1) Understand your MonologueThe first thing you need to do with a new Shakespeare monologue is be absolutely sure you understand every word in it. As much as you can, try to read a lot of Shakespeare plays. Some of the language in Shakespeare is outdated and therefore hard to understand, but the more you read Shakespeare, the more you'll understand it, as a lot of the same words come back over and over in his plays.
If you have trouble with Shakespeare's language, get a Folger's edition of the play you're working on where hard to understand words are explained opposite each page. Even if you understand Shakespeare pretty well, it's a good idea to go through your monologue once and translate it line by line into modern English to really get the meaning to resonate with you. If something feels archaic, try to come up with a modern equivalent that you respond to.
2) Do your Acting WorkThe next step involves doing the same work you would do if you were working on any part, be it a monologue or a scene, Shakespeare or Mamet. Read the play your Shakespeare monologue is from a few times and study the given circumstances. Explore relationships, characterization and objectives by asking yourself a lot of questions. Here are a few examples to get started:
Who am I? What is my character's background, characteristics, emotional makeup?
What is going on in the monologue? What are the given circumstances of the play?
Where am I? Where am I coming from? Where am I going to?
What do I want? How am I going to get it? What stands in my way?
What time of day is it? What just happened before the monologue started?
3) Find a reason for speakingIf your Shakespeare monologue is part of the scene, all you need to do is think of your objective to find a reason to start speaking.
But what of all these monologues where the character is just speaking aloud to himself? These can fee unnatural to actors. After all, we don't go around talking to ourselves.
Or do we?
If you think about it, we have inner monologues all the time, especially when something troubles us. Here are a few examples of reasons why we may have inner monologues:
Trying to make sense of feelings we're having but don't understand yet
Trying to reason with ourselves
Trying to understand a difficult situation
Trying to figure out what motivates someone else's behavior toward us
Trying to come to terms with a horrific event (as in some of Shakespeare's most tragic soliloquies)
If you find a reason for speaking your Shakespeare monologue, you will discover your text line by line in the moment and keep the audience's attention, especially if you think of your characters' sharing their thoughts with the audience when they think out loud.
4) Respect the VerseAuditioning with a Shakespearean monologue means you will not only have to prove that you are a great actor, you will also need to display the technical proficiency required to perform a play in verse or heightened prose.
Once you've translated your monologue into modern English, go through it again this time making sure you have its rhythm down. If, like the majority of Shakespeare's plays, your Shakespeare monologue is in blank verse, this means respecting the iambic pentameter. How do you do that? Just go through your monologue line by line and make sure you are pronouncing 10 syllables for each verse. If you have an extra syllable, you may have missed an elision somewhere in the verse line (an elision is the omission of an unstressed syllable or vowel). If you are one syllable short, you may need to pronounce the -ed ending of a past tense verb or otherwise lengthen the verse line.
The goal is not to sound unnatural but to really master the verses so that when you depart from the set rhythm of the iambic pentameter, you do so knowingly as an acting choice. The more you study the verse, the more you can free yourself from it, finding your own rhythm. Actually, a great place to look for clues is Shakespeare himself....
5) Look for Clues from ShakespeareThe final step to really dig deeper into your character and performance is again studying Shakespeare's verses. A regular iambic pentameter is composed of a series of unstressed and stressed syllables that follow this rhythm...
Ta DUM/ ta DUM/ ta DUM/ ta DUM/ ta DUM /
Each break in rhythm can be a clue for the actor as to the intentions or emotional state of their character. Go through your Shakespeare monologue again and mark all the breaks in rhythm. Also mark:
Short lines that could indicate a pause
Sentences that run over the verse
Semi colons or full stops in the middle of verses
Once you've marked your monologue, ask yourself why Shakespeare wrote the monologue this way. Try everything both ways. For example, if there's a short line that suggests a pause, take a pause. Then do it again this time without the pause. See what each reading tells you about the character.
Acting is all about choices. The more clues you find in Shakespeare's monologues, the more opportunities you have to make choices and get to know your version of the character better. The better you know your character and their intention, the more powerful and unique your performance and audition will be.
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