Definition of Soliloquy
A soliloquy is a speech that a character makes in a work of drama only to him or herself. The soliloquy is presented for the audience to understand the character’s inner thoughts and feelings as though they were not being spoken at all. Generally, no other characters hear a soliloquy and if they are onstage during a soliloquy the character who is giving it seems to disregard them; the other characters are in involved in other actions.
The word soliloquy comes from the Latin words solo, meaning “to oneself,” and loquor, meaning “I talk.” Thus the definition of soliloquy is similar to this compound meaning of “I talk to myself.”
Difference Between Soliloquy, Monologue, and Aside
There are some similarities between the devices of soliloquy and monologue. In both of them a character speaks at length about their thoughts and feelings. However, a monologue is delivered to and for other characters, in order to communicate and bring about action. The soliloquy is meant to clarify for the character, and indeed for the audience, the character’s true feelings. The soliloquy could perhaps help that character resolve to do something because of the reflections therein.
An aside is similar to a soliloquy in that they are both delivered directly to the audience without any other characters onstage overhearing. However, an aside is usually a very short observation on the part of the person saying it rather than a long speech, as is the case with soliloquies.
Common Examples of Soliloquy
The concept of a soliloquy belongs firmly to the realm of drama. However, an interesting analogue has arisen in reality television. In many different shows, people are filmed on their own commenting on the events that are being shown; they are encouraged to speak in the present tense and in long sentences so that editors are able to later give the impression that the audience is privy to the different “characters’” inner thoughts. There are different names for this concept, one of which is called “In-the-moment.” Here is an example from the very popular reality series “The Bachelor”:
Andi and I have an amazing connection. It’s the kind of love I’ve always hoped to have and I think I’m definitely ready to propose to Andi. But I don’t know for sure how she feels about me and I’m nervous about that. I’ve gone down this path before and it’s important to me to not have any doubts in my gut. So, going into tonight, if she is in love with me and I’m the person she hopes to spend the rest of her life with I need her to find a way to just let me know because if I don’t know it’s me, we’re not getting engaged.
—Spoken by Nick Viall on Bachelorette Season 10
The television series “The Office” mocked this idea with its own version of individual interviews:
Sometimes I’ll start a sentence and I don’t even know where it’s going. I just hope I find it along the way.
Significance of Soliloquy in Literature
Soliloquies have been a part of theater ever since the advent of drama in Ancient Greece, and became very popular in the Middle Ages. Examples of soliloquy can be found in plays for a period of a few hundred years, from the Middle Ages through Elizabethan England and up until the late 18th century, when realism became popular. With the rise of realism, soliloquies were thought to be too artificial and were no longer as popular. However, there are some examples of soliloquy in modern drama, such as in brief scenes from Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill. Throughout the ages, dramatists have written soliloquies to express characters thoughts and feelings that cannot be shared with other characters.
Examples of Soliloquy in Literature
WATCHMAN: But I hope
the master of this house may come home soon,
so I can grasp his welcome hand in mine.
As for all the rest, I’m saying nothing.
A great ox stands on my tongue. But this house,
if it could speak, might tell some stories.
I speak to those who know about these things.
For those who don’t, there’s nothing I remember.
(Agamemnon by Aeschylus)
This is one example of soliloquy from ancient Greek drama. At the very beginning of Aeschylus’s play Agamemnon, a Watchman is lamenting his dull job waiting for the end of the Trojan War. It is during this soliloquy that the Watchman does indeed see a beacon flash signaling the fall of Troy. At the end of the speech, the Watchman comments on the nature of soliloquy and the hidden secrets that every person and place contain.
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 heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die- to sleep.
To sleep- perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub!
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
(Hamlet by William Shakespeare)
One of the most famous soliloquy examples of all time is Hamlet’s commentary on the nature of consciousness and existence. He is left alone with his thoughts many times in Shakespeare’s tragedy, and uses these moments alone to delve into his innermost thoughts.
TOM: I descended the steps of this fire escape for a last time and followed, from then on, in my father’s footsteps, attempting to find in motion what was lost in space. . . . I would have stopped, but I was pursued by something. . . . I pass the lighted window of a shop where perfume is sold. The window is filled with pieces of colored glass, tiny transparent bottles in delicate colors, like bits of a shattered rainbow. Then all at once my sister touches my shoulder. I turn around and look into her eyes. Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!
(The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams)
The character of Tom in Tennessee Williams’s play The Glass Menagerie often addresses the audience directly. This is a modern example of soliloquy, yet is slightly different from earlier examples in that there is a breaking down of the fourth wall that Williams likes to play with here. Tom’s soliloquies reveal his inner motivations and thoughts, but also are from a chronological distance from the events of the play so there is more of an effect of Tom having a conversation with the audience.
Test Your Knowledge of Soliloquy
1. Which of the following statements is the best soliloquy definition?
A. A speech made to several other characters in order to get them to act a certain way.
B. A short observation a character makes to him or herself.
C. A speech that a character makes only to him or herself that allows the audience to understand that character’s inner workings.
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2. Which of the following quotes from Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie is an example of soliloquy?
The cities swept about me like dead leaves, leaves that were brightly colored but torn away from the branches. I would have stopped, but I was pursued by something. It always came upon me unawares, taking me altogether by surprise. Perhaps it was a familiar bit of music. Perhaps it was only a piece of transparent glass.
Why, man alive, Laura! Just look about you a little. What do you see? A world full of common people! All of ’em born and all of em’ going to die! Which of them has one-tenth of your good points! Or mine! Or anyone else’s, as far as that goes – gosh! Everybody excels in some one thing. Some in many!
The different people are not like other people, but being different is nothing to be ashamed of. Because other people are not such wonderful people. They’re one hundred times one thousand. You’re one times one! They walk all over the earth. You just stay here.
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3. Which of the following quotes from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a soliloquy example?
DUNCAN: Give me your hand;
Conduct me to mine host: we love him highly,
And shall continue our graces towards him.
By your leave, hostess.
MACBETH: I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself
And falls on the other.
LADY MACBETH: Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would,’
Like the poor cat i’ the adage?
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