Soliloquy, Aside, Monologue, Dialogue: What Is the Difference?

Updated on May 12, 2018
Jule Romans profile image

Jule Romans is a retired English teacher and college instructor. She has taught Shakespeare and advanced literature for over 25 years.

Hamlet's monologue to the players
Hamlet's monologue to the players | Source

Soliloquy, aside, monologue, and dialogue are four different dramatic devices used by classic playwrights. Shakespeare’s plays provide the best examples for learning about these four devices.

Dialogue and monologue are most often used to advance the action of a play. Soliloquy and aside are devices often used to reveal insights about individual characters, particularly in Shakespeare plays.

It is easiest to study examples of soliloquies and asides in Shakespeare’s tragedies. Monologues and dialogue are easy to spot in almost any type of play.

For our purposes, we will examine them all in the context of three of Shakespeare’s best-known plays: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Macbeth.

Soliloquies and asides CANNOT be heard by the other characters onstage.

What is the difference between soliloquy, aside, monologue and dialogue?

Soliloquies and Asides

Soliloquies and asides reveal hidden thoughts, conflicts, secrets, or motives. Asides are shorter than soliloquies, usually only one or two lines. Soliloquies are longer speeches, much like monologues, but more private.

Soliloquies and asides CANNOT be heard by the other characters onstage. Soliloquies and asides are spoken directly to the audience, or as private words to the self.

These two appear more often in Shakespeare’s plays than in modern or contemporary plays. They also appear in many other classic works of dramatic literature, including Greek tragedy and Melodrama.

Monologues and Dialogue

Monologues and dialogue reveal open actions and thoughts that are witnessed by all. Dialogue is a larger category, covering almost all kinds of interactions among characters. It may even contain monologues as part of a scene. Most people are familiar with dialogue as the typical construction of a play.

Monologues and dialogue CAN be heard by the other characters onstage. Monologues and dialogue are spoken directly to other characters onstage.

These two appear often in contemporary and modern plays. They are very familiar to most people who watch plays and movies.

Monologues and dialogues CAN be heard by the other characters onstage.

Soliloquy
Aside
Monologue
No one else hears
No one else hears
Other characters can hear and respond
Character speaks directly to self
Character speaks directly to audience
Character speaks directly to other characters
Character sometimes speaks to audience
Character sometimes speaks to self
Other characters may react
Longer speech
Shorter speech
Longer speech
Similar to monologue
One or two lines
Similar to soliloquy
Reveals internal conflict
Reveals short judgments about other characters
Explains or tells a story
Reveals secrets or moral dilemmas
Reveals brief reaction to events
Advances action of the play
Banquo, Macbeth, and the three witches
Banquo, Macbeth, and the three witches | Source

What Is a Soliloquy?

A soliloquy is a longer speech that a character gives onstage that no one else can hear. No one except the audience, that is. Soliloquies may be spoken directly to the audience.

Most often, a soliloquy is a character speaking to himself or herself. Even if other people are present, they cannot hear what the character says.

Only the audience and that character can “hear” the words

The Function of Soliloquy

In Shakespeare’s tragedies, the soliloquy always reveals something about a conflict the character is facing.

Usually this is a moral conflict, and it most often shows a darker side of the character.

Soliloquy vs. Monologue

A Soliloquy is Private

The soliloquy usually reveals moral struggles or internal secrets. A soliloquy is private, personal, and often very emotional. In contrast with the monologue, a soliloquy is not meant to communicate with other characters. It is entirely focused on internal struggle.

A soliloquy is:

  • a longer speech
  • spoken to audience or to character’s private self,
  • meant to be personal- other characters onstage CANNOT hear the internal thoughts expressed

A Monologue is Not Private

The monologue usually reveals events or personal opinions. While monologues may be emotional, they are more focused on external factors. In contrast with the soliloquy, a monologue is intended to communicate directly with other characters onstage.

A monologue is

  • a longer speech
  • spoken to other characters
  • meant to be interactive- other characters onstage CAN hear and respond to the thoughts expressed

Soliloquy in Macbeth

In Act 2, Scene 1 Macbeth stands alone in the castle. He hallucinates, and talks to the audience about what he sees. By the middle of the soliloquy, Macbeth is mostly talking to himself. Throughout, he pictures a dagger hanging in front of him, dripping with blood.

He admits that the vision is only encouraging him to go toward an action he had already planned—that is, to murder King Duncan.

As he proceeds through the soliloquy, Macbeth struggles with the violence he is about to undertake. At the end, though, he has resolved the conflict, and determines that he will indeed murder the king that night.

Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.
Thou marshall'st me the way that I was going;
And such an instrument I was to use.
Mine eyes are made the fools o' the other senses,
Or else worth all the rest; I see thee still,
And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,
Which was not so before. There's no such thing:

This soliloquy is a good example of a character resolving an internal conflict so that the audience can clearly see how he makes a bad choice. Even though he is alone onstage, the soliloquy reveals Macbeth’s innermost thoughts and deepest secrets.

That is what makes this a soliloquy instead of just a monologue. It is spoken partially to the audience and partially to himself. No other characters can hear him. It illustrates internal struggle.

King Claudius at prayer, with Hamlet waiting
King Claudius at prayer, with Hamlet waiting | Source

What Is an Aside?

An aside is a short one or two-line comment that is made directly to the audience by a single character. No other characters onstage can hear the aside. In essence, the character “steps out” of the action to comment directly to the audience about what is happening in the play.

The Function of an Aside

Most often, the aside is a quick commentary that shows a character’s private opinions or reactions. The thoughts in an aside are private, but shared with the audience. Usually, the aside also makes reference to the main conflict of the play, but it does not always involve a personal moral issue.

Aside vs. Soliloquy

An Aside is shorter, more direct, and simple. Asides are usually spoken directly to audience . An aside points out an immediate conflict or issue

A Soliloquy is longer, elaborate, and more complex. Soliloquies are usually spoken to self or God A soliloquy reveals an internal struggle or moral dilemma.

An Aside in Hamlet

In Act 3 Scene 1 of Hamlet, Shakespeare uses an aside to directly reveal a character’s internal conflict and struggle with guilt.

Claudius, the current King of Denmark, is an evil murderer. The entire play of Hamlet revolves around the murder of Hamlet’s father, the deceased King of Denmark. In a ghostly revelation, Hamlet discovers that his uncle Claudius is the murderer.

Throughout the play, Hamlet attempts to deal with this horrible truth. At one point, when some events that Hamlet has planned cut too close to home, Claudius turns to the audience and says:

King Claudius: O, tis too true! How smart a lash that speech doth give my conscience. The harlot's cheek beautied with plast'ring art. Is not more ugly to the thing that helps it than is my most painted word. O heavy burden!

Claudius is admitting that his conscience is being whipped by the burden of guilt. Claudius sees his own false dishonesty.

Claudius, in this aside, admits to carrying a heavy burden of guilt.

This type of revelation is a perfect example of how important it is that an aside cannot be heard by the other characters onstage. If the other characters could hear, Claudius would be trapped.

Notice that all this is revealed in one or two lines. That is why this is considered an aside and not a soliloquy, since a soliloquy is much longer.

Friar Laurence with Romeo and  Juliet
Friar Laurence with Romeo and Juliet | Source

What Is a Monologue?

A monologue is a longer speech that one character says directly to the other characters onstage. All the others onstage can hear a monologue. The monologue is intended to communicate directly to them. The prefix “mono” means “one”- i.e. one character speaks.

The Function of a Monologue

Most often, a monologue in Shakespeare involves a character explaining a previous event or explaining why a certain action was taken. In Shakespeare’s three best-known plays, monologues are used to reveal tragic mistakes that often lead to woeful endings.

A Monologue Example from Romeo and Juliet

Friar Laurence, in Act 5 of Romeo and Juliet, explains the events of the play, and asks the Prince to provide punishment for his misdeeds. Although this is very long, it makes a good example.

Friar Lawrence reviews all the important events that caused the death of the two lovers. He also takes responsibility for his part in the tragedy. This explanation is what convinces the Prince to show mercy, and inspires the Capulets and Montagues to make peace.

It is important that all the characters onstage hear the entire monologue so that the next events of the play can take place.

In this case, this is NOT a soliloquy, because it is spoken directly to the characters onstage. The characters then react and respond accordingly.

Romeo, there dead, was husband to that Juliet,
And she, there dead, that Romeo’s faithful wife.
I married them, and their stol'n marriage day
Was Tybalt’s doomsday, whose untimely death
Banished the new-made bridegroom from the city—
For whom, and not for Tybalt, Juliet pined.
You, to remove that siege of grief from her,
Betrothed and would have married her perforce
To County Paris. Then comes she to me,
And with wild looks bid me devise some mean
To rid her from this second marriage,
Or in my cell there would she kill herself.
Then gave I her, so tutored by my art,
A sleeping potion, which so took effect
As I intended, for it wrought on her
The form of death.
 ....
All this I know, and to the marriage
Her Nurse is privy. And if aught in this
Miscarried by my fault, let my old life
Be sacrificed some hour before his time
Unto the rigor of severest law.

Remember, the key difference between a monologue and a soliloquy is the ability of the other characters to hear and respond to the words.

Even though this monologue reveals some inner conflict on the part of Friar Lawrence, it is not a soliloquy, because the other characters onstage are participating by listening and reacting to his speech.

Romeo and Juliet on the balcony
Romeo and Juliet on the balcony | Source

What Is Dialogue?

Dialogue is the part of Shakespeare plays that is most familiar to audiences. Dialogue is simply two or more characters speaking directly to one another. The audience can hear what is said, but is not included in the action.

This is the standard form of address onstage for all of Shakespeare’s plays. Dialogue is the thing that most people already understand as part of a play.

The Function of Dialogue

Even though the word dialogue refers to two (the prefix “di” means “two”), dialogue can involve more than two characters. The audience essentially witnesses the events.

Dialogue can contain long speeches, such as monologues, as part of the conversation.

Dialogue vs. Aside

Dialogue takes place between two or more characters onstage. All or some of the characters can hear one another. Sometimes one character will speak to another, with the intention of not being overheard by the others. While this is a side comment, it is not an aside.

An aside is spoken directly to the audience, or to the character’s private self. The character steps out of the action to make a comment. This comment is not heard by any of the others onstage. The purpose of an aside is to reveal something additional that others in the play do not know.

Dialogue in Romeo and Juliet

In Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, there is some dialogue that takes place as Romeo and Juliet share their very first kiss. This dialogue is interesting, because it also creates a sonnet. Notice that the back-and-forth between the characters creates a kind of poetry, even as the lovers are bantering.

ROMEO [To JULIET]

If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

JULIET

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.

ROMEO

Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?

JULIET

Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.

ROMEO

O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

JULIET

Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.

ROMEO

Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take

Dialogue vs. Solo Speaking

Dialogue

  • most familiar form of dramatic literature
  • characters speak to one another
  • can include short lines or longer speeches
  • may involve more thatn two characters

Solo speaking

  • may be longer or shorter speeches
  • directly to other characters, directly to self, or directly to audience.
  • Longer speeches directly to other characters are monologues.Monologues have very few limitations.
  • Longer speeches to audience or to character’s private self are soliloquies. Soliloquies must involve internal struggles or moral issues.
  • Shorter comments to audience are asides. Asides usually reveal secrets.

Review of Key Features

Soliloquy

  • Longer speech
  • One character
  • No others on stage can hear what is said
  • Reveals inner thoughts or motives of a character

Aside

  • Shorter comment
  • One character
  • No others on stage can hear what is said
  • Comments on the action of the play
  • Reveals judgments or hidden secrets.

Monologue

  • Longer speech
  • One character
  • Others onstage can hear what is said and respond to it.
  • Generally reveals previous events
  • Explains a character’s choice of action.

Dialogue

  • shorter or longer speeches
  • between two chanracters
  • among many characters.
  • Others onstage can hear and respond.

Questions & Answers

    © 2014 Jule Romans

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