All the world may be a stage, but if you stroll through the student centre talking to yourself, you might get some strange looks. However, turn to the hallowed halls of the theatre or the printed pages of a book and a lone character speaking in monologue can evoke a range of emotions far wider than simply concern for your mental state. Need evidence? Look no further than the three examples below – all brilliant, but each profoundly different from the next.
Macbeth – Lady Macbeth, Act 5 Scene 1
You couldn’t possibly talk about monologues without including ‘the Bard’ himself. Though often regarded as the Shakespeare’s most evil woman, Lady Macbeth wrestles with the internal psychological consequences of the heinous acts she has committed. She becomes obsessed with a permanent blood stain on her hand, a stain that does not exist. In utter distress, she compulsively wrings her hands until she can only wail with despair. This monologue is so striking because it manages to evoke sympathy for Lady Macbeth, despite her utter lack of redeeming qualities and the truly terrible things that she has done. We cannot help but feel her pain, her fear, and her crippling guilt.
The Importance of Being Earnest – Cecily, Act 2
Perhaps Wilde’s best known play, ‘Earnest’ is littered with witty, and often slightly absurd monologues. The protagonist, Jack Worthing, attempts to ingratiate himself with the upper echelons of society by creating an imaginary brother called Earnest whom he impersonates in town in the presence of high society. In this scene, Jack’s best friend decides that he too should impersonate Earnest, hoping to win the affections of Jack’s young and beautiful ward, Cecily. Once he informs her of his feelings, however, she informs him that they have been engaged since three months before they met. The scene becomes a satirical portrayal of a young girl in love with the idea of being in love.
Inches – ‘Any Given Sunday’
In dire need of motivation? Inches recounts the tale of a once hugely successful American football team, who find themselves in a spiral of losses that threatens both the team as a whole and the career of each and every player. Winning is habit, after all. Their coach speaks to the team before their final playoff game about the minute details, the “inches” that make the difference between winning and losing, “between living and dying”. Both the content and delivery here are utterly genius. The resignation in the room is palpable at the beginning of the scene. “Inch by inch”, Pacino ignites the passion of his team. He reminds them that every decision, every pass, every inch that they make on the field could be the one that makes the difference. Delivered by Al Pacino, keep this one for study week, for before a big match, or just for your next 9am.
These three examples, though barely scratching the surface, demonstrate the incredible diversity of monologues. Don’t stop here – there is an overwhelming number worth reading from plays, books and movies; Hamlet, Ulysses, Wuthering Heights and Pulp Fiction, to name but a few. Maybe talking to yourself isn’t as crazy as we thought.