What is a Soliloquy? Definition, Examples of Soliloquy in Drama

Definition of soliloquy: A soliloquy is a long speech given by an actor while he or she is alone onstage.

What Does Soliloquy Mean?

What is a soliloquy? A soliloquy is a speech that an actor gives while he or she is alone onstage and allows for the audience to hear the character’s innermost thoughts.

One of the most famous examples of a soliloquy is Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

What is the Difference between a Monologue and a Soliloquy?

soliloquy meaningMonologue vs. Soliloquy: A monologue is a long speech given by a character onstage. Other characters in the play may hear these speeches.

While soliloquies are a type of monologue, they are given while the actor is alone onstage and are not mean to be heard by other characters.

Here is an example of the differences between monologues and soliloquies.

Monologue Example:

  • In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio gives a long speech to illustrate his outlook on the lack of substance dreams possess. This speech about Queen Mab is given in front of his friends; therefore, it would be considered a monologue.

Soliloquy Example:

  • In the same play, Juliet, gives a soliloquy before she consumes the sleeping potion given to her by the Friar. Her speech is considered a soliloquy because it is given alone onstage. This allows for the audience to understand the fear that consumes her while she decides whether or not to drink the potion.

The Function of Soliloquy

definition of the word soliloquyThe purpose of a soliloquy is to convey a character’s innermost thoughts to the audience. The audience is unable to read a character’s mind; therefore, this is the only way to show an internal conflict that a character is experiencing.

Playwrights include a soliloquy when they want the audience to see the internal conflict a character is facing. By having the character express his or her innermost thoughts, it allows for the audience to gain insight as well as build suspense because the audiences experiences the conflict with the character.

Examples of Soliloquies in Literature

There are many examples of soliloquies throughout literature and drama. Here are just two examples.

Soliloquies in Drama:

In the film Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Gollum/Smeagol has a soliloquy in which he struggles with the two identities he holds: the hobbit he once was vs. the evil Gollum that has resulted from the powers of the Ring.

Soliloquies in Literature:

William Shakespeare’s Macbeth includes several famous soliloquies. Here is one given by Macbeth at the end of the play that conveys his realization that life lacks the meaning he once thought it had:

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Summary: What’s a Soliloquy?

Define soliloquy: In summation, a soliloquy is a long speech given by a character alone onstage to reveal his or her innermost thoughts to the audience.

Final example,

  • In Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, Friar Lawrence delivers a soliloquy that demonstrates his thoughts about herbs in comparison to mankind: both possess the power to do good or evil dependent upon how people use them.