Monologues in Speech and Composition

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Spalding Gray
Spalding Gray - Master Monologist.

Robert R McElroy / Getty Images

A monologue is a speech or composition presenting the words or thoughts of a single character (compare with dialogue). Monologues are also known as dramatic soliloquies. Someone who delivers a monologue is called a monologist or monologuist.

Leonard Peters describes a monologue as "a dialogue between two people ... [with] [o]ne person speaking, the other listening and reacting, creating a relationship between the two," (Peters 2006).

Etymology: Derived from the Greek word monologos, which means "speaking alone"

Definition of a Monologue

"A monologue is a predominantly verbal presentation given by a single person featuring a collection of ideas, often loosely assembled around one or more themes," begins Jay Sankey. "Note that I do not define it as a strictly verbal presentation; many, though certainly not all, successful monologuists also employ nonverbal elements to great effect, such as, their use of facial expressions and hand gestures, along with a variety of props and stage devices," (Sankey 2000).

Monologues Vs. Dialogues

For many reasons, monologues and dialogues are not the same as far as most people are concerned. For one, monologues don't exactly have a place in regular speech, let alone conversation. In the words of Truman Capote, "A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. That's why there are so few good conversations: due to scarcity, two intelligent talkers seldom meet."​ A dialogue is a discussion between two or more people, while a monologue involves a person talking almost to themselves.

However, some people, such as author Rebecca West, argue that a dialogue is just the combination of two or more monologues. "There is no such thing as conversation. It is an illusion. There are intersecting monologues, that is all. We speak; we spread round us with sounds, with words, an emanation from ourselves. Sometimes they overlap the circles that others are spreading around themselves. They are affected by those other circles, to be sure, but not because of any real communication that has taken place, merely as a scarf of blue chiffon lying on a woman's dressing table will change color if she casts down on it a scarf of red chiffon,"​ (West 1937).

Monologue Example

Spalding Gray provides a great example of a monologue in the book "Swimming to Cambodia": It was the first day off in a long time, and all of us were trying to get a little rest and relaxation out by the pool at this big, modern hotel that looked something like a prison. If I had to call it anything I would call it a 'pleasure prison.' It was the kind of place you might come to on a package tour out of Bangkok. You'd come down on a chartered bus—and you'd probably not wander off the grounds because of the high barbed-wire fence they have to keep you in and the bandits out.

And every so often you would hear shotguns going off as the hotel guards fired at rabid dogs down along the beach on the Gulf of Siam. But if you really wanted to walk on the beach, all you had to learn to do was pick up a piece of seaweed, shake it in the dog's face and everything would be hunky-dory," (Gray 2005).

Two Versions of Hamlet's Famous Monologue

Monologues can be profoundly moving. One of the most well-known dramatic soliloquies out there is Hamlet's "To Be or Not to Be" speech. The following two versions, one from 1603 and the other from 1604/1605, are different from each other in many ways and demonstrate how versatile and powerful a monologue can be.

1603 Version ('First Quarto')

"To be, or not to be, aye there's the point,

To die, to sleep, is that all? Aye, all.

No, to sleep, to dream, aye, marry, there it goes,

For in that dream of death, when we awake,

And born before an everlasting judge,

From whence no passenger ever returned,

The undiscovered country, at whose sight

The happy smile, and the accursed damned.

But for this, the joyful hope of this.

Who'd bear the scorns and flattery of the world,

Scorned by the right rich, the rich cursed of the poor?

The widow being oppressed, the orphan wronged,

The taste of hunger, or a tyrant's reign,

And thousand more calamities besides,

To grunt and sweat under this weary life,

When that he may his full quietus make,

With a bare bodkin, who would this endure,

But for a hope of something after death?

Which puzzles the brain, and doth confound the sense,

Which makes us rather bear those evils we have,

Than fly to others that we know not of.

Aye that—O this conscience makes cowards of us all," (Shakespeare 1603).

1604-1605 Version ('Second Quarto')

"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. To die, to sleep—

No more—and by a sleep to say we end

The heartache and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to! 'Tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep—

To sleep—perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub,

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause. There's the respect

That makes calamity of so long life:

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,

The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,

The insolence of office, and the spurns

That patient merit of the unworthy takes,

When he himself might his quietus make

With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,

To grunt and sweat under a weary life,

But that the dread of something after death,

The undiscovered country from whose bourn

No traveller returns, puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied over with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprises of great pitch and moment

With this regard their currents turn awry

And lose the name of action," (Shakespeare 1604).

The Lighter Side of Monologues

But monologues don't always have to be as serious as they are in Hamlet. Take this quote from the popular TV show 30 Rock, for example: "I don't need anyone. Because I can do every single thing that a person in a relationship can. Everything. Even zip up my own dress. You know, there are some things that are actually harder to do with two people. Such as monologues," (Fey, "Anna Howard Shaw Day").

Sources

  • “Anna Howard Shaw Day.” Whittingham, Ken, director. 30 Rock, season 4, episode 13, NBC, 11 Feb. 2010.
  • Gray, Spalding. Swimming to Cambodia. Theatre Communications Group, 2005.
  • Peters, Leonard. Demystifying the Monologue. Heinemann Drama, 2006.
  • Sankey, Jay. Zen and the Art of the Monologue. 1st ed., Routledge, 2000.
  • Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Nicholas Ling and John Trundell, 1603.
  • Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. James Roberts, 1604.
  • West, Rebecca. "There Is No Conversation." The Harsh Voice. 1937.