Soliloquy Definition: Exploring the Power of this Device, With Examples

Read our guide to delve into the soliloquy definition, significance, and impact on storytelling, with examples and tips for crafting your soliloquies.

Soliloquy is a powerful theatrical device frequently used by playwrights and authors to show a character’s inner thoughts and feelings. At its essence, the soliloquy definition is a long speech or narrative delivered either aloud or in thought, typically by a primary character.

What’s the Difference Between a Soliloquy and a Monologue?

While soliloquies and monologues might seem similar at first glance, they are distinct theatrical devices, each with unique features and functions. Understanding the differences between these two devices can help writers utilize them correctly. Check out our explainer on what does foreshadowing mean.

Soliloquy: A Character’s Inner Reflection

Soliloquy definition
In a soliloquy, the character speaks to themselves or thinks aloud, allowing the audience to gain insight into their psyche

A soliloquy is a speech delivered by a character who is alone on stage or believes themselves to be alone. It gives a window into the character’s inner thoughts, feelings, and motivations, revealing their true emotions and contemplations. In a soliloquy, the character speaks to themselves or thinks aloud, allowing the audience to gain insight into their psyche. This device is primarily used to disclose information that would otherwise remain hidden or unspoken, enabling the audience to comprehend the character’s intentions and struggles on a deeper level.

Monologue: A Speech Addressed to Others

Conversely, a monologue is a lengthy speech delivered by a character to one or more characters within the scene. The speaker is aware of their audience and intentionally communicates with them, often expressing a point of view, telling a story, or persuading others to adopt a particular stance. Monologues can reveal a character’s opinions, emotions, or background, but unlike soliloquies, they do not directly reflect the character’s inner thoughts. Monologues often emphasize a specific narrative aspect, convey information to other characters, or showcase the speaker’s linguistic and rhetorical skills.

Key Differences Between Soliloquies and Monologues

The primary difference between soliloquies and monologues lies in their purpose and the presence of an audience. Soliloquies reveal a character’s inner thoughts and feelings, serving as a conduit for introspection and self-examination. In contrast, monologues are directed at other characters or the audience to persuade, inform, or entertain. Another key distinction between soliloquies and monologues is the level of intimacy each device offers.

Soliloquies provide an intimate glimpse into a character’s mind, enabling the audience to connect more profoundly with the character. While still revealing aspects of a character’s personality, monologues tend to focus more on external events or situations. While both soliloquies and monologues involve a single character delivering an extended speech, their purposes, intended audiences, and the information they convey set them apart as unique theatrical devices. Recognizing these differences and knowing when to employ each can elevate your writing and enhance the overall impact of your narrative.

Historical Origins of Soliloquy

Historical origins of soliloquy
Roman playwright Seneca, known for his tragic plays, contributed significantly to developing soliloquy as a distinct theatrical device

Ancient Greek theater: Tracing the roots of soliloquy leads to ancient Greek theater, where playwrights used monologues in tragedies to share a character’s thoughts and emotions with the audience.

Medieval and Renaissance theater: As theater evolved during the Medieval and Renaissance periods, soliloquy became a theatrical tool for revealing a character’s thoughts and feelings, providing insight into their psyche and motivations

Roman theater: Roman playwright Seneca, known for his tragic plays, contributed significantly to developing soliloquy as a distinct theatrical device. By incorporating soliloquies into his works, he emphasizes characters’ internal struggles and moral dilemmas, allowing the audience to understand their emotional and psychological states better. One example of a soliloquy from Seneca’s works can be found in his play “Phaedra,” where the main character, Phaedra, is tormented by her illicit passion for her stepson, Hippolytus. In a soliloquy, she grapples with her desire and contemplates the moral implications of her feelings.

“What monstrous thing do I harbor in my heart?
What fire burns within my wretched breast?
I know the evil that I would commit,
Yet cannot find the strength to overcome it.”

Seneca, “Phaedra”

Here, Phaedra’s soliloquy reveals her internal struggle as she acknowledges her desires’ immorality and inability to resist them. Through this soliloquy, the audience gains insight into her emotional turmoil and the complexities of her character that they otherwise might not have known. In another of Seneca’s plays, “Oedipus,” the protagonist, Oedipus, delivers a soliloquy that exposes his anguish as he uncovers the truth about his identity and his unwitting crimes.

As in “Phaedra,” this soliloquy shows Oedipus’ internal struggle as he wrangles with the horrifying reality of his actions. Because his thoughts are outpour to the reader, they can better understand and empathize with him. You might also be interested in our motif in literature explainer.

“What cruel fate has led me to this end?
What gods conspire against me, doomed to suffer?
I, Oedipus, am the very monster I sought to destroy.
My mother, my wife, my father, my victim.
In blind despair, I face the abyss of my own making.”

Seneca, “Phaedra”

Functions of Soliloquy in Drama

  1. Revealing a character’s inner thoughts and feelings: The main function of a soliloquy is to offer a glimpse into the character’s mind, allowing the audience to understand their thought processes and emotional state.
  2. Moving the plot forward: Soliloquies can also advance the plot by revealing essential information, setting up future events, or foreshadowing twists and turns in the narrative.
  3. Developing themes and motives: Soliloquies can reinforce the story’s themes and motifs by giving characters a platform to express their thoughts, making them more prominent to the audience.
  4. Building suspense and tension: Soliloquies can be used to build suspense, especially when the speech reveals the intentions of an antagonist. 
  5. Showcasing a character’s linguistic and rhetorical skills: Soliloquies can also serve as a platform for characters to exhibit their eloquence and rhetorical prowess, adding depth and complexity to their persona.

Soliloquy Examples in Literature

1. Hamlet, William Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s works are full of iconic soliloquies, such as Hamlet’s speech, “To be, or not to be.” Hamlet’s soliloquy gives the audience a look at the inner thoughts of what Hamlet is struggling to figure out that they would not otherwise have been privy to.

“To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them.”

Shakespeare, “Hamlet”

2. “Krapp’s Last Tape”, Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape is a one-act play centered on the protagonist, Krapp, as he listens to recordings of his past self and delivers a soliloquy that reveals his regrets and reflections on his life. The soliloquy serves as the play’s backbone, allowing the audience to delve into Krapp’s mind and share his emotional journey.

In this soliloquy, Krapp listens to a tape from thirty years prior and responds to it, giving voice to his thoughts and feelings: “Just been listening to that stupid bastard I took myself for thirty years ago, hard to believe I was ever as bad as that. Thank God that’s all done with anyway… The folly of the years, what a load of crap. Time to finally face the truth, I suppose.” Here, Krapp’s soliloquy offers insight into his feelings of regret and disillusionment as he confronts the reality of his past decisions. The audience can empathize with his self-deprecation and desire to distance himself from his former self.

As the play progresses, Krapp continues to reflect on his life, revealing a profound sense of longing and loss: “I often lay there, in the dark, thinking about her. And all those moments we shared, how they seem so distant now. If only I could go back, do it all differently… But what use is regret? The past is beyond our reach.” In this passage, Krapp’s soliloquy underscores his sorrow and yearning for the lost opportunities and relationships that haunt him. The audience is drawn into his introspection, sharing his sense of melancholy and the weight of time’s inexorable passage.

3. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë

This example is Heathcliff’s soliloquy after learning of Catherine’s death: Oh, Cathy! Oh, my life! How can I bear it? I was almost happy before, but now I am miserable beyond description. You said I killed you — haunt me then. The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered the earth. Be with me always — take any form — drive me mad!” Wuthering Heights contains various soliloquies that provide insight into the characters’ emotions and motivations, which supports the novel’s haunting atmosphere.

4. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby, certain soliloquies provide glimpses into the inner thoughts and emotions of characters such as Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway.

One such passage occurs when Jay Gatsby reveals his true feelings about his past with Daisy Buchanan: “After all these years, I can still see her standing there on that moonlit night, her hair catching the breeze, her laughter echoing through the air. I thought we were meant to be together, that destiny had brought us together. But fate had other plans, it seems. Now, I’m left chasing a dream that keeps slipping through my fingers.” This passage exposes Gatsby’s deep-rooted longing for Daisy and the pain he experiences as he grapples with the elusive nature of his dreams.

In another part of the novel, Nick Carraway reflects on his experiences in West Egg and the disillusionment he feels with the world he has come to know: “I came to this place seeking excitement and adventure, eager to lose myself in the glamour and intrigue of the city. But what I found was a hollow facade, a glittering mirage that hid a darker truth. Beneath the surface, there was only greed, deceit, and emptiness. I am left to ponder the lessons of this world and the cost of chasing dreams that can never be realized.” 

In this introspective passage, Nick’s soliloquy-like thoughts reveal his growing disillusionment with the superficiality and moral decay he witnesses in the surrounding society.

5. “Death of a Salesman”, Arthur Miller

In one memorable soliloquy, Willy, the protagonist of Death of a Salesman, reflects on his life: “I don’t know what the hell I’m workin’ for. Sometimes I sit in my apartment — all alone. And I think of the rent I’m paying. And it’s crazy. But then, it’s what I always wanted. My own apartment, a car, and plenty of women. And still, goddammit, I’m lonely.” Throughout the play, Willy Loman delivers a series of poignant soliloquies that reveal his dreams, disappointments, and desperation.

How to Write Powerful Soliloquies

Step 1. Define the purpose of the soliloquy:  Start by identifying the soliloquy’s purpose within the narrative. Consider how it can reveal character motivations, advance the plot, or illuminate themes and motifs.

Step 2. Use strong and appropriate language: Select language appropriate for the character and the story’s setting while ensuring it is evocative and engaging. A well-written soliloquy should be memorable and emotionally resonant.

Step 3. Create emotional resonance: A powerful soliloquy should elicit an emotional response from the audience or reader. Foster empathy and understanding by tapping into universal emotions and experiences.

Step 4. Incorporate the character’s unique voice: Use their distinct voice and speech patterns to make a soliloquy feel authentic and true to the character. Consider their background, education, and personality when crafting their language.

Step 5. Maintain a balance between introspection and Action: A successful soliloquy should strike a balance between introspection and action. While it’s essential for the character to reflect on their thoughts and emotions, the soliloquy should also propel the story forward and contribute to the narrative’s momentum.

How to Determine When a Soliloquy Should be Used

Step 1. Assess the narrative’s pacing and structure: When deciding whether to include a soliloquy, consider how it will impact the pacing and structure of the story. A well-placed soliloquy can provide a pause for reflection or a moment of heightened emotion.

Step 2. Identify opportunities for character development: Soliloquies can deepen and enrich character development. Look for opportunities in your narrative where a soliloquy might add layers of complexity to a character or reveal previously hidden aspects of their personality.

Step 3. Enhance the story’s emotional impact: If a particular moment in your story would benefit from a more intense emotional connection with the audience or reader, a soliloquy could be the perfect device to achieve that effect.

Looking for more? Check out our guide on the most common acronym examples.


  • Kate has been writing since she was 10 years old, tapping away on an old typewriter in her childhood bedroom. Today, Kate is a seasoned freelance writer with over 10 years of experience writing for print and online media. She’s an avid reader and believes in the power of words to transport readers to new worlds, and inspire and nurture creativity. Kate is also a published author and is currently working on her next project.