What is a Monologue?
A monologue is one of the most famous forms of speech employed to expose a character’s thoughts in a work of literature. In this form of speech, a character speaks aloud either to himself or to the audience or to another character. The other character does not talk but responds through gestures alone. A monologue facilitates the author in revealing the innermost thoughts, emotions, and motivations of the character. It further facilitates unfolding the backstory and clarifying the irony. The word “monologue” is a combination of two Greek words “mono,” which means “single,” and “logos,” which means “speech” or “word.” It simply means speech delivered by a single person.
The Origin of Monologue
Monologue has its origin in ancient Greek theatre. In Greek tragedies, the chorus usually addressed the audience. It revealed the inner thoughts of a character or the background of an event. The chorus also presented a commentary on the action of the play. Individual characters also delivered monologues to share their innermost emotions and thoughts. Homer’s Iliad, a Greek epic, is the earliest surviving work in Western literature. In this poem, there are monologues delivered by Achilles, Hector, and Priam. Shakespeare and other Elizabethan playwrights also resorted to this device in their works. It proved a handy tool to comment upon issues of social and political concerns. Even in the present age, this device is employed in theatre, movies, and various forms of literature.
The Scope of Monologue
Monologue has a wide-ranging scope. It is not confined to drama alone. Its use in poetry and novels has proved as effective as in drama. In poetry, My Last Duchess by Robert Browning is an example of it. Similarly, the novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid attracted the attention of critics for being an experiment in this writing technique. It has similarities with certain other forms of speech such as soliloquy, aside, and apostrophe. However, there remain some delicate points of distinction that differentiate each one of them from the others.
Types of Monologue
In an interior monologue, a character talks to himself and reveals what goes on in his mind. There is no second character to respond even through gestures. It is generally a reflection on a series of thoughts that occur in the mind of the character. The character thus expresses some internal conflict of psyche or conscience. It allows the reader a chance to comprehend the character and the situation in a better way. Ulysses, a novel by James Joyce, starts with an interior monologue. Mrs Dalloway, a novel by Virginia Woolf, has many passages that we may refer to as examples of the same.
In a dramatic monologue, a character talks to another character or characters or audience. The addressee remains quiet while the addresser speaks. The speaker generally refers to the listener’s gestures in reaction to his remarks to show the latter’s presence. Robert Browning is famous for his use of this literary device in his poems. My Last Duchess, Patriot into Traitor, and Prophyria’s Lovers are examples of Browning’s expertise in the use of dramatic monologue. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid is a successful experiment in the use of this technique in the novel.
In a soliloquy, a character addresses the audience aloud. The character expresses his thoughts or shares something that the audience should know for a better understanding of the circumstances. Usually, the character delivering a soliloquy is alone on the stage. To this extent, a soliloquy is a monologue. But not all the monologues are soliloquies. The most famous example of a soliloquy is present in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. Hamlet, the character, ponders on the value and worth of existence in a soliloquy, “To be, or not to be.”
In an apostrophe, a character talks to a person, idea, or object that is not present on the stage. The playwrights employ this device to unveil some panic or frustration of the character. In Macbeth by Shakespeare, the scene when Macbeth talks to an invisible dagger is an example of an apostrophe. In a sense, it is a monologue, but again, like a soliloquy, it has its scope limited to theatrical performances.
Aside is also a type of monologue. In an aside, a character addresses the audience directly. However, it happens in the presence of other characters. Usually, it is not as long as a soliloquy that is delivered in absence of other characters. The comment of the character is not meant for the other characters present on the stage. It is for the audience only. Romeo’s aside when he sees Juliet in Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet is its example. In this aside, Romeo expresses his fascination with Juliet’s beauty.
O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
As a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear.
Stand-up comedy is a comparatively recent trend. Many stand-up artists have made good fortunes in this genre. A comedian delivers jokes, humorous stories, and multi-meaning comments on different social aspects.
Overall, a monologue is a powerful storytelling device with a huge scope in different fields of literature, theatre, and film. It allows the writers to explore the inner lives of their characters. It connects the characters with their audiences in a unique and engaging way.