All the world’s a stage: five of the best monologues

From Doctor Faustus to Fleabag, here are the most stirring speeches from some of theatre’s best works

Winnie

Happy Days

“Another heavenly day,” exclaims Winnie, while trapped up to her waist in a huge mound of earth. Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days is effectively one gargantuan monologue and there is something about its limited horizons – and the achingly persistent optimism of its protagonist – that touches a nerve right now. Weirdly cheering – and chilling.

‘Let Faustus live in hell a thousand years’

Doctor Faustus

Doctor Faustus’s final speech in Christopher Marlowe’s play, as the gates of hell yawn open, will scorch itself on to your memory. It is one of the most distilled expressions of fear – and pure longing for life – that you’ll ever hear. Listen to Dylan Thomas recite it online and shiver.

A sweary final speech

Fleabag

The best bits of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s play – currently streaming on Amazon Prime – are not the shocking or sexy moments, but glimpses of vulnerability. There is the quietly profound chat with cafe regular Joe and then there’s Fleabag’s final speech, full of loneliness, fear – and plenty of fucks.

David Tennant as Richard ll in the 2013 RSC production.
David Tennant as Richard ll in the 2013 RSC production. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

‘Of comfort no man speak!’

Richard II

Bolingbroke is in the ascendancy and Richard is on the way out. In one spellbinding monologue, a king lets his mask slip and confronts his own mortality, and the scant protection a crown provides. You can find stunning renditions from Ben Whishaw and David Tennant online.

‘He was a boy’, Blanche DuBois

A Streetcar Named Desire

Blanche DuBois is typically remembered as a fading beauty, teetering on the brink of mental collapse. But Tennessee Williams’s fragile heroine is also smart, sensitive and exceptionally perceptive. Her speech about young love – tingling with hope and loss – is unforgettable.

Contributor

Miriam Gillinson

The GuardianTramp

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