Guide to Literary Terms

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Soliloquy

Soliloquy - a speech delivered by a character in a play or other literature while alone, or an utterance by a person who is talking to him/herself, disregardful of or oblivious to any hearers present. This technique is frequently used to disclose a character’s innermost feeling, such as thoughts, state of mind, motives, and intentions or to provide information needed by the audience or reader.

The term is from the Late Latin soliloquium, coined by St. Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, from the Greek monologia which was derived by combining solus, meaning “alone,” and loqui, meaning “to speak.”

Rare in Classical drama, Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights used it extensively, especially for their villains, as they manipulated the plot and commented on the action, such as in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Hamlet, and Iago in Othello.

A well-known example is Hamlet’s soliloquy which begins with:

O, that this too too sullied flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d
His canon ’gainst self-slaughter! . . .
Act I, scene ii : lines 129 – 132

see: device, interior monologue, monologue