When you think of the word monologue, you might think of a stand-up comedian's routine, or maybe a late night show host's opening bit. But the literary term monologue typically refers to a speech given by a character in a book, film or stage performance. Keep reading for monologue examples from works of literature and film in which characters express their thoughts and emotions.
On the page, monologues are large pieces of dialogue from one character to another character (or characters). But they are much more important than standard pieces of conversation. William Shakespeare's works are well known for their monologues, but you can find these dialogue devices in other plays and novels as well. Explore some prominent examples of monologues from classic literature and works of drama.
When you think of Shakespeare's Hamlet, the title character's famous "To be or not to be" speech may come to mind as a prominent monologue. But this speech is actually a soliloquy — a speech of internal dialogue in which the character (in this case, Hamlet) expresses his inner thoughts to the audience. A monologue involves one character speaking to another.
A better example of a monologue is Polonius' speech to his son, Laertes, before Laertes goes to France. Here, he gives advice for how Laertes should conduct himself overseas.
"Yet here, Laertes! aboard, aboard, for shame!
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay’d for. There; my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in thy memory
See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!"
Like most important literary monologues, this speech is important in both content and timing. It reveals the traits that Polonius values and Laertes must uphold, and it marks the last time Laertes will see his father alive.
Puck, the mischievous fairy from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, is delighted to talk about himself. When another fairy identifies him as Robin Goodfellow (his alter ego), he agrees and elaborates in a lofty monologue.
"Thou speak'st aright;
I am that merry wanderer of the night.
I jest to Oberon and make him smile
When I a fat and bean-fed horse beguile,
Neighing in likeness of a filly foal:
And sometime lurk I in a gossip's bowl,
In very likeness of a roasted crab,
And when she drinks, against her lips I bob
And on her wither'd dewlap pour the ale.
The wisest aunt telling the saddest tale
Sometime for three-foot stool mistaketh me.
Then slip I from her bum, down topples she,
And “Tailor!” cries, and falls into a cough,
And then the whole quire hold their hips and laugh,
And waxen in their mirth, and neeze, and swear
A merrier hour was never wasted there.
But, room, fairy! Here comes Oberon."
Shakespeare's language establishes the whimsy and merriment of Puck's character. It also sets the tone for the comedy to come later in the play.
Desdemona, the center of Othello's world in Shakespeare's Othello, doesn't get many opportunities to assert herself before her untimely end. But in Act I, Desdemona tells her father the news of her marriage and loyalty to Othello.
"My noble father,
I do perceive here a divided duty:
To you I am bound for life and education;
My life and education both do learn me
How to respect you; you are the lord of duty;
I am hitherto your daughter: but here's my husband,
And so much duty as my mother show'd
To you, preferring you before her father,
So much I challenge that I may profess
Due to the Moor my lord."
In only ten lines, Desdemona pays honor to her father, reminds him that her mother also chose her husband's house over her own father's, and tells her that she is now loyal to Othello. Though Iago tries to put it into doubt later on in the tragedy, the faith Desdemona professes here never falters.
Nora from Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House spends nearly the entire play keeping a huge secret from her husband, Torvald. In the final act, the secret is revealed — and Torvald's lack of love for her is plainly revealed. Nora reflects her discovery in the play's pivotal monologue.
"You have never loved me. You have only thought it pleasant to be in love with me. It is perfectly true, Torvald. When I was at home with papa, he told me his opinion about everything, and so I had the same opinions; and if I differed from him I concealed the fact, because he would not have liked it. He called me his doll-child, and he played with me just as I used to play with my dolls. And when I came to live with you – I mean that I was simply transferred from papa's hands into yours. You arranged everything according to your own taste, and so I got the same tastes as your else I pretended to, I am really not quite sure which –I think sometimes the one and sometimes the other. When I look back on it, it seems to me as if I had been living here like a poor woman – just from hand to mouth. I have existed merely to perform tricks for you, Torvald. But you would have it so. You and papa have committed a great sin against me. It is your fault that I have made nothing of my life."
This monologue is surprisingly progressive for Ibsen's time, as it allows a female character to not only doubt her husband's love but to reject it. She goes on to leave her husband and children in an effort to find herself.
Arthur Miller's The Crucible has so many character-defining monologues that it's difficult to select one. But Elizabeth Proctor's speech to her husband, John, about Abigail Williams reveals her true concerns about the girl's claim that Elizabeth is a witch.
"Spoke or silent, a promise is surely made. And she may dote on it now – I am sure she does – and thinks to kill me, then to take my place. It is her dearest hope, John, I know it. There be a thousand names, why does she call mine? There be a certain danger in calling such a name – I am no Goody Good that sleeps in ditches, nor Osburn drunk and half-witted. She’s dare not call out such a farmer’s wife but there be monstrous profit in it. She thinks to take my place, John. John, have you ever shown her somewhat of contempt? She cannot pass you in the church but you will blush, and I think she sees another meaning in that blush ..."
Elizabeth is trying to convince John that Abigail has named her as a witch so that Abigail can be with John. Not only do we understand Abigail's thought process better, we hear Elizabeth accuse John of not completely ending his relationship with Abigail — adding more evidence to their marital conflict.
In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch spends much of his time legally defending Tom Robinson in a high-profile court case. His closing argument goes on for several pages and ends in the following passage.
"... I'm no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system – that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up. I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty."
Atticus implores the jury to listen to the objective evidence in front of them and find Tom not guilty. His impassioned monologue reveals Atticus's true character — and the jury's ultimate failure to listen reveals the societal force Atticus is up against.
At the end of Alice Walker's The Color Purple, Celie and her ex-husband, Mr.____ are reflecting on their lives. Unlike the period when they were married, they have actually gotten to know and even trust each other. Mr.____ states.
"Anyhow, he say, you know how it is. You ask yourself one question, it lead to fifteen. I start to wonder why us need love. Why us suffer. Why us black. Why us men and women. Where do children really come from. It didn’t take long to realize I didn’t hardly know nothing. And that if you ast yourself why you black or a man or a woman or a bush it don’t mean nothing if you don’t ask why you here, period."
Celie has never known Mr.____'s mind or heart, but now he has laid out his beliefs to her. His monologue demonstrates how even the cruelest abusers can change through introspection, and how knowing oneself is more important than controlling others.
Most well-written plays and books use monologues to express how characters are feeling during an important moment. You can find more monologues in these written works, among many others.
- Romeo and Juliet
- Richard II
- Love's Labour Lost
- Julius Caesar
- Much Ado About Nothing
- The Misanthrope
- Death of a Salesman
- The Importance of Being Earnest
- Pride and Prejudice
- Sense and Sensibility
Film characters also use monologues to express their opinions and feelings, usually in a moving, sweeping moment that provides an important plot point. Check out these examples of monologues from famous films, as well as a list of additional films that include monologues.
In the film Jaws (1975), Quint is the shark expert brought in to rid Amityville of its treacherous shark. He lectures Hooper about his experience with sharks.
"You know the thing about a shark, he's got lifeless eyes. Black eyes like a doll's eyes. When he comes at ya, he doesn't seem to be living until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over and white and then, ah, then you hear that terrible high-pitch screaming. The ocean turns red and despite all the pounding and hollering, they all come in and they rip you to pieces."
This monologue establishes two things. One, Quint knows a lot about sharks, but still doesn't fear them. And second, we as viewers understand more about the possible danger ahead.
One of the most iconic openings in film begins with a monologue. Before we see any other character in The Godfather (1972), Amerigo Bonasera laments the fate of his daughter.
"I believe in America. America has made my fortune, and I raised my daughter in the American fashion. I gave her freedom, but I taught her never to dishonor her family. She found a boyfriend, not an Italian. She went to the movies with him, she stayed out late…I didn’t protest. Two months ago, he took her for a drive with another boyfriend. They made her drink whiskey, and then they tried to take advantage of her. She resisted. She kept her honor. So they beat her like an animal. When I went to the hospital, her nose was broken, her jaw was shattered, held together by wire. She couldn’t even weep because of the pain. But I wept. Why did I weep? She was the light of my life. Beautiful girl…now she will never be beautiful again. I went to the police, like a good American. These two boys were brought to trial. The judge sentenced them to three years in prison, and suspended the sentence. Suspended the sentence. They went free that very day! I stood in the courtroom like a fool, and those two b*******, they smiled at me! Then I said to my wife, “For justice, we must go to Don Corleone.”
At this moment, Don Vito Corleone speaks, and later agrees to help Bonasera with his problem, but chastises him for not being a friend to him earlier. The movie doesn't open with the monologue to show us more about Bonasera, whom we only see once more. It establishes the values and credo of Don Corleone, which the viewer is required to know in order to understand the rest of the movie.
Oskar Schindler from Schindler's List (1993) has spent the latter half of the film saving Jewish prisoners from a Nazi concentration camp by hiding them as workers in his factories. When the end of World War II comes, he makes an announcement to both the Jewish workers and the Nazi guards in his factory.
"The unconditional surrender of Germany has just been announced. At midnight tonight, the war is over. Tomorrow you'll begin the process of looking for survivors of your families. In most cases... you won't find them. After six long years of murder, victims are being mourned throughout the world. We've survived. Many of you have come up to me and thanked me. Thank yourselves. Thank your fearless Stern, and others among you who worried about you and faced death at every moment. I am a member of the Nazi Party. I'm a munitions manufacturer. I'm a profiteer of slave labor. I am a criminal. At midnight, you'll be free and I'll be hunted. I shall remain with you until five minutes after midnight, after which time - and I hope you'll forgive me - I have to flee.
[He turns to the factory's guards.]
I know you have received orders from our commandant, which he has received from his superiors, to dispose of the population of this camp. Now would be the time to do it. Here they are; they're all here. This is your opportunity. Or, you could leave, and return to your families as men instead of murderers."
The monologue communicates that Schindler, despite his heroic actions, is now considered a criminal. His speech settles both the plot conflict of the war and his own inner conflict of working for a cause greater than himself.
Corporate lawyers for the Pacific Gas and Electric company sit across from Erin Brockovich in the film Erin Brockovich (2000). They offer a low settlement amount for the victims of the chemical leak, which Erin counters with this monologue.
"First of all, since the demur, we now have more than four hundred plaintiffs and let’s be honest, we all know there’s more out there. Now, they may not be the most sophisticated people, but they do know how to divide, and twenty million dollars isn’t shit when it’s split between them. And second of all, these people don’t dream about being rich. They dream about being able to watch their kids swim in a pool without worrying they’ll have to have a hysterectomy at age 20, like Rosa Diaz, a client of ours, or have their spine deteriorate like Stan Bloom, another client of ours. So before you come back here with another lame-a** offer, I want you to think real hard about what your spine is worth, Mr. Buda, or what you’d expect someone to pay you for your uterus, Ms. Sanchez, then you take out your calculator and multiply that number by a hundred. Anything less than that is a waste of our time."
Not only is the no-nonsense dialect indicative of Erin's character, it demonstrates how knowledgeable and passionate she is about the people she is defending. The lawyers — like the audience — know they're dealing with more than they bargained for.
Even high-budget action movies make use of monologues. In Independence Day (1996), President Whitmore addresses the soldiers who are preparing to fight the invading alien ship.
"Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. "Mankind." That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can't be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it's fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom. Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution, but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: "We will not go quietly into the night!" We will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on! We're going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!"
The monologue is full of emotional language and sweeping declarations. It inspires both troops and audience as the film moves toward the epic, action-packed climax battle.
Romances often use monologues in the moments before a couple finally gets together. The Notebook (2001) makes use of this dialogue device when Noah declares his love for Allie.
"So, it’s not going to be perfect. We’ll have to work at it every day. But I want you. Not for today, or next week, but forever. Every day, you and me. Think about your life twenty years or fifty years from now. Where do you want to be? If it’s with that guy, go. I lost you once. I suppose I can do it again. Just don’t take the easy way out. Answer one question for me. Forget about me and your fiancé and your parents for a minute. Forget about what you should do. What about you? What do you want?"
It's a pivotal moment of the film for both characters. Noah, who's never been able to say these words before, says them in one monologue burst — and it's the beginning of the rest of their lives.
George Bailey from It's a Wonderful Life (1946) has a difficult time holding his tongue. So when Mr. Potter wants to dissolve George's father's Savings and Loan, George can't help but say what he really thinks.
"... What'd you say a minute ago? They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait? Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they're so old and broken down that they ... Do you know how long it takes a working man to save $5,000? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you're talking about ... they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn't think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they're cattle. Well in my book, my father died a much richer man than you'll ever be!"
The monologue is the first moment the audience sees George as an adult; not only the son of a great man but a great man himself. It establishes the central conflict of George vs. Potter that plays out throughout the rest of the film.
There are so many moments with outstanding and pivotal monologues in film history. Explore other films that include prominent monologues.
- 2001: A Space Odyssey
- A Few Good Men
- Blade Runner
- Field of Dreams
- Glengarry Glen Ross
- Gone With the Wind
- Good Will Hunting
- Jerry Maguire
- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
- The Silence of the Lambs
- Taxi Driver
- The Great Dictator
- Wall Street
When you need to show how a character feels about a situation, a monologue is a helpful and effective tool. This form of dialogue can be revealing about a character's motives, beliefs and upcoming actions. When used well, it can also foreshadow events or provide situational irony to a story. Learn more about a different dialogue technique, the aside, and how it's different from a monologue.