Get a Lesson in Shakespeare From Young Ian McKellen


Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s best known and most widely taught works, but that doesn’t mean we all fully understand it (apologies to my 11th grade English teacher). If you could use a refresher, take a peek at the above video, in which Ian McKellen discusses the play's famous “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” soliloquy.

The speech, in McKellen’s words: “… is a description of total blackness, total despair, that life is finite," and is delivered by Macbeth in response to (spoiler alert) the news of Lady Macbeth’s death. It isn’t very long, but as you might expect, packs a lot in its lines. McKellen reveals the meaning behind the words, and how, when considered together, the last word of each line can tell you a lot about the subject matter.

At the end of his talk McKellen also reveals that such close reading might in fact be most valuable for the actor.

“I must have all that in my mind as I’m going through it. Not so that you the audience can understand those complexities, because i’m not giving a lecture. I think the poetry, and the rhythm and all those devices that Shakespeare uses are not for the audience’s benefit, they are for the actor’s. So that having absorbed them into his heart and his mind, he can then express them with all the other things at his command.”

The "in-studio master class" was aired on British television around 1979, when the actor would have been around 40 years old, and you can see him deliver the address in a 1978 production (which also starred Judi Dench) that became a 1979 TV movie.

[h/t Dana Stevens]