Ian McKellen Analyzes a Shakespearean Soliloquy

How should a soliloquy be performed? It starts with reading thoughtfully and with understanding; then thinking about the text and what the audience will need to understand.

In this clip from British television, c. 1979, Actor Sir Ian McKellen analyzes Macbeth’s soliloquy “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” as an example of how a Shakespearean soliloquy should be acted in order to be understood by the audience. McKellen is a master of his craft, and you’ll recognize his compelling voice from his many film performances.

Context: Macbeth, with his castle under siege, is informed of the death of his wife, Lady Macbeth, and delivers this soliloquy.

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
— To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
Out, out, brief candle!
Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.
— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17–28)

What is a soliloquy?

A soliloquy is an internal monologue often used in dramatic productions to let the audience know what the character is thinking. Another famous example of this type of internal monologue is found in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and begins, “To be or not to be, that is the question”. . ..

Who is Ian McKellen?

Ian McKellen

Sir Ian McKellen Photo by Stefan Servos License: CC BY-SA 3.0

Sir Ian Murray McKellen, CH, CBE (1939– ) is a British stage and screen actor whose award-winning stage roles range from Shakespeare to fantasy and science fiction. He has achieved global fame for his major roles in movies such as Richard III (1995), X-MenThe Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit trilogy.\

You might also enjoy the other Shakespeare resources we have on this site.


When will you read Shakespeare in Excellence in Literature?

E1.8 Focus text: The Tempest

E1.8 Honors text: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

E2.7 Focus text: Julius Caesar

E2.7 Honors text: King John
The book shown above is a collection of Shakespeare plays and resources, including the honors text we recommend, King John. We have not yet reviewed the other material in this collection.

E2.8 Honors text: Merchant of Venice

E4.4 Focus text: King Lear

E4.4 Honors text: Hamlet

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