A monologue (MAHN-oh-log) is a speech articulated aloud by a single character, frequently to express their thoughts and feelings, but sometimes directed at a specific other character or to the audience. Monologues are most common in theatrical scripts, but they also can be found in poetry and prose.
The word derives from the French monologue, which came from the Greek monos, meaning “single, alone,” and logos, meaning “speech, word.” Monologue first appeared in English in the 1660s and meant a “long speech by one person, scene in a drama in which a person speaks by himself.”
Monologues’ Significance in Dramatic Media
The monologue has a looming presence in dramatic media. In early Greek drama, there was little dialogue—in fact, generally only one character appeared on stage at a time, accompanied by a chorus. As such, during these early plays, the monologue was the primary mode of theater. Even as theater began to incorporate dialogue between multiple characters interacting on stage at once, the monologue remained omnipresent.
Because the form allows characters to articulate their inner thoughts and feelings, monologues are important to dramatic works. They add depth, context, and tension to a narrative; heighten characterization or conflict; and keep audiences interested. Today, monologues appear in theater, film, radio plays, podcast dramas, and television shows.
Monologue and Other Speeches in Dramatic Media
There are several theatrical deliveries a single character can give, like a monologue, but they are not interchangeable.
An apostrophe occurs when a character, while speaking to someone else, stops to address a third party. This person may or may not be present or may be an inanimate object or a concept (such as love or fate).
Asides are delivered directly to the audience without any other characters overhearing what is said. These tend to be short observations, rather than longer meditations like soliloquys or monologues.
Unlike a monologue, in a soliloquy, the speaker is expressing their thoughts aloud to themselves only. Monologues are generally expressed by one character to other characters on stage or to the audience; in the latter case, the monologues are often overheard by other characters.
Monologue and Poetry
In dramatic monologues, a character speaks without interruption. This monologue reveals unexpected information about the speaker to an implied or explicit audience, often not intended to be the reader. These poetic monologues are also referred to as persona poems. Usually, the speaker is a person, but they can also be an animal, object, place, or abstract concept (such as love or freedom).
Monologue and Prose
In both fiction and nonfiction, authors use monologues to allow characters to express their thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Prose monologues can be spoken to other characters, or they can be interior monologues where the readers observe the character’s thoughts and feelings as they experience them. With the latter, authors tend to utilize stream of consciousness, which is a form of narration that describes the flow of thoughts through a character’s brain. This often involves a more experimental approach to grammar, including the use of sentence fragments and run-on sentences, which is meant to convey a more accurate depiction of the way people’s interior thoughts unfold.
Monologues are common outside the world of literature, particularly in the political realm. Speeches made by politicians and political activists are monologues meant to serve specific functions, such as persuade listeners to adopt the speaker’s policies, inspire change or action, eulogize a dead or departing leader, or ease political transitions. Some examples of political monologues include:
- Winston Churchill’s “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech given on June 4, 1940
- President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address in 1961
- Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech delivered during the 1963 March on Washington
- President Barack Obama’s inaugural address in 2009
- Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech given at the 1851 Women’s Convention
Examples of Monologues in Literature
1. Ai, “The Kid”
Ai’s poem begins with her speaker describing a scene at his childhood farm:
My sister rubs the doll’s face in mud,
then climbs through the truck window.
She ignores me as I walk around it,
Hitting the flat tires with an iron rod.
The old man yells for me to help hitch the team,
But I keep walking around the truck, hitting harder,
Until my mother calls.
The narrator depicts a fairly mundane moment; however, by the poem’s conclusion, the speaker describes and confesses to murdering his family in cold blood. This is an excellent example of a dramatic monologue where the poet has created a speaker who tells the audience unexpected and shocking information about himself.
2. James Joyce, Ulysses
In the final chapter of Joyce’s famous Modernist novel, his character Molly Bloom speaks:
I was thinking of so many things he didn’t know of Mulvey and Mr Stanhope and Hester and father and old captain Groves and the sailors playing all birds fly and I say stoop and washing up dishes they called it on the pier and the sentry in front of the governors house with the thing round his white helmet poor devil half roasted and the Spanish girls laughing in their shawls and their tall combs and the auctions in the morning the Greeks and the Jews and the Arabs and the devil knows who else from all the ends of Europe and Duke street and the fowl market all clucking outside Larby Sharans and the poor donkeys slipping half asleep and the vague fellows in the cloaks asleep in the shade on the steps and the big wheels of the carts of the bulls and the old castle thousands of years old yes and those handsome Moors all in white and turbans like kings asking you to sit down in their little bit of a shop and Ronda with the old windows of the posadas glancing eyes a lattice hid for her lover to kiss the iron and the wineshops half open at night and the castanets and the night we missed the boat at Algeciras the watchman going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down Jo me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
Bloom’s internal monologue is a stream of consciousness that ends as she remembers the moment that her husband Leopold proposed to her.
3. William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
In Act II, scene 2 of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy about two young star-crossed lovers, Juliet contemplates the name, and family connection, of her new beloved:
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
Juliet delivers this monologue while believing herself alone; however, she is overheard by her Romeo, who soon makes his appearance.
Further Resources on Monologues
Backstage has a wonderful search engine, The Monologuer, that allows you to search through 739 different dramatic and comedic monologues.
According to The Script Lab, these are the 10 best movie monologues.
Frontier Poetry published this interesting article about Dramatic Monologues in poetry.