Best of the Bard: Shakespeare’s Best Passages and Soliloquies

It is not for nothing that Shakespeare is called a poet as much as he is called a playwright or a writer. Nor is it for nothing that he is known as THE Bard – not just A Bard. His oeuvre contains some of the most beautiful passages that have ever been written in English. After reading all of Shakespeare’s plays, I wanted to share some of the passages that stood out among many beautiful moments, images, and soliloquies. These are the moments that quite literally take my breath away, make me put my hands over my heart, stunned at the beauty of the language.

  • Henry IV’s sleep speech, Henry IV Part 2, Act 3 Scene 1
    • The imagery in this speech is out of this world. Henry IV is a favorite of mine and has many, many stunning lines, but this speech is one of the best. And it sets up the scene that he later has with his son that is one of my favorite scenes of all time.
    • “O sleep, O gentle sleep, nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee, that thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down and steep my senses in forgetfulness?”
  • Richard II’s death of kings speech, Richard II, Act 3 Scene 2
    • This is a gorgeous speech from a character with many beautiful lines, and is one that some people may be slightly less familiar with than some others I have listed here. In this moment of the play, Richard II realizes he is facing a very serious rebellion and that he may well lose his crown. There is anger in this speech, but there is also a painful realization of his own fallibility which he has never had to face before. It is moving and utterly heartbreaking.
    • “Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs…”
  • Henry V St. Crispin’s Day speech, Henry V, Act 4 Scene 3
    • This is an extremely famous speech, and for good reason. Speeches that are made to try and boost morale can often feel overdone and a bit sappy, I suppose, but I love this one – not least because it shows just how far Henry V has come. We meet him as a roguish, irresponsible young prince, and this moment is, for me, the epitome of his kingliness. It’s a lovely moment, and one that makes you want to cheer and tackle whatever challenge it is you are facing.
    • “If we are marked to die, we are enow to do our country loss; and if to live, the fewer men, the greater share of honor.”
  • Shakespeare’s Epilogue (Prospero’s Epilogue), The Tempest, Act 5 Epilogue)
    • I wrote about this in my Tempest post, and don’t have much more to add. I think more than any other passage in his work, this really feels like Shakespeare himself speaking, and there’s so personal about it that it truly stands out among many beautiful passages.
    • “Now my charms are all o’erthrown, and what strength I have’s mine own…”
  • Jaques’ seven stages of man speech, As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7
    • This is an incredible speech from one of my favorite minor characters in all Shakespeare’s canon. It is witty, almost bawdy at first, and then rather quickly turns into something that can be made nearly as bleak as Macbeth’s “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech. It is beautiful, and a remarkable painting of the fear we have of meaninglessness. 
    • “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…”
  • Portia’s mercy speech, Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene 1
    • I have complicated feelings about The Merchant of Venice, but regardless of whether you love the play or are more conflicted about it like I am, Portia is easily the best thing about it. She is by far my favorite character of the play, and her speech about mercy near the end of the play is beautiful. I think part of the reason that I love this speech so much is because compassion and mercy are so important to me, and I love the way that our Portia talks about mercy as being “twice blessed” and how much she argues in favor of mercy. It’s a wonderful speech, and for me, one of the only redeeming moments in this play.
    • “The quality of mercy is not strained; it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed; it blesseth him him that gives and him that takes.”
  • Hamlet’s to be speech, Hamlet, Act 3 Scene 2
    • It’s such a shame that this speech has become so omnipresent that it has lost all meaning within our collective consciousness. When you can approach it on its own merits, however, it is a truly remarkable soliloquy that is as groundbreaking as it is beautiful.
    • “To be or not to be – that is the question…”
  • Macbeth’s tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow speech, Macbeth, Act 5 Scene 5
    • I have written multiple times on this blog that Macbeth’s “tomorrow” speech is one of the most beautiful passages ever written. It is equal parts beauty, bleakness, and resolution. It comes at a pivotal moment at the very end of the play, and in addition to being one of the most gorgeous and moving passages ever written, it is also one of the most profound. For that reason, and because it is a rather short speech (as far as Shakespeare’s speeches go), I want to include it in its entirety here (in prose form, without line breaks).
    • “She should have died hereafter. There would have been a time for such a word. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow 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’s 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.”
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