The Classical Monologue for the MFA in Acting

To be (in verse) or to not (be in verse), that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous tragedy, or to take comedy alongside a sea of gestures and by opposing, win them.

Monologues are required by every MFA in Acting program audition, and choosing the classical portion can seem as daunting as Hamlet’s own ponderings. Between our courses on Performing Shakespeare and individual coaches’ expertise, Theater.Academy can help clarify the classical monologue!


From what we know, almost every MFA programs asks for a classical monologue in their audition requirements. These requirements vary in detaq`il from program to program. Luckily, there seems to be a decent amount of overlap in criteria overall. On average, most programs ask for two contrasting monologues for their auditions, contrasting both in terms of period (contemporary or classical), style (comedic or dramatic), and tone (different characters, aspects of personality, and playable age). Numerous ask you to have 4 total at the ready. A prepared applicant would be able to select 4 monologues that all contrast each other in these ways in order to be prepared for both the mandatory requirements as well as any extras that may be requested.  

The Classical Monologue, specifically

For the classical monologue, a handful of programs specifically ask for it to be from Shakespeare’s work. Others ask for a classical monologue that can be Shakespeare but doesn’t necessarily have to be, as long as it is in verse.  It seems important for your repertoire to have classical monologues both in prose and in verse; to cover your bases, at least one should be from Shakespeare’s plays. For more on how to perform Shakespeare, check out Theater.Academy’s Performing Shakespeare course!


Shakespeare’s plays contain both prose and verse. While this reflects the conventions of his time, pay close attention to the ways in which his writing challenges or even breaks the supposed “rules” of verse. Ask what that means and ask it often. Shakespeare writes his characters in either prose or verse to communicate a change of decorum or manner of speech. We do this in our everyday speech, speaking more casually to our friends and more professionally to a professor. Shakespeare’s way of writing colloquial versus formal comes in the rhythms!

Prose is any written language without metered or rhyming structure. It’s ordinary speech, what we use every day, that flows without any prescribed rhyme or rhythm.

Verse, on the other hand, follows a structure of meter and occasionally rhyme. Shakespeare employs a specific meter known as iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter is made of a line of verse (or metered speech) with five (penta) subsections (iambs), each consisting of one short (or unstressed) syllable followed by one long (stressed) syllable. He wrote in this rhythm because it mimics the natural rhythm of English speech; others compare it to the beat of a heartbeat.

How to tell the difference? In Shakespeare’s writing, prose’s words fill the margins, written like a novel or paragraph you’re used to reading. The verse, by contrast, is often set narrower in the text, resembling a poem on the page. Both verse and prose are used in the same play and sometimes in the same scene of a Shakespearean work. Familiarize yourself with both, and try to include one of each style!

Note that other classical writers write in verse and even different kinds of verse. The French Neoclassical writers and playwrights like Moliere and Jean Racine utilize a kind of verse known as the Alexandrine, a 12-syllable iambic line. Other playwrights, such as Aphra Behn and Juana Inés de la Cruz, utilize a verse more similar to Shakespeare.

Other time periods and styles now considered “classical” include styles such as early Greek plays and the naturalism of Ibsen and Chekhov as well as non-Western styles of theater like Noh theater and Sanskrit. You can learn more about the latter in Theater.Academy’s course selections, Introducing Japanese Theater and Introducing Indian Theater.


It would be beneficial for you to have contrast both between the time period of your pieces as well as between the tone or styles. For instance, say you decide to prepare 4 monologues. Of those 4, it would be wise to select 2 monologues from contemporary works and 2 monologues from classical works. Within those two categories, classical and contemporary, it would also be wise to ensure contrast. This could mean the typical one comedic and one dramatic in each time context, making your roster of 4 include a dramatic contemporary, comedic contemporary, dramatic classical, and a comedic classical monologue. You may also choose more nuance in the idea of contrasting monologues. This could look like a collection of pieces with variety of character personality or age range instead of structural differences. Either way, look for pieces that offer a well-rounded scope of your full abilities.

For the classical monologue, it is best to have one showcasing a more serious style of acting and one a sense of comedic timing. At your own discretion, depending on the pieces you fall in love with, ensure one of these two is in verse!

If the idea of the classical monologue still makes you lose the name of action as the Prince of Denmark claims, consider utilizing Theater.Academy’s resources! We’re here to help you get into the MFA program of your dreams, and our roster of coaches are experts in the classical monologue. Book your free consultation today!

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