The Soliloquies in Shakespeare. Structure and Function

Term Paper, 2007

14 Pages, Grade: 2



1. Introduction

2. Definitions
2.1. The soliloquy
2.2. The monologue
2.3. The Aside

3. The functions of the soliloquy
3.1. The soliloquy as Means of exposition
3.1.1. The initial exposition
3.1.2. Identification
3.1.3. Characterization
3.1.4. Narration
3.2. The soliloquy as accompaniment of the action
3.2.1. Miscellaneous Business
3.2.2. Entrance, Link, and Exit speeches
3.2.3. The Link
3.2.4. The Exit soliloquy

4. The Conclusion


“To be or not to be, that is the question” is one of the most famous speeches in the world. Its technical name is “soliloquy”.

The soliloquy is a very important unit of the drama. Playwrights use or used this device to achieve many goals and convey many messages in the story-telling. The soliloquy as a unit of the drama is multifunctional. In this paper, I am going to give a small idea about the structure and function of this unit of the drama. The next step, I shall try to mention different definitions of the term “soliloquy” from different points of views of different playwrights and analysts. Afterwards, I am going to give a distinction of the term from other kinds of these speeches, especially the “Monolog” and the “Aside”. In the third section, I am going to mention some structural functions of it, and show how it is used, why and what this device can do on the stage on the character and audience level.

2. Definitions:

2.1. The soliloquy:

The definition of the term ‘soliloquy' is not clear-cut, but is controversial among most analysts and playwrights who have investigated this kind of speech. Every playwright and analyst, as will be shown, defines the term from her/his perspective, which differs totally from others, but these definitions overlap in some points and have some common characteristics. Therefore it is not easy to define the soliloquy, and there is no definition of the term which considers it from all its perspectives, which together comprehend the term.

J. Hirsh in his “Shakespeare and the History of Soliloquies” defines the term soliloquy as follows: First it is spoken by a single person, and second the character portrayed by that actor does not intend the words to be heard by any other character.1

Arnold defines the soliloquy as an “integral part of the drama which consists of a speaking alone.” when a character, during the course of a drama, is actually alone upon the stage and his speech implies that he believes himself to be alone. He is then soliloquizing. Even though other characters are present, the speech may be considered soliloquy if it implies complete isolation and oblivion to the surroundings.2 Skiffington on the other hand uses ‘soliloquy' to mean „ a locution dominating the stage and the attention of the theatre audience, delivered by a speaker who is alone 3 on the stage.”3

Prof. Wolfgang Clemen sees the term from a totally different point of view and defines it as “eine Steigerung, eine letzte Konsequenz von etwas, das im Wesen des Dramas schon angelegt ist, ein Schritt weiter zur sprachlichen Vergegenwartigung von inneren Vorgangen wie sie bereits das dramatische Gesprach anstrebt“,4

Jacques Scherer defines it as:

„ le monolog est un tirade pronouncee par un personnage seul ou qui se croit seul, ou bien par un personnage ecoute par d'autres, mais qui ne craint pas d'etre entendu par eux “.5

An other definition, which seems particulary neutral, is that of Emil Walker who defines the ,monolog‘ and, in this case, the soliloquy “als jede von einem einzelnen oder von mehreren zugleich gesprochene oder gedachte Rede, die nicht an einen bestimmten Zuhorer gerichtet und weder ein Reagieren von aussen her erwartet, noch eine Beeinflussung nach aussen hin beabsichtigt. Man konnte auch wohl sagen: der Monolog ist ein ungehemmter, durch aussere Rucksichten weder beeintrachtigter noch bestimmter Ausfluss von Bewusstseins- und Gefuhlsinhalten - eine Rede, die ihren Zweck so zu sagen in sich tragt ”.6

So as we can see here, according to these different definitions from different perspectives, a kind of overlapping: We see a common characteristic and an emphasis on the ‘physical' being alone on the stage, and if in the presence of other actors then not being heard by them. This physical being on the stage soliloquizing has been criticized ( quoted from Monika Pauer)7 by W. Schadewaldt who sees the inner solitude of the soliloquizer more essential even if other actors are present on the stage. Heclaims, on the contrary, “es genugt, dass sich die Person allein dunkt .” So here we see a distinction between external and internal criterion, between a physical and a psychological solitude on the stage - a psychological solitude even in the presence of other characters.

Anyway, there are maybe as many definitions of the soliloquy as analysts, and not only the definition of the soliloquy is controversial but also its distinction from other kinds of ‘speeches' like ‘Aside' and even the term ‘Monolog' which is used most of the time interchangeably with the soliloquy.

2.2. The Monolog:

Francoise Dubor in “L'art de parler sans rien dire”8 describes the effort in trying to distinguish the soliloquy from the monolog as entering a minefield ‘un terrain mine'. She mentions the definition of the two terms from ‘Le Grand Dictionnaire universel du XIX siecle, de Pierre Larousse” as “Monologue est d ‘un usage beaucoup plus frequent que son synonyme; il s‘emploie seul pour designer ce qu'un acteur recite sur la scene quand il 1'occupe seul et quand son discours a une certain etandue...”, so the terms are used here as synonyms and the main difference lies in being alone on the stage. Skiffington is of The same idea when he quotes in his introduction the definition of the term from ‘ Webster's Eighth New International Dictionary‘, which defines it as “a dramatic scene in which one person soliloquizes”, so according to this definition, we can see explicitly the relation between the soliloquy and the monolog whereby the soliloquy is a type of the monolog. It is a relation between the generic and the specific: every monolog is a soliloquy, but not every soliloquy is a monolog. The difference is physical for reason that the soliloquizer is physically alone on the stage, but Skiffington excludes Hamlet's soliloquy “Now might I do it pat” in the presence of Claudius praying upstage, who does not hear Hamlet's soliloquy.

2.3. The Aside:

The term ‘aside' overlaps with the term ‘soliloquy', and the distinction between them is a fine one. According to Hirsh, an aside could be a soliloquy and vice versa. He classifies the term in four kinds:

(1) A speech directed at another character or at a group of characters, but guarded by the speaker from the hearing of at least one other character onstage; (2) a speech addressed by a character to playgoers and guarded from the hearing of all the other characters of whose presence onstage the speaker is aware; (3) a speech addressed by a character only to himself and guarded from the hearing of all the other characters of whose presence onstage the speaker is aware; (4) an interior monologue experienced as a purely mental event when other characters are present onstage.9

So we see here some common characteristics shared with those of the soliloquy. The main difference between the ‘soliloquy' and the ‘aside' is that the speaker of the ‘aside' is aware of the characters onstage. He never forgets their presence onstage and guards his speech from at least one of them, as it is the case in the prayer scene where Hamlet soliloquizes and speaks to himself, yet is aware of the presence of Claudius onstage.


1 J. Hirsh, „Shakespeare and the history of soliloquies”,( Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003), 13

2 Arnold, Morris leRoy “ The soliloquies in Shakespeare, a study in technic”,( New York: Ams Press, 1965), 2-3

2 Skiffington, LIoyd A,“ the history of English soliloquies: Aaschylus to Shakespeare“, ix

4 Wolfgang, Clemen, Shakespeares Monologe ( Munchen: Piper, 1985), 14-15

5Jacques Scherer," La Dramaturgie Classique en France", Paris Nizet, 1983, p.245-260

6 Emil, Walker," Der Monolog im hofischen Epos", 1928, s.7"

7 Monika Pauer, "Der Monolog bei Moliere", (Wien: Notring, 1972) 9

8 Françoise Dubor, „L Art de parler pour ne rien dire“, (Presses Universitaires de Rennes), 124

9 J. Hirsh, 21-22

Excerpt out of 14 pages


The Soliloquies in Shakespeare. Structure and Function
University of Bonn  (Anglistik)
Catalog Number
ISBN (Book)
Diese Hausarbeit behandelt die unterschiedlichen Definitionen des Begriffs "soliloquy" und dessen Funktion auf der Bühne und versucht diesen von anderen Arten solcher "speech" - wie dem Monolog- zu unterscheiden.
Soliloquy, Monolog, Hamlet, Shakespeare, to be or nor to be, drama, selbstgespräch, Selbstmonolog, aside
Quote paper
Mahmoud El Qamch (Author), 2007, The Soliloquies in Shakespeare. Structure and Function, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: The Soliloquies in Shakespeare. Structure and Function

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free