Shakespeare’s plays are full of soliloquies and monologues, though they aren’t actually the same thing. Here we explain both the definition of a soliloquy and the definition of a monologue in the context of Shakespeare’s plays, and the difference between the two.

What is a soliloquy?

A soliloquy is a word taken from Latin and it means ‘talking by oneself.’ It’s a device that dramatists – including Shakespeare – 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 aloud rather than actually speaking to anyone. Audiences in Elizabethan times took the convention for granted.

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.

Hamlet holds up Yorick's skull in front of him, about to recite the 'Alas poor Yorick' monologue

British actor and director Kenneth Branagh speaks the ‘Alas poor Yorick’ monologue (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

We’ve translated a selection of Shakespeare’s most famous monologues and soliloquies 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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