Many of you will be approaching Julia’s ‘hateful hands’ speech for the first time. I have been working on it with clients for over 15 years now, and I have some helpful acting advice about how to tackle this great female Shakespearean monologue:
Nay, would I were so anger'd with the same!
O hateful hands, to tear such loving words!
Injurious wasps, to feed on such sweet honey
And kill the bees that yield it with your stings!
I'll kiss each several paper for amends.
Look, here is writ 'kind Julia.' Unkind Julia!
As in revenge of thy ingratitude,
I throw thy name against the bruising stones,
Trampling contemptuously on thy disdain.
And here is writ 'love-wounded Proteus.'
Poor wounded name! my bosom as a bed
Shall lodge thee till thy wound be thoroughly heal'd;
And thus I search it with a sovereign kiss.
But twice or thrice was 'Proteus' written down.
Be calm, good wind, blow not a word away
Till I have found each letter in the letter,
Except mine own name: that some whirlwind bear
Unto a ragged fearful-hanging rock
And throw it thence into the raging sea!
Lo, here in one line is his name twice writ,
'Poor forlorn Proteus, passionate Proteus,
To the sweet Julia:' that I'll tear away.
And yet I will not, sith so prettily
He couples it to his complaining names.
Thus will I fold them one on another:
Now kiss, embrace, contend, do what you will.
First acting note: she is proving to someone that she is serious about tearing up that letter. So when you tear up that letter, do it to prove how you feel. Commit to showing the other person how much you do not love him.
Second acting note: once Lucetta leaves, Julia realises - OH NO! WHAT HAVE I DO? So rush down to your knees to scoop up those wonderful words from Proteus!
Third acting note: talk to your hands - those horrible hands, which have done them. Speak to them like they are horrible people who have done something terribly wrong!
Fourth acting note: when we get to “Trampling contemptuously on thy disdain.” Use Ts and Ds as the rhythm of your stomping on the name. Stand up and stomp on the T in Trampling, the Ts in ConTempTuously and the two Ds in disdain.
Fifth acting note: when she says ‘be calm good wind’, speak to the character of Wind, imagine Wind has come in the room and is going to blow the pieces around! Protect the pieces of that letter from the wind that wants to steal them. Put your arms around them and don’t let it get them!
Sixth acting note: when we get to this section, “that some whirlwind bear
Unto a ragged fearful-hanging rock, And throw it thence into the raging sea!” Screw up the note on RAGGED, FEARFUL, HANGING ROCK, and then toss it away on ‘THROW’.
Final acting note: have some fun with: “Now kiss, embrace, contend, do what you will” Fold the note each time, acting out the ‘kiss’ between the two sides of the piece of paper with your names on it. Act out the embrace, act out of the contend - and then have a cheeky wee thought that they should do ‘what they will’ - which is almost certainly one of Shakespeare’s most subtle sex jokes.
I hope that’s helped you with this challenging female Shakespeare monologue - if I can help you with a Shakespeare speech or audition monologue for drama/acting school - get in touch, we offer 1-2-1s in person and on Zoom to students/clients all over the world.
Mark Westbrook is the Course Leader of the HND 2-Year Acting Course at Acting Coach Scotland