Hey Shakespeare Fans: Could you help a guy out?

So auditions for the Spring semester Drama Dept. shows here at good ol’ UVA are coming up, and I’m hoping to get cast this time around. The problem? One of the shows is As You Like It. I love Shakespeare, and it would be amazing if I could get into this show. The only problem is that at the audition we’re not supposed to just do a regular monologue from a Shakespeare play. Instead, we’re supposed to read the play and then memorize a Shakespearian sonnet to recite at the audition.

I know his plays pretty well, but where Shakespeare’s sonnets are concerned I’m pretty much clueless outside of “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.” So does anybody here have a suggestion for a sonnet that I could perform that might be in some of the same veins as As You Like It, so that I can get properly iambic pentameterified? I’m kind of at a loss.

Thanks a bunch!

Dunno about the same vein as “As You Like It,” but my favorite of the sonnets is #116:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
Oh no! It is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken.
It is the star to every wand’ring bark
Who’s worth’s unknown although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, tho rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come.
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error, and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Just a few notes for the Elizabethanly challenged…
Line #5 - it’s pronounced “fix-ed,” not “fixt.”
Line #7 - a “bark” is a boat, a small ship
Lines #7 & 8 are a metaphor from sailing - “Like the star a sailor uses to navigate, love be a guide, and can be measured, but never fully understood.”
Lines #9&10 - “his” is still referring to Time.

If this one doesn’t “work” for you either, let me know, and I’ll check for a better one.

BTW, I’ve always found that when I read Shakespeare for more than an hour or so, when I stop I find myself trying to speak blank-verse without thinking about it!

Go find a set of the Barton tapes. This is a series of shows John Barton, at the time the dramaturge for the RSC, did for British television about performing Shakespeare. He gets a staggering collection of British actors to help him out, including such luminaries as Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart (the cast rotates from show to show). (There’s an associated book that’s basically just a transcript of the shows.) And in one of the early episodes, they do dramatic interpretations of various sonnets. IIRC, one of the actors who participates in this bit is David Suchet, probably best known in the U.S. for playing Hercule Poirot.

I’m recommending you do that, rather than trying to suggest a specific sonnet, because really you can pick any sonnet and make it work by applying some imagination. But that’s the thing; sonnets are not (and were not intended as) drama: They require a lot of interpretation and imposition on the part of the actor to function as anything but pure poetry. You have to pick a character and a situation, and invent a narrative context, in order to perform a sonnet as drama, and the Barton show will give you some guidance in this.

To give you an example from my own experience, we did this in my classical-text group (I have an acting degree). I chose the sonnet that begins, “That you were once unkind befriends me now” (full text), and I invented a scenario in which I was sitting next to somebody in their hospital deathbed rationalizing my decision to cut off their life support. Melodramatic, yes, but it worked reasonably well.

The choice of using sonnets as audition pieces strikes me as being awfully peculiar, but if you can find the Barton tape you’ll have a leg up on the competition. Check the biggest local library to see if they’ve got the series.

Actually, I just changed my mind, sort of. I still think you should go find the Barton tape(s), but if you want to do a “funny” sonnet that will compare well to As You Like It, use number 135. In reading it, be aware that “will” is a triple entendre: It’s Shakespeare’s own name, and it obviously means conscious effort or design, but it also refers to sex, both desire and the actual naughty bits both male and female. It’s kind of an obvious choice, and somebody else may be using it, but it’s probably the best alternative for the situation. Maybe you can pretend to be the expert and dole out sonnets to your competition so you know nobody else is using this one. :wink:

Bunnylady, 116 was the sonnet I was going to post! It’s my favorite too. I’m also rather fond of 29:

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Check out www.shakespeares-sonnets.com for a complete index of first lines and key phrases as well as the full text of all the sonnets by number, plus interpretation notes too. Good luck with your audition!

Rubystreak beat me to my favorite. It was my grandfather’s favorite, as well, and he apparently read it to my grandmother on several occasions. Odd coincidence that, while I was still engaged, my fiance read it to me out of the blue one day, not knowing what connection I already had to it.

Okay, I’ll stop gushing now.

Sonnet 20 is a fun one, and with all the gender-bending in the play it’s at least vaguely relevant:

Or if you’re hoping to play Jacques, some of the ones about time / mortality / transience might be appropriate. I’m fond of 64:

Slight hijack, but I just recently read a scholarly article about this sonnet and couldn’t resist chiming in. According to the article, you can choose to read Sonnet 29 with or without a comma between “earth” and “sings” - and both punctuations will yield an entirely different reading of the poem. Try it!

Wow. Those are some really really great selections. Thanks to everybody for the help! And thanks especially to Cervaise; you make a really good point about making a scene around the sonnet, and one that I probably should have thought of but didn’t. Not sure which one I’ll use yet, but it’s good to know I’ve got plenty to choose from!

I believe there is a sonnet embedded in the play Romeo and Juliet, in the scene where Romeo and Juliet first meet. Act 1, Scene 5, I think.

It has two voices, so it may not work as a solo piece, but it already has a scene written around it.

Doing Shakespeare is fun. I was Caliban in my high school production of The Tempest, and can still recite his first monologue at interminable length.

“All the infections that the sun sucks up,
From bog, fen, flat, on Prosper fall,
And make him by inchmeal a disease…”