How to Act Shakespeare

Learn how to act Shakespeare and understand his language!


  1. Image titled Act Shakespeare Step 1
    Locate the piece you wish to perform. Because Shakespeare's work is public domain, most can be easily found on the internet; on the other hand, a book will usually also contain helpful footnotes to aid in your interpretation and understanding of archaic language.
  2. Image titled Act Shakespeare Step 2
    Read through the monologue thoroughly. Print out a few copies and make your own side notes.
  3. Image titled Act Shakespeare Step 3
    Ascertain the meaning of each line. Don't shy away from the dictionary! If you're having trouble, try using more modern translations or versions.
  4. Image titled Act Shakespeare Step 4
    Assess the emotional state of the character, and do not over-simplify; view the monologue as a winding road which takes the character through a variety of thought and states, over hills which bring heightened emotion, and into valleys of calm. The purpose of this is not necessarily only to provide complexity and nuance, but chiefly to provide depth. Nothing is worse than to see the words of our language's greatest artist portrayed flatly without forethought. Take into account the context of the monologue: what nuance can be found within the text drawing from previous events of the play? Does the character change over the course of the monologue? If so, how? What do the words reveal about the character?
  5. Image titled Act Shakespeare Step 5
    Go through and find operative and "juicy words" to accent in your line/monologue. Operative words are action words, a.k.a verbs. "Juicy words" are just words that are fun to say! Like saucy. Also, your operative words can be juicy words like "swear" or "beseech."
  6. Image titled Act Shakespeare Step 6
    Practice, practice practice! Memorize the monologue or line. As you get more comfortable with it add details like actions, voices, etc...


  • Do not make the mistake of exaggerating the pentameter so much that it detracts from the proper placement of emphasis and emotional energy. Rather, acknowledge it, and subtly incorporate it.
  • Shakespeare uses a device in his works called iambic pentameter, designed to mimic the natural human speech rhythm. Iambic pentameter is a kind of poetic meter; Shakespeare uses it for the speeches of almost all characters, with the exception of those poor or illiterate who would appear beneath the ability to speak poetically. One iamb consists of one unstressed and one stressed syllable; one line consists of five iambs.
  • "But soft, / what light / through yon / der win / dow breaks?
  • good tip: run until you are out of breath, then recite. We do it all the time in my acting class and it works like a charm.
  • Make your monologue emotionally rich without overdoing it; Shakespeare's work can be difficult to perform without overacting, but keep at it!
  • It is / the east / and Ju / liet is / the sun."
  • Bear in mind that human nature and characteristics have changed very little since Shakespeare's day; do not let the archaic language deter you from communicating ideas of real humanity.

Things You'll Need

  • A Shakespearean piece to perform.
  • Time.
  • Patience.
  • Enthusiasm.
  • Intuition.

Article Info

Categories: Acting