book review: Persuasion by Jane Austen





PERSUASION by Jane Austen
★★★★★
originally published in 1817




I thought Persuasion was brilliant and when I finished I briefly flirted with the idea that it might be my favorite Austen novel. I ultimately decided that I was downplaying my feelings for Mansfield Park in favor of what I feel might be a technically better book, but I can no longer deny that Mansfield Park touched me in a way that Persuasion did not. 

Still, this is a damn good book. Decidedly more mature and melancholy than most of Austen’s works, Persuasion is probably the slowest of all of Austen’s slow burns, but I felt that the pacing was so deliberate and the setup so juicy that I couldn’t fault it for that. (Plus, it’s 200 pages shorter than Emma.)

Continuing on in my love for Austen’s more reserved heroines, I found Anne Elliot to be a brilliant creation. Having once been persuaded by her family to refuse the proposal of naval officer Frederick Wentworth, Anne finds herself eight years later confronted with Wentworth once again and is forced to face the feelings for him that she thought she had long buried. Interestingly, not a whole lot of interaction between Anne and Wentworth ensues (and there isn’t much plot to speak of beyond a secondary character having a traumatic head injury) — but still Anne and Wentworth’s relationship is one of my favorite things Austen has written. This is an unfalteringly internal work, and Austen chronicles the growth in Anne with such convincing subtlety that this novel’s realism can’t help but to be marveled at.

Some might fault this book for being less witty and humorous than her others, but I think her wit shines through in her piercing observations about class and the shifting social hierarchy. It’s certainly a less lively novel than any of her earlier works, but that’s what I admire so much about it: that Austen was able to create such a compelling and insular story that’s captivating not for its sarcasm and banter, but for its earnest and reflective depiction of two people finding their way back into each other’s lives at the right moment.

book review: Cassandra by Christa Wolf | #WITmonth2021






CASSANDRA: A NOVEL AND FOUR ESSAYS by Christa Wolf
translated from the German by Jan van Heurck
★★★★☆
FSG, 1983





I read and adored Christa Wolf’s Medea years ago — a fiercely human and political retelling of the myth — and have been wanting to read Cassandra ever since. Oddly, I’ve been misremembering for years that these books have the same English-language translator; they do not, and I think that factor alone might be responsible for the fact that I had a stronger reaction to Medea than I did to Cassandra. Jan van Heurck’s translation here is serviceable, but John Cullen’s Medea translation really sings in a way this one does not. (Hannah, whose favorite novel is Cassandra, has assured me that the German-language prose in Cassandra is much stronger than in Medea, but knows other English-language readers who share my assessment of the two.)

In this volume published by FSG in the 80s, Wolf’s novel Cassandra is published alongside four essays which were originally presented as a lecture series. The first two are travel diaries that detail Wolf’s journey to ancient sites in Greece, the next is a personal journal entry, and the final one is a letter. Through these essays the reader comes to not only see what a passion project this novel was for Wolf, but also to see the myriad of factors from her contemporary sociopolitical perspective that influenced her perception of the Cassandra character. She writes of the ways in which her concept of Cassandra evolve throughout her research:

The character continually changes as I occupy myself with the material; the deadly seriousness, and everything heroic and tragic, is disappearing; accordingly, compassion and unilateral bias in her favor are disappearing, too. I view her more soberly, even with irony and humor. I see through her.

The novel, which comes first in this bind-up, is essentially a monologue from Cassandra’s perspective, narrating her account of the Trojan War as her death draws nearer. Like Medea, this is a very political retelling, focused not only on Cassandra’s life but also the machinations of the Trojan court, notably subverting the romantic notion that the war was waged for Helen’s honor and beauty, instead exposing that that was a smoke screen for Greek occupation, actually driven by an interest in Troy’s trade routes.

This book in both of its halves — novel and essays — is a beautiful and thoughtful meditation on the destructive effects of war on the individual. I’m glad I finally made the time to read it, I only wish I were capable of reading it in the original German, in which I suspect it may have affected me a bit more.

Women’s Prize 2021 Shortlist Review & Winner Prediction

So it’s that time of the year again! The Women’s Prize winner announcement is right around the corner, on September 8. I did actually succeed in my resolution not to read the entire longlist this year, but I somehow ended up reading 10/16, including the entire shortlist.

On the whole, from what I’ve read, I’m pretty ambivalent about this list — there were a couple of real highlights for me, but also a lot of duds, and I think the huge delay between the longlist announcement (March 8) and the winner announcement (September 8) deadened some of my excitement.

Round up of my 2021 Women’s Prize coverage:

Now here’s the shortlist ranked from what I would least to most like to see win.

6. How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones

This book just fell flat on its face for me — I admired what it was trying to do in its excavation of the dark realities of a small-town Caribbean tourist paradise, but I ultimately felt like its graphic portrayals of trauma were so extreme that they swallowed up the fictional elements, leaving me unconvinced by this story and these characters. That this sort of trauma is true to life, I have no doubt; but in a novel, it wasn’t able to convince me or hold my interest. I also didn’t get on with the writing style at all, meaning I solidly enjoyed reading this book the least.

5. Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller

Another one that I felt did a poor job at balancing its social commentary with a compelling, convincing narrative; while reading both One-Armed Sister and Unsettled Ground I felt acutely aware that I was reading a fictional story about invented people; Jeanie and Julius never fully came to life for me, and I felt that this book was largely just spinning its wheels without really going anywhere. I felt like I ‘got the point’ fairly early on and then was just waiting for something bigger and better to materialize out of this story.

4. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

This is the final entry to my ‘did not do a good job at balancing themes and story’ half of this list. While I felt that this book really excelled at its commentary on colorism and racial identity, it left a lot to be desired as a work of fiction. I had a lot of problems with this book — character development, writing style, heavy reliance on coincidence — but I think its biggest offense for me was how poorly it was structured. Of the three shortlisted books that I didn’t enjoy reading, The Vanishing Half would probably offend me the least as a winner: I think these are three really poorly written novels, if I’m being honest, but I felt that The Vanishing Half at least did the best job at its social commentary.

3. No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

A really interesting thought-experiment on the inextricable nature of “reality” and “online life”, that I felt didn’t cut any corners in its development of a very harrowing narrative that runs parallel to its commentary on The Internet. I was so impressed by this book but what it didn’t have, for me, was staying power; much as I loved it at the time, I hardly ever think about it now, and when trying to recall the shortlist off the top of my head, this is the one I always forget.

2. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

A richly imaginative work that really stuck with me in its poignant depiction of loneliness. I wasn’t sure about this one going in, but Susanna Clarke’s lush and confident prose lured me in and I ended up enjoying every second that I spent in this strange world. (I also recently realized something about what happens in my head when I read, which is that I visualize interior spaces very vividly, which is probably why this worked so well for me when I don’t tend to love descriptive writing.) But anyway, back to the Women’s Prize — I don’t expect this to win, but I think it would be an exciting and unconventional choice.

1. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

This book does what so many on this shortlist failed to do for me — it takes a heart-wrenching narrative and a wide array of themes and subjects and it synthesizes them into a singular, spectacular novel. This is one of the shorter books on the shortlist and still not a single one of its 264 pages is wasted — Gyasi’s prose is exquisite and her structure and pacing are impeccable. This manages to be both a hard-hitting exploration of the connection between science and faith, and also a moving story about a broken family, and I would love so much to see this exceptional book win next week.

Winner Prediction:

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

I don’t particularly want to see this book win, but I think it’s inevitable. The Vanishing Half has been lauded for its well-constructed characters, for its compelling storytelling, and for its heart-wrenching depiction of the fractured bond between two sisters. I didn’t personally see or feel any of that, but obviously the judges do, or it wouldn’t have made it this far. The fact that it’s topical, that it’s SO successful in the U.S., and that it’s supposedly a heartbreaking story is the right combination of factors that will give it the edge up above the other shortlisters, I think. It’s hard to describe something that you can’t even fully see, but so many readers are finding a real magic in this novel that I’m really expecting it to take home the prize.

So to recap: the only two novels I’m actively rooting for are Transcendent Kingdom and Piranesi; I don’t expect No One is Talking About This to win and I think I’ll be some sort of combination of impressed and bemused if it does; I’m resigned to The Vanishing Half; and Unsettled Ground and How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House are the two that I’ll be the most actively irritated by.

But those are just my personal thoughts — as always, good luck to all the shortlisters.

What are you guys expecting and hoping to see win?

book review: House of Glass by Susan Fletcher





HOUSE OF GLASS by Susan Fletcher
★★★★★
Virago (UK), 2018




Callum brought House of Glass to my attention ages ago and now that I’ve finally read it, I have to echo his recommendation and add my own disbelief that this book has flown so under the radar. Fans of Laura Purcell and Sarah Waters, get on this! Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think this book ever got a US publisher; it’s a shame, as there is certainly a huge market for this kind of atmospheric British historical fiction over here — a market that is indeed so oversaturated that it’s only natural for some real gems like this to slip through the cracks.

Sort of a slow burn coming of age story à la Jane Eyre meets a modernized Gothic horror novel like The Silent Companions, House of Glass follows Clara, a young woman with osteogenesis imperfecta living in London with her stepfather in the wake of her mother’s death in 1914. She becomes entranced with gardening and is eventually summoned to a manor in Gloucestershire with the task of curating a private greenhouse for the eccentric, frequently absent owner. This is the first time Clara has really left home or done anything on her own given the limitations that her disorder has caused in her life, so it’s partially a novel about Clara finding her way in the world; and it’s also partially a Gothic mystery as Clara attempts to uncover the secrets of Shadowbrook manor.

Again, this novel is quite the slow burn; the mystery element isn’t even introduced until partway through; you do spend quite a bit of time on Clara’s childhood and background. But I do think that ultimately serves the themes of the story quite nicely so I don’t think that’s a negative at all; I just want to firmly clarify that this is a mystery novel much more than it is any kind of thriller.

Susan Fletcher’s writing is strong, her characters are brilliantly crafted, and she interacts with tropes and archetypes from the classics — Jane Eyre, Rebecca, Northanger Abbey — in such a deliberate way, I was really won over by how cleverly constructed this book was. It’s certainly a fun and gripping read on the one hand, but its literary merit shouldn’t be underestimated. Just a very solidly good book all around.

book reviews: Home Before Dark and Survive the Night by Riley Sager




HOME BEFORE DARK by Riley Sager
★★★★☆
Dutton, 2020


I read this book over a year ago and annoyingly never got around to reviewing it — I’m only returning to it now as I’m about to review Riley Sager’s newest offering, Survive the Night, and I’m a completionist. So, here we are. Let’s see if I can come up with a few sentences. 

I’ve read all of Sager’s books now and this isn’t one of my favorites from him; I’d put it second to last, with only The Last Time I Lied below it.

Meaning: I still liked it quite a lot.

Set in a decaying Victorian estate in Vermont (can’t go wrong there), Home Before Dark is a sufficiently eerie and unsettling haunted house horror story which indulges a lot of genre’s tropes, but which doesn’t ultimately subvert them in a very interesting way. I think I had more problems with this novel’s resolution than any of his others, but still, Sager is the absolute master of gripping, pacy thrillers, and this one is no exception; definitely recommended if it catches your eye.




SURVIVE THE NIGHT by Riley Sager
★★★★☆
Dutton, 2021


In the style of a somewhat modernized film noir, Survive the Night tells the story of Charlie, a New Jersey college student looking for a ride home to Ohio on a cold winter’s night. At the college’s ride board (this is set in the 1990s, pre-the sort of technology that we’d use today for this kind of arrangement), she meets Josh Baxter, also heading in that direction, so she gratefully accepts the ride. The only snag: Charlie’s roommate and best friend was recently murdered by a serial killer. The longer Charlie and Josh spend in the car and the more they get chatting, the more Charlie starts realizing that certain details in Josh’s story aren’t adding up, and she starts to wonder if she’s trapped in the car of her roommate’s murderer.

I read this in a single sitting — I think it’s Sager’s most successful page-turner to date, which seems almost counterintuitive; you’d think that a girl being trapped in a car wouldn’t exactly make for the most gripping of reads, but this might be his most tense, terrifying work yet. The set-up may sound simple, but the way this story unfolds could not be more unpredictable if it tried. 

This book DOES however include the cringiest line I’ve ever read in the history of my entire existence, so I cannot in good conscience recommend it without warning you that this is a series of sentences you are going to have to read with your very own eyeballs — apologies for subjecting you to this:

She’s no longer the scared, self-loathing girl she was when she left campus. She’s something else.

A fucking femme fatale.

File this under: more reasons I try to avoid thrillers by men.

Anyway, after my eyes were done rolling into the back of my skull, I pushed onward and yeah, what can I say, I had a lot of fun reading this. Certain elements of the resolution were brilliant, others were a bit silly, but all I can really ask of a thriller is to keep me guessing and keep me on my toes, and Sager always delivers on that front. I’ve become less confident through the years about his ability to write women — see above quote (I thought his female protagonist in his debut, Final Girls, was written brilliantly, which lured me into a false sense of security) — so the more of his books I read, the more the shine does slightly wear off, but I doubt I’ll be able to quit him any time soon; his books are too damn addicting.

Hannah and I have too many ARCs: #ARCsofshame 2021

That’s right, #ARCsofshame is back for the third year running!

If you are not familiar with #ARCsofshame, it is a readathon that Hannah and I host for 2 weeks every September. When I say readathon… Hannah and I are usually the only people who participate. There are no prompts except “read your damn ARCs already.” But you are all more than welcome to join us! Don’t listen to Hannah, there IS a hashtag, #ARCsofshame, which I think Laura Frey coined? Not totally sure on that. But yeah, this is more us publicly holding ourselves accountable than anything, so feel free to join in if that sounds fun to you! We will be doing this the first 2 weeks of September this year.

I made a TBR for this project in 2019 and 2020. To be fair to me, I was never intending to read every book off those lists in a single two week period. But now it’s been… a hot second, so, let’s see how I’ve done.

I have read 9 books off my 2019 list, and 5 books off my 2020 list.

Oops.

So one of my goals for this year is to read one of the unread books off my 2019 list, and one off my 2020 list. From 2019 I’m eyeing The Glass Woman and from 2020 I’m eyeing The Majesties and It is Wood, It is Stone, but I’m not totally settled on any of those.

Otherwise, here’s what I’ve acquired since that I have yet to read:

I’m not reading Cathedral for this as I think it’s over 600 pages, and I will 100% be reading The Women of Troy as I intend to review that for BookBrowse with a mid-September deadline, but otherwise, I’m totally open.

So… what should I read?? Help!

book review: Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy






MIGRATIONS by Charlotte McConaghy
★★★★☆
Flatiron, 2020




I didn’t expect to love this book nearly as much as I did. When I started reading, I was immediately turned off by the writing, which I thought was overwrought and stylized to a frankly annoying degree — but I pushed through and I actually found that the writing mellowed out after the first chapter; the prose does have a distinct lyrical flair throughout, but there was almost an air of desperation to the first chapter that the rest of the book was mercifully lacking. (It reminded me of this phenomenon that you sometimes see where it is very transparent that the author workshopped the hell out of chapter 1 to submit to agents, and then settled into a more organic style after that. I can’t say for sure that that’s what happened here, but that was the impression I got.)

Migrations is set in a version of the near-future where almost all animal life has died out, and it tells the story of Franny, a woman determined to follow a species of bird called the Arctic tern on their final migration from Greenland to Antarctica. Because she doesn’t have any funding for this expedition, the only way to make it is to join a fishing vessel and convince the captain to reroute the boat. Obviously she succeeds, or there wouldn’t be a book, but the novel is less about the journey itself and more about Franny’s past, and the trauma that led her to undertake such a dangerous expedition. 

Large swathes of this book are downright implausible, let’s just get that out of the way. If you have a particular interest in environmentalism specifically through a scientific lens, I cannot in good faith recommend this book. It takes liberties, it gets facts wrong, its worldbuilding is under-developed. Personally, nature writing is one of my very least favorite things and the less time spent on it the better, so this catered to my personal tastes quite nicely, but there’s every chance you’ll find this element silly and distracting. 

Regardless, I ended up loving this. Migrations has been compared a lot to Station Eleven and I found that actually rang true for me — there’s something in the character work that felt really similar and familiar. McConaghy’s characters, like Mandel’s, are brilliantly drawn — even the most minor characters feel like they have an entire story hidden in them. 

It’s honestly challenging to describe this book’s strengths when its weaknesses are so evident and tangible; the strengths are a lot more slippery and understated. I think where this worked for me is in its depiction of a very flawed person searching for atonement in all the wrong places. It’s a deeply human, deeply sad work, and it ended up being one of the most emotionally affecting books I’ve read in a long time. Definitely recommended more from a character-driven angle than a dystopian one.

Thank you to Flatiron for the free copy.

wrap up: Quarter 1, 2021

In an effort to get my blogging rhythm back, I opted to forgo monthly wrap ups this year; once a month frankly comes around far too frequently for my liking and they feel a bit redundant when I review most books I read anyway.

But I don’t actually review every single book I read and I didn’t want the few I don’t review to slip through the cracks entirely, so I’ve decided to try quarterly wrap ups and see how this works for me. I also thought I’d group this thematically to try to make sense of some patterns in my reading habits rather than just giving you a chronological list.

So, let’s talk through everything I’ve read so far this year.

I’m reading through the complete works of Jane Austen with a book club and so far I’ve read these three: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Northanger Abbey (a reread for me). While I’m not as enthused with Austen as I had hoped I would be, at least not yet, I’m glad I’m doing this and I’m particularly looking forward to diving into her later works. Mansfield Park is up next for April, and I’m hoping to review Northanger Abbey soon and talk about how I had quite a different reaction to it the second time around.

Shakespeare has been occupying considerably less of my time in 2021 than it did in 2020, which is to say… still quite a bit of my time.

The only two plays I’ve reread in their entireties this year outside Project Shakespeare have been Hamlet and Julius Caesar, to prepare for playing Claudius and Cassius respectively. Still two of my top 5 Shakespeare plays, I adore them both.

I’m also making it a project to read every retelling of King Lear that I can get my hands on. I’ve already read The Queens of Innis Lear (meh), A Thousand Acres (brilliant), and the anthology That Way Madness Lies (the Lear story was horrendous but the collection on the whole was inoffensive). I’m currently reading Preti Taneja’s We That Are Young, though I’m not very far into that one yet. Hoping to finish it by the end of April though.

I’ve read three books for BookBrowse so far this year: Dark Horses, The Project, and Edie Richter is Not Alone. I haven’t reviewed this third one yet, but it’s my favorite thing I’ve read so far this year, so stay tuned for that.

After adamantly stating that I will NOT be reading the Women’s Prize longlist this year, I have proceeded to… spend the last few weeks reading the Women’s Prize longlist. Though in my defense, this list is kind of a banger, and I’ve given 5 stars to all three books I’ve read since it was announced: Transcendent Kingdom, Piranesi, and Consent. I’ll review Piranesi soon.

My ARC situation is, as always, utterly out of control, but these are the ones I’ve managed to read so far this year: Open Water (adored!), Filthy Animals (liked, with reservations), The Art of Falling (mixed feelings), Milk Fed (LOVED and also wanted to throttle it), and Kink (not worth your time aside from Brandon Taylor and Carmen Maria Machado’s stories).

And here’s everything else: The Fire Next Time (obviously brilliant), Pages & Co: The Lost Fairy Tales (so sweet, so wholesome; I’ll review the whole series when I’ve read the third one), Real Life (perfection), Big Girl Small Town (underwhelming), Edward II (literally the gayest shit I’ve ever read–adored it), and Are You Somebody? (very by-the-book Irish memoir, lovely audiobook).


I have two reading regrets so far this year: that I haven’t read a single translated book and that I didn’t do more for Reading Ireland Month. So Irish lit and translated lit are both going to get a bit more attention from me in quarter 2, I’m hoping. Otherwise, I’m feeling pretty good about how I’ve managed to balance all my disparate reading interests.

book review: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi





TRANSCENDENT KINGDOM by Yaa Gyasi
★★★★★
Knopf, 2020


This book absolutely floored me. I read it in under 24 hours, though it’s almost difficult to explain why: it’s not (ostensibly) a page-turner and there’s really no plot to speak of. But once I started reading I couldn’t stop; I found Gyasi’s prose so inviting and mesmerising and before I knew it I’d read the whole thing and it had utterly wrecked me.

The thing about Transcendent Kingdom is that it has no business working as well as it does. Gyasi tackles grief, siblinghood, loneliness, immigration, racism, science, religion, and opioid addiction, and it feels almost too ambitious for a book under 300 pages. Often when authors try to balance this many disparate threads, some get lost in the shuffle; it’s challenging to navigate each topic with the weight and respect they deserve, but that’s exactly what Gyasi does here–everything coheres seamlessly.

It’s a difficult book to review, though, because I’ve probably just made it sound like it’s a novel full of ideas and nothing else. But the most impressive thing Gyasi does is perform her thorough thematic excavation without sacrificing the narrative. Again, it’s not a plot-heavy book, but it’s effectively character-driven, and Gifty, a neuroscientist coping with the death of her brother and her difficult relationship with her mother, is a brilliant, vibrant, believable protagonist.

This is one of the most technically impressive and emotionally resonant books I’ve read in ages; it deserves all the hype and more.

Favorite Shakespeare Monologues

You didn’t think I was done posting about Shakespeare, did you?!

Roughly one year ago, Project Shakespeare was formed, and as a group we’re celebrating our anniversary tomorrow, by performing snippets of different scenes and each performing a monologue that we’ve done at some point over the past year. Everyone in the group voted for which monologue everybody was going to do, and I was voted to do Edmund in King Lear, because of course I was.

But this whole thing, preparing for the Anniversary Extravaganza and looking through monologues I’ve done over the past year, led me to compiling this list of my favorite Shakespeare monologues because damn, are there some good ones. One thing about Shakespeare is that he invented very few of his stories; the reason we still value his works isn’t for their artistic innovation so much as for their language, so that’s what I really wanted to celebrate in this post by going through a few of my favorites. I say ‘a few’ — it’s my top 15. Let’s do this.

Also, this order is kind of arbitrary. I saved my favorite one for last but otherwise I’m grouping plays together where there are multiples from the same play for contextual consistency. Also including some video links when there’s a good video version or one I particularly like.

15. Macbeth in Macbeth 2.1, “Is this a dagger”

Context: Macbeth has just resolved to kill the king Duncan in order to crown himself.

Video: Patrick Stewart

This one’s not that deep (my reasoning for it making this list, that is, not the monologue itself) — I’ve had it memorized for years so it’s the one Macbeth monologue I still gravitate toward the most, although there are plenty of great ones to choose from.

14. Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1.1, “How happy some o’er other some can be”

Context: Helena is in love with Demetrius, who’s in love with Hermia, who’s in love (mutually) with Lysander; those two are about to run off into the woods together. Demetrius used to love Helena and here she’s lamenting that his affections turned to Hermia, and she decides that she’s going to tell Demetrius that Hermia and Lysander are running off together, thinking it will bring Demetrius closer to her. Helena’s a mess, basically.

Video: Sarah MacRae @ 14:22

I think this is the only monologue from a comedy that made this list. I’m not so adamantly anti-comedy as I was at the beginning of my Shakespeare journey, but it is true that they tend to not hit me quite as hard. This Helena monologue isn’t even that special, objectively; I’d simply wanted to play Helena since I was 11, so I rehearsed the heck out of this monologue when I finally got the chance last month and it’s one of the ones that I most enjoyed spending time with. (Helena is incidentally also the character I’d most like to play on stage, so if you’re casting Midsummer in Vermont post-pandemic… call me.)

13. Constance in King John 3.4, “Thou art not holy to belie me so”

Context: Constance’s son Arthur, a claimant to the throne and a threat to King John, has been captured by John’s forces. Here Constance mourns Arthur’s death and dies of grief herself shortly after, though interestingly, Arthur hasn’t actually yet died in the play when Constance gives these speeches — it’s one of those weird Shakespearean puzzles.

Video: Camille O’Sullivan

Slightly less famous than a different monologue that follows (“Grief fills the room up of my absent child”), but if I had to choose just one for Constance, this wins hands down. I LOVE the language in this one: I love the visual imagery Shakespeare weaves in of Constance tearing her hair down while she’s giving this speech about grief and sanity, and “Preach some philosophy to make me mad,/ And thou shalt be canonized, cardinal” is one of my favorite lines full stop.

12. Lady Percy in Henry IV Part 2 2.3, “O, yet, for God’s sake, go not to these wars!”

Context: Kate Percy’s father in law, Northumberland, is talking about bringing his troops into battle. Kate reprimands him and reminds him that his son Hotspur needed backup from his father, which he neglected to send, resulting in Hotspur’s death at the hands of Prince Hal (here referred to as Monmouth), and now that Hotspur’s dead there’s no point in going back into the war now. Northumberland agrees.

Video: random talented YouTuber named Elin Alexander (I ended up playing this character with a British accent because I watched this girl’s video so many times while preparing this monologue)

THE POWER OF THIS MONOLOGUE, I mean, imo the second best piece of rhetoric in all of Shakespeare?! Northumberland being STRUCK DOWN by his daughter in law and changing his military tactic because she just spends two minutes roasting his ass… incredible.

11. Hamlet in Hamlet 2.2, “O what a rogue and peasant slave am I”

Context: Hamlet was told by his father’s ghost that his uncle Claudius is guilty of his father’s murder, and here he resolves to set a trap for Claudius by putting on a play which mirrors Hamlet’s father’s murder, hoping to evoke a reaction in Claudius that will confirm his guilt.

Video: Andrew Scott @ 6:30

I mean… it’s famous for a reason and I’m not sure what I can possibly say about it. This whole monologue is a ride from start to finish and the simple admission of weakness in “Am I a coward?” just GETS ME.

10. Claudius in Hamlet 3.3, “O my offense is rank”

Context: After the play has been performed, Claudius storms off and confesses in this monologue that he’s plagued with guilt over his brother’s murder, and he attempts to pray but is unable to.

Video: Patrick Stewart

Such a moment of vulnerability from such a detestable character — that Shakespeare goes to such lengths to humanize even terrible people is one of my favorite things about his works; you’re never spoon-fed a moral as you never see a conflict from only one side. We spend most of this play inside Hamlet’s head and still we get this tender, intimate moment of grief and guilt from the chief antagonist; it’s brilliant.

9. Romeo in Romeo & Juliet 3.3, “‘Tis torture, and not mercy”

Context: Immediately after his marriage to Juliet, Romeo murders Tybalt Capulet while avenging his friend Mercutio’s death. He finds out here that his punishment is banishment from Verona.

One of my most unpopular Shakespeare opinions is that I am far more drawn to Romeo than to Juliet — reconciling his passion and his tender heart with the violence he’s forced to commit is just devastating and that comes to a head in this monologue, full of both gentle and violent imagery. The only thing I can fault the Zeffirelli film for is cutting this.

8. Romeo in Romeo & Juliet 5.3, “In faith, I will”

Context: Romeo has just killed Paris in Juliet’s tomb, and Paris’s final words were pleading that Romeo buries him with Juliet, which he promises to do here before killing himself.

This monologue is just so unbearably sad and weighty and lovely; after I read this for the first time I decided that I would die if I couldn’t play Romeo, I just wanted the excuse to sit with these words.

7. Edmund in King Lear 1.2, “Thou, Nature, art my goddess”

Context: Edmund is the bastard son of Gloucester, and here he’s lamenting that his bastardy prevents him from receiving his full inheritance, so he’s coming up with a plan to frame his brother Edgar to cheat him out of his inheritance.

Video: Riz Ahmed

MY BOY. This is the one I’m doing in PS tomorrow, which I haven’t practiced, lol, but I have it memorized so… that should get the job done. Anyway this is just SO GOOD, Edmund raging against the social customs that prevent him from inheriting, and then the terrible turn it takes when he decides to frame his unwitting brother. “Now, gods, stand up for bastards” is a god tier villain mantra.

6. Edmund in King Lear 1.2, “This is the excellent foppery of the world”

Context: Edmund thinks astrology is bullshit.

Basically I adore every single word out of Edmund’s mouth and this deliciously sarcastic soliloquy about human nature is just hard to beat.

5. Cleopatra in Antony & Cleopatra 5.2, “Give me my robe, put on my crown”

Context: Antony has been defeated and Cleopatra has been captured by Octavian; she kills herself and her maids to spare them being paraded before Rome as a part of Caesar’s victory.

“Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have/ Immortal longings in me” is like… almost too good of a line to be real. This whole thing is just exceptional. She’s such a vibrant character meeting such a hollow end, it’s devastating.

4. Queen Margaret in Henry VI Part 3 1.4, “Brave warriors, Clifford and Northumberland”

Context: We’re in the Wars of the Roses now — Richard, Duke of York has been captured by the Lancastrian Queen Margaret and here she mocks him before having him executed, offering him a handkerchief with his dead son’s blood to dry his tears and putting a paper crown on his head.

Pretty much the most savage scene in all of Shakespeare. The way most people stan Lady Macbeth, I stan Margaret of Anjou.

3. Richard in Richard II 3.2, “No matter where; of comfort no man speak”

Context: Richard has just received word that his army has deserted him and that the people have accepted Bolingbroke (his successor, Henry IV) as ruler and he kind of has a breakdown about it.

Video: David Tennant

Richard II is the gorgeous writing play and that’s best encapsulated here. “Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;/ Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes/ Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth,” “For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground/ And tell sad stories of the death of kings,” “I live with bread like you, feel want/ Taste grief, need friends: subjected thus/ How can you say to me, I am a king” yes I’m just quoting the entire thing but COME ON!!! This monologue is one of the best pieces of writing ever penned in the English language.

2. Brutus in Julius Caesar 3.2, “Be patient till the last.”

Context: Brutus and the other conspirators have just killed Caesar; Brutus delivers this speech at Caesar’s funeral saying that they killed Caesar for the good of the Roman republic, and that Antony, who is about to speak, will corroborate this.

I played Brutus in PS, and when I was rehearsing, reading the lines alone in my room, I was more drawn to his soliloquies (namely 2.1, “It must be by his death”), but while I was in the moment, this is the speech that really stuck with me. Brutus is just such a brilliantly crafted character; one of the most notorious traitors in history defined here by honor is just navigated with such finesse throughout the play; I love the passion and sincerity here, especially contrasted with what’s about to follow.

  1. Mark Antony in Julius Caesar 3.2, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”

Context: And then Antony takes the stage and things do not go to plan.

Video: James Corrigan

How fucking cliché for this to be your favorite Shakespeare monologue, but unfortunately it can’t be beat. Just an absolute masterclass in rhetoric and manipulation while still being able to withstand performances that vary wildly in their degree of sincerity. I just love everything about this speech.


I also became uquiz famous with this Which Shakespearean monologue should you memorize quiz, so, obviously you should all take that and tell me what you got. And then memorize the monologue… haha jk unless…

Anyway, what’s your favorite monologue? Comment and let me know and make me feel bad about all of the brilliant ones I had to cut from this blog post!