What Is a Soliloquy? Literary Definition and Examples (2023)

A soliloquy (pronounced suh-lil-uh-kwee), a literary device used in drama, is a speechthat reveals a character'sinternal thoughts, motivations, or plans. Characters usually deliver soliloquies while they are alone, but if other characters are present, they remain silent and appear to be unaware that the character is talking. When delivering soliloquies, characters often seem to be “thinking out loud.” Soliloquies are found in dramatic works.

Coming from a combination of the Latin words solo, meaning “to himself,” and loquor, meaning “I speak,” a soliloquy offers playwrights a handy way of keeping the audience aware of the play’s plot and progress, as well as providing insight into a character's private motivations and desires.

The soliloquy reached the height of its popularity during the Renaissance period. The use of soliloquyhas fallen since the late 18th century when drama shifted to the “Stanislavsky System” of realism—the accurate portrayal of real life in performances. Today, the soliloquy is known as “direct address” in movies and television.

Why Writers Use Soliloquy

By giving the audienceexclusive “insider” knowledge of what their characters are thinking, playwrights can create dramatic irony and suspense. Soliloquies allow the audience to know things that other characters do not—like who’s going to die next. Because soliloquies must have a visual component to be effective, they are most often used in plays, movies, and television shows.

Soliloquy, Monologue, or Aside?

The monologue and the aside are often confused with the soliloquy. All three literary devices involve a solitary speaker, but they have two key differences: the length of the solitary speech, and who is supposed to hear it.

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Soliloquy vs. Monologue

In a soliloquy, the character makes a lengthy speech to him or herself. In a monologue, the character delivers a speech to other characters with the clear intent of being heard by them. For example, in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, when Hamlet asks, “To be or not to be…?”, he is speaking to himself in a soliloquy. However, when Julius Caesar'sMark Antony says “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him,”he is delivering a monologue to the characters at Caesar's funeral.

In simple terms, if other characters can hear and possibly respond to what a character is saying, the speech cannot be a soliloquy.

Soliloquy vs. Aside

Both a soliloquy and an aside are used to reveal a character’s secret thoughts and motives. However, an aside is shorter than a soliloquy—typically only one or two sentences—and is directed at the audience. Other characters are often present when an aside is delivered, but they do not hear the aside. In plays and movies, the character making the aside will often turn away from the other characters and face the audience or camera while speaking.

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A classic example of an aside comes in Act 1 of Hamlet.The King of Denmark has just died and the throne has passed to his brother, Claudius (who is the play'santagonist). Prince Hamlet, who was denied the throne when Claudius married the late king’s wife, feels depressed, even calling his Uncle Claudius’ marriage, “foul incest.” When Claudius speaks to Hamlet, calling him “my cousin Hamlet, and my son,” Hamlet, who now secretly feels far more related to Claudius than he wants to be, turns to the audience and says as an aside, “A little more than kin, and less than kind.”

Early Examples of Soliloquy from Shakespeare

Clearly influenced by the Renaissance, Shakespeare used soliloquies as some of the most powerful scenes in his plays. Through his soliloquies, Shakespeare exposed the innermost conflicts, thoughts, and diabolical plots of his always complicated characters.

Hamlet’s Suicidal Soliloquy

Perhaps the best-known soliloquy in the English language takes place in Hamlet, when Prince Hamlet considers the peaceful alternative of death by suicide to suffering a lifetime of “slings and arrows” at the hands of his murderous uncle Claudius:

“To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
the heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
that Flesh is heir to? 'Tis a consummation
devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; aye, there's the rub, […]”

Though another character, Ophelia, is present when Hamlet utters this speech, it is clearly a soliloquy because Opheliagives no indication that she hears Hamlet speaking. The passage is further distinguished from an aside by its considerable length and importance in exposing Hamlet’s inner feelings.

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Macbeth’s Visionary Soliloquy

In Act 2, Scene 1 of Macbeth, the perpetually moody Macbeth has a vision of a floating dagger tempting him to carry out his plan to kill Duncan, the King of Scotland, and take the throne himself. Fighting with a guilty conscience and now confused by this vision, Macbeth says:

“Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art though but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain? [...]”

Only by having him speak through soliloquy in this famous scene is Shakespeare able to inform the audience—and notthe other characters—of Macbeth’s helter-skelter state of mind and secretly-held evil intentions.

Modern Examples of Soliloquy

While Shakespeare was one of the first and by far the most prolific user of soliloquy, some modern playwrights have incorporated the device. With the rise of realism at the end of the 18th century, writers worried that soliloquies would sound artificial, since people rarely talk to themselves in front of other people. As a result, modern soliloquies tend to be shorter than Shakespeare’s.

Tom in The Glass Menagerie

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InTennessee Williams'The Glass Menagerie, the play’s narrator and protagonist, Tom, relays his memories of his mother Amanda and sister Laura. In his opening soliloquy, Tom warns the audience not to believe everything they see the characters do on stage.

“Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.”

In the final scene, Tom finally admits the truth—that his own actions largely ruined his life.

“I didn't go to the moon that night. I went much further—for time is the longest distance between two points. Not long after that I was fired for writing a poem on the lid of a shoe-box. I left Saint Louis. [...] I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger—anything that can blow your candles out! For nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles, Laura—and so goodbye. . .”

Through this soliloquy, Williams reveals to the audience Tom's self-loathing and doubt over abandoning his family and home.

Frank Underwood in House of Cards

In the television series House of Cards, fictional 46th President of the United States and protagonist Frank Underwood often speaks directly to the camera after all other characters have left the scene. Through these pithy soliloquies, Frank reveals his thoughts on politics, power, and his own schemes and strategies.

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In amemorable soliloquy in the first episode of season two, Frank reveals his overriding fear of developing personal relationships in the political realm.

“Every kitten grows up to be a cat. They seem so harmless at first, small, quiet, lapping up their saucer of milk. But once their claws get long enough, they draw blood—sometimes, from the hand that feeds them.”

Having just won an election in season two, Frank uses another soliloquy in an attempt to justify the often devious tactics of presidential politics.

“The road to power is paved with hypocrisy. There will be casualties.”

These soliloquies create dramatic tension by revealing Frank’s unbridled pride in his skill at manipulating others and his secret plots to use that skill. While the audience may be appalled at Frank’s schemes, they love being “in” on them.

Soliloquy Key Takeaways

  • A soliloquy (suh-lil-uh-kwee) is a literary device used in drama to reveal a character’s thoughts, feelings, secrets or plans to the audience.
  • Characters usually deliversoliloquies while they are alone. If other characters are present, they are depicted as not having heard the soliloquy.
  • Writers use soliloquy to expose irony and create dramatic tension by letting the audience in on information that some characters do not know.

FAQs

What is soliloquy and examples? ›

Soliloquy is the word we traditionally use to refer to a monologue that is delivered when the character is alone. In Shakespeare's plays, for example, there are many speeches that begin with a character saying something like “Now I am alone.” And you know you are about to experience a soliloquy.

What is soliloquy easy definition? ›

Soliloquy (from the Latin solus “alone” and loqui “to speak”) at its most basic level refers to the act of talking to oneself, and more specifically denotes the solo utterance of an actor in a drama. It tends to be used of formal or literary expressions, such as Hamlet's soliloquies.

What is the famous example of soliloquy? ›

When you hear the word “soliloquy,” you might think of Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act Three, Scene One, in which Hamlet ponders the value of his continued existence: “To be, or not to be, that is the question.” So begins one of the most iconic soliloquies in the dramatic arts.

What is an example of soliloquy in Shakespeare? ›

FAUSTUS: Ah, Faustus. Now hast thou but one bare hour to live, And then thou must be damned perpetually!

How do you write a soliloquy example? ›

How to Write a Soliloquy. There aren't really any rules for writing a soliloquy – simply let your characters speak their minds! Be aware, though, that the form of the soliloquy will tell the audience something about the character and their state of mind.

What is an example of soliloquy in a sentence? ›

Soliloquy in a Sentence

1. Speaking her internal thoughts as she moved about, the Broadway star gave a stellar soliloquy through her moving speech. 2. A closing soliloquy moved the crowd to tears as they were given a glimpse into the dying man's fears and hopes.

What is the most famous soliloquy? ›

It is Shakespeare's most performed play around the world — and, of course, one of the most-taught works of literature in high school and college classrooms. In fact, Hamlet's “To be or not to be” speech is the best-known soliloquy in the world.

What is the definition of soliloquy Brainly? ›

Answer: An act of speaking one's thoughts aloud when by one self or regardless of any hearers especially by a character in a play.

What is a soliloquy in poetry? ›

A soliloquy is a monologue in which a character in a play expresses thoughts and feelings while being alone on stage. Soliloquies allow dramatists to communicate information about a character's state of mind, hopes, and intentions directly to an audience.

What are the types of soliloquy? ›

In terms of the interrelationship between the soliloquist and his known or unknown addressees, the soliloquy may be divided into four basic types: Plain Soliloquy, Attended Soliloquy, Soliloquy with Props, and Dialogical Soliloquy.

What is an example of a modern soliloquy? ›

A more modern example of a soliloquy is found in The Glass Menagerie. It's spoken by Tom at the very end of the play. I didn't go to the moon, I went much further--for time is the longest distance between two places. Not long after that I was fired for writing a poem on the lid of a shoebox.

What are soliloquy used for? ›

Soliloquies are used as a device in drama to let a character make their thoughts known to the audience, address it directly or take it into their confidence. But sometimes that confidence may be partial--when characters share only part of their thoughts to the audience.

What are some famous soliloquies in literature? ›

5 Soliloquies to Teach in This Month of Resolutions
  • “Thus do I ever make my fool my purse” – Iago, Othello 1.3.
  • “To be or not to be” – Hamlet, Hamlet 3.1.
  • “Farewell.—God knows when we shall meet again” – Juliet, Romeo and Juliet 4.3.
  • “If it were done when 'tis done” – Macbeth, Macbeth 1.7.
7 Jan 2016

What are the characteristics of a soliloquy? ›

What is a soliloquy? Here's a quick and simple definition: A soliloquy is a literary device, most often found in dramas, in which a character speaks to him or herself, relating his or her innermost thoughts and feelings as if thinking aloud.

What is an example of a soliloquy in Macbeth? ›

Here's Macbeth's soliloquy in full:

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.

What is the structure of a soliloquy? ›

A soliloquy is a mini-play in itself. It has a beginning, middle, and end. Divide the text up into beats or subsections, each with a separate function. For example: “beat one: initial anger.” Once you have divided the speech up, you can begin to think about how to play each section in terms of physicality and voice.

Is a soliloquy a story? ›

A soliloquy is when a character in a dramatic work speaks directly to the audience, expressing their inner thoughts. A soliloquy is a literary device that allows audience members to know what a character thinks or believes, providing an audience a way to better understand a character.

Who is the audience of a soliloquy? ›

Who is the audience of a soliloquy? Only the theater audience (or reader) and the character who is speaking. What kinds of things does a character talk about in a soliloquy? The character reveals inner thoughts, and puzzles out personal problems.

What's in a name soliloquy? ›

“What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” Juliet knows that the blood feud prevents her from loving a Montague. She ponders it. It's only your name that's the enemy.

What is soliloquy in literature PDF? ›

Soliloquy is a device that allows a character in a play to speak directly to the audience about their motive, feelings, and decisions. They reveal the characters inner thoughts as the character is revealing their true thoughts and emotions.

When was soliloquy first used? ›

1595–1605; From Late Latin sōliloquium in the title of St. Augustine's Soliloquiorum libri duo ("Two Books of Soliloquies"), from sōlus (“only, sole”) + loquor (“I speak”).

Who invented soliloquy? ›

The soliloquy is a dramatic device used in extensively in the Elizabethan era, but it existed before Shakespeare made it famous. Dramatists like Kyd and Marlowe were using the convention extensively in plays like the Spanish Tragedy and Doctor Faustus, before we have evidence that Shakespeare ever wrote anything.

What is a soliloquy 1 point? ›

A soliloquy is a speech that a character in a play speaks aloud, but it can only be heard by that character and the audience. It is used as a way of expressing the inner thoughts and feelings of a character to an audience, or revealing important plot details that we couldn't otherwise know about.

How many soliloquies are there? ›

In total, there are 7 soliloquies in Hamlet. Soliloquies help reveal his personality and state of mind. This analysis presents all of Hamlet's seven soliloquies in order with explanations. “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” is among William Shakespeare's most famous works.

Is a soliloquy long or short? ›

A monologue is a long speech delivered to other characters. A soliloquy is a long speech where a character talks to himself/herself or voices his/her thoughts aloud for the benefit of the audience.

Who is the soliloquy in Romeo and Juliet? ›

Soliloquy in Romeo and Juliet Act 3

Romeo is full of soliloquies, but in Act 3, Scene 2, Juliet shows us how she feels. As Phaethon would whip you to the west, And bring in cloudy night immediately. But Romeo's name speaks heavenly eloquence.

What is Macbeth most famous soliloquy? ›

'Tomorrow, And Tomorrow, And Tomorrow' Soliloquy Translation: How the days stretched out – each one the same as the one before, and they would continue to do so, tediously, until the end of history.

What does Macbeth's soliloquy mean? ›

In summary, Macbeth's speech is about the futility and illusoriness of all life and everything we do: we are all bound for the grave, and life doesn't seem to mean anything, ultimately. He is responding to the news that Lady Macbeth is dead here; it's the beginning of the end for him.

What is the main purpose of soliloquy? ›

A soliloquy is a speech that a character in a play speaks aloud, but it can only be heard by that character and the audience. It is used as a way of expressing the inner thoughts and feelings of a character to an audience, or revealing important plot details that we couldn't otherwise know about.

What is a soliloquy used for? ›

A soliloquy is a monologue in which a character in a play expresses thoughts and feelings while being alone on stage. Soliloquies allow dramatists to communicate information about a character's state of mind, hopes, and intentions directly to an audience.

Is a soliloquy a poem? ›

A soliloquy is a dramatic literary device that is used when a character gives a speech that reveals something about their thought process. These are parts of plays that when read on the page or preformed help the reader better understand who the characters are and what it is that's driving them.

Who is soliloquy aimed at? ›

Remember, a soliloquy is meant for only the real audience to hear, and it gives insight into a character's inner thoughts and motives.

What are the characteristics of soliloquy? ›

A soliloquy is a speech that a character in a play speaks aloud, but it can only be heard by that character and the audience. It is used as a way of expressing the inner thoughts and feelings of a character to an audience, or revealing important plot details that we couldn't otherwise know about.

Why is soliloquy used in literature? ›

Why Writers Use Soliloquy. By giving the audience exclusive “insider” knowledge of what their characters are thinking, playwrights can create dramatic irony and suspense. Soliloquies allow the audience to know things that other characters do not—like who's going to die next.

Who used soliloquy first? ›

What's interesting about the history of soliloquies, though is that according to one online etymology dictionary, Shakespeare may well have been the first one to adapt the monologue (which is a speech the character gives on stage as part of the accepted action) as a window for the audience to see into the character's ...

Where did soliloquy come from? ›

Soliloquy comes from the Late Latin word sōliloquium, which has the same meaning (“a talking to oneself”). This is formed from the Latin sōli-, meaning “sole” or “alone” (as in solitary), and loqu(ī), meaning “to speak” (as in loquacious).

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