How does Shakespeare make effective use of the soliloquy to increase the audience's understanding of character and plot?

Authors Avatar

A soliloquy is a monologue where the character reveals their innermost information without addressing to a particular listener. It is the act of talking to yourself aloud and expressing the thought processes in ones mind. ‘A soliloquy does not deal with minor matters, but concentrates on matters that are highly personal and revealing.’ In a soliloquy, the character is usually alone on stage and temporarily away from other characters. In some cases, a spotlight is positioned directly onto the actor/actress in order to signify the importance of each and every word spoken by the character. It helps the audience to develop awareness of their personality and the events proceeding. Soliloquies were very common in Elizabethan drama, and intensely used by Williams Shakespeare. He made great use of soliloquies in his legendary plays and used them for a wide range of purposes. However, they serve two main functions and they are: to provide information that helps the audience follow the plot or describe events that have occurred offstage. They also reveal the intentions of characters so that the audience observes their actions. For example, in the well-known play Macbeth, Shakespeare uses several soliloquies in order to reveal the characters’ major concerns.

A soliloquy is most commonly used to reveal the deepest concerns or thoughts of the speaker, thus pointing out internal conflict. It is either a speech to the audience, to the character him/herself or to an object. A soliloquy involves thinking and talking through problems and finding a way out, either good or evil. This helps the audience to gain more understanding of the character and have greater knowledge than other characters. The audience is more involved in the play and drawn into the action. An example of such an event is evident in Macbeth’s dramatic speeches in Act 1 Scene 7 and Act 2 Scene 1. During his first speech, Macbeth is challenging himself to make an upright decision and undergoes a battle between his heart and brain. Macbeth expresses his conflicting desires of ambition for the crown and righteousness. He reasons himself and uses rhetorical questions illustrating his uncertainty. Macbeth doesn’t use the words ‘kill’ or ‘murder’ and utters the phrase, ‘If it were done.’ At this point, it is apparent to the audience that he is a noble and courteous soldier and uses references to the murder in abstract terms. As stated in an article, ‘It is guilt and not the fear of consequences that is Macbeth’s greatest obstacle.’ However, towards the end we come to know that his ambition leads to a sinful consequence. Macbeth makes a conscious choice to forsake morality and pursue his ‘vaulting ambition.’ During his second speech, Macbeth is much more certain about his option and uses vigorous language to illustrate his eagerness to murder Duncan. However, he is pondering his decision one final time. Between lines 62 and 64, Macbeth is signaled to go ahead with the murder by Lady Macbeth and reveals, ‘I go, and it is done: the bell invites me.’ As you can tell, these soliloquies bring out his confidential thoughts and make the audience aware of what is about to take place clandestinely. Macbeth, the villain of the play, explains how he will accomplish his goals while exposing the wicked motives behind it. The image of a dagger helps the audience to predict the imminent. The invisible dagger is our first glimpse of his powerful imagination. With the use of a dagger, it is quite obvious to the audience that Macbeth is up for the murder and will do whatever he can to fulfill his ambition. From this example it is apparent that the use of an object is a dramatic device and creates a powerful image.

Join now!

Active or dramatic language will also help the character to act out their speech in order to illustrate their feelings. Dramatic devices used in such language are actions/expressions. These help us to consider the aspects of the situation.

The structure of a soliloquy helps to increase understanding of what is going on. Significantly, the varied use of sentences illustrates the build up of the character’s feelings. The length, complexity and use of conjunctions demonstrate my point. Longer sentences tend to stress anxiety and shorter sentences tend to emphasize certainty. An example of a very-well structured soliloquy is Macbeth’s speech ...

This is a preview of the whole essay