soliloquy, the speech by a character in a literary composition, usually a play, delivered while the speaker is either alone addressing the audience directly or the other actors are silent. It is most commonly used to reveal the innermost concerns or thoughts of the speaker, thus pointing up the drama of internal conflict, as in Richard III's opening speech, "Now is the winter of our discontent." The form was quite popular in Elizabethan drama, notably in the plays of Shakespeare. The soliloquy may also act simply as a vehicle for information about absent characters or events occurring at some other time or place. In the modern theater the soliloquy has tended to disappear completely, although experimentations in its use were attempted by such playwrights as Eugene O'Neill, who sought through the soliloquy to achieve a greater psychological realism. See monologue.

Dramatic monologue that gives the illusion of being a series of unspoken reflections. An accepted dramatic convention in the 16th–17th centuries, it was used artfully by William Shakespeare to reveal the minds of his characters. Pierre Corneille emphasized its lyricism, while Jean Racine favoured it for dramatic effect. Overused in English Restoration plays (1660–85), it fell into disfavour. Rejected by prose dramatists such as Henrik Ibsen, it was seldom used in late 19th-century naturalist drama. Many 20th-century dramatists also avoided the soliloquy as artificial, though Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, among others, adapted it by introducing narrators who alternately mused on the action and took part in it. It has been used by contemporary playwrights such as John Guare and Brian Friel, and the illusion that the characters are confiding in the audience has proved acceptable to a culture accustomed to the interview and the documentary film.

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