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What is the definition of soliloquy?

The definition of soliloquy is a speech in a play delivered by a character directly to the audience.


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Last Updated May 25, 2023.

A soliloquy is a speech in which a character in a dramatic production reveals their inner thoughts and feelings. A soliloquy can be an external display of a character's interior monologue or produced by a character speaking aloud to themselves or the audience. Soliloquies often create dramatic irony in a play by revealing information to the audience that other characters don't know, which increases suspense. 


A soliloquy differs from a monologue in that soliloquies occur when a character is voicing their thoughts alone. Shakespeare tends to include a soliloquy for the villain near the end of the first act to clue the audience into his intentions and thus allow them to take an early stance towards that character.


In contrast, a monologue is spoken directly to other characters. Suppose other characters are on stage as a soliloquy is being delivered. In that case, they will remain silent, unaware that the speaker is talking. 


Soliloquy comes from the Late Latin word soliloquium, from the Latin solus, meaning "alone," and loqui, meaning "to speak."


Soliloquies were widespread in Renaissance theater and used by Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, and William Shakespeare. The dramatic device lost popularity during the 19th century when theater developed a focus on realism. However, they are still used in modern dramatic works like Arthur Miller's The Crucible.


The following excerpt comes from one of the numerous soliloquies delivered by the character Tom Wingfield in Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie:


I didn't go to the moon. I went much further, for time is the longest distance between two places. Not long after that, I left St. Louis. I descended the steps of our fire escape for the last time and from then on, I followed in my father's footsteps attempting to find in motion what was lost in space. I traveled around a great deal. The city swept about me like dead leaves, leaves that were brightly colored but torn away from the branches. I would have stopped, but I was pursued by something that always came upon me unawares taking me all together by surprise. Perhaps it was a familiar bit of music. Perhaps it was only a piece of transparent glass. Perhaps I'm walking along the street at night in some strange city before I have found companions.

see: monologueinterior monologueirony

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