A soliloquy is a speech in which a play’s character speaks aloud, but that character and the audience can only hear it. It is used to express a character’s inner thoughts and feelings to an audience or reveal important plot details we couldn’t otherwise know about.

This device is most commonly used in drama and theatre, where an actor performs a spoken piece, but it can also be found in poetry that is intended to be read aloud by the reader.

The most famous use of the monologue in English literature comes from William Shakespeare, who did not create the device but made it a popular and iconic part of the theatre. Shakespeare uses soliloquy as an important means of giving information in many of his most famous plays.

What is the purpose of the monologue in English literature?

Soliloquies play a crucial role in the development of a story, as they allow the audience to gain new and important information from characters that would be impossible to relay through dialogue. When performed, this type of speech typically involves the character talking to themselves. However, a monologue can also be performed by the character talking to an object or even breaking the fourth wall by revealing their thoughts directly to the audience. A monologue is a fact in which there is no response to what has been spoken.

How do soliloquies help develop a text?

While a soliloquy in English literature is most often used to display the feelings and thoughts of a character, this device is also used in other important ways to help a text develop.

Plot points/ revelations

Characters can use their speeches to reveal an event that is critical to the story but has taken place off-stage or off-page. Knowing this event helps the audience or reader understand the actions of other characters.

Affecting the audience’s perception of a character

If the audience or reader hears a character’s inner thoughts, it can help them relate to that character more. Even if the character is a villain, having them explain their motives makes the audience more likely to favor them.

Highlight the mentality of a character

Having a character speak to themselves allows the audience to see their true self. These speeches not only highlight different mental states in characters but can also highlight the motives behind a character’s actions.

Dramatic irony

Writers use soliloquies to create dramatic tension in a play by revealing a plan to the audience involving other characters that the characters are unaware of.

Paying homage to tradition

As a device made famous by Shakespeare that has been used for centuries, modern writers can use soliloquies to reference and connect their work to more formal writing.

What is the difference between a soliloquy and a monologue?

Many people confuse the ideas of monologue and soliloquy in English literature. However, there are major differences between the two devices, and they serve different purposes.

A monologue is a speech given by one character, but unlike a soliloquy, it is designed to be heard and responded to by the other characters on stage. One of the most famous monologues in theatre is Hamlet’s ‘Alas, poor Yorick’ speech in Shakespeare’s iconic play. In this speech, Hamlet is speaking to his friend Horatio, whom he addresses directly in the speech. It shows us that this speech is a monologue rather than a soliloquy.

Contrast this with the famous ‘To be, or not to be a speech from the same play. In this speech, Hamlet is speaking only to himself. Even though another character, Ophelia, shares the stage with him during this speech, there is no evidence that she can hear him and doesn’t respond. This speech is, therefore, a soliloquy.

These examples illustrate the difference between a monologue and a soliloquy. A monologue can be heard and responded to by other characters. Conversely, a soliloquy can only be heard by the character speaking and the audience. Even if other characters are on stage, they can’t hear or respond to a soliloquy.

It is why soliloquy is such an important literary device. It allows the writer to provide the audience with crucial information without the other characters finding out. For example, it can show us a character’s state of mind or feelings about something happening in the plot. It can also further the plot by giving us background information that would be extremely difficult to reveal via interaction between characters.

Conversely, Monologue furthers the plot by building relationships between characters and providing them with information. For more information on a monologue, look at this helpful Twinkl video.

What are some examples of a soliloquy?

There are numerous famous examples of soliloquies from different media types, including film, theatre, and novels. Here we look at some classic soliloquies to provide you and your class with examples of how soliloquies can have various effects when used in different contexts.

Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe (1592)

“Was this the face that launched a thousand ships

And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?

Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.

Her lips suck forth my soul; see where it flies!—

Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again.

Here will I dwell, for Heaven is in these lips,

And all is dross that is not Helena.” – Faustus

There are many soliloquies in Christopher Marlowe’s play, but this speech is a perfect example of how a soliloquy reveals a character’s inner feelings. Here it is clear that Faustus is infatuated with Helen and sees no beauty in the world around him that can compare to hers. It’s also an important element of the play that helps further to emphasize Faustus’ personality and insatiable desires.

Watchmen by Alan Moore (1986)

“I prefer the stillness here. I am tired of Earth. These people. I’m tired of being caught in the tangle of their lives. They claim their labors are to build a heaven, yet their heaven is populated with horrors. Perhaps the world is not made. Perhaps nothing is made. A clock without a craftsman. It’s too late. Always has been, always will be, too late.” – Dr. Manhattan

This speech is spoken aloud by Dr. Manhattan as he lives alone on Mars. It is a crucial moment in the graphic novel as it finally clarifies the feelings of Dr. Manhattan and his thoughts regarding humanity, a mystery throughout the text due to his seemingly cool exterior.

Cast Away by Robert Zemeckis (2000)

“You’ve got to love crab. In the nick of time too. I couldn’t take much more of those coconuts. Coconut milk is a laxative” – Chuck Noland

It is an unusual example of a soliloquy, but it is one nonetheless. Chuck’s words while he is stranded on the island can be described as a soliloquy because he is talking to himself to stay sane. Chuck talking to Wilson (an object) helps clarify how he is feeling throughout his time being cast away. The above quote highlights this by explaining his relief in finding some different food. Without the soliloquies in this film, it would be silent and ineffective. The audience would struggle to relate to Chuck without speech throughout his time on the island.

Shakespeare soliloquy examples

William Shakespeare is often referred to as the world’s greatest dramatist for his plays, which are known worldwide and have been popular since their creation in the Elizabethan era. Shakespeare’s ingenious use of the soliloquy made the device so popular that he is now intrinsically associated with it. Shakespeare used this device to help the audience understand the play’s events and let them see what is happening in the characters’ thoughts. The soliloquy was also an important way of building a story at a time when stage settings and visual props were minimal.

Shakespeare uses the soliloquy to highlight the internal conflict of his characters and display their rapid changes in mood and passing thoughts. We have provided some examples of Shakespeare’s most well-known and powerful soliloquies so that you can demonstrate their great significance in theatre to your class.

Macbeth (1606)

“Out, damned spot! Out, I say!–One: two: why,

then, ’tis time to do’t.–Hell is murky!–Fie, my

lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we

fear who knows it, when none can call our power to

account?–Yet who would have thought the old man

to have had so much blood in him” – Lady Macbeth

This famous soliloquy occurs after Lady Macbeth murders Duncan and is a pivotal moment in the play that highlights Lady Macbeth’s descent into madness. Here she is hallucinating a spot of blood she cannot remove from her hands, which signifies her guilt and the mark the murder has left on her soul. From here, it is clear that Lady Macbeth cannot redeem her actions and is becoming unhinged.

Hamlet (1609)

“To be, or not to be, that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in 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 – ay, there’s the rub” – Hamlet

Hamlet’s speech is arguably the most famous soliloquy in all literature and is by far Shakespeare’s most recognized soliloquy. The first line of this speech is renowned worldwide, and the speech itself is an iconic exploration of the themes of life and death. In addition, Hamlet’s speech shows the audience his humanity and gives them something to relate to.

Romeo and Juliet (1597)

“But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?

It is the East, and Juliet is the sun.

Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,

Who is already sick and pale with grief

That thou, her maid, art far fairer than she.” – Romeo

This soliloquy is just one of many famous examples in Romeo and Juliet. This speech after Romeo sees Juliet for the first time is a powerful declaration of longing for her and cements the play as a romance. Comparing her to the shining sun, Romeo believes her beauty outweighs that of any woman he has met.

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