Shakespeare and the History of Soliloquies

Shakespeare and the History of Soliloquies

Shakespeare and the History of Soliloquies

Shakespeare and the History of Soliloquies


"Shakespeare and the History of Soliloquies provides the first systemic and comprehensive account of the conventions governing soliloquies in Western drama from antiquity to the twentieth century. Avoiding anachronistic assumptions that have marred earlier commentaries on soliloquies, the present study is based on a painstaking analysis of the actual practices of dramatists from each age of theatrical history. This investigation has uncovered evidence that refutes longstanding commonplaces about soliloquies in general, about Shakespeare's soliloquies in particular, and especially about the "To be, or not to be" episode." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


In this study the term SOLILOQUY refers to any dramatic passage with the following characteristics: (1) it is spoken by a single actor and (2) the character portrayed by that actor does not intend the words to be heard by any other character. In the course of Western theatrical history, there have been three distinct kinds of soliloquies.

Audience-addressed speech: The character (not just the actor) is
aware of and speaks to playgoers.

Self-addressed speech: The character is unaware of playgoers and
speaks only to himself.

Interior monologue: The words spoken by the actor do not represent
words spoken by the character but words merely passing through
the mind of the character.

These definitions have been arrived at inductively after a careful analysis of a wide array of Western dramatic works and performance practices. The distinction between soliloquies and other words spoken by actors and the distinctions among the three forms of soliloquies have more than merely technical interest. It is hard to imagine more fundamental questions about words spoken by an actor than those that are the focus of these definitions: do the words spoken by the actor represent words spoken by the character or are playgoers given direct access to the mind of the character? If the words represent a speech of the character (and not just words passing through the mind of the character), to whom is the character speaking? These fundamental theatrical questions in turn raise profound aesthetic and philosophical questions.


Despite their common characteristics, the three different kinds of soliloquies have radically different functions and effects.

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