Shakespeare’s plays are full of soliloquies and monologues (many of which we’ve translated into modern English in our soliloquies section), though they aren’t actually the same thing. This page explains both the definition of a soliloquy and the definition of a monologue in the context of Shakespeare’s plays.


What Is A Soliloquy?

A soliloquy is a word taken from Latin and it means ‘talking by oneself.’ It’s a device that dramatists – and Shakespeare to great effect – used to allow a character to communicate his or her thoughts directly to the audience. The character may be surrounded by other characters but the convention is that they can’t hear the soliloquy because it is essentially a piece in which the character is thinking rather than actually speaking to anyone. Audiences in Elizabethan times took the convention for granted. Modern playwrights use a whole range of devices to communicate the thoughts of a character to the audience as the soliloquy has become old fashioned: modern audiences generally expect something more realistic, although they relate to the soliloquies when they attend performances of Elizabethan plays.

Shakespeare’s plays feature many soliloquies, some of which are his most famous passages. Perhaps the most famous is Hamlet’s ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy, where Hamlet contemplates suicide. The audience is taken through his thought processes, where he balances the pros and cons of ending his life – an all time classic soliloquy.


What Is A Monologue?

A monologue is a speech made by a character to other characters, sometimes to a crowd. It is not a dialogue, where two or more people are in conversation with each other. Shakespeare’s plays are full of monologues. Among the most famous are Henry V’s ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more’ speech, where the king is leading his troops into battle, and Marc Antony’s ‘Friends, Romans and countrymen, lend me your ears’ speech in Julius Caesar, where Antony is addressing the Roman crowd after the assassination of Caesar.


We’ve translated a selection of Shakespeare’s most famous monologues and soliloquis in this section of the website. Let us know what you think – any soliloquies or monologues missing that should be there?

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