Though the idea of monologue is simple—any solo speech delivered by an actor—the purpose and effect of monologue and soliloquy in the world of theater are anything but simple. Sometimes monologues provide essential narration and exposition, filling in the audience on past or offstage events; sometimes they serve to mediate between audience and action, much like the chorus of classical Greek drama; and sometimes they signal the passage of time or a change of location. A monologue may occur at any point in a play, as a prologue or epilogue, or as a part of the main action. Often monologues occur at moments of heightened emotion, but just as often they provide opportunity for dispassionate analysis. Traditionally words dominate in a monologue, regardless of whether other actions are occurring on stage. Indeed, during the Victorian era, Robert Browning and other poets took the stylized language of monologue out of the theater entirely, giving it a new life in “dramatic monologues,” in which the poets spoke in the voices of fictional or historical figures.
Generally speaking, a theatrical monologue or soliloquy is a set piece, which allows for virtuoso performance and highlights the skill of both writer and actor. Handled poorly by either party, a monologue can break the spell of the theater, but when done well, a monologue can be among the most moving and enlightening moments in a production. It is perhaps for this reason that actors commonly are expected to prepare monologue recitations for auditions, and many books of...
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