“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.”
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark Act 3 Scene 1 William Shakespeare
Should you have your main character speak a soliloquy? This literary device adds depth and richness for the reader by “getting inside the character’s head.” An author can follow that old piece of writing advice, to show not tell, by using a soliloquy in their story.
Soliloquy is the act of speaking alone or to oneself. The classical Latin definition of soliloquy comes from solus, or alone, and loqui, to speak. It is a passage in a drama in which a character expresses his thoughts or feelings aloud, while alone upon the stage, or with the other actors keeping silent. The audience hears the character during the soliloquy, but the speech is not directed to them or other characters in the play. The soliloquy is a monologue of the character’s internal dialogue of thoughts and feelings, but is spoken aloud, while a monologue is a character’s speech that is directed to the audience or another character. Soliloquy moves the story along, summing up what occurred thus far, reveals or analyzes other characters’ motives, or foreshadowing events to come. A soliloquy allows the audience to identify with a character and gives the playwright an opportunity to explore themes within the drama.
Literature, history, culture and religion are replete with soliloquies. Shakespeare wrote some of the best-known soliloquies, in which various characters speak to themselves within the plays. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, contains the most famous soliloquy in English literature. Hamlet asked himself, “To be or not to be: that is the question…” as he considered suicide. Anselm, Bishop of Canterbury, struggled with the existence of God in his 1077 AD Monologium, when he proclaimed “It is easy then for one to say to himself…to ruminate…” in his internal dialogue. In the Old Testament, the prophet Job voices in his opening soliloquy about his suffering over the loss of his children, health and land, “Oh, that I were as in the months past, as in the days when God watched over me.” The words are spoken with the stylistic structure of a literary composition. Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, in 386-400 AD, conducted a dialogue between himself and “Reason” concerning the nature of evil, and on order, faith and the ego in his Soliloquies. Peter Abelard, 12th Century philosopher and poet, in Soliloquiem, contemplates the relation of Christian faith and philosophy when he reveals that he, “…cannot doubt my own existence and will not trust my senses.” Thomas A ’Kempis, the 15th Century German monk, wrote that The Soliloquy of the Soul was “…a discourse with myself and the mind which longs to meditate on things both inner and Divine.” Classical literature, for instance, uses soliloquy in dramas. Medea’s protagonist wrestles with her decision to murder her children in order to avenge her husband’s infidelity. “Farewell my resolve…what shall I do?” In Molly Bloom’s Soliloquy, the final chapter of the novel Ulysses, Molly rues her marriage to Leopold Bloom, the main character, “…I thought well as him well as another…” Jean Valjean utters his Soliloquy, in the novel Les Miserables, to unburden himself from his suffering and guilt with the words “…What have I done, Become a thief in the night…” Abraham Lincoln’s 1834 poem, The Suicide’s Soliloquy, recounts his struggles with mental anguish “…this heart I’ll rush a dagger through…” In Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, the heroine delivers a long soliloquy before her suicide in which she laments about her adultery and relinquishing her children to their father. “Why not put out the light” she questions, “…when it’s sickening to look at it all?”
Linguist Yoko Hasagawa discusses the ways soliloquy allows the mind to form a better understanding of the person’s mental abilities. She writes that language is necessary to manage ideas within the mind. A soliloquy has speech patterns such as accent, pronunciation and voice. Soliloquy can be written, spoken, or internal. Peter Brooks’ research into the melodramatic mind found that emphatic verbal gestures and outbursts of emotion are evident within soliloquies. Brian Stock examined how soliloquy aids the narrative identity whereby an individual constructs a continually developing story of the self with characters, plot, and imagery. Furthermore, Stock researched the narrative self and the exploration of theoretical issues in Augustine’s The Soliloquys, in the sections De Ordine, or On Order, and De Libero Arbitrio, or On the Choice of Free Will. The 19th Century poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, makes use of a type of voice, call and response, a literary device, within his soliloquies. Stream of consciousness, audience, purpose, and motivation, in both verbal and written soliloquies, may create foreshadowing, or hints about what will occur later in the story or drama. Self-dialogue can be classified as silent, or inner speech, and speech that is possible for others to hear as private speech.
The field of psychology perceives soliloquy as originating from culture or illness, expressed as a communication and linguistic disorder. Schizophrenic patients often have bedtime soliloquies, episodes of creative, artistic speech and song, thus the art versus illness debate, according to Michael B. Scherr’s Soliloquy or Psychosis: A Cultural Look at Schizophrenia. Such patients express both inner and private speech during the bedtime soliloquies. Since the patient’s private speech is at times able to be heard by others, and is often spoken in a type of code or language that only the person understands, those listening perceive the soliloquies as nonsensical or disordered and proof of the patient’s mental status. On the other hand, various soliloquies originate in bedtime settings or late at night in works of literature. When Juliet speaks to the moon, the night, the wind, to the sky and to unseen horses, in Romeo and Juliet, debate centers on the treatment of soliloquy as a symptom using the psychodrama technique of the same name. Soliloquy, the treatment, occurs when group members speak to themselves, but loudly enough for members to hear, during a group therapy session, the same as the dramatic device found in Shakespearean plays and other works of literature. Terms for soliloquy, such as introspection and soul-searching, are common in contemporary culture.
Soliloquy is not limited to those with normal speech. Deaf people speak soliloquies in sign language. All cultures and languages have soliloquy, although an alternate word may be used. Other communicative and expressive methods employ soliloquy. Music, art, dance are a few examples. Prayers and meditations often can be expressed in soliloquy. Soliloquy can take the form of self-talk to manage negative emotions, to conquer an addiction, to face stressful situations or to learn new tasks.
Adler, Ben. “Streams of Consciousness.” Columbia Journalism Review. Columbia Journalism Review, 1 May, 2013. Web. 13 August 2014.
Brooks, Peter. The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, Melodrama, and the Mode of Excess. New Haven: Yale UP, 1995. Print.
Conklin, Abari, Suzanne, et al. Norton Anthology of World Literature. New York: Norton, 2012. Print.
Hasegawa, Yoko. “Soliloquy in Japanese and English.” Studies in Language 35.1: 1-40. (2001). Print.
Kenny, Anthony. A New History of Western Philosophy. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. Print.
Larker, Peter. Wordsworth and Coleridge: Promising Losses. Nineteenth-Century Major Lives and Letters ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Print. Wordsworth Library Collection.
Scherr, Michael B. “Soliloquy or Psychosis : A Cultural Look at Schizophrenia” Oikos.org, n.d. Web. 12 Aug. 2014.
Shakespeare, William. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. London: Wordsworth Editions, 2007. Print. Wordsworth Library Collection.
Stock, Brian. Augustine’s Inner Dialogue: The Philosophical Soliloquy in Late Antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.
Zimmerman, Katherine and Peter Brugger. “Signed soliloquy: Visible private speech.” Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education. 18.2: 261-270. (2010).