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The soliloquy is a dramatic device often used in literature and theatre, where a character speaks their thoughts aloud, usually while alone on stage. This dramatic device is used extensively in theatre and literature to give the audience insight into a character’s innermost thoughts, feelings, and motives. They can also create dramatic tension and reveal off-stage action. The word soliloquy comes from the Latin words solus-“alone” and loqui-“to speak”.

One of the most famous examples of soliloquy can be found in Shakespeare’s works, such as Hamlet‘s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy, where Hamlet contemplates the nature of existence and suicide. Soliloquies are powerful tools in drama as they provide direct narration from the character’s point of view and can reveal secrets, plans, and emotions that might not be expressed through dialogue with other characters. Soliloquies are not limited to classical literature and can also be found in modern works. For instance, in J D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, frequently engages in introspective soliloquies as he grapples with issues of identity, alienation, and societal expectations.

Purpose and Function

Revelation of Character

Soliloquies provide a window into the character’s psyche, revealing their true thoughts and emotions without the need for exposition or dialogue with other characters. It allows the audience to understand a character’s mind more intimately.

Advancement of Plot

Soliloquies often convey crucial information about the plot, allowing the audience to understand the character’s intentions and motivations, which can drive the narrative forward.

Exploration of Themes

Soliloquies allow characters to reflect on broader themes and ideas present in the work, providing deeper insight into the author’s message or philosophy.

Audience Engagement

Soliloquies create a direct connection between the character and the audience, engaging them more intimately and personally than dialogue with other characters.



Soliloquies are typically delivered as monologues, with the characters speaking directly to themselves or an imagined audience.

Internal Conflict

Soliloquies often reveal the character grappling with internal conflicts, such as moral dilemmas, doubts, or desires, which adds depth and complexity to their characterisation.

Emotional Intensity

Soliloquies are often characterised by heightened emotion, ranging from anguish and despair to passion and determination, depending on the character’s state of mind and the circumstances of the scene.

Reflective and Introspective

Soliloquies allow characters to reflect on their past actions, contemplate their present situation, and ponder the future consequences of their decisions.

Impact on the Audience

Emotional Resonance

Soliloquies can evoke robust emotional responses from the audience as they provide a direct glimpse into the character’s inner turmoil and vulnerability.

Empathy and Understanding

Soliloquies foster a deeper understanding of the human condition and the complexities of human nature by allowing the audience to empathise with the character’s struggles and dilemmas.

Engagement and Immersion

Soliloquies draw the audience into the narrative, immersing them in the character’s world and creating a sense of intimacy and connection that enhances their overall experience of the work.

Shakespearean Examples

Shakespeare used soliloquies as some of the most powerful scenes in his plays. 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
In Act 2, Scene 1, Puck delivers a soliloquy about his role with his master, Oberon.

King Lear
In Act 2, Scene 4, King Lear uses a soliloquy to show how much his daughters’ betrayal has affected him.

In Act 2, Scene 1, Macbeth’s soliloquy shows him grappling with guilt over his plan to kill the king. 

The soliloquy is a powerful literary device that enriches characterisation, advances the plot, and engages the audience emotionally and intellectually. Its ability to reveal characters’ inner thoughts and emotions makes it a fundamental tool in the writer’s arsenal, allowing for deeper exploration of themes and ideas in literature and drama.