It is, in all of Shakespeare’s plays, one of the most famous speeches. It is the one that, I’ll admit it, I wanted to read the most when the Bard Brawl went through Julius Caesar.
The lines are those after the dictator of Rome has been murdered and second billing on the funeral oration speakers’ list is that favourite buddy of JC, Marc Antony. Note to all Brutuses (Bruti?) our there: never go first.
The speech is great for a number of reasons – language, moment in play, setting, crescendo like movement in the words – but my theory is that it stands out and is remembered so well simply because one actor, once, nailed it perfectly.
I’ve seen the play a number of times since (on stage mostly), and am always waiting for Act III, scene ii, and the speech that brings the house down. I’m always wondering if someone, somewhere, somehow can compare to the one perfect rendition of this speech among speeches in a play with a whole shwack of dudes standing and talking for long periods of time.
I asked an actor once who played the role how it was, and he said every time he does the speech it’s stressful. Audience members are sitting eagerly, sometimes with texts in their hands, mouthing the words or giving that knowing ‘I hear a famous line’ face.
Ok. Enough build up.
We all know that when speaking about Antony there is one gold standard, one that stands above them all, and one that you will always be compared to.
So powerful, so scary, so perfect. There’s really nothing much else to be said about Brando’s delivery, emotion, energy and poise.
Must suck to get cast as the role knowing that you will always be compared. His “cry havoc” speech is equally impressive. (I may actually prefer it in some ways).
To show how much this speech can be blown, let’s take a look at that gun loving nut Charlton Heston, and see how he does with the lines.
Ugh. Not great. There’s something about how pompous Heston is, and how he’s trying too hard to be that wardog Antony that it leaves the speech uninspiring. Then again, it is Charlton Heston, so are we really that surprised. Rest in peace.
OK. One more.
Let’s check out this very earnest young man, who really, really wants to nail this speech.
What do you think? Pick your fav on the poll or leave a comment below if there’s a performance that we missed.
For this podcast, we figured that all of you in Bard Brawl nation were already familiar with many of the famous speeches from R&J so we’ve steered conspicuously clear of “Queen Mab”‘s and “yonder window”‘s to give you a selection entirely chosen to prove our theories right.
“Bid a sick man in sadness make his will”Act I, scene 1 Speakers: Romeo, Benvolio
Here’s Romeo, pouring his heart out to his buddy Benvolio about the love of his life, Rosaline. Romeo loves a woman. Fact. Rosaline told Romeo that she has sworn to live chaste rather than give in to his advances. Fact. Benvolio thinks Romeo is totally overreacting about this whole Rosaline business. Fact. Rosaline is just feeding Romeo that line to get rid of him? Probably.
“Be plain, good son, and homely in thy drift”Act II, scene 3 Speakers: Friar Lawrence, Romeo
After pouring his heart out to Benvolio about how he’ll never get over Rosaline, here’s Romeo in his fits of passion for Juliet. Sounds like Friar Lawrence heard all of Romeo’s lines before because he calls Romeo on it. The friar agrees to help him out but doesn’t think Romeo will make much of a husband. It’s a good thing Shakespeare never wrote in a third teenage girl into the play…
“Jesu, what haste? can you not stay awhile?”Act II, scene 5 Speakers: Juliet, Nurse
After seeing how Romeo handles his bouts of love, here’s Juliet who’s been waiting impatiently for her nurse to arrive with a status update about Romeo. The nurse is trying to catch her breath. Juliet is grilling her to get all of the details of the plan to run off and get married with her Romeo. God these two deserve one another.
“Come, come, thou art as hot a Jack in thy mood as” Act III, scene 1 Speakers: Mercutio, Benvolio
Benvolio, who likes to think he’s a level-headed peacemaker, and Mercutio, who knows very we that he isn’t, are arguing about which one of them has the shortest temper. Where are they? Standing in the middle of the street, in the hot sun, moments before Tybalt some Capulets come around the corner. Sounds like some peace is about to be made!
“Holy Franciscan friar! brother, ho!”Act V, scene 2 Speakers: Friar Lawrence, Friar John
You’d think that if I agreed to deliver a letter for someone, I wouldn’t pay any house calls to plague victims. Well, I guess Friar John didn’t see an issue with it until he was quarantined. So much for delivering that super important letter to Romeo which, if he had received, would have totally fixed absolutely everything according to Friar Lawrence’s absolutely ludicrous plan.
Coming up soon? A new play which has yet to be announced. So get your votes in now! Leave us a comment, send us an email or hit us up on our Facebook page and tell us what play you’d like to hear us Brawl!
What better way to wrap up the year than with a Timon of Athens speeches podcast? Just in time for your New Year’s Eve party. (You know, the one where you are serving rocks and warm water to your ungrateful entourage)
“Good morrow to thee, gentle Apemantus!”Act I, Scene 1 Speakers: Timon, Apemantus, Painter
Why is Apemantus even at Timon’s house if he’s just going to talk smack at him the entire time? And why does Timon put up with it? Our best guess is that Timon’s house is like the king’s court – anybody and everybody in society is invited and not showing up is like relegating yourself to civic obscurity. Here he is, calling our Timon’s guests for their brown-nosing… and calling out Timon for lapping it up.
“You make me marvel: wherefore ere this time”Act II, Scene 2 Speakers: Flavius, Timon
Timon’s creditors are at his door and he’s just learned the bad news: as a result of his lavish and generous lifestyle, he’s completely broke and can’t afford to pay his debts. He tries to blame his servant/bookkeeper Flavius for not telling him about this sooner but Flavius makes it clear that this is not the first time he’s tried to discuss finances with Timon. Even if Timon sold all of his lands, he would not have enough to pay back his creditors.
“Each man to his stool, with that spur as he would to”Act III, Scene 6 Speakers: Timon, various lords
The lords of Athens believe that Timon has miraculously managed to pay his debts. While they all refused to help him when he asked them for help, they’re all right back at his place for this special feast in their honour. Wouldn’t you be a little suspicious? Even after he’s spelled out why he did this, the lords still don’t quite get it and just think he’s gone crazy.
“How came the noble Timon to this change?”Act IV, Scene 3 Speakers: Alcibiades, Timon, Timandra
Alcibiades and Timon should technically be on the same side; they were both taken advantage of or treated poorly by Athens and are now living in the wilderness. Big difference between the two? Alcibiades is travelling with two prostitutes and it seems to have worked wonders on his mood. In this scene, Alcibiades is trying to understand what drove Timon nuts; Timon is trying to convince Alcibiades to kill everybody.
“By all description this should be the place.” and “‘Here lies a
wretched corse, of wretched soul bereft”Act V, Scene 3 and Act V, Scene 4 Speakers: Solider, Alcibiades
We’ve actually spliced together two scenes. Act V, scene 3 is just a short scene of an illiterate soldier coming across Timon’s grave. As he can’t read the whole inscription on the gravestone, so he makes a copy of it and brings it to his general, Alcibiades. (My best guess as to how the gravestone gets set up? Flavius must have done it. Unless Timon buried alive by summoning the animals of the forest to do his bidding. Whichever one seems more plausible to you, I guess.) The rest of the ‘speech’ picks up at the end of the play where Alcibiades reads the rest of the inscription and decides that he won’t kill everybody – just the people who the senators of Athens will have decided are guilty of his exile.
That’s it for the Bard Brawl’s eighth play!
We want to thank everybody who helped spread the word and who donated to ‘Zounds!, our upcoming Bard brawl journal! Our campaign raised a total of $1020 thanks to your efforts!
Stay tuned for updates about ‘Zounds! in the coming days and weeks!
Not one of Shakespeare blockbusters, this play will keep you guessing with its string of improbable twists and turns. The verdict? More people should read it.
You can help popularize Pericles by dropping some of this bardic wisdom (which you’ll have fully memorized by then) the next time you’re at a party. Bonus points for you if you can flash mob one of these.
(We accept video submissions.)
“Of all say’d yet, mayst thou prove prosperous!”Act I, scene 1 Speakers: Antiochus’ daughter, Pericles, Antiochus
So. Pericles gets on a boat and travels to Antioch to try to score this world-renowned princess to be his wife. He’s already managed to impress the girl who is won over by his big bucks and his sexy looks. Like all good potential father-in-laws, Antioch decides he better test this guy to make sure he’s the real deal… by asking him to decipher a riddle.
Okay, no problem. Pericles is up for it. And then he discovers that this pervert is advertising his incestuous relationship with his daughter. Thing is, Antiochus is so used to being surrounded by ‘yes men’ that he’s not prepared for the fact that Pericles is ready to call him out on how disgusting this is. As for the girl? Looks can be deceiving.
“By Juno, that is queen of marriage”Act II, scene 3 Speakers: Thaisa, Simonides, Pericles
Freshly fished out of the sea with his rusted armour, Pericles is hard at work out-jousting the competition at Simonides’ “Marry my Daughter” Royal Rumble when he catches Thaisa’s eye. While she is busy imagining herself getting with that dreamy Pericles, he’s more interested in Thaisa’s dad. “Wow, that guy would totally be an awesome replacement for my dead dad.”
It’s a strange play.
“Thou god of this great vast, rebuke these surges”Act III, scene 1 Speakers: Pericles, Lychorida
Pericles is on his way home to Tyre with his wife when Thaisa goes into labour. Unfortunately, as she’s trying to give birth, a huge storm is raging around them. He is asking the gods to call off the storm. And when the midwife and nurse Lychorida arrives, he hopes that she can help speed things up. Instead, she hands him his daughter, Marina, introduced to her father for the first time as a piece of his dead wife.
“I hold it ever”Act III, scene 2 Speakers: Cerimon, Second Gentleman
Our play’s miracle worker affords himself a moment of moralistic speechifying before going to work bringing Thaisa back from the edge of death. Virtue and cunning > nobles and riches. What type of ‘virtue and cunning’? Alchemy. So you can learn the power over life and death, and use it only for good, right? Well, yes. That’s exactly what Cerimon does. He even takes Thaisa’ crown jewels… for safe keeping, of course.
“My commission”Act IV, scene 1 Speakers: Leonine, Marina
So pirates. Maybe we were a little excited about reading a Shakespearean play with pirates in it so we inflated their importance in our recollection of play. Still, the pirates here actually end up saving Marina’s life, in a very twisted sex-trade driven way. Dionyza ordered Leonine to kill her Marina and he decides that after they have scooped her up and ran off with her to their ship, he should follow along to make sure that they kill her after they have raped her. (I thought my job sucked.) Except, they didn’t rape her. They ‘only’ sold her into slavery where she transformed the lustful governor of Mytilene into a noble, Pericles-approved husband.
However, Shakespeare’s not generally so heavy-handed. In case we missed it (because being struck down by lightning or burned alive in your palace by a mob are very subtle forms of divine retribution), ‘Gower’ spells out who the heroes and villains are. Pericles, Helicanus and Cerimon: good; Antiochus, Cleon and Dionyza: bad.
Don’t sleep with your daughter and don’t kill your neighbour’s kid.
Geez, good thing you spelled it out for us, Shakey!
As usual, we’ve picked out a few memorable or interesting moments from our recording of Twelfth Night. It was a blast to read and record.
No nobles were maimed in the recording of this podcast.
“O that I served that lady…”Act 1, Scene 2, lns 42-60 Speakers: Captain, Viola
In this scene, Viola washes up on shore and realises the following two things:
“I am a young, unmarried woman with no chaperone. I have no father or brother around to guard me from any potential suitors. This is a dangerous situation. I could be raped or claimed as booty at any time!“
“I am a young, unmarried woman with no chaperone. I have no father or brother around to guard me from any potential suitors. This is an awesome situation. If I play my cards right, I will actually get the choose my own husband!“
So what is her proposed solution? Dress up in her twin brother’s clothes and hide out as an eunuch. By the way, eunuch here doesn’t necessarily mean a castrated man but rather a chamberlain, someone who takes care of someone’s bedchamber. It’s a pretty good description of what Viola is supposed to be doing: finding a way to get Olivia into Orsino’s bedchamber. Instead she manages to put exactly who she wants in that bedchamber – herself. Clever girl.
Daniel thought it was pretty interesting to consider that in a play where the main character spends over 95% of the length of the play in disguise, she should be so quick to judge the captain’s trustworthiness based on his looks. I agree.
“Come, sir, you peevishly threw it to her; and her…”Act 2, Scene 2, lns 13-41 Speakers: Malvolio, Viola
We were pretty sure that Malvolio and Viola didn’t really interact in the play but this scene proves us wrong. It’s especially shameful on our part given that this is one of the most well-known speeches in Twelfth Night.
Olivia, who is trying to nail Cesario, send him a ring via Malvolio. It’s as soon as he leaves Viola with this ring that she realises what’s going on here: Viola loves Orsino but can’t have him without exposing her identity; Orsino is expecting Viola to win Olivia for him which means that Viola won’t be able to get him. To make matters worse, Olivia seems to be in love with Cesario… but has no clue that Cesario is actually a woman.
Does Viola freak out? Nope. She just assumes that this will all work itself out in the end somehow in time.
Huh. I guess she must have read this play already.
By the way, what will we ever do without Zoey nearby?
“What a caterwauling do you keep here! If my lady…”Act 2, Scene 3, lns 68-112 Speakers: Maria, Sir Toby Belch, Feste the Clown, Sir Andrew Aguecheek
When it comes to Sir Toby, Aguecheek and company, there are so many entertaining moments that it’s hard to choose. Honestly, we picked this scene (and let it play for a while) because we love Jay Reid’s drunken singing so much.
Can you hear us all laughing our asses off in the background? Yeah, that’s the idea. Lest anybody get confused: we’re not interested in scholarship and research, deep insights and exploring the meaning of it all. We like reading Shakespeare because we find it fun to do, to mess around with and to mess up. Often.
There are enough people who take their Shakespeare like cod liver oil: good for you but tastes awful. I say you should let the kids have a damned hot-dog from time to time. They don’t need to know it’s a nitrate-free, 100% certified organic grass-fed beef super hot-dog that costs about $40 for a package of 12.
Pass the relish!
“M, O, A, I; this simulation is not as the former: and…”Act 2, Scene 5, lns 131-150 Speakers: Malvolio
This scene of Malvolio reading a letter aloud may contain one of the most often misquoted speeches in Shakespeare. It’s not that people get the words wrong, it’s that they use the quote completely out of context.
How many of you have heard some or all of this before?
be not afraid of greatness: some
are born great, some achieve greatness, and some
have greatness thrust upon ’em
Fellow trekkies may remember a certain episode of DS9 where Worf recalls a very similar speech which was allegedly spoken by Kahless to convince general Martok to claim the mantle of leadership of the Klingon high council.
Do you find these words encouraging? Do they make you want to risk everything on the chance of success? Do they inspire your to seek out your destiny?
On their own, they might. But this ‘speech’ is in a letter, written by Maria, which has only one purpose: to goad Malvolio into making a pass at his boss so Maria, Sir Toby and the other can make fun of him when he gets shot down.
I always thought that Worf liked you Martok but I seems he’s just an ass looking for a good laugh at your expense.
“This is the air; that is the glorious sun…”Act 4, scene 3, lns 1-21 Speakers: Sebastian
This is one another one of the commonly quoted speeches in this play. It’s Sebastian’s ‘pinch me now, I must be dreaming’ moment.
And why shouldn’t he think this? Antonio gave him a pouch of money to keep and hasn’t asked for it back and Olivia, a beautiful and wealthy widow, married him within moments of meeting him.
Easiest booty call ever.
What surprises me about this speech is that Sebastian is looking for Antonio so he can get an explanation for what is going. Why not ask Olivia: “Hi. Thank you for your interest in me. I am flattered and looking forward to our nuptial hour. However, could you please explain to me who you think I am so I can do my best to meet your expectations? Thank you.”
I guess he figures that if it is a dream, he’s not about to ruin it by risking an argument with his sugar mommy wife.
In the next two weeks the Bard Brawl is about to start its seventh play. How awesome is that?
Even more awesome: I promise you pirates! (Your experience may vary. Results not typical.)
But first, stay tuned for our next sonnets podcast which will be up shortly.
Really, as we’ve been saying all along with one, Henry VI, part 1 deserves a closer look. Hopefully some of these speeches can encourage you to go back and listen to the episodes you missed. (Not that you missed any, right?)
“How I am braved and must perforce endure it!”Act II, scene 4, lns 112-127 Speakers: Richard Plantagenet (and eventual Duke of York), Warwick
This excerpt is from the flower-picking scene in act II. Here we learn that Richard Plantagenet, whose father was accused of being a traitor and stripped of his titles, is likely to be restored to his family’s former status as Duke of York. Warwick seems certain of it. Warwick’s short speech also ends with a prophetic foreshadowing about the War of the Roses: “this brawl to-day, / Grown to this faction in the Temple-garden, / Shall send between the red rose and the white / A thousand souls to death and deadly night.” That does about sum it up. (Also, big plus on the use of the word “Brawl,’ Bard!)
“Thus the Mortimers, / In whom the tide rested, were suppress’d.”Act II, scene 5, lns 91-118 Speakers: Mortimer, Richard Plantagenet
Mortimer only appears in one scene on this play but it is a very crucial scene. We pick up on the end of their discussion but Mortimer provides the necessary history earlier. The current king Henry VI is the descendant of Henry IV who actually usurped the throne of Richard II. Mortimer himself, connected with the old regime, has spent most of his life imprisoned or banished. Now Mortimer informs Richard Duke of York that he is in fact descended from the previous line of kings. While Mortimer cannot see yet how to topple the house of Lancaster, he counsels York to bide his time until an opportunity should present itself.
“Look on thy country, look on fertile France…”Act III, scene 3, lns 44-85 Speaker: Pucelle, Burgundy
This is the scene where Joan la Pucelle convinces the Duke of Burgundy to ally himself with the French cause. What we found particularly interesting in this passage is Burgundy’s short response in the middle of Pucelle’s longer speech: “Either she hath bewitch’d me with her words, / Or nature makes me suddenly relent.” It’s a very good question. Which is it? Is Burgundy simply doing the natural thing in seeking to defend the ‘country’ of his birth? Is he in fact French, or is he English? It’s easy for us to say that Burgundy is French but the whole point here is that Burgundy easily could have remained an English territory. And Burgundy’s actions are largely the reason it went to the French. So, was any of this ‘natural?’
“Come hither, you that would be combatants”Act IV, scene 1, lns 133-173 Speaker: King Henry VI
King Henry doesn’t say much in the play and when he does speak, he generally just shows us how ineffectual a ruler he is. We picked this passage though because it showcases one of the few moments where King Henry actually gets it at least partially right. One the one hand, the first part of Henry’s speech is spot on; the English court is in france fighting the Dauphin’s forces. Showing a strong, united front is necessary in order to discourage any further rebellion from the French forces. However, he grossly misunderstands the nature of the division in his forces. We’ve seen the argument boiling and bubbling under the surface just waiting to erupt but Henry seems entirely oblivious to the extent of the division in his court. This scene really shows us Henry’s character as an idealist ill-suited to the throne.
“O, my dear lord, lo, where your son is borne!”Act IV, scene 7, ln 17-32 Speakers: Servant, Talbot
Talbot really is the central point of most of the play. He drives the war effort in France and he sends the French forces packing at the very mention of his name. Unfortunately, York and Suffolk’s squabbling leaves him unsupported and he and his son are overwhelmed and killed in battle. This is Talbot’s final speech. His dead son is brought in and he cradles him in his arms as he dies. I wrote about his passage when we did act IV. I mentioned that Talbot mentioned Daedalus and Icarus, flying towards the sun but what would that look like? Two angels floating up to Heaven. I think it’s a great little speech.
“First, let me tell you whom you have condemn’d…”Act V, scene 4, lns 36-59 Speakers: Pucelle, York, Warwick
This is Joan la Pucelle’s execution scene. While her burning doesn’t actually happen on stage, this is the preamble leading up to it. Here she is trying to convince York not to burn her. She first starts by suggesting that she may be of noble birth and she insists that she is a virgin. When she sees that this is not working, she changes her tune and states instead the she is pregnant. This is a very strange scene. On the one had, we just saw Joan speaking with demon a few scenes ago so we now have a pretty good idea that she is a witch. On the other hand, this scene shows us a group of powerful, older men trying to burn a young (and potentially pregnant) woman alive. As Daniel has pointed out, this would be a tricky scene to stage for a contemporary audience. Come to think of it, it’s almost criminal to think that no one has written a play inspired by this scene which deals precisely with these gender and power issues.
We had a hard time finding worthy speeches for our Coriolanus speeches podcast because there was so much to choose from. In The Taming of the Shrew we have the opposite problem. Except for the passages we’ve picked out below, there just isn’t that much that just wants to stand up and be quoted. That’s because so much of the comedy in the play is physical: a lot of servants being slapped and pulled by the ears. Three Stooges kind of stuff.
All of the speeches for this podcast are from the Petruchio & Katharine subplot, because we’ve found that most of the memorable lines of the play belong to either Petruchio or Katharine. The other main plotline, the courtship and secret marriage between Lucentio & Bianca, just doesn’t have the depth and inventiveness that is so characteristic of Shakespeare. This subplot is just so… well, plot-heavy. Most of the fun is in tracking all of the characters as they swap clothing and identities on stage. Good for a laugh but not quite up to Shakespeare’s best.
“Such wind as scatters young men through the world…”Act I, Scene 2 lns. 48-74 Speakers: Petruchio, Hortensio
Petruchio runs into his friend Hortensio who asks him what brings him to Padua. He’s hoping to find a rich wife here in Padua. It’s not clear how rich Petruchio is but he clearly doesn;t think himself rich enough. Hortensio mentions Katharine to Petruchio who sees himself as up to the challenge of taming her so long as she comes with a rich dowry. While Petruchio is explicit that he’ll be happy with any wife so long as she’s rich, how sincere is he being? Wouldn’t Petruchio – based on what we learn about him over the course of the play – be bored out of his mind if he had married someone like Bianca instead? Isn’t there something ‘right’ about the Petruchio-Katharine match?
“Signior Petruchio, will you go with us…”Act II, Scene 1 lns. 164-196 Speakers: Baptista, Petruchio, Katharine
This is the first meeting between Petruchio and Kate and is one of the few times where these two characters are completely alone on stage. Petruchio tells us first how he plans to flatter Kate no matter what she does in order to win her over despite herself. When Katharine does arrive, she and Petruchio start trading insults and when Baptista returns, Petruchio declares that he’s won her over. When Katharine denies this, Petruchio just says that they’ve worked out a deal; Katharine will be kind and loving when she’s alone with him, but as shrewish as she wants when other people are around. What do you make of Petruchio’s courtship? Despite her denial, is some part of Kate won over despite what she says?
We’ve cut the exchange short but it’s worth listening to the whole thing. It’s one of the funniest exchanges in the play.
“Peter, didst ever see the like?” Act IV, Scene 1 lns. 159-192 Speakers: Nathaniel, Peter, Grumio, Curtis (Petruchio’s servants), Petruchio
This is where Petruchio outlines the final phase of his plan to tame Katharine. He describes how he’s going to “kill her [spirit] with kindness” by taking issue with everything that is done for her: nothing will be good enough for his darling Kate. He’s already sent away her supper and now he’s telling us how he’ll continue to starve her and deny her sleep until she’s reformed. How cruel is Petruchio’s plan? How far do we think he’d actually be willing to go to change Kate’s behaviour?
“Fie, fie! Unknit that threatening unkind brow…”Act V, Scene 2 lns. 140-183 Speaker: Katharine
Petruchio and the men have placed a wager on their wives: the one with the most obedient wife will win 100 crowns from the other two men. Lucentio and Hortensio call for their wives, but they refuse to come. When Petruchio calls for Kate, she arrives right away. He then asks her to fetch the other wives and when they return, Petruchio asks her to give them a sermon on the duties of a wife. This launches Katharine into the longest uninterrupted speech of the play. Does Petruchio actually manage to change Kate or is she just playing along? Does she mean what she says or is she and Petruchio just enjoying getting one over on everybody else? Is this something the audience is expected to take seriously or are we supposed to be laughing when she delivers her sermon?
Did we miss anything? Are there any passages you feel we’ve overlooked? Send us your hate mail / loving criticism!
Also, get your historian hats ready because next week the Brawlers read through part of Shakespeare’s take on the War of the Roses! (Go ahead and bookmark that page. You’ll thank us later.)
The more popular Julius Caesar is a parade of speeches delivered by master orators. Coriolanus though is a much messier play where dialogue, not monologue, is the norm. That makes it hard to decide where a selection should start and stop which means that I’m sure your favourites were unceremoniously sacrificed or cut short in the making of the show. But fear not! They’re still hale and whole in our five last Coriolanus podcasts. Subscribe on iTunes or download them from this blog to find out what you’ve missed!
“Hail, noble Marcius!”Act I, Scene 1 lns. 173-215 Speakers: Meneniuns, Caius Martius (Coriolanus), Second Citizen
Caius Martius barges in on this scene of civil unrest. While Menenius has been trying to appease the crowd, Martius tells them that he’d rather kill the lot of them than negotiate with them. He also suggests that while the people are quick to assume the food shortage is artificial – that the nobles are hoarding food at their expense – Coriolanus suggests that the people of Rome have done nothing to merit a dole of grain but take to the streets in protest when they should be out fighting Rome’s enemies. Are we swayed by Martius’ argument or does the play’s initial sympathy for the common people make Martius into a despot?
“How many stand for consulships?”Act II, Scene 2 lns. 1-36 Speakers: First Officer, Second Officer
Two officers, sent ahead to the Capitol to put cushions on the patricians’ seats, are speaking about Coriolanus’ nomination to the post of consul. This exchange, and others like it, are central to Coriolanus. The play is not so much about portraying Coriolanus’ actions for their own sake but rather it is about how we should interpret those actions, about the place of Coriolanus’ name in history. Is Coriolanus a victim of history, or of his pride? Should he be reviled as a tyrant or is he a hero of the Roman Republic? Is he the ultimate Stoic or a brat?
“We do it not alone, sir.”Act II, Scene 1 lns. 32-49 Speakers: Brutus, Menenius, Sicinius
This one of many exchanges where the tribunes have at it with the patrician Menenius. Menenius reminds the tribunes of their insignificance and takes them for self-serving and petty politicians. They remind Menenius that he’s got a reputation for drinking. However, Menenius sees nothing wrong with a good drink in its proper time and place. This offers an interesting contrast between two political philosophies: Menenius as the old order, the tribunes as the new. Can we tell where Shakespeare’s sympathies lie?
“It is a mind that shall remain a poison…”Act III, Scene 1 lns. 115-145 Speakers: Sicinius, Coriolanus, Cominius
Coriolanus has so many amazing lines, particularly in act III, but this is one of my favourites. Coriolanus is clearly interested in mocking and abasing the common people, but is he wrong in what he says? It seems to me that he makes a valid point: when two parties struggle for leadership, it weakens the states to outside threats. What is particularly interesting in this passage is that his remarks are addressed as much to the patricians as to the plebeians. While he describes the tribunes as the leader of a school of tiny fish and as two of the heads of the fire-breathing Hydra, he’s also quick to point out that in some ways the patricians are no better. Either they have no real authority – and should stop pretending – or they should flex their muscles and stop giving in to the tribunes’ demands.
“All places yield to him ere he sits down…”Act IV, Scene 7 lns. 30-61 Speaker: Tullus Aufidius
Menenius and Aufidius are possibly the two individuals who have the clearest understanding of Coriolanus’ character, of his strengths and weaknesses. In this speech, Aufidius paints a portrait of a Coriolanus seemingly able to conquer through force of will and presence. But even as he praises Coriolanus the soldier, he identifies the tragedy of Coriolanus’ story: so long as he can wage war, his greatness is uncontested but his inability to adapt his behaviour to new situations – to peace – mean that his greatness will be eclipsed by his own insistence on his greatness.
“Nay, go not from us thus.”Act V, Scene 3 lns. 152-212 Speakers: Volumnia, Coriolanus
Volumnia, Valeria, Virgilia and Young Martius stand before Coriolanus and beg him to spare Rome. Coriolanus makes to leave but his mother calls him back. In a last-ditch effort to sway him, they kneel in front of him. They make a show of being resigned to die with their neighbours in the his pending attack. Volumnia then suggests that Coriolanus is a bastard Volscian and as he is finally moved to make peace between the Volsces and Rome. In the end, does Volumnia move him to compassion or – as his mother suggests – is his renouncing his war on Rome just another selfish act to preserve the integrity of his name to history?
Let us know what you think!
Next week, prepare for our first ever sonnets podcast. Daniel and I will discuss Shakespeare’s sonnets 1 through 5, read each week by our wonderful sonneteers. You won’t want to miss it!
This week, we present the first of our new series of ‘Speeches’ podcasts!
Daniel and I have picked out a handful of our favourite moments from The Merchant of Venice and we’ve gathered them together into one awesome show. Then poured ourselves some drinks and had a chat about our selections. Feel free to do the same as you listen in!
So you can follow along with the text if you’d like, here are the passages we’re discussing in this episode.
“I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano…”Act 1, Scene 1 lns 79-107 Speakers: Antonio and Gratiano
Gratiano offers up this speech to Antonio who he accuses of playing the role of the melancholic older man to make himself seem more wise and dignified than he really is. His basic point: forget what anybody else thinks and lighten up! Is Antonio’s sadness just an act, though?
“When Jacob grazed his uncle Laban’s sheep…”Act 1, Scene 3 lns 68-93 Speakers: Shylock and Antonio
In this passage, Shylock and Antonio confront each other about their differing business philosophies: Shylock argues in favour of thrift and cleverness, Antonio in favour of risk-taking and faith. Which is the better ‘Merchant of Venice’?
“Why, I am sure if he forfeit thou wilt not take his flesh.”Act 3, Scene 1 lns 42-60 Speakers: Salerio and Shylock
Probably the most famous speech in this play, Shylock makes it clear that he’s serious about getting revenge on Antonio if he doesn’t get his money on time. He certainly has plenty of reasons to be pissed off. Is it possible to listen to this speak and not be moved to sympathy for Shylock?
“A song, the whilst BASSANIO comments on the caskets to himself.” Act 3, Scene 2 lns. 64-116 Speakers: Portia (singing) and Bassanio
This the scene where Bassanio finally tries his luck at picking from the three caskets. He offers his justification for his choice: one shouldn’t judge by appearance but by the weight of one’s feelings. Portia’s not supposed to cheat but she clearly wants Bassanio to make the right choice. She’s seen the other two – Morocco and Aragon – mess up, so she knows which choice is correct. Does she slip him any hints or does his reasoning just make sense?
“Now, Balthazar…”Act 3, Scene 4 lns. 46-80 Speakers: Portia, Balthazar and Nerissa
The mandatory Shakespearean comedy’s gender-reversal scene. Portia sends a letter to the lawyer Bellario for some legal advice and a cover story. She and Nerissa then dress up as a lawyer and clerk to play dress-up at court and brag about women with the boys. I was never clear on how she knew to contact the same guy the Duke of Venice had consulted with or how she convinced Bellario to go along with her plan.
“What judgement shall I dread, doing no wrong?”Act 4, Scene 1 lns. 90-104 Speaker: Shylock
We picked this scene instead of the equally famous “The quality of mercy” speech which comes a little later in the scene (lns. 188-209). Shylock delivers his speech about property rights. He argues that just as the nobles in attendance are free to do what they wish with their slaves, he should be free to use his own legally obtained property as he sees fit. Aren’t we inclined and encouraged to agree with his point?
For the full effect, you really should go back and listen to the (in studio!) recording of act iv.
“How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank.” Act 5, Scene 1 lns. 61-76 Speakers: Lorenzo and Jessica
Daniel selected this passage because it contains Jessica’s last line of the play. Lorenzo is waxing poetic about the power of poetry and music but Jessica calls bullshit. Totally oblivious, Lorenzo then gives her a patronizing speech about why she doesn’t get it. Are Lorenzo and Jessica living in a dream world or is this a nightmare waiting to happen?