"Best" Speech?

Here’s the thought that spurred the post: It’s Shakespeare Day (April 23, duh) and though you’re surrounded by people that know you to be a Shakespeare geek, it’s not a typical Shakespeare environment. Your day job, perhaps. A coworker approaches you and says, “So, quote something.” You stand on your desk in a Dead Poet’s Society moment and quote …. what?
And, why that one? In a situation like that I think of Brando in Julius Caesar, doing the “Friends, Romans, Countrymen!” bit to get their attention. But other than the opener, is that the speech you’d want to demonstrate once you had everybody’s attention?
If you’re a pro at this, do you choose something that your audience will likely know, or something they’ve probably never heard?
Not saying I’m preparing for anything in particular :), though I do like to celebrate the day

13 thoughts on “"Best" Speech?

  1. Unfair answer: I have two monologues down at any time – residual from my acting days. Paulina (what studied torments…) and Adriana (ay, ay, Antipholus…). But put on the spot, I'd probably launch into something from Midsummer or Romeo and Juliet – just because they're right there on the surface and I've known them the longest.

  2. Strangely enough, I occasionally get a request to do something, and I've found it usually depends on my mood. I'll either usually do Iago's "It is a lust of the blood and a permission of the will" or lately, I've been doing Sonnet 130. But Theseus' "Lovers and madmen have seething brains" is just a great speech in general.

  3. If it were a bunch of guys, I might choose a speech I really like from Henvy V. No, not the St. Crispian's Day or even the "Once More Into The Breach" one, but the one right after that. The one when he as talking to the Mayor or Harfleur where Henry threatens his way to victory. Its easy to understand and totally bad-ass.

    For a less testosterone-oriented audience, I am not sure what I would pick off hand. Perhaps the good old "To Be or Not to Be" would be in order. I know, its trite, but doing it well and off the cuff on demand would still be pretty cool. Many people might ask what it all means and then you could explain.

  4. I think I'd go with something not well-known to non-Shakespeareans. I'd like to expose them to something new. For example, I think I'd do Richard II's speech about peopling this little world with my thoughts. Maybe that's not really material for standing on one's desk, like johnseelewis's suggestion of a Henry V speech. But God, is it beautiful, and under-appreciated.

  5. I have any number of monologues in my back pocket, but the one that springs to the forefront most readily sort of varies. I'm actually with CGriff on Adriana's 2.1 speech, which is one of my favs. I can also pull out Henry V and Antony, Juliet on the balcony (first Shakespeare speech I ever learned by heart), Julia from Two Gents… there are a lot. They cycle through my awareness.

  6. I was in this situation the other day, and I did Lorenzo's speech about the stars from 5.1 of Merchant: "There's not the smallest orb that thou beholdst/ but in his motions like an angel sings/ still quiring to the young-eyed cherubim./Such harmony is in immortal souls,/ But whilst this muddy vesture of decay/ Doth grossly close us in, we cannot hear it." I'm not sure if my audience got it. But I really, really like the speech.

  7. Love the speech, catkins, but it's SUCH a downer. If asked to give "some Shakespeare, any Shakespeare," I default to a something more positive. However, if I was asked to give "something depressing from Shakespeare," that would be at the top of my list, followed closely by some other Macbeth gems: the dagger speech is nice and eerie, and Lady Macbeth summoning "the spirits that tend on mortal thought" is pretty chilling.

  8. Well, Alexi, I think of the speech as deep, rather than as a downer. And what of johnseelewis's "To be, or not to be…" As Colin McGinn says in "Shakespeare's Philosophy": "This is a very grand form of despair–as if only a fool would not choose death if he could be assured that it was really the end of consciousness!"

  9. Deep as in an abyss, perhaps. If you want to call Hamlet's despair grand, that's fine, but then Macbeth's, by contrast, is bleakly pedestrian. It's the reductive dismissal of life as a futile enterprise from a hollowed-out man who has "supped full of hours." The language is gorgeous, but the pith of the speech ("life's but a walking shadow") can't be something Shakespeare meant to be taken for gospel truth. I can't imagine Shakespeare buying into that kind of nihilism outside of his darkest moments. Who could find the motivation to write if he thought life was ultimately trite and uninteresting?

    This a long-winded way of saying, I wouldn't use that particular speech out of context because it can give the false impression that Shakespeare was a poet of death and gloom, rather than one of life and passion.

  10. As a high school teacher of both theatre & British Literature, I get this request from students quite a bit. I usually go with Puck's closing speech from MIDSUMMER, or the prologue from ROMEO & JULIET. The rhymes tend to go over well with teens, and the vocabulary in those isn't too tough. If I'm pressed for more, I might do the dagger speech from MACBETH, or "what a piece of work" from HAMLET.

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