Audition (breakdown, go ahead…give it to me)

Wednesday, I posted an audition piece I created last summer that combined both comic and dramatic beats in a single thematically related speech. A little bit of Parolles from All’s Well That Ends Well and a central speech of Angelo’s from Measure for Measure, and both dealing with the conceivable loss of virginity.

Today, I want to share some dramaturgical choices made in the construction of it…

First up: Parolles. In this sequence from the opening scene of the play, our speaker–scoundrel, coward, jerk–teasingly advises our heroine Helena to give up her virginity. It’s actually part of an entire dialogue, but for the purposes of creating a comic audition piece, I extracted parts of two speeches, then whittled down the remaining…

Virginity being blown down, man will quicklier be blown up. Marry, in blowing him down again, with the breach yourselves made you lose your city. It is not politic in the commonwealth of nature to preserve virginity. Loss of virginity is rational increase, and there was never virgin got till virginity was first lost. That you were made of is metal to make virgins. Virginity by being once lost may be ten times found; by being ever kept, it is ever lost. ’Tis too cold a companion. Away with ’t.
I will stand for ’t a little, though therefore I die a virgin.
There’s little can be said in ’t.
’Tis against the rule of nature. To speak on the part of virginity is to accuse your mothers, which is most infallible disobedience. He that hangs himself is a virgin; virginity murders itself and should be buried in highways out of all sanctified limit as a desperate offendress against nature. Virginity breeds mites, much like a cheese, consumes itself to the very paring, and so dies with feeding his own stomach. Besides, virginity is peevish, proud, idle, made of self-love, which is the most inhibited sin in the canon. Keep it not; you cannot choose but lose by ’t. Out with ’t! Within ten year it will make itself two, which is a goodly increase, and the principal itself not much the worse. Away with ’t!


Obviously, I made some cuts, first to rid the speech of Helena (duh), but more importantly for time…and clarity.

The first portion of the first Parolles speech gets the heave-ho as it is actually a response to what Helena had said previously.  I cut “That you were made of is metal to make virgins” because 1) it’s a tricky notion and 2) it reads weird when not in the context of the full dialogue. I also cut “’Tis too cold a companion. Away with ’t” because when combined with the Angelo speech, this portion was beginning to run long, and “Away with ‘t” (or a variation) would get said again later, and I didn’t want it to get repetitive.

We jettisoned the Helena portion for obvious reasons.

I cut “There’s little can be said in ’t” only for reasons of time. The next cut is major:  “He that hangs himself is a virgin; virginity murders itself and should be buried in highways out of all sanctified limit as a desperate offendress against nature.” It’s a neat image: virginity is suicide, both in that it takes possible life away, and–thus–it is an offense to God and Nature. But you know the reason: Because time. Which is also the reason I cut “you cannot choose but lose by ’t”…that and because without the context within the speech it’s not an easy thought to convey. I cut the end of the speech because I wanted this portion to end with “Out with ’t!” Why? Well, first, the exclamation is a nice way to end the section. Secondly, and more importantly, the phrase has–in our day and age–the connotation of a direction to speak. I wanted to play on that.

In a sense, what happens between those words and the ones that follow in the audition piece is the verbal response of the woman in question, who tells us (me, Parolles, Angelo) what a jerk I am.

Then there’s Angelo…


Or with an outstretched throat I’ll tell the world aloud
What man thou art.

 Who will believe thee, Isabel?
My unsoiled name, th’ austereness of my life,
My vouch against you, and my place i’ th’ state
Will so your accusation overweigh
That you shall stifle in your own report
And smell of calumny. I have begun,
And now I give my sensual race the rein.
Fit thy consent to my sharp appetite;
Lay by all nicety and prolixious blushes
That banish what they sue for. Redeem thy brother
By yielding up thy body to my will,
Or else he must not only die the death,
But thy unkindness shall his death draw out
To ling’ring sufferance. Answer me tomorrow,
Or by the affection that now guides me most,
I’ll prove a tyrant to him. As for you,
Say what you can, my false o’erweighs your true.


OK, as you can see, the Angelo speech was a clean lift from the play. But there is some interesting stuff happening in the scansion…which is why I included the Isabella lead-in.

That lead-in is two feet (whether you want to call ’em iambs, trochees, spondees, or any combination thereof, we can discuss that at a later time). Angelo’s response is four feet, which makes the line too long by a foot. Now you could have Angelo interrupt her. Brutally. And you could justify that with the scansion (and the fact that the first foot of his line is a trochee, a kind of jump-starting of the line). But I like the idea of a pause, a super-long pause before Angelo speaks. He’s gathering his thoughts to respond to her threat. That pause is so long, it could be argued (and I’d agree) that the pause could be BOTH before AND after Angelo’s question. Maybe he gives her the opportunity to respond, but she can’t, she’s speechless, and then he goes on.

And the first two full lines are pentameter, but I’d argue that in both lines, the first syllable is stressed (in the first line a spondee [followed by another spondee in my reading]; the second line a trochee). In either case, he’s emphasizing “my” … for him it IS about him. The way I scan the speech, of the twelve second-person pronouns he uses, only four are stressed syllables (and three of those appear in the last five lines of the play).

And speaking of second-person pronouns: note that he bounces from a “thee” to four “you/your”s to four “thy”s before finishing with three “you/your”s. Remember what we’ve said before about those second-person pronouns:

  • “You/your” is more formal, respectful, like that of an inferior to a superior
  • “Thee/thou/thy/thine” is less formal; in some cases, downright disrespectful, on others more familial (like a family member or maybe even a lover)

From an acting (and thus auditioning) perspective, this makes this speech very interesting. What causes Angelo to shift? I would argue that his opening “thee” is pure disrespect, dripping with contempt. Does he feel that he’s gone too far, and thus the next four references are “you/your”? Maybe. After he begins to get sexual (or at least “sensual”) in his argument, he moves back to “thy”… the first one “thy consent” may be disrespectful, but I’d argue that all four are those of a sweet-talkin’ man, a guy who still thinks there might be a chance to avoid all this and get in Isabella’s panties. But once he gives her the ultimatum “Answer me tomorrow” he returns to the more formal “you/your”… maybe he realizes his chances are pretty close to nil, and thus this becomes–again–a dry and dispassionate negotiation.

Back to non-pronoun matters… like end-stopped versus run-on lines.

Lines 3, 4, and 5, have no ending punctuation, nothing to keep them from running on to the next line. There’s a sense of momentum going here: he’s hammering home the idea of her relative weakness. And even when we get a mid-line period in line 6, there is no caesura. In fact, the next sentence kicks off with a trochee, so my thinking is that he’s still driving forward. He doesn’t pause for her to speak. It’s still about him. He even elides the 3-syllable “sensual” to the two syllable “sens’al” in line 7.

When we get our first line-ending period, it’s at the end of line 7. Something happens here. Something big. Because this is where the shift to “thy” begins. Line 8 is also one of the few lines in this speech that has multiple variations to the iambic (a trochee to start the line, and I’d argue a spondee with “SHARP APpeTITE”). This is a major beat and shift.

He tells her (using “thy”) to consent to him, stop being coy. And then he has another mid-line period. Only here, we get a caesura before “Redeem thy brother.” What’s more interesting is that the line isn’t end-stopped. And the momentum to the next line is not altogether consistent with the feminine ending of line 10. But then the next three lines are perfect iambic pentameter. His threat (right up to what I consider to be the spondee “DRAW OUT” at the end of line 13) is perfectly rhythmical. His heartbeat is regular here. He’s cold-blooded, or as Lucio says, Angelo’s “urine is congealed ice” (III.ii.109).

And yet…

Although the spondee at the end of the line 13 acts to slow the line down (as both syllables get emphasis), in the remaining four lines we get four elisions (“ling’ring,” “sufferance” to “suff’rance,” “the affection” to “th’affection,” and “o’erweighs”) AND the only other female ending of the speech (“tomorrow” [14]). There’s still some turmoil there. So many thoughts going through his head.

Which, of course, why this speech is so much fun to play. And when combined with the comic Parolles, it’s a fun combination.


[NOTE: music fans, you’ll notice I reference the late, great Tom Petty in the title of today’s post. At first, I was just punning on the idea of an audition breakdown … but now that I think of it, that “go ahead, give it to me” fits the themes of the audition piece itself.

Gotta love when things work out that way…]

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