A soliloquy is a speech that reveals something about a character’s thought process. These are commonly used in plays.

Facts About Soliloquies

  • They help the reader better understand who the characters are and what it is that’s driving them.
  • Soliloquies can be powerful and pivotal moments in plays as someone’s true motivations or intentions might be revealed.
  • Soliloquies are not directed at other characters.
  • The speaker relays their inner thoughts to the reader or audience.
  • Soliloquies are included in plays so that the audience remains informed about all the facts in a play.
  • They are very effective when performed live.
  • Soliloquies are used in poetry as well, although some don’t consider them as fluid and effective in this form.

Soliloquy Example #1

“To be, or not to be” Soliloquy, Hamlet by William Shakespeare

The “To be or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet is one of the best-known soliloquies in the English language. While Hamlet is speaking these lines, he’s on stage with Ophelia. She’s the only other character there but, when he’s done speaking, she doesn’t acknowledge hearing anything. The words are directed out into space and for the benefit of the audience. Here are some of the most famous lines from this speech:

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?

The audience is left to ponder these lines and what fate lies in store for Hamlet.

Soliloquy Example #2

Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister by Robert Browning

Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister’ was published in Browning’s collection Dramatic Lyrics in 1842. The poem is spoken from the perceptive of a hateful, sinful monk determined to destroy another of his order. He eventually admits that he’d be willing to sell his soul in order to be rid of his enemy. It’s up to the reader to look beyond what the monk is saying and see the truth of his nature. The first stanza reads:

  Gr-r-r–there go, my heart’s abhorrence!

   Water your damned flower-pots, do!

If hate killed men, Brother Lawrence,

   God’s blood, would not mine kill you!

What? your myrtle-bush wants trimming?

   Oh, that rose has prior claims–

Needs its leaden vase filled brimming?

   Hell dry you up with its flames!

It quickly becomes clear that Brother Lawrence isn’t aware of the speaker’s hate towards him. He can’t hear these lines. Only the reader has access to these pieces of information. It’s also possible to analyze the speaker’s use of language to learn more about his state of mind—for example, the constant use of questions and exclamation.

Other Soliloquies to Explore

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