Memorable Speeches and Monologues from Shakespeare's Plays

William Shakespeare is the Rock Star of Bards
William Shakespeare is the Rock Star of Bards | Source

The Bard

So we've probably been force-fed Shakespeare since high school, but it's always good to look back at the stuff we have learned and realize that some of those near-impossible-to-understand lines are actually legit and pretty darn amazing. Maybe we also missed the witty insults Shakespeare's characters used against their opponents.

William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, England and was baptized on April 26, 1564. His father was a glover, but young William resolved to immortalize his name and his loves through the written word. From Romeo and Juliet to Sonnet 116, Shakespeare's works have encompassed nearly every subject on humanity, from love to greed, from sadness to victory, from birth to death.

With that said, here is a list of some of the best speeches in his plays that capture raw passion, human fallibility, and fickle fortune in dramatic poetry.

Brutus' Defense

The Defense of Brutus is found in the play Julius Caesar, which is based on the historical figure Julius Caesar, a Roman general and senator who was betrayed by his fellow senators and stabbed to death. Here, Brutus, Caesar's closest friend, justifies to the Roman people his and the council's betrayal and subsequent murder of Caesar.

The Defense of Brutus

Act 3. Scene 2.

Romans, countrymen, and lovers! hear me for my
cause, and be silent, that you may hear: believe me
for mine honour, and have respect to mine honour, that
you may believe: censure me in your wisdom, and
awake your senses, that you may the better judge.
If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of
Caesar's, to him I say, that Brutus' love to Caesar
was no less than his. If then that friend demand
why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer:
Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved
Rome more. Had you rather Caesar were living and
die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live
all free men? As Caesar loved me, I weep for him;
as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was
valiant, I honour him: but, as he was ambitious, I
slew him. There is tears for his love; joy for his
fortune; honour for his valour; and death for his
ambition. Who is here so base that would be a
bondman? If any, speak; for him have I offended.
Who is here so rude that would not be a Roman? If
any, speak; for him have I offended. Who is here so
vile that will not love his country? If any, speak;
for him have I offended. I pause for a reply.


Mark Antony's Tribute

This is Marcus Antonius' (Mark Antony's) speech during the Caesar's funeral. It's one of my personal favorites in that, Brutus and the other conspirators have convinced most of the people that they were right in killing Caesar. Antony is allowed to deliver a eulogy for Caesar provided that he will not say anything against them. This is one of the play's powerful speeches, and with his words, Antony was able to sway the people and instigate a revolt against Brutus and the conspirators led by Cassius.

Marc Antony's Funeral Oration

Act 3. Scene 2.

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer'd it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest--
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men--
Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

Dagger of the Mind

This monologue from Macbeth displays Macbeth's reluctance and hesitation when it was time for him to kill Duncan. It's a powerful soliloquy about the worries Macbeth has, how he thinks his mind is playing tricks on him and how he finally decides to go through with the plan.

Act 2. Scene 1.

Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutchthee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.
Thou marshall’st me the way that I was going;
And such an instrument I was to use.

Mine eyes are made the fools o’ the other senses,
Or else worth all the rest; I see thee still,
And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,
Which was not so before. There’s no such thing:
It is the bloody business which informs
Thus to mine eyes. Now o’er the one halfworld
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtain’d sleep; witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate’s offerings, and wither’d murder,
Alarum’d by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl’s his watch, thus with his stealthy pace.
With Tarquin’s ravishing strides, towards his design
Moves like a ghost. Thou sure and firm-set earth,
Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
Thy very stones prate of my whereabout,
And take the present horror from the time,
Which now suits with it. Whiles I threat, he lives:
Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.

(a bell rings)

I go, and it is done; the bell invites me.

Hear it not Duncan; for it is a knell

That summons thee to heaven or to hell.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow

This is one of Macbeth's memorable lines, when was told that his wife died (after going out of her mind). Macbeth reflects on life and how his life, specifically, is veering out of control.This monologue is one of Shakespeare's best - it tells how brief life can truly be.

Act 5. Scene 5.

She should have died hereafter;


There would have been a time for such a word.

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day


To the last syllable of recorded time,

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

To be or not to be

Hamlet is another dark Shakespearean tragedy that reflects the complexity of human fallibility, and the darkness of corruption and how low a person can descend, with lines like "Frailty, thy name is woman" and wise words like "To thine own self be true". Hamlet has been haunted by his father's "ghost" so that Hamlet may take revenge on his father's killer, his uncle Claudius who rules Denmark in his father's wake. Hamlet is a memorable character because, until today, many have debated whether Hamlet truly went insane or had just pretended to be one to pursue his plans (my money's on the latter). His monologue speaks about his musings and the worth of ordinary goings-on in the greater scheme of things.

Act 3. Scene 1.

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ‘tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.--Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember’d.


Romeo and Juliet 1968

Source

Romeo and Juliet Orchard Scene

You gotta hand it to Shakespeare. No one makes a romantic tragedy better than he did. Romeo and Juliet has some of the most romantic and poetic lines that spell young and inevitably tragic lines in the scene by the veranda.

Act 2. Scene 2.

Juliet:
O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love
And I'll no longer be a Capulet.

Romeo:
[Aside] Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?

Juliet:
'Tis but thy name that is my enemy:
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? It is nor hand nor foot,
Nor arm nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O be some other name!
What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
and for thy name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.

Act 1. Scene 5

Nothing says forbidden love like stolen kisses and comparing your lover to a holy one.

Act 1. Scene 5.

ROMEO

[To JULIET] If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

JULIET

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.

ROMEO

Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?

JULIET

Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.

ROMEO

O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

JULIET

Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake.

ROMEO

Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take.
Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purged.

JULIET

Then have my lips the sin that they have took.

ROMEO

Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged!
Give me my sin again.

JULIET You kiss by the book.

Midsummer Night's Dream

Midsummer Night's Dream
is one of Shakespeare's well-loved comedies. It's also well-known for the pranks and crazy accidents that happen when the fairies put a spell on the four lovers. It's better than a love triangle. Lysander is in love with Hermia, who is sadly betrothed to Demetrius, who spurns the affection of Helena. Puck's speech is at Act 5, the ending of the play where Puck practically explains that all is well and it's a happy ending.

Puck. If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

Shylock's Justification

Merchant of Venice has a lot of laudable characters and interesting dialogues. One of the most memorable ones is Shylock's justification for revenge. His monologue expresses his bitterness and hatred to those who he feels has wronged him, and he feels that the pound of flesh is a just comeuppance for the many misfortunes that have befallen him.

Act 3. Scene 1.

He hath disgraced me and hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what's his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed & cooled by the same Winter & Summer, as a Christian is?

If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.

If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge! If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, REVENGE!

Source

All the world's a stage

This famous quote is from Shakespeare's play "As You Like It", and this speech is about Jacques expressing that each person plays many parts in a lifetime. Perhaps the first two lines of the speech is more well-known than the play itself. Regardless, the entire speech is one worth remembering and even delivering.

Act 2. Scene 7.

All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel,
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin'd,
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose well sav'd, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

What's your favorite Shakespearean literature?

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