An aside is a dramatic device that is used in writing to help characters express their inner thoughts. When information needs to be shared that the other characters can’t hear is when a playwright makes use of an aside. With this literary device, a character can share what they’re thinking, plans their making, troubles they’re dealing with or anything else to the audience without any of the characters on stage hearing.
This technique often leads to another, dramatic irony. This is when the audience knows something that the characters on stage do not. For instance, in an aside a female character might profess her love for another person to the audience. Then, as the story plays out, that piece of information s known to the audience but no one involved in the story.
Aside, Monologue or Soliloquy?
An aside, in contrast to a monologue or soliloquy, is much shorter. It usually contains just a line or two of thought versus the other two which can go on for pages. A monologue is a speech made by one character. It could be addressed to another character or to the audience. A soliloquy is a type of monologue that occurs when a character talks to themselves, sharing their thoughts with the audience. These are longer and went out of fashion in the late 18th century but have come back in recent years.
Purpose of an Aside
An aside provides the audience with special information that is necessary for understanding a storyline or how a character is processing events. It is a way of looking into a character’s mind that dialogue between two people doesn’t allow.
Asides are also used to include the audience in a story. This is a technique popular among many playwrights. They can have characters speak to, make fun of, or include the audience in a scene.
Examples of Asides in Literature
Example #1 Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Some of the best examples of asides come from William Shakespeare’s vast oeuvre of plays. One of his most popular, Macbeth, makes use of a great example in Act 4 Scene 1. In this passage, a reader learns a lot about Macbeth and how, as the play has progressed, he has changed. In contrast to the first scenes of the poem in which Macbeth is unsure how to proceed or what his morals will allow, at the end of the play he is more than willing to kill Macduff and his family. He addresses the audience in what is a rather lengthy aside to explain how he’s feeling. Taking a look at these five lines:
Time thou anticipat’st my dread exploits.
The flighty purpose never is o’ertook
Unless the deed go with it. From this moment
The very firstlings of my heart shall be
The firstlings of my hand.
In this passage, an audience member can hear him discussing the changing nature of his heart and his decision-making process. He is not going to curtail his impulses any longer. The “firstlings of [his] heart” will be the “firstlings of [his] hand”.
Example #2 House of Cards, Netflix Original Series
In a very different format, Kevin Spacey’s character Frank Underwood in the Netflix series House of Cards frequently makes use of asides. The unusual format of the show allows him to turn to the camera, speak directly into it, and inform the audience about what he’s really feeling or thinking. These asides, which occur multiple times in a single episode, are some of the best moments of the series. A viewer is let in on his plans and schemes. It is also a look behind the mask he shows to those around him. Sometimes the asides consist only of a grimace or smile in the camera’s direction.
Example #3 Inferno by Dante Alighieri
In Canto 25 of ‘Inferno,’ the first part of The Divine Comedy, Dante makes use of an aside in order to speak directly to the reader. This kind of aside in unusual. They appear almost exclusively in plays and in-person performances. In this passage the writer is addressing the audience, admitting that the things he has told them are outlandish.
If you are slow at this point, reader, to credit what I tell you, it will not be remarkable. For I who observed it, can barely allow myself to believe.
He expresses his understanding if a reader doesn’t “credit,” or believe, that which he has described. He knows that it’s likely that his words and depictions of hell will fall on deaf ears as he had trouble believing what he saw himself. This is a very clever way to bring the reader into the story and also make the entire narrative feel more real.