Finding the right audition speech—let alone several—can be tough. You’ll need classical and contemporary monologues that show off your skills, contrast each other, and are challenging enough to be worthy of detailed exploration and rehearsal.
We’ve already covered the Shakespeare soliloquies to avoid and gone off the beaten track with alternative classical monologues for male and female characters. Plus, check out these great contemporary monologues for male and female characters.
If you’re still searching for inspiration, then look no further than these eight pieces, which are great starting points for drama school or open auditions. (A note: The words “male” and “female” refer to the characters as written, which doesn’t restrict who can play them.)
Remember to check individual audition requirements, as some casting teams set time limits or suggest writers and styles to avoid. It’s also common for actors to learn an alternative piece to have in their back pocket. Although it’s best to pick a monologue you can identify with and a character that fits your casting, ensure that your speeches aren’t too similar in tone or subject matter.
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare: Sebastian
Who: Sebastian is shipwrecked in the land of Illyria. Earlier in the play, his twin sister, Viola, made it to shore and disguised herself as a man, calling herself Cesario. Both are smart, noble, and—each believing that their sibling drowned at sea—grieving.
What’s going on: Shakespeare’s plays feature plenty of women disguised as men and cases of mistaken identity. And there’s no better example than Twelfth Night, in which love triangles and mischief abound. Viola disguises herself as Cesario for her own protection, but she falls in love with Duke Orsino along the way. Orsino sends her to woo Olivia on his behalf, who in turn becomes enamored of Cesario. Are you following?
What’s important for Sebastian is that, just before this speech, Olivia mistakes him for Cesario and flirts with him like crazy. She then gives him a token of her affection: a pearl.
Tips: This is a soliloquy, meaning it’s spoken directly to the audience. Sebastian is unsure whether everyone in Illyria is crazy or if he himself has lost his mind. By speaking to us, he asks for our assurance that he’s sane.
He starts by checking that he’s really awake and didn’t imagine meeting Olivia. The sun is in the sky, so everything must be normal. He’s holding onto Olivia’s gift, and it is a real object. But he still doubts himself and wishes that Antonio, his only friend on Illyria, would give him advice. He questions whether Olivia is mad, but finds it unlikely. He ultimately settles on the idea that whatever is going on, there’s some sort of deception at play.
This is the air; that is the glorious sun,
This pearl she gave me, I do feel’t and see’t.
And though ‘tis wonder that enwraps me thus,
Yet ‘tis not madness. Where’s Antonio, then?
I could not find him at the Elephant.
Yet there he was; and there I found this credit,
That he did range the town to seek me out.
His counsel now might do me golden service;
For though my soul disputes well with my sense,
That this may be some error, but no madness,
Yet doth this accident and flood of fortune
So far exceed all instance, all discourse,
That I am ready to distrust mine eyes
And wrangle with my reason that persuades me
To any other trust but that I am mad,
Or else the lady’s mad; yet, if ‘twere so,
She could not sway her house, command her followers,
Take and give back affairs and their dispatch
With such a smooth, discreet and stable bearing
As I perceive she does. There’s something in’t
That is deceiveable. But here the lady comes.
- Feel’t and see’t: Shakespeare often abbreviates or elides words to make them fit into iambic pentameter.
- This credit: the news that
- His counsel now might do me golden service: Antonio’s advice might help Sebastian understand what’s going on.
- Soul disputes well with my sense: The character’s feelings and rational mind are in agreement that Olivia has mistaken him for someone else.
- She could not sway her house…: if Olivia were mad, it doesn’t make sense that she can be in control of her servants, talk with certainty, and so forth.
Much Ado About Nothing by Shakespeare: Benedick
Who: Benedick is a self-confident, jovial, and witty soldier. Although this monologue is often suggested for those wanting to show off their comedic skills, there’s more at play than simple humor.
What’s going on: Benedick’s friend Claudio is in love with Hero, and he says that it’s changed him: He’s swapped battle music for love songs, armour for fashionable clothes, and plain speech for poetry.
Afterwards, Benedick is left alone in an orchard, asking himself whether love has the power to change him as it did his friend; but he would rather be turned into an oyster than a fool. He finishes by imagining a woman whom he could fall in love with; this is where you get to put your own spin on the speech. Underneath it all lies the fact that Benedick is in denial that he’s likely already in love with his frenemy—and depending on how you interpret the play, his old flame—Beatrice.
Tips: There’s a great joke you can play when Benedick says that the woman he loves must be rich to woo him, but realising that he sounds like a gold digger, adds that she should also be wise, upstanding, etc.
But is there something more mysterious going on? Is he trying to write an impossible list of attributes because he’s scared of falling in love? Is he testing himself? Does he check himself for any changes? By the time he’s said he doesn’t care what colour hair she has, does Benedick realise he’s in love with this imagined partner (who may or may not be Beatrice) and at risk of becoming exactly the type of man he’s been complaining about?
Unlike the other classical speeches in this list, this one isn’t in iambic pentameter; Shakespeare mixes verse and prose in Much Ado. But prose still has rules of its own. Pay attention to the punctuation, which will help you find each new idea—as well as where you should pause to breathe.
I do much wonder that one man, seeing how much
another man is a fool when he dedicates his
behaviours to love, will, after he hath laughed at
such shallow follies in others, become the argument
of his own scorn by failing in love: and such a man
is Claudio. I have known when there was no music
with him but the drum and the fife; and now had he
rather hear the tabour and the pipe: I have known
when he would have walked ten mile a-foot to see a
good armour; and now will he lie ten nights awake,
carving the fashion of a new doublet. He was wont to
speak plain and to the purpose, like an honest man
and a soldier; and now is he turned orthography; his
words are a very fantastical banquet, just so many
strange dishes. May I be so converted and see with
these eyes? I cannot tell; I think not: I will not
be sworn, but love may transform me to an oyster; but
I’ll take my oath on it, till he have made an oyster
of me, he shall never make me such a fool. One woman
is fair, yet I am well; another is wise, yet I am
well; another virtuous, yet I am well; but till all
graces be in one woman, one woman shall not come in
my grace. Rich she shall be, that’s certain; wise,
or I’ll none; virtuous, or I’ll never cheapen her;
fair, or I’ll never look on her; mild, or come not
near me; noble, or not I for an angel; of good
discourse, an excellent musician, and her hair shall
be of what colour it please God. Ha! the prince and
Monsieur Love! I will hide me in the arbour.
- The drum and fife: instruments associated with war and the soldier’s life
- The tabor and pipe: instruments used in love songs
- Ten mile a-foot: ten miles on foot
- Turned orthography: begun to speak in complex, flowery language
- Arbour: a garden retreat
- The prince and Monsieur Love: his friends, whom he hides from as they approach
As You Like It by Shakespeare: Phebe
Who: Phebe is often called “naive” or “dumb.” True, she takes metaphors literally, can’t hide her feelings, and is nowhere near as sharp as Rosalind, the play’s heroine. But it’s a mistake to think that Phebe is simple. In this monologue, we see that her passionate and thoughtful sides are at war as she comes to terms with having fallen in love at first sight.
What’s going on: Phebe is alone with Silvius, the man who adores her. She’s just met Ganymede—who is really Rosalind in disguise as a boy. Although Ganymede told her off for being too proud, Phebe is head over heels for him. In this speech, she does a poor job of convincing Silvius she isn’t in love. Beneath the surface, she’s coming to terms with how much of an impression Ganymede made on her, so it’s a wonderful opportunity to show two sets of emotions happening at the same time.
Tips: Phebe is constantly contradicting herself, so have fun with alternately acting certain and doubtful. Clearly define each new thought, and find lots of variation. Because she’s thinking, it’s tempting to slow down—but remember to keep the pace up. Think on the line, not around it.
The monologue builds to the point where Phebe is absorbed in the memory of Ganymede. When she describes “a pretty redness in his lip,” she’s hot under the collar. But she steadies herself and remembers whom she’s speaking to when she says, “There may be women, Silvius….”
She finishes by asking Silvius if he will deliver a letter to Ganymede; there’s an opportunity for comedy in how you play the final line: How do you ask someone who adores you to deliver your love letter to another man?
Think not I love him, though I ask for him;
‘Tis but a peevish boy; yet he talks well.
But what care I for words? Yet words do well
When he that speaks them pleases those that hear.
It is a pretty youth; not very pretty;
But sure he’s proud; and yet his pride becomes him.
He’ll make a proper man. The best thing in him
Is his complexion; and faster than his tongue
Did make offense, his eye did heal it up.
He is not very tall; yet for his year’s he’s tall.
His leg is but so so; and yet ‘tis well.
There was a pretty redness in his lip,
A little riper and more lusty red
Than that mixed in his cheek; ‘twas just the difference
Betwixt the constant red and mingled damask.
There be some women, Silvius, had they marked him
In parcels as I did, would have gone near
To fall in love with him; but, for my part,
I love him not nor hate him not; and yet
I have more cause to hate him than to love him;
For what had he to do to chide at me?
He said mine eyes were black and my hair black;
And, now I am rememb’red, scorned at me.
I marvel why I answered not again.
But that’s all one; omittance is no quittance.
I’ll write to him a very taunting letter,
And thou shalt bear it. Wilt thou, Silvius?
- Peevish: foolish or headstrong
- Pride becomes him: He’s deserving of pride.
- Complexion: appearance
- His year’s: his age
- Damask: light pink, like a rose
- Marked him in parcels: looked at him bit by bit
- He said mine eyes were black and my hair black: In Early Modern English, “black” was used as shorthand for ugliness or drabness; this is not a reference to race or ethnicity.
- But that’s all one; omittance is no quittance: It doesn’t matter. Even though I was speechless then, it doesn’t mean I have nothing to say.
Henry IV, Part 2 by Shakespeare: Lady Percy
Who: Lady Percy is a noblewoman. Her husband, Hotspur (aka Harry Percy), was a rebel killed by Prince Hal in Henry IV, Part 1. Although Lady Percy is in mourning, she’s not so struck with grief as to do anything rash. Outspoken and intelligent, she’s able to assess the situation that she and her fellow rebels are in.
What’s going on: Northumberland (Hotspur’s father and Lady Percy’s father-in-law) is convinced that he must go to war to avenge his son’s death and restore his honour. Others have told him that this course of action is foolish—including his own wife. But with this monologue, it’s Lady Percy who manages to change his mind. Not only does she not want to see any more bloodshed (there was a lot in the previous play!), but considering Northumberland’s son was also her husband, she doesn’t shy away from being vulnerable. Her father-in-law is now her only protector.
She tells him that he should not go to war now. The time for battle was when his own son was relying on him for backup. Reminding a powerful man of his failures, and in essence accusing him of having left his son to die, is a risky strategy. Remember that fact as you play it; Lady Percy is far from certain that her speech will work.
Tips: This is a longer monologue, so take care to plot out how Lady Percy changes gears throughout. As much as the first line suggests an impassioned opening, leave yourself room to grow.
There’s a lot of context you’ll need to know here. For instance, “your own Percy” and “my heart’s dear Harry” are two different names for the same man: Hotspur. When Lady Percy says that Northumberland broke his word, she is referring to his false promise he made to send troops to the battle where his son was killed.
These details are part of the richness of this speech; when they’re understood, you can play the speech for all it’s worth. Take the time to absorb the synopses both Part 1 and Part 2, and read the plays—or watch a production if you can.
The central section about Hotspur’s honour is where you get to show the depth of Lady Percy’s love and grief. It’s a eulogy to her husband, and it leads to another attack on her father-in-law for letting this great man die. At the end, she mourns the fact that if Hotspur had won, she would now be holding him and celebrating his defeat of Monmouth (aka Prince Hal). But as much as Lady Percy chastises Northumberland, never lose sight of the fact that her purpose is to convince.
O yet, for God’s sake, go not to these wars.
The time was, father, that you broke your word,
When you were more endeared to it than now,
When your own Percy, when my heart’s dear Harry,
Threw many a northward look to see his father
Bring up his powers; but he did long in vain.
Who then persuaded you to stay at home?
There were two honours lost, yours and your sons.
For yours, the God of heaven brighten it.
For his, it stuck upon him as the sun
In the gray vault of heaven, and by his light
Did all the chivalry of England move
To do brave acts. He was indeed the glass
Wherein the noble youth did dress themselves.
He had no legs that practised not his gait;
And speaking thick, which nature made his blemish,
Became the accents of the valiant;
For those that could speak low and tardily
Would turn their own perfection to abuse
To seem like him. So that in speech, in gait,
In diet, in affections of delight,
In military rules, humours of blood,
He was the mark and glass, copy and book,
That fashioned others. And him O wondrous him!
O miracle of men! him did you leave,
Second to none, unseconded by you,
To look upon the hideous god of war
In disadvantage, to abide a field
Where nothing but the sound of Hotspur’s name
Did seem defensible. So you left him.
Never, O never, do his ghost the wrong
To hold your honour more precise and nice
With others than with him. Let them alone.
The Marshal and the Archbishop are strong.
Had my sweet Harry had but half their numbers,
Today might I, hanging on Hotspur’s neck,
Have talked of Monmouth’s grave.
- Bring up his powers: send his troops
- The glass/Wherein the noble youth did dress themselves: the image of a good nobleman that others copied
- Humors of blood: Early Modern medicine believed bodily liquids called humors influenced people’s personalities.
- Unseconded by you: Northumberland didn’t back Hotspur up.
- Do his ghost wrong: his spirit, name, and reputation
- The Marshal and the Archbishop are strong: the men who are going to war again
Mosquitoes by Lucy Kirkwood: Luke
Who: Luke is the teenage son of a scientist who’s living in Geneva because of his mum’s work. He’s intelligent but troubled, and this piece is great because it mixes teenage awkwardness with genuine despair. It’s a chance to show off how you approach a complex character who is at the difficult moment of transition from childhood to adulthood.
What’s going on: Here, Luke reveals to his aunt why he’s covered in blood. He describes the depth of his unhappiness at school, where he’s an outcast. But by revealing his extreme actions and thoughts, is he pushing his aunt to act? To help? To mother him? His mum is consumed by work and his father isn’t around, so he lacks guidance and support.
Tips: Luke is serious and hyper-rational, but he’s also emotional and out of control; you’ll need to clearly define these extremes in your interpretation. He’s unable to read the social cues that others take for granted, so when he says that people laugh “like everything’s funny,” it’s because he doesn’t share their understanding of the world. Do you believe Luke’s story that he put a pamphlet in a girl’s locker because he wanted to protect her, or was he actually just seeking attention?
He’s a teenager speaking to an adult. You need to read the play to find out what kind of person his aunt is and just how different she is from her sister. Knowing the context of whom he’s speaking to, what kind of authority and status she has, and what kind of response he hopes to get is vital.
It’s so stupid, it’s like… not even.
I put a leaflet in Natalie’s locker. About HPV. It’s this STD thing. A virus. That can affect your, like, cervix. I was in the nurse’s office and there were these leaflets about this injection that girls can get to stop you getting it. And I thought that she should know about it so she can protect herself but, er.
So at lunchtime she comes up to me with Eloise and Stefan and the others and is like ‘did you put this in my locker’. They all start laughing, throwing stuff like leaves. And cans. And Stefan shoves me, so I shove him back. He shoves me again and I fall over. They all start screaming with laughter. But Natalie wasn’t. She tried to stop him.
So he’s hitting me right, he’s smacking me around the head. Then because I saw this big, like, stick. And I managed to pick it up. Yeah. And then there’s blood everywhere, like all down his face and on his chin and on his shirt. And then he’s crying. Like openly crying in front of everyone. And the girls are like… and so I just ran.
They laugh at everything. Like constantly. Like everything’s funny. And in my head I’m just watching them and thinking about how they are going to die. Not like in a threatening way. Not like planning it. Just statistically, you know?
Death of England by Roy Williams and Clint Dyer: Michael
Who: Michael is an impassioned, troubled working-class man who is aggrieved at the state of modern Britain. He’s completely undone by the death of his father, whom he had a complex relationship with.
What’s going on: Michael is speaking at his dad’s funeral with his family assembled in front of him and the coffin just behind him. He’s broken by grief, but he’s also using his chance at the mic with a captive audience to speak his mind.
As ever with a monologue, you need to grasp what the character wants from those he’s addressing. Does he want to punish his sister Lisa by telling everyone she hated their dad? And is this true? Is it a confession? An admission?
Tips: Although Rafe Spall’s energetic interpretation of the speech is available to watch online, this moment is yours to perform. Don’t feel that you need to copy another actor. Read the play and make up your own mind.
Keep in mind that the character is delivering a speech at a funeral. How does what Michael says differ from what’s expected of him or what he planned to say? When he addresses his father, don’t forget that his coffin is right there.
It’s tempting to think that the character is drunk and that you should play this accordingly. But to deliver a rich performance, you’ll need to use the full range of your voice and find moments of clarity as well as passion.
There’s my sister Lisa. And her so friendly but yet so patronising it hurts liberal, left, Uni mates - who think they know us. So down with us. Yet seem to care less about us than the bleeding Tories. Liberals who think that a cockney accent is verbal suicide, a council flat is destitution, and who’s greatest marker of success is how far they can live away from us. And do you know what? This will make you laugh - it really will. It wasn’t just you who dad hated. Dad hated himself and so he should. Always upset, always complained, but never once got up off his arse and did anything about it. He wouldn’t march for anything or anyone. He’d cover my ears in the terraces but he’d never tell his mates to stop. I’m no better. Dad hated me because I was gutless. Because I would rather have ten pints than stand for something. And Dad wanted me to stand for something, he wanted me to be better than him. How the hell am I supposed to do that, Dad? Who gives a toss what the likes of us think? They don’t want to know what we say, they want to know what we do. And what do we do? We fight. We fight because that is the only thing we’re good at. Smashing things up. Blaming everyone else who’s not English for our problems. When it comes that we are world champions.
Eight by Ella Hickson: Astrid
Who: Astrid is in her early 20s. In this monologue, she gets into bed next to her sleeping partner, then sits bolt upright to speak her mind.
What’s going on: Astrid has cheated on her partner with another man. She’s crept into bed with him after her indiscretion and reveals that, at this moment, she feels in charge of her life, not guilty. She goes on to describe her relationship with her partner and how he doesn’t really see her.
Taken from a series of monologues by Hickson, this one has become an audition staple because it’s knotty and rich, but also funny.
Tips: This is a speech without a listener, so you have to make a clear decision about whether you’re speaking to the audience, as in a soliloquy, or if it’s said in the character’s mind.
Astrid says she feels powerful at this moment because she has a secret. But will her sleeping partner notice that when he wakes up? And does she really want him to? If she’s become invisible to him, why hasn’t she left him already? In your delivery, you can reveal to the audience that something else is going on. Perhaps Astrid is miserable with her partner but also unable to leave. Why is that?
There are opportunities for comedy in how she reacts to her snoring, farting partner. But the smart writing demands you turn sharp corners, from making fun of him to realising that this was the man she thought she would marry.
People talk about guilt as if it’s an instinct. That the second you do something wrong, you feel guilty. I don’t; what I’m feeling is power.
You always join the story at the bit where they’re sorry, when they’re desperately begging for forgiveness; but there’s something before that, there’s now. In the space after the act and before the consequences, when you’ve gotten away with it; when you’re walking out of an unknown door, back down unknown streets and it’s still thumping in you - dawn’s breaking, dew’s settling and your skipping back home, flying on the thrill of it, you can taste it.
Even back here, the quiet click of the door, the tiptoe in - our bed and all the stuff that makes up life, our life- and- I don’t feel like a traitor; I can lie here while another man’s saliva dries of my lips and I can remember another man’s face bearing over me - and I enjoy it, I enjoy that all this seems new again.
His alarm’s going off in ten minutes. He’ll roll over and grunt, curl himself round me like a monkey with its mum. Just like every morning. He won’t notice that anything’s different - he won’t see that I have mascara down my face or that my hair is wet, because I’ve been running in the rain to get back before he wakes up, he won’t notice I haven’t been here - for him, I became invisible a long time ago.
That’s not even snoring, is it? Listen? It’s definitely more aggravating than breathing, but it doesn’t quite have the conviction of a snore. Nope… just a slow dribble of air, as if it was engineered to be as aggravating as humanly possible; sort of like a tiny pony having a tantrum.
Oop - oh that’s nice isn’t it, a little wind from the baby. Having been with someone else, it’s like I’ve left the room for the first time in years, and come back in and realised… this is the man that I once thought I might marry.
Ah, and here we have - the spread. Allowing air to all orifices at once, in vain hopes of ventilation, the male of the species spreads himself, much like a starfish. Allowing little or no room for the female of the species to coexist in the domestic habitat. It’s as if she wasn’t even there.
Brontë by Polly Teale: Anne
Who: Anne Brontë is the youngest of three brilliant sisters in this partly historical, partly imaginative drama.
What’s going on: Anne is speaking to her sisters, Emily and Charlotte; they are her closest friends and the only people in the world who understand her. That context is important, because the question of why she chooses to write has to be understood alongside the fact that it’s a form of escape for all three siblings. As women in 19th-century Yorkshire, they’re hemmed in by strictly defined social roles, as well as their isolated location. Keep in mind that since Anne is speaking to her family, she doesn’t have to worry about social mores.
Tips: Anne suggests that to write about the world is to also isolate yourself from it—to describe it rather than live in it. She no longer goes for walks in the woods for her own sake, but as research for her novel.
Does Anne actually want to give up writing in order to “just be”? And can she, even if she wants to? And what is she asking of her sisters? By suggesting they should have done socially impactful work, is she seeking reassurance that the act of writing has meaning? You’ll also need to decide how aware Anne is of her own bottled-up emotions.
Lastly, although there’s no need to put on a Yorkshire accent, don’t make the mistake many do: “Keighley” is pronounced KEETH-LEE.
Do you ever wonder what our lives would have been had we not put pen to paper? Had we never been afflicted by that curious condition which must have you turn your life into words. Yesterday coming back from Keighley through the wood, I was looking at the tree’s, at the Autumn light and trying to describe it for it is Autumn in my story. When I came upon the blackberry pickers, they sang as they worked. There’s not a soul amongst them that can read or write and yet I thought I would give anything to be one of them. To be part of that great thrum of life and activity, to see the fruit of your labours in front of you at the end of the day, to know that it would be of use to others. They stopped when they saw me watching, they took off their hats and nodded and I knew they wanted me gone. It was not a performance, the singing was not for me or anyone else, it was for its own sake. Like breathing they did it without knowing. They didn’t need anyone to hear. Why do we need someone to hear us, why is it not enough to be? Why do we do it? And why us? Why always? As far back as I can remember, I used to think that we could change things. That by telling the truth we could make a better world. There are people living in poverty and in terrible injustice and suffering. And we write. What do we want? What is it for?