Every young actor dreams of the chance to deconstruct and explore Shakespeare. High stakes, vivid language, rhythm, and poetry all come together to create a perfect storm of lyricism in his work. This is the kind of material that will really push a young actor to dig deep with his nuanced characters, and it’s pretty popular in the high school scene. That said, it can often be difficult for teens to find material that they can connect to and understand.
Here are six Shakespeare monologues for teens that can be found online. If your teen needs help understanding the language, No Fear Shakespeare is also a great resource (though it shouldn’t be used as a substitute for reading the plays).
1. “King John”: Blanch
If you want high stakes, you can’t get any higher than deciding whether to support your family or your husband in a war. The imagery in this monologue in Act 3, Scene 1 cuts to the core. Blanch wonders if “loud churlish drums, brayers of hell, be measures to our pomp.” She begs her husband to reconsider his allegiances as he threatens to take up arms against her beloved uncle, King John. The strong conflict gives young actors the freedom to play heightened emotions, which, coupled with the complex relationship between Blanch and her husband, makes this monologue a great challenge for any girl looking to expand her acting horizons.
2. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”: Helena
Always a fan favorite, here the conniving Helena laments her inability to woo Hermia’s suitor Demetrius. Her desire for beauty, as though confirming her appearance to match Hermia’s will make her worthy of love, is one many teen girls can relate to as is her lovesick despondency. There’s also an opportunity for some comedy when she becomes increasingly overdramatic as the scene goes on. The monologue found in Act 1, Scene 1 begins with the line, “How happy some o’er other some can be,” and provides a fun exploration into a misunderstood character that can work with a number of different choices.
3. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”: Lysander
Elsewhere in our Midsummer love-rectangle we have Lysander, begging Hermia’s father to allow her to marry him instead of Demetrius. Aside from the hilarity of calling Demetrius “spotted and inconsistent” to his face, Lysander showcases unexpected bravery in this scene, essentially standing up to the adults in the room, which is a dream that all teens share. It’s a great scene for a timid teen who wants to expand his range and can be found in Act 1, Scene 1 beginning with, “You have her father’s love Demetrius.”
4. “Henry VI Part 1”: Joan of Arc
Who wouldn’t want to play one of the toughest, most headstrong women in history? In Act 5, Scene 4 Joan of Arc attempts to escape execution by reminding her tormenters of their own moral failings during the war. Her terror knowing her execution is near is juxtaposed by her need to remain composed as she argues for her life. Her simultaneous anger at the men who call her a witch gives this monologue great versatility with the tools to make creative choices. The language in it can be challenging, so it may require a dictionary nearby for the first read-through. But if you’re a headstrong, independent actor and looking for a character to showcase that, you may be the perfect witch to play her.
5. “Romeo and Juliet”: Romeo
A tale as old as time, “Romeo and Juliet” is filled with dynamic monologues for teen boys to explore (including his balcony monologue in Act 2, Scene 2, although that one is slightly overdone). The character is age-appropriate and has the same confusion about life indicative of being a teen. His monologues tackle themes of love, fate, and grief, and use complex metaphors to paint a dynamic picture of what it means to grow up. This makes it an easy character for boys to understand and provides a vehicle for them to improve their craft with nuanced writing.
6. “Two Gentlemen of Verona”: Launce
In Act 2, Scene 3 Launce explains all the reasons why his dog is the cruelest member of his family, being the only one to not cry when Launce left. Unfortunately, he can’t stop mixing his metaphors, confusing himself in the process. The language in this speech is definitely a challenge, even tripping up Launce, but it’s a hilarious, self-aware piece that an actor can really have fun with. It’s a break from Shakespeare’s typical style of comedy, playing with language and poking fun at his usual use of metaphor. It really gives an actor the space to play with and become more acquainted with the Bard’s style.
Shakespeare is valuable for any teen actor to study. His plays persist centuries after they were written largely because of their universal themes and characters. They’re great ways for actors to better understand their crafts, but also to understand themselves.
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