LAMDA alumni share their favourite Shakespeare speeches

We asked some our our alumni to tell us what their favourite Shakespeare speech is and why. Here's what they said...

David Suchet

We asked 1969 LAMDA alumnus and current Vice-President David Suchet CBE what his favourite Shakespeare speech was and why.

David selected  "Let's talk of graves, of worms, of epitaphs" from Richard II: "the verse, the imagery and the vocabulary used is quite extraordinary, poetic and still dramatic". 

From Act 3, scene 2, this speech marks a pivotal moment in the play:

No matter where—of comfort no man speak:
Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;
Make dust our paper, and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth;
Let’s choose executors and talk of wills.
And yet not so—for what can we bequeath
Save our deposed bodies to the ground?
Our lands, our lives, and all are Bolingbroke’s,
And nothing can we call our own but death;
And that small model of the barren earth
Which serves as paste and cover to our bones.
For God’s sake let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings:
How some have been depos’d, some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed,
Some poisoned by their wives, some sleeping kill’d,
All murthered—for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court, and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear’d, and kill with looks;
Infusing him with self and vain conceit
As if this flesh which walls about our life
Were brass impregnable; and, humour’d thus
Comes at the last, and with a little pin
Bores thorough his castle wall, and farewell king!
Cover your heads, and mock not flesh and blood
With solemn reverence; throw away respect,
Tradition, form, and ceremonious duty;
For you have but mistook me all this while.
I live with bread like you, feel want,
Taste grief, need friends—subjected thus,
How can you say to me, I am a king?

John Lithgow

When asked what his favourite Shakespeare speech was and why, 1969 LAMDA grad John Lithgow chose "Poor naked wretches, wheresoe'er you are, That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm..." from King Lear:

"the speech includes the phrase "I've ta'en too little care of this," which seems to be at the heart of the entire play and is a sentiment shared by every human being, on one very personal subject or another. I played the part last summer in NYC's Central Park and just loved speaking those words."

King Lear, Act 3 Scene 4

Poor naked wretches, wheresoe'er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta'en
Too little care of this. Take physic, pomp,
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them
And show the heavens more just.

Katherine Parkinson

We asked LAMDA alumna Katherine Parkinson what her favourite Shakespeare speech was. Katherine chose Constance's "I'm not mad" speech from King John. When we asked her why, Katherine explains "I murdered it at my LAMDA audition all those years ago but they still let me in, for which I am very grateful."

King John, Act 3 Scene 3

Thou art holy to belie me so! -
I am not mad: this hair I tear is mine;
My name is Constance; I was Geoffrey’s wife;
Young Arthur is my son, and he is lost!
I am not mad: I would to heaven I were!
For then ‘tis like I should forget myself:
O, if I could, what grief should I forget!
Preach some philosophy to make me mad,
And thou shalt be canoniz’d, cardinal;
For, being not mad but sensible of grief,
My reasonable part produces reason
How I may be deliver’d of these woes,
And teaches me to kill or hang myself:
If I were mad, I should forget my son,
Or madly think a babe of clouts were he.
I am not mad; too well, too well I feel
The different plague of each calamity.

Samuel Barnett

We asked 2001 LAMDA grad Samuel Barnett what his favourite Shakespeare speech was. Samuel chose Viola's "I left no ring with her" speech from Twelfth Night

"Obviously, this might seem a strange choice for a guy to pick, but I was lucky enough to play Viola on Broadway in 2014, and the role earned me my second Tony Nomination.

I have far more personal reasons for loving the speech though. My Gran went to LAMDA in 1947-49. This is the speech she used to quote to me all the time. I never thought, being a man, that I would ever get to play this role, so I couldn't believe my luck when the opportunity came up. I felt like I was doing it as a tribute to my Gran. Every night that I said the speech it reminded me of her.

The speech itself takes Viola on a journey of realisation. It's very funny, full of heart and compassion. It's a speech through which Viola is trying to solve a problem. It takes in the personal and the universal. It is so satisfying to perform." 

Twelfth Night, Act 2 Scene 2

I left no ring with her: what means this lady?
Fortune forbid my outside have not charm’d her!
She made good view of me, indeed so much,
That methought her eyes had lost her  tongue,
For she did speaks in starts distractedly.
She loves me, sure; the cunning of her passion
Invites me in this churlish messenger.
None of my lord’s ring? Why, he sent her none.
I am the man, if it be so, as ‘tis,
Poor lady, she were better love a dream.
Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness,
Wherein the pregnant enemy does much.
How easy is it for the proper false
In women’s waxen hearts to set their forms!
Alas, our frailty is the cause, not we,
For such as we are made of, such we be.
How will this fadge? My master loves her dearly,
And I, poor monster, fond as much on him,
And she, mistaken, seems to dote on me:
What will become of this? As I am man,
My state is desperate for my master’s love:
As I am a woman (now alas the day!)
What thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe?
O time, thou must untangle this, not I,
It is too hard a knot for me t’untie.

James D'Arcy

When we asked 1995 LAMDA grad James D'Arcy what his favourite Shakespeare speech is, he told us it is "Let's talk of graves, of worms and epitaphs" in Richard II: "I heard Richard Burton read it on a cassette of recordings and that was the moment I first understood just how beautiful the language could be".

Richard II, Act 3 Scene 2

No matter where—of comfort no man speak:
Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;
Make dust our paper, and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth;
Let’s choose executors and talk of wills.
And yet not so—for what can we bequeath
Save our deposed bodies to the ground?
Our lands, our lives, and all are Bolingbroke’s,
And nothing can we call our own but death;
And that small model of the barren earth
Which serves as paste and cover to our bones.
For God’s sake let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings:
How some have been depos’d, some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed,
Some poisoned by their wives, some sleeping kill’d,
All murthered—for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court, and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear’d, and kill with looks;
Infusing him with self and vain conceit
As if this flesh which walls about our life
Were brass impregnable; and, humour’d thus
Comes at the last, and with a little pin
Bores thorough his castle wall, and farewell king!
Cover your heads, and mock not flesh and blood
With solemn reverence; throw away respect,
Tradition, form, and ceremonious duty;
For you have but mistook me all this while.
I live with bread like you, feel want,
Taste grief, need friends—subjected thus,
How can you say to me, I am a king? 

 

Ladi Emeruwa

Our 2012 grad Ladi Emeruwa chose "Our course would seem too bloody" from Julius Caesar: "Before I started at LAMDA I had very little exposure to performing Shakespeare. Prior to playing Brutus in my final year at LAMDA, my only real experience was a small part in Cymbeline in first year. The reason I hold Julius Caesar close to my heart is because it went onto be what got me my first job, which I am currently on tour with as I write this!

It was a real baptism of fire in terms of getting to grips with the reality of playing a demanding Shakespearean role and it allowed me to put all the things I learnt during my time at LAMDA into practice. 

"Our course would seem too bloody..." is a speech I recorded on a camera with a friend about a year after I left LAMDA, as a way of convincing casting directors that I could play a Shakespearean role - six months later it turned out to be the thing that would get me an audition for Hamlet."

Julius Caesar, Act 2 Scene 1

Our course will seem too bloody, Caius Cassius,
To cut the head off and then hack the limbs -
Like wrath in death and envy afterwards -
For Antony is but a limb of Caesar.
Let’s be sacrificers but not butchers, Caius.
We all stand up against the spirit of Caesar,
And in the spirit of men there is no blood.
O that we then could come by Caesar’s spirit
And not dismember Caesar! But, alas,
Caesar must bleed for it. And, gentle friends,
Let’s kill him boldly, but not wrathfully:
Let’s carve him as a dish fit for the gods,
Not hew him as a carcass fit for hounds.
And let our hearts, as subtle masters do,
Stir up their servants to an act of rage
And after seem to chide ‘em. This shall make
Our purpose necessary and not envious,
Which so appearing to the common eyes,
We shall be called purgers, not murderers.
And for Mark Antony, think not of him,
For he can do no more than Caesar’s arm
When Caesar’s head is off.

Martin Shaw

1965 LAMDA grad Martin Shaw has chosen not one, but two Shakespeare speeches as his favourites. This first is Berowne's "And I, forsooth, in love!" speech in Love's Labour's Lost, as it was the speech he performed at his LAMDA audition. The second is Hamlet's "Not a whit. We defy augury": "because this is what I believe to be true in real life."

Love's Labour's Lost, Act 3 Scene 1

And I, forsooth, in love! I, that have been love’s whip,
A very beadle to a humorous sigh,
A critic, nay, a night-watch constable,
A domineering pedant o’er the boy,
Than whom no mortal so magnificent!
This whimpled, whining, purblind, wayward boy,
This signor junior, giant dwarf, Dan Cupid,
Regent of love-rhymes, lord of folded arms,
Th’anointed sovereign of sighs and groans,
Liege of all loiterers and malcontents,
Dread prince of plackets, king of codpieces,
Sole imperator and great general
Of trotting paritors - O my little heart!
And I to be a corporal of his field
And wear his colours like a tumbler’s hoop!
What? I love, I sue, I seek a wife?
A woman that is like a German clock,
Still a-repairing, ever out of frame
And never going aright, being a watch,
But being watched that it may still go right!
Nay, to be perjured, which is worst of all;
And among three to love the worst of all,
A whitely wanton with a velvet brow,
With two pitch-balls stuck in her face for eyes;
Ay, and by heaven, one that will do the deed
Though Argus were her eunuch and her guard.
And I to sigh for her, to watch for her,
To pray for her! Go to, it is a plague
That Cupid will impose for my neglect
Of his almighty dreadful little might.
Well, I will love, write, sigh, pray, sue and groan.
Some men must love my lady, and some Joan.

Hamlet, Act 5 Scene 2

Not a whit. We defy augury. There is special
providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ‘tis not
to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not
now, yet it will come. The readiness is all. Since no
man, of aught he leaves, knows aught, what is’t to leave
betimes? Let be.

David Caves

2005 grad David Caves chose Macbeth’s “She should have died hereafter”: “Macbeth is my favourite play of all time. I played Macduff for two years in Cheek by Jowl production. Even though I wanted to kill him so badly for what he'd done to my family, this speech just floored me every time. He's a character I long to play.” 

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.

Amit Shah

2003 grad Amit Shah selected Iago’s “Go to, farewell, put money enough in your purse” speech from Othello:

“Othello was the first Shakespeare play I ever studied at school. I needed to find a monologue for GCSE drama and whilst all my teachers thought I should choose an Othello speech (because I wasn't white), I instead was fascinated by Iago and how he was able to befriend Othello in order to destroy him. I loved the fact that he was able to play the 'honest' friend so well in order to carry out his plan and then show his true colours in his soliloquies. It would be my ideal role.”

Check out Amit performing the speech here.

Go to, farewell, put money enough in your purse.
Thus do I ever make fool my purse:
For I mine own gained knowledge should profane
If I would time expend with such a snipe
But for my sport and profit. I hate the Moor
And it is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets
He’s done my office. I know not if’t be true
But I for mere suspicion in that kind
Will do as if for surety. He holds me well,
The better shall my purpose work on him.
Cassio’s a proper man: let me see now,
To get his place, and to plume up my will
In double knavery. How? How? let’s see:
After some time to abuse Othello’s ear
That he is too familiar with his wife.
He hath a person and a smooth dispose
To be suspected, framed to make women false.
The Moor is of a free and open nature
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so,
And will as tenderly be led by th’nose
As asses are.
I have’t, it is engendered! Hell and night
Must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light.

Janet Suzman

1962 grad and Vice-President Dame Janet Suzman DBE picked Cleopatra’s “Sir, I will eat no meat; I’ll not drink,sir” speech from Antony & Cleopatra:

“It is my favourite because one evening, many years ago, during a voice class at LAMDA, a rare thing happened. The tutor and I were working on this particular speech, and I began to float into that effortless space that can sometimes be the reward for letting yourself go. Buoyed up by feeling only, suddenly the words began to speak themselves - no effort, a voice coming straight from what our tutor used to call “the pips”. It was the moment I first understood what acting was for.”  

Sir, I will eat no meat; I’ll not drink, sir;
If idle talk will once be necessary,
I’ll not sleep either. This mortal house I’ll ruin,
Do Caesar what he can. Know, sir, that I
Will not wait pinioned at your master’s court,
Nor once be chastised with the sober eye
Of dull Octavia. Shall they hoist me up
And show me to the shouting varletry
Of censuring Rome? Rather a ditch in Egypt
Be gentle grave unto me! Rather on Nilus’ mud
Lay me stark naked, and let the water-flies
Blow me into abhorring! Rather make
My country’s high pyramids my gibbet
And hang me up in chains!

Daniel Sharman

2007 grad Daniel Sharman chose not so much one speech, but instead the prison scene between Claudio and Isabella in Measure for Measure:

“I saw Matthew Needham perform this scene during my first year at LAMDA, and he was spectacular. The whole thing is heart breaking, divisive, frustrating and truly moving. I think that scene will be relevant forever.”

An extract from Act 3 Scene 1

Isabella    My business is a word or two with Claudio.

Provost
   And very welcome. Lord, signior, here’s your sister.
Duke    Provost, a word with you.
Provost    As many as you please.
Duke    Bring me to hear them speak, where I may be
          conceal’d. [Duke and Provost retire]
Claudio    Now, sister, what’s the comfort?
Isabella    Why,
   As all comforts are: most good, most good indeed.
   Lord Angelo, having affairs to heaven,
   Intends you for his swift ambassador,
   Where you shall be an everlasting leiger.
   Therefore your best appointment make with speed;
   Tomorrow you set on.
Claudio                            Is there no remedy?
Isabella    None, but such remedy as, to save a head,
   To cleave a heart in twain.
Claudio                                    But is there any?
Isabella    Yes, brother, you may live;
   There is a devilish mercy in the judge,
   If you’ll implore it, that will free your life,
   But fetter you till death.
Claudio                                Perpetual durance?
Isabella    Ay, just, perpetual durance; a restraint,
   Though all the world’s vastidity you had,
   To a determin’d scope.
Claudio                                But in what nature?
Isabella    In such a one as, you consenting to’t,
   Would bark your honour from that trunk you bear,
   And leave you naked.
Claudio                            Let me know the point.
Isabella    O, I do fear thee, Claudio, and I quake
   Lest thou a feverous life shouldn’t entertain,
   And six or seven winters more respect
   Than a perpetual honour. Dar’st thou die?
   The sense of death is most in apprehension;
   And the poor beetle that we tread upon
  In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great
   As when a giant dies.
Claudio                            Why give you me this shame?
   Think you I can a resolution fetch
   From flowery tenderness? If I must die,
   I will encounter darkness as a bride
   And hug it in mine arms.
Isabella
   There spake my brother: there are my father’s grave
   Did utter forth a voice. Yes, thou must die.
   Thou art too noble to conserve a life
   In base appliances. This outward-sainted deputy,
   Whose settl’d visage and deliberate word
   Nips youth I’th’ head and follies doth enew
   As falcon doth the fowl, is yet a devil:
   His filth within being cast, he would appear
   A pond as deep as hell.

Charlotte Riley

2007 grad Charlotte Riley chose Falstaff’s “’Tis not due yet, I would be loath to pay him before his day” speech in King Henry IV Part I: “I recently saw an all-female production of King Henry IV Part I at the Donmar and this speech made me cry.”

Tis not due yet, I would be loath to pay him
before his day - what need I be so forward with him
that calls not on me? Well, ‘tis no matter, honour
pricks me on. Yea, but how if honour prick me off
when I come on, how then? Can honour set to a leg?
No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound?
No. Honour hath no skill in surgery then? No. What is
honour? A word. What is in that word honour? What
is that honour? Air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it?
He that died a-Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth
he hear it? No. ‘Tis insensible, then? Yea, to the dead.
But will it not live with the living? No. Why?
Detraction will not suffer it. Therefore I’ll none of it.
Honour is a mere scutcheon - and so ends my
catechism. 

Robert Emms

2007 grad Robert Emms selected Cassius’ “Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world” speech to Brutus in Julius Caesar:

“I love this speech because the language and the character are driven with so much energy and passion - it's such a great speech to get stuck into. The language that Cassius uses in order to rile Brutus is a gift to the actors playing both of these parts. I attempted Cassius when I was in my second year at LAMDA, but would really like to have another go one day! There are definitely some things I would do differently.

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
‘Brutus’ and ‘Caesar’: what should be in that
   ‘Caesar’?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?
Write them together, yours is as fair a name:
Sound them, it doth become the mouth as well.
Weigh them, it is as heavy: conjure with ‘em,
‘Brutus’ will start a spirit as soon as ‘Caesar’.
Now in the names of all the gods at once,
Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed
That he is grown so great? Age, thou art shamed!
Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods!
When went there by an age, since the great flood,
But it was famed with more than with one man?
When could they say, till now, that talked of Rome,
That her wide walks encompassed but one man?
Now it is Rome indeed, and room enough,
When there is in it but one only man.
O, you and I have heard our fathers say
There was a Brutus once that would have brooked
Th’eternal devil to keep his state in Rome
As easily as a king.

Ruth Wilson

When we asked 2005 grad Ruth Wilson what her favourite Shakespeare speech was, she chose her LAMDA audition piece, Othello, Act 4 Scene 3:

Yes, a dozen, and as many to th’ vantage as
Would store the world they played for.
But I do think it is their husbands’ faults
If wives do fall. Say that they slack their duties
And pour our treasures into foreign laps;
Or else break out in peevish jealousies,
Throwing restraint upon us; or say they strike us,
Or scant our former having in despite,
Why, we have galls: and though we have some grace
Yet we have some revenge. Let husbands know
Their wives have sense like them: they see, and smell,
And have their palates both for sweet and sour
As husbands have. What is it that they do
When they change us for others? Is it sport?
I think it is. And doth affection breed it?
I think it doth. Is’t frailty that thus errs?
It is so too. and have we not affections?
Desires for sport? and frailty, as men have?
Then let them use us well: else let them know,
The ills we do, their ills instruct us so.

Paterson Joseph

1988 grad Paterson Joseph chose Othello’s “Soft you, a word or two before you go” speech:

“I love this speech because actors sometimes feel daunted by the need to express huge emotions. But this speech is a perfect example of simple, stated facts being more powerful than tears or histrionics. Emotions are a by-product of the facts in this speech and are all the more affecting because of that. That Shakespeare knew this 400 years ago is another reason he is still 'with' us today.”

Othello, Act 5 Scene 2

Soft you, a word or two before you go.
I have done the state some service, and they know’t:
No more of that. I pray you, in your letters,
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely, but too well;
Of one not easily jealous, but, being wrought,
Perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hands,
Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe; one of whose subdued eyes,
Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drops tears as fast as the Arabian trees
Their medicinable gum. Set you down this,
And say besides that in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turbanned Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by th’ throat the circumcised dog
And smote him - thus! 

Patricia Hodge

LAMDA grad and Trustee, Patricia Hodge chose Prospero’s “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with sleep” speech from The Tempest, Act 4 Scene 1:

You do look, my son, in a moved sort,
As if you were dismayed. Be cheerful, sir.
Our revels are now ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And - like the baseless fabric of this vision -
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
That dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with sleep. Sir, I am vexed;
Bear with my weakness; my old brain is troubled.
Be not disturbed with my infirmity.
If you be pleased, retire into my cell
And there repose. A turn or two I’ll walk
To still my beating mind.

George Rainsford

We asked 2006 grad George Rainsford what his favourite Shakespeare speech was, and he chose Bertram’s “Certain it is I lik’d her And boarded her I’th’ wanton way of youth” speech in All’s Well That Ends Well:

“Although one of Shakespeare's lesser performed and so-called "problem plays", I've chosen a speech from All's Well That Ends Well because it is the first professional Shakespeare play I was involved in and it was the most joyous experience, performing on the Olivier stage at the National Theatre and culminating in an NT Live. I have wonderful memories of working with Conleth Hill, Oliver Ford Davies, Michelle Terry and of course LAMDA legend Clare Higgins!

This scene sees Bertram admit that he has given away his family heirloom and for the first time takes some responsibility for his actions. It was always good fun seeing how far one could relish the lying and the relief of finally owning up!”

All’s Well That Ends Well, Act 5 Scene 3

I think she has. Certain it is I lik’d her
And boarded her I’th’ wanton way of youth.
She knew her distance and did angle for me,
Madding my eagerness with her restraint,
As all impediments in fancy’s course
Are motives of more fancy; and in fine
Her inf’nite cunning with her modern grace
Subdu’d me to her rate; she got the ring,
And I had that which any inferior might
At market-price have bought.

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