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Arts & Entertainment

Shakespeare, Part 2

Helen Mirren

Lesson time 13:55 min

Helen breaks down her favorite speech—“Our Revels” from The Tempest—giving you insight into her deeply personal relationship with the lines.

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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I love the character of Caliban, in The Tempest, because the idea of this earthbound, repressed creature, but who somehow knew that there was something more beautiful in the world out there, that he was kind of reaching for, but couldn't quite grasp. But he knew that it was there. I don't know. To me, it was a very poetic character. Allow yourself these feelings of hope, and reach-- like Caliban. Allow yourselves to be Caliban, actually. We are actually all Caliban, in the sense that we are creatures of this Earth, struggling in this earthly way. But we know that there this extraordinary world of imagination of poetry, of invention, of inspiration, out there. And we are all grasping and grasping towards it. And actors, above all. Painters. And one of my great inspirations-- that I'll talk later on-- is Francis Bacon, one of the great articulators of this incredible desire for something that is just out of our reach, but we're constantly reaching for. And this-- to me-- is the essence of what an actor is. Is that yearning for the unknown. A yearning to show that other world of imagination and inspiration, to the audience. And allow the audience to participate in that. That was my understandings of what theater was to me, for me. I think, maybe from this early imaginative journey into Caliban and this character who was reaching for something that was unknown, but somehow, he has a sense of it being out there, but he can't quite articulate it-- I think I carried that through into my attitude towards acting. A very good Shakespearean director taught me this. Never use the that-- I don't know if it's flat or sharp because I'm not musical-- but that tone that's kind of like that. Which is kind of poetic, but it is actually kind of wishy-washy and terrible. Because it's not actually how anybody talks like that. And use the positive tones. Absolutely, the direct notes-- I get it's notes. Don't use the flat or the sharp notes. Use the absolute, the notes right down the middle. That's also an important thing with Shakespeare. You don't have to sing it. He never sings, Shakespeare. Speak it. But speak it with thought, I guess, with thought. I've done two Shakespeare's on film. I've done many, many, many Shakespeare's in the theater, but I've only done two on film-- Midsummer Night's Dream, a long, long time ago. And then, Prospero in The Tempest, with the wonderful Julie Taymor, directing. Of course, again, the material is the same. The Impetus, as an actor, is the same. But on film, you do have that wonderful, wonderful advantage of not having to shout. Not having to project. Although, projection can be a fabulous tool in acting, and it's not to be rejected because there's something about a full voice, a full vocalized performance, that can be quite thrilling. And sometimes, I do take issue with the rea...

Find freedom in your roles

In her first-ever online acting class, Academy Award-winning actress Helen Mirren shares the techniques she has learned through the course of her international career that has spanned stage, screen, and television. Her powerful and versatile performances have earned her numerous awards, including the Academy Award in 2007 for her performance in The Queen, a Tony Award in 2015 for her performance in The Audience, and four Emmy Awards.


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

She is amazing and so down to earth and accessible. Cheers, And thanks, nora

Loved this Masterclass! One of my favourite courses.

She has given her point of view on acting in a nice, interesting way

Legend. Her insights and experience are invaluable. Thank you.


Dalin G.

Excellent! Reiterates the importance of words. Reading and studying Shakespeare puts life into perspective and we simply forget how powerful words are.

Marina P.

Thank you for sharing your personal perspectives on Shakespeare - it's very interesting and engaging! That speech from The Tempest struck me from the very first time I read it back in my teens - "... We are such stuff as dreams are made on ..." - I didn't understand in very much depth back then, of course, but I understood that! :)

Maryam L.

I've never realised how much Shakespeare's characters can inspire us to be so much. It just proves that I have to really pay attention to the characters themselves and not just the words they speak. It would be interesting to see someone sing Shakespeare just to hear what it would sound like. I didn't even think that that could even happen.

A fellow student

In this time of COVID-19, these words take on so much more meaning than when I first heard them over 50 years ago in High school. Yes, a personal relationship with the words.

A fellow student

Great demonstration and interpretation of this speech. Never thought of the point of the personal understanding you must have with the words you say. Very good


Never thought the Shakespeare portion of the class would be my favorite. This speech reminded me of Carl Sagan's when he referred to earth as the "pale blue dot" after Voyager I sent back photos of Earth as it left our planetary neighborhood. Existentially beautiful.

GraceAnne E.

Beautiful intensity. It's so much more captivating to watch/listen to someone who has really taken time to allow the words to relate to them in a real way. I can tell you have. Thank you for this lesson & the reading/demonstration!


thank you Helen. It is good to remind myself that with the many meanings and personal interpretations of Shakespeare, bearing in mind all the punctuation and grammatical notes, to also speak and deliver the meaning, not be airy-fairy in note delivery, almost like whimsical singing.


Some people don't know how to project without over acting or shouting. An explanation to successful projection might be quite helpful? I completely understand Helen's instruction not to "sing" Shakespeare but this is also good advice for any dialogue. Great lesson. Thanks Helen.

A fellow student

I love your accent Helen! It's beautiful. You truly have a voice for acting. does Orlando Bloom. LOL. Have you considered doing an audiobook? You are right, just as writers/author/readers, no two actors will interpret the script the same. Each one will have a different vision as to how to approach a character, scene, etc. That is the beauty of art/creativity (whether it's music, writing, painting, acting, etc) is that there is no right or wrong answer to anything. It can be intrepeted in many ways by different people. What one person likes/ 'gets' another could be completely put off or not get and vice versa. It's simply just doing it, hoping that your efforts are acknowledged (and you gain a lucrative career out of it).