motion; will not practice to deceive versus Yet, to avoid deceit.

Philip also employs rhyme to enhance his speech. The first two lines form a rhyming couplet (thee / honesty), which emphasize his farewell to his brother, and also wrap up the group scene, providing a clean transition into the soliloquy. He uses another such couplet at an important transition within the piece: the couplet The Pyrenean and the River Po, / It draws toward supper in conclusion so ends Philip's story-style description of the type of company he expects to be keeping, and creates a fresh opening for his cogitations on how he's going to adapt to his new courtly life.

Notice the way sounds are used intermittently to enhance descriptions. In several places, short alliterative phrases punch the important points. For instance, the S sounds in stomach is sufficed suggest a stomach stuffed full. The use of two such alliterative phrases in a row (but a bastard to the time) draws the listener's attention to Philip's preoccupation with illegitimacy, a preoccupation that is revealed by his use of the word bastard in a metaphor for an unrelated concept. And at the end of the piece, the phrases riding-robes and what woman-post sets up his flippant attitude toward his mother.

The most striking use of sounds is the repetition of the word Sir, along with a string of other Servile Ss in Philip's example of worshipful society: Sir / beseech / Question / comes / Answer / Absey / Sir / says / Question / sweet Sir. The repetition of sweet achieves the same effect, subtly reminding the listener of what sort of sweet poison he's referring to. For information on exploiting the sound of the word O, see "O, No! An O!".

Philip's favorite linguistic trick seems to be the pun. Notice these: pickèd man = the man he picked to dine with him; also, the man who has just used his toothpick; worshipful = honorable, respectable; also, worshipping, respectful; knightly = knightly; also, nightly (i.e., a man of rank feasts every night, not just on special occasions); bastard to the time = out of step with the times (unfashionable); also, illegitimate, as frequently noted by his contemporaries; smack = hint, suggest; also, smoke (i.e., he's unfashionable whether he smokes or not); will = will; also, sexual desire; take pains = bother to; also, have sex; blow = blow (as into a musical instrument); also, thrust, during sex; horn = musical instrument; also, penis. If you put the last few sexual puns together, Philip is not only saying that his mother has no husband to appropriately accompany her to court, but also implying that her husband did not sexually satisfy her, and thus she has cuckolded him (horn is a triple pun: horns were the symbol of the cuckold).


Line 220 contains a silent half foot at the first caesura, a double ending before the second caesura, and another double ending at the end of the line:

x / (x) / x / (x) / x/ x /(x)

O me, (pause) 'tis my mother. How now, good Lady

Don't forget to elide: Exterior (Eks-TEER-yor) in line 211; ... to contract: i' th' (ith') in line 181 and many a (MEN-ya) in line 183; ... and to expand: pickèd (PICK-ehd) in line 193 and observation (OB-zer-VAY' -shee-UN) in line 208.


Shakespeare used not one but three historic sources for the Bastard: first, King Richard I's real-life illegitimate son Philip (hence, Philip the Bastard's first name), about whom very little is known; second, the French general Jean Dunois (known affectionately as the Bastard of Orléans), who is reputed to have said that he would rather be the bastard of a great man than the legitimate heir of a humble one; third, another illegitimate nobleman, William Neville, Lord Falconbridge, who lends to the character his surname and an additional dose of illegitimacy.


King Richard I, a.k.a. Richard Coeur de Lion, a.k.a. Richard Lion-Heart, has always been a big fave among the British. He was remembered through the centuries as a chivalrous and brave hero, and kept popping up as the protagonist of histories, plays, and romance novels. Perhaps this is because he spent almost his entire reign outside England's borders, fighting first in the crusades and then against King Philip I in France. During the ten years of his rule, Coeur de Lion spent only six months in Merry Old England. All his subjects knew of him was that he was out there fighting in the name of God (theirs), England (theirs), and St. George (also theirs), and that he was doing his country right proud. No wonder Philip is elated to be his son.




PROSE/VERSE: blank verse

AGE RANGE : adult to mature adult

FREQUENCY OF USE (1 — 5) : 3

Philip the Bastard has accompanied England's King John to France to fight against King Philip II, who has backed the claim of John's young nephew, Arthur, to the English throne. The Bastard, a newcomer to the world of international diplomacy, has just looked on as the two kings agreed to an eleventh-hour peace treaty, in which King Philip received some lands previously held by the English in return for dropping Arthur's cause. To cement the deal, John's niece, Blanch, is betrothed to King Philip's son and heir, Lewis. As everyone goes off to the wedding ceremony, the Bastard stays behind and reacts to the sudden agreement between the two kings.


Excerpted from Speak the Speech! by Rhona Silverbush, Sami Plotkin. Copyright © 2002 Rhona Silverbush and Sami Plotkin. Excerpted by permission of Faber and Faber, Inc..
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