A soliloquy is the literary term for a device used in stories or plays when a character speaks to themselves about their personal thoughts of feelings, thus sharing these thoughts or feelings with the audience. The comments are not directed towards the audience, as an aside may be, nor are other characters in the play aware of what is being said by that character. Soliloquies are a way for writers to explicitly alert the audience or the reader to the inner thoughts and motivations of the character. Unlike character interactions with each other, they should not be second guessed, because the character who is delivering the soliloquy has no real reason to be deceitful as they is conversing with themselves.
Whilst soliloquies were frequently used in Elizabethan drama (Shakespeare, Marlow, Webster etc), they fell out of fashion in the late 18th century as playwrights began to favour realism. However, some script writers and directors still use soliloquies to make specific points in television shows or movies. Many independent film makers enjoy trying out older techniques to see how modern audiences react to them. Soliloquies can vary in length – whilst some can last for the entire length of a scene or chapter, others are just a few lines long.
Here are some famous Soliloquy Examples:
Hamlet – To be or not to be
“To be, or not to be, that is the question—
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? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes Calamity of so long life:
For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
The Oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s Contumely,
The pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay,
The insolence of Office, and the Spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his Quietus make
With a bare Bodkin? Who would these Fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
No Traveler returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all,
And thus the Native hue of Resolution
Is sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of Thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment,
With this regard their Currents turn awry,
And lose the name of Action. Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia. Nymph, in all thy Orisons
Be thou all my sins remembered.”
During this soliloquy, Hamlet speaks of his thoughts about committing suicide. Whilst he is troubled by the pain and perceived unfairness of life, he admits that he does not know what would await him in death, and he acknowledges that death may be worse than life.
Macbeth – Sound and Fury
“She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
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
Macbeth has just been told news of his wife’s death. Lady Macbeth had been driven mad by her part in the murder of the former king of Scotland, and it is implied that she committed suicide. He uses an extended metaphor about minor actors in a play to highlight the frailty and fragility of life.
Blade Runner – Tears in Rain
“I’ve… seen things you people wouldn’t believe… [contemptuous laugh] Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those… moments… will be lost in time, like [small cough] tears… in… rain. Time… to die…”
This short soliloquy is frequently cited as one of the most moving death soliloquies in cinematic history. It is reported that many members of the cast and crew were in tears as they filmed this scene.
Paradise Lost –Extract from Satan’s Solilioquy
“O thou, that, with surpassing glory crowned,
Lookest from thy sole dominion like the God
Of this new world; at whose sight all the stars
Hide their diminished heads; to thee I call,
But with no friendly voice, and add thy name,
Of Sun! to tell thee how I hate thy beams,
That bring to my remembrance from what state
I fell, how glorious once above thy sphere;
Till pride and worse ambition threw me down
Warring in Heaven against Heaven’s matchless King:
Ah, wherefore! he deserved no such return
From me, whom he created what I was
In that bright eminence, and with his good
Upbraided none; nor was his service hard.
What could be less than to afford him praise,
The easiest recompence, and pay him thanks,
How due! yet all his good proved ill in me,
And wrought but malice; lifted up so high
I ‘sdeined subjection, and thought one step higher
Would set me highest, and in a moment quit
The debt immense of endless gratitude,
So burdensome still paying, still to owe,
Forgetful what from him I still received,
And understood not that a grateful mind
By owing owes not, but still pays, at once
Indebted and discharged; what burden then
O, had his powerful destiny ordained
Me some inferiour Angel, I had stood
Then happy; no unbounded hope had raised
Ambition! Yet why not some other Power
As great might have aspired, and me, though mean,
Drawn to his part; but other Powers as great
Fell not, but stand unshaken, from within
Or from without, to all temptations armed.
Hadst thou the same free will and power to stand?
Thou hadst: whom hast thou then or what to accuse,
But Heaven’s free love dealt equally to all?”
In this soliloquy from Paradise Lost by John Milton, Satan thinks about what he has already done and what his options will be in future. He wrestles with the reasons why he fell from heaven, and whilst he wants to blame God, he ultimately realises that he own free will was responsible. He concludes that his only real course of action will be to continue to divide and destroy the kingdom of God.
Ulysses – Extract from Molly Bloom’s Soliloquy
“…I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish Wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”
Molly Bloom’s soliloquy ends the novel Ulysses. Due to the unusual writing style and lack of punctuation, many readers find it quite hard to understand this section. Molly talks of her love for Leopold and some of the experience from her early life. The lack of punctuation aims to highlight how this section is Molly’s stream of consciousness. In the 22,000 section, her thoughts are only occasionally broken up by incidences such as the noise from a train whistle. This extract is right from the end of the soliloquy and gives details of Leopold’s proposal to Molly.