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What is a Soliloquy? Explore Its Function, Uniqueness and Examples

A soliloquy is a literary device employed in dramatic literature. Here, a theatrical character expresses thoughts, emotions, or an exposition directly to the audience. It also helps a playwright fill in the role of a narrative for the audience. In this article, we explore the purpose and nature of soliloquy, including illustrative, notable examples.

Difference between a soliloquy, a monologue, and an aside

Soliloquies, monologues, and asides are similar as they are all uninterrupted speeches made by characters in a play. But the length and who they are addressed to set these literary devices apart.

Soliloquy and monologue: A monologue is a speech by a character to other characters on stage. While only the audience gets to hear a soliloquy, a monologue addresses both other characters and the audience. In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, when Hamlet asks, “To be or not to be…?” he speaks to himself in a soliloquy, and only the audience can hear him. While in Julius Caesar, when Mark Antony says, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” He delivers a monologue to the characters at Caesar's funeral.

Soliloquy and aside: An aside is similar to a soliloquy. Here, a character also addresses only the audience while other characters are present, but the statements are usually short. The length of speech is what makes an aside different from a soliloquy. In Act 1 of Hamlet, Hamlet says, “A little more than kin, and less than kind.” referring to his relationship with Claudius while in his presence is a classic example of an aside.

Functions of soliloquy in dramatic literature

Soliloquy allows playwrights to create dramatic irony and suspense by offering exclusive information to the audience. It plays the role of a narrator in a play, analyzing a lead character's actions and emotions to the audience. Soliloquy helps the audience process the subtext of a character's actions, granting the audience access to a character's inner thoughts. 

Examples of soliloquy in literature

Dramatists like Shakespeare and Marlowe are famous for using soliloquies to reveal a character’s thoughts and inner feelings. And here are a few Shakespearean examples:

1. William Shakespeare, Hamlet (1603). A well-known example of soliloquy occurs in Act 3, Scene 1 of Hamlet when Prince Hamlet contemplates suicide as a better alternative to suffering at the hands of his 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..."

2. William Shakespeare, Macbeth (1623). Another notable example of a soliloquy is in Act 2, Scene 1 of Macbeth. Macbeth exhibits guilt and confusion, which is perfectly portrayed to the audience through his soliloquy:

"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?"

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Frank Stephen