dramatic device where a character speaks to his- or herself

Soliloquy (from Latin solo "to oneself" + loquor "I talk") is a device often used in drama when a character speaks to himself or herself, relating thoughts and feelings, thereby also sharing them with the audience. Other characters, however, are not aware of what is being said. Soliloquies were frequently used in dramas but went out of fashion when drama shifted towards realism in the late 18th century.

Quotes edit

...The character may be surrounded by other characters but the convention is that they can’t hear the soliloquy because it is essentially a piece in which the character is thinking rather than actually speaking to anyone. Audiences in Elizabethan times took the convention for granted...
  • Soliloquy is an utterance or discourse by a person who is talking to himself or herself or is disregardful of or oblivious to any hearers present (often used as a device in drama to disclose a character's innermost thoughts).
  • Soliloquy is sometimes wrongly used where monologue is meant. Both words refer to a long speech by one person, but a monologue can be addressed to other people, whereas in a soliloquy the speaker is always talking to himself or herself.'
  • A soliloquy is a word taken from Latin and it means ‘talking by oneself.’ It’s a device that dramatists – and Shakespeare to great effect – used to allow a character to communicate his or her thoughts directly to the audience. The character may be surrounded by other characters but the convention is that they can’t hear the soliloquy because it is essentially a piece in which the character is thinking rather than actually speaking to anyone. Audiences in Elizabethan times took the convention for granted. Modern playwrights use a whole range of devices to communicate the thoughts of a character to the audience as the soliloquy has become old fashioned: modern audiences generally expect something more realistic, although they relate to the soliloquies when they attend performances of Elizabethan plays.
Edwin Booth (1833–1894), as Hamlet, c. 1870. Booth is in the position on the throne where he is said to have begun the soliloquy : To be or not to be, that is the question. (Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1, line 64)
  • Shakespeare’s plays feature many soliloquies, some of which are his most famous passages. Perhaps the most famous is Hamlet’s ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy, where Hamlet contemplates suicide. The audience is taken through his thought processes, where he balances the pros and cons of ending his life – an all time classic soliloquy.
    • No Sweat Shakespeare, in "Definition of Monologues & Soliloquies In Shakespeare".
King Leopold.
  • If I had them by the throat! (Hastily kisses the crucifix, and mumbles). In these twenty years I have spent millions to keep the press of the two hemispheres quiet, and still these leaks keep on occurring. I have spent other millions on religion and art, and what do I get for it? Nothing. Not a compliment. These generosities are studiedly ignored, in print, In print I get nothing but slanders – and slanders again – and still slanders, and slanders on top of slanders. Grant them true, what of it? They are slanders all the same when uttered against a king.
  • Blest, crowned, beatified with this great reward, this golden reward, this unspeakably precious reward, why should I care for men’s cursings and revilings of me? [With a sudden outburst of feeling]. May they roast a million aeons
  • In the middle of your mathematics exam, the batteries go dead on your calculator. You put it away in disgust saying, “This machine is out to get me.” You’ve probably heard someone say “Love is blind.” The cliché suggests anyone who is in love is unable to see his or her lover’s faults. In each of the two examples people have given human qualities to non-human things. From the evidence of watching the dog, we presume that the dog is dreaming. Similarly, the episode with the calculator presumes that the machine will react like human beings; the calculator wants revenge. In literature, authors often give human qualities to non-human things. This technique is called personification.
Juliet in Romeo and Juliet.
  • Friar Lawrence alone, with a basket
    The gray-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night,
    Check’ring the eastern clouds with streaks of light;
    And flecked darkness like a drunkard reels
    From forth day’s path and Titan’s burning wheels.
    Now, ere the sun advance his burning eye
    The day to cheer and night’s dank dew to dry.
    I must spill this oster cage of ours
    With baleful weeds and precious-juiced flowers.
    • William Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet Act II, Scene 3, in "Elke Platz-Waury Drama und Theater: Einführung, Gunter Narr Verlag, 1980, p. 27, and also in “The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare:Figurative Language Study Guide”
  • Juliet.
    Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,
    Toward Phaeton would whip you to the west
    And bring I cloudy night immediately.
    Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night,
    That runaway’s eyes may wink, and Romeo
    Leap to these arms untalked or and unseen…

Shakespeare's Soliloquies edit


Wolfgang Clemen Shakespeare's Soliloquies, Psychology Press, 23 December 2004

  • Their [Soliloquies] study is particularly fruitful in enabling us to grasp something of the distinctive quality of Shakespeare’s craftsmanship, being in-miniature reflections of his art of language and characterization, and his skill of dovetailing in the construction of scenes. Each soliloquy is connected in different ways and at different levels with the dramatic organism as a whole. There are more than 300 soliloquies in Shakespeare’s plays and we find them in every play, but their frequency in the individual plays varies, as does their length, which ranges from half line to seventy.
    • p.1
  • The Soliloquies developed by great dramtists like Calderon or Racine, Lessing or Schiller are distinctive soliloquies developed within certain limits and are not in the same way as of the typical soliloquy of Shakespeare...if we were to postulate several basic types of soliloquy in Shakespeare, following the functional patterns found in drama before his time... we would only partially succeed in assigning to them the abundance of individual soliloquies. For all such categories as expositional soliloquy, reflective soliloquy, homily and so on, turn to be applicable in part only.
    • P.2
  • In a soliloquy a character could make himself and his plans known; at times he could also give an account of events off-stage, or introduce a character who was not to appear on stage until later. Frequently dramatists used the soliloquy for epic, narrative and descriptive purposes, that is to say for material which could not easily be fitted into the play in any other way.
    • P.4
  • The soliloquy of pre-Shakespearean drama was regularly addressed directly to the audience, forging a link between them and the stage.
    • P.4
  • Soliloquies could also provide a running commentary on the intricacies of the plot, and be a means of linking one scene with another, facilitating the audience’s grasp of what was happening.
    • P.4
  • Much of what distinguishes Shakespeare’s Soliloquies from those of his predecessors may be attributed to this process of dramatization, a skill which he developed gradually. The effectiveness of this technique is enhanced by what T.S. Eliot has called ‘the attitude of self-dramatization assumed by some of Shakespeare’s heroes’, for several of Shakespeare’s characters are of an extrovert, historic disposition, and enjoy speaking of themselves as another self.
    • P.6
  • First then, Soliloquies had need to be few,
    Extremely short, and spoken in passion too.
    • Earl of Mungrave in his “Essay on Poetry” (1717), in p. 7
  • The soliloquy expresses something which has all the appearance of inevitability and credibility.
    • p.9

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