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


Soliloquy: In a play, a monologue delivered by a character while alone on stage that reveals inner thoughts, emotions, or other information that the audience needs to know.

EXAMPLES: William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1602) contains perhaps the most famous soliloquy in English literature: “To be, or not to be: that is the question… .” In Peter Shaffer’s 1973 play Equus, psychiatrist Martin Dysart muses about the “normalizing” goal of professional therapy; his speech is effectively a soliloquy since the only other character onstage is his deeply disturbed patient Alan Strang, whom he has hypnotized:

The Normal is the good smile in a child’s eyes — all right. It is also the dead stare in a million adults. It both sustains and kills — like a God. It is the Ordinary made beautiful; it is also the Average made lethal. The Normal is the indispensable, murderous God of Health, and I am his Priest… . Sacrifices to Zeus took at the most, surely, sixty seconds each. Sacrifices to the Normal can take as long as sixty months.

John Guare’s play Six Degrees of Separation (1990; adapted to film 1993) includes soliloquies by several characters, including the protagonist, Louisa Kittredge, who, having been conned by a young man pretending to be Sidney Poitier’s son, marvels that “everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation… .”