Guide to Literary Terms

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Define the term "soliloquy" and explain its purpose.

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As stated in the other answers, a soliloquy is a dramatic convention in which a character, usually alone on stage or at least not heard by other characters on stage, speaks their thoughts aloud.  The purpose of a soliloquy is to give an audience insight into the psychology of a character, including their reasons for doing something (or avoiding doing something).  Through a soliloquy, a playwright presents significant "internal" information that an audience needs to understand, similar to the way a writer might use an omniscient narrator.  For example, Shakespeare employs a number of soliloquys in Macbeth to help the audience understand the motivations and fears of his characters.  The following soliloquy appears in Act 1, Scene 7 of Macbeth, and is spoken by Macbeth as he considers (and reconsiders) the plan to kill King Duncan:

"If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly: if the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
With his surcease success; that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
We’ld jump the life to come. But in these cases
We still have judgment here; that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison’d chalice
To our own lips. He’s here in double trust;
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,
Who should against his murderer shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself. Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against
The deep damnation of his taking-off;
And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubim, horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind. I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself
And falls on the other."

Through this soliloquy, the audience gains insight into the inner conflict that Macbeth feels over the upcoming murder.  He gives a number or reasons...

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