3 Tips for Performing Shakespeare

Want to know how to prepare a Shakespeare monologue?  We share 3 tips to help you perform and ready yourself for Shakespeare.

1. Understand The Words That Come Out of Your Mouth

It may seem a bit obvious but there are tons of Shakespeare words and phrases that do not resonate with the context of today’s speech.

It’s really crucial to comprehend the language of Shakespeare’s time.

One way of breaking things down and absorbing a better understanding is to seek out an Oxford dictionary and to also pick up a copy of any Shakespeare play that contains modern text opposite side the play text.

Being able to compare words and language from centuries ago to today may seem time consuming but remains a necessity.  How else can you express truth if you are lost in translation?

Watch available film versions of the play.  Seeing and hearing things visually will also provide insight for you.  You will better understand the characters and story.

Have a look at No Fear Shakespeare, Wikipedia or Folger’s Library for example.

2. Understanding Iambic Pentameter

Shakespeare wrote in a verse rhythm called iambic pentameter.  What does that mean?

Iambic pentameter refers to a specific kind of poetry.  Each line of poetry has a number of syllables within the line with an emphasis placed on each syllable.

There are two kinds of vocalizations to consider as it relates to iambic pentameter.

Stressed: when spoken, there is a strong emphasis on the syllable.
Unstressed: when spoken, there is a weaker emphasis on the syllable.

Syllables are made up of beats.

For example, the word make consists of one syllable and the word remake consists of two syllables.  RE (one syllable) MAKE (second syllable)

2 Quick Tidbits on Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter:

  1. There are a total of 10 syllables per line.
  2. Think of a music beat that goes down and up such as “de/DUM de/DUM de/DUM de/DUM de/DUM.”  Each line of verse has this rhythm.

Check out these examples of iambic pentameter from two of Shakespeare’s plays below:

Julius Caesar: (Act 3, Scene 2)

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!

Hamlet: (Act 1, Scene 2)

O that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d
His canon ’gainst self-slaughter! O God! O God!

3. Technical Aside – Keep Intuitive

It may appear complicated at first but after a short while, it becomes second nature to you.  Which brings us to our third and final point.

As much as it is important to understand the fundamentals of Shakespeare from a technical standpoint, it will be a waste of time without energizing the language without passion.

Be sure to remember to express fully and truthfully or else we will be left with mechanical acting instead of heartfelt meaning.

You may want to visit Why Shakespeare Monologues Help You Become A Better Actor

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