The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018


Monologue: An extended narrative, whether oral or written, delivered uninterrupted and exclusively by one person. A dramatic monologue is a lyric poem in which the speaker addresses a silent listener in the context of a situation that sheds revealing light on the speaker’s character. A soliloquy is a monologue performed onstage as part of a play in which a character reveals his or her inner thoughts or emotions out loud but while alone. An interior monologue presents a character’s stream of consciousness by reproducing his or her mental flow (thoughts, emotions, sensations) without verbal expression. Interior monologue may be direct, from the first-person point of view, as if the reader were inside the character’s mind, or indirect, using a third-person narrator to mediate the character’s mental flow.

EXAMPLE: The following lines from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847), spoken by Catherine Earnshaw to Nelly Dean:

I cannot express it, but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is, or should be, an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of creation if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning; my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the Universe would turn into a mighty stranger. I should not seem a part of it. My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods. Time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees — my love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath — a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff — he’s always, always in my mind — not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself — but as my own being — so, don’t talk of our separation again — it is impracticable… .

Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes (1992; adapted to television 2003) contains numerous monologues, including an opening monologue by a rabbi presiding over the funeral of a Jewish immigrant grandmother that introduces the theme of continuity versus change; eulogizing the dead woman, whose family has assimilated to America, the rabbi declares, “She fought, for the family, for the Jewish home, so that you would not grow up here, in this strange place, in the melting pot where nothing melted.” Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues (1996; adapted by HBO 2002), originally a one-woman show based on Ensler’s interviews with more than 200 women, consists of a series of monologues addressing topics ranging from love, sex, and menstruation to rape and other forms of violence against women.