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Six tips for performing Shakespeare soliloquies

One Hour Hamlet Index and Help



  1. Learn your lines beyond learning

If you don’t know the lines so ridiculously well that nothing can unbalance you, you will not be able to fully put your attention on the audience, because you will be scared that their coughs, looks away, laughs, actual true engagement will throw you. Practise the lines with someone throwing bean bags at you, or playing tie rugby or piggy in the middle – be thrown by someone while you run the lines. Only when you feel entirely free can you attempt true engagement (true of all your lines but particularly soliloquies)


I really recommend you experiment on the following way to learn lines. It’s arduous but the great benefit is you will really know them without inflection…


To be

To be or

To be or not

To be or not to be

To be or not to be that…


You get the idea?! Once you have a whole line you can say that a few times there carry on…


To be or not to be that is the question

To be or not to be that is the question whether…


You think it would take a longer time but actually it doesn’t and it has the huge advantage of allowing you to keep going over lines without any acting inflections creeping in. (see my special line learning fact sheet in upcoming editions of players-shakespeare.com )


2. What, where, when, why

A very useful RSC exercise you can do is “interpolated questions” where the director repeats things or asks why or in what way or what? And the actor says their next line in response to that question. So for example the first line –

“To be or not to be that is the question” you could say “what do you mean” and Hamlet’s second line answers that question “whether it’s nobler to suffer…” trying to explain it to you. This is a very easy exercise and one directors can do with actors at all stages of rehearsal on all lines. It gives the actor a “need to speak”


3 Get specific on why 

You need a point of view to talk to your audience. Are they people who you think are against you or or on your side before you start. One clue – they have seen the play up to this point. Then once you start their behaviour will tell you all you need to know as to whether you’re getting your objective or not.


4. Get specific on who

 Do be clear who it is you are talking to. In Hamlet’’s first speech does he talk to his own “solid flesh” or is he telling the audience what he’d like the flesh to do? Then it’s God. “O God! God!

How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,

Seem to me all the uses of this world!”


If a character directly addresses someone in the monologue that “character” needs to be spoken to with an objective in mind. You’re trying to get something from them. Especially if it’s God (God is even less likely than the audience to respond!)



  1. Get specific on what

I do a thing called the coat hanger exercise. It is a way of really creating for yourself the geography of what you’re talking about. So you basically point at something (a pen will do)If using a coat hanger point it in a direction as you say an image or a notion. So “To be” is in one direction and you stay in that position until an image drops into your brain of what to be looks like and you let that image in, let it affect you. An easier example to practise with is to point and then say “the rough sea” and wait till an image drops in or “the crowded shopping street”…an image will always drop in. But back to Hamlet – “to be” is one spot then opposite that physically point and say or “not to be” and wait for an image to drop ion…you can do this for all images, notions anything you say in the text that you need to concretise. The key part of the exercise is let the image affect you. Let it in before moving on. It is something external to respond to.

This helps you make your connections to everything you say and helps you recognise what you may not fully understand.


  1. Talk to someone, respond to someone

Lastly when you are rehearsing a soliloquy you can get into bad habits as there is often no-one in the room to talk to but this can cause you to do your speech to nothing, and thus you immediately start “acting” and giving an appropriate performance.The Gonsalves Method is looking to help you find your authentic performance. John’s Hamlet is different than Richard’s! In order to achieve this you must be speaking and responding to someone. So talk to the director, the stage manager, your friend the caretaker! But not to no-one. I have seen directors put pictures of people on chairs to help people remember to make contact but I would say talk to one person if that is all that is there in the room. So then you get into the habit of connecting with a real person and you will then automatically extend that to a whole audience. If you practise your speech with air you will always talk to air…even when the audience is there and you’ll wrongly learn it’s possible to speak a speech with no-one there.


I believe you should never speak a single line of text unless you have an objective and stakes and you are reading is it working – are they with you or against you which allows you to say the next line!


[Ed: If you want to read more about Aileen’s methodology you can find her articles at the following links:

– Objectives are essential to good acting
– Objectives, stakes, entitlement tactics
– Performing soliloquies
– Six tips for performing soliloquies



Let’s Play


Aileen Gonsalves
RSC Director
Artistic Director, Butterfly Theatre
Editor of Directing,

One Hour Hamlet Index and Help

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