Chapter 6 of 28 from Helen Mirren

Shakespeare, Part 1


Helen shares her process for breaking down a Shakespeare passage by working through Portia’s “Quality of Mercy” speech from The Merchant of Venice, a monologue she’s never performed before.

Topics include: Let Shakespeare Take You by the Throat • Make the Lines Live for You

Helen shares her process for breaking down a Shakespeare passage by working through Portia’s “Quality of Mercy” speech from The Merchant of Venice, a monologue she’s never performed before.

Topics include: Let Shakespeare Take You by the Throat • Make the Lines Live for You

Helen Mirren

Helen Mirren Teaches Acting

In 28 lessons, the Oscar, Golden Globe, Tony, and Emmy winner teaches her process for acting on the stage and screen.

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Find freedom in your roles

Oscar, Golden Globe, Emmy, and Tony winner Helen Mirren is one of the greatest actresses of our time. In her first online class, she discusses the dualism that is core to her method: the necessity for mastering technique (craft) and then letting go so that your imagination can take over (art). Learn how to break down a script, research characters, and master techniques so you can transcend them to find freedom in every role.

Helen brings you behind the scenes to show you the secrets of her acting technique.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Helen will also critique select student work.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Helen Mirren is an absolute acting darling! She transfers to the students the absolute and utter need for naturalism, and most of all, the need to embrace human qualities and emotions; to not run away nor be scared from them, but rather, to be thankful for them. This class is worth every penny!

Thank you Helen. This class felt like hanging out with a good friend...who happens to be the acting legend Helen Mirren.

For me as a director, Helen Mirren's Masterclass helped me to work with actors on a much higher level. As well for creating a believable character. It was also very helpful for screenwriting. Now I use those little tips from Helen Mirren still during writing.

Helen Mirren has such a classy way of explaining acting. Every gesture she makes is resplendent and I love the way props are used with purpose.


Dario Z.

I'm Italian but I'm a British culture, language and literature lover. Thank you Helen for helping me to approach to his poetry for first time!

Nicole B.

It was truly amazing thank you Hellen you are very inspiring. (Zoe Burrell 12)

Alexander C.

Hello friends and colleagues of New York City! Helen Mirren said: if you can act Shakespeare, you can act anything. Who would be interested in getting together as a group once a week (say, Sundays) to read a Shakespeare play out loud? I know several acting spaces in the city where we could get chairs and tables together, just to conjure his words and stories to life. We could take a journey together discovering Shakespeare’s voice, chronologically going through his plays, starting with his earliest, and going on to the end of his career. Our acting would improve. If you’re interested, feel free to add your name to this post, or any ideas you may have. Really want to see if we can get something good going.

A fellow student

Acting is physical writing.. Novelists have to bring everything to life via words, have to know how to use words to tell every bit of a story (character, setting, and plot). Acting, on the other hand, you have more of a visual nuance to add to the senses: actors, props, costumes, music, and physical setting to bring a story to life. The audience can not only see, but hear what's going on, what character's say, etc. Only in the future will we have a scent effect, or perhaps have a physical interaction on the screen....

A fellow student

I try to learn a new word each day. I don't know if that is the actor or artist in me. It makes one a polymath, a philologist. My monologue is Romeo seeing Juliet on her balcony. The favorite words are "It is my lady, o it is my love." I learned to memorize it understanding how the heart speaks in romance.

Eden R.

I have not much experience with Shakespeare's work so this was very helpful for me! Thank you, Helen!!!

Ann B.

Really like the thought of living in the moment -- that is where our art resides . . . I have worked on memorizing various soliloquies of Shakespeare just for the pure pleasure of the thoughts and words.

Conor H.

I posted in the hub what I found difficult, what came naturally and my interpretation of the assignment. I look forward to hearing feedback and seeing other peoples responses!

Jessica C.

She reminds us that Shakespeare need not be this huge mountain but if we just take it aback piece by piece we can see into the words with greater ease. It was a comfort to be told to stand firm in your interpretation and meaning as there can always be such a fear when handling this work that you are getting it wrong. Love her ease of explanation and clear enjoyment for what she does, a true artist.

R.G. R.

Working with this piece as she has done is a beneficial, productive, and important way to deal with Shakespeare's words


I'm often asked, why do young actors have to be interested in Shakespeare? Young actors don't have to be interested in Shakespeare, unless it gets them by the throat. He is recognized as the greatest playwright in the history of playwriting, basically. And the miracle is that he wrote in English. So us in America, us in Britain, it's our natural language. We are so lucky that that is the case, because we can understand the subtleties and the colors and the extraordinary layers of meaning in one line. We can understand. And so we are very privileged in that way. Shakespeare is a great training ground because it's so difficult. It's much harder than anything else you will ever do. To try and find a way of speaking very heightened poetry in a naturalistic way is very, very difficult, let alone shouting it in a big theater. It's like the worst. So you know, it's profoundly challenging. But the other great thing about Shakespeare is that you can play those scenes, those lines every night for six months, and almost every night you will find a different meaning in those lines, and possibly even a different way of saying it. And that was what-- I had the privilege of watching some of the great Shakespearean actors do that. And hopefully, my-- certainly my ambition was to become one of those myself. It was to see how they could, on a nightly basis, slightly modulate the line because they were inhabiting it with a different thought each time. And maybe that's where Shakespeare is also very valuable, is you have to think in Shakespeare. You have to think, because the thought is so profound and complex. You can't just blah, blah, blah it out, you know? You have to think as you're saying it. And you have to truly engage and live it. You have to live it. And in the end, that's where our art resides, isn't it? It's in living the moment. And we all talk about that moment, and how difficult it is, and how almost impossible it is, and how once in a while you get there, and it's a miracle when you do. But living in that moment. And Shakespeare at its best, when it's done to the best, that's how it is. I thought by-- to work, we could work on a little piece of Shakespeare, a famous speech-- I'm sorry, I'm going take this sticker off-- which is The Quality of Mercy is Not Strained. I don't think I've ever played Portia. I can't remember. I played Nerissa, but I don't think I've ever played Portia. I would have loved to have played Portia. So I don't know this speech sort of off by heart, except for how sort of famous it is. Well, the first thing by far obviously is just to read through the words and unpick the meaning. The quality of mercy is not strained. What does that mean, strained? I guess that means-- and you find your own meaning. And sometimes, what the literal meaning is is one thing, but I think with Shakespeare...