Literary and dramatic devices

Soliloquy and aside

Since there is no narrator in a play, other literary or dramatic techniques must be used to show the characters’ feelings and thoughts in Macbeth. Two dramatic devices - soliloquy and aside - are particularly useful for showing inner characteristics.

A soliloquy is a lengthy speech meant to be heard by the audience and typically spoken when the character is alone on stage. One example is Macbeth‘s soliloquy in Act 1, Scene 7 when Macbeth is logically outlining the pros and cons of killing King Duncan (1.7.1-28). So far, we have mainly seen him as the brave warrior and loyal subject. Now, being alone, he reveals his motives and moral scruples to us: Macbeth needs to kill Duncan to become king himself but fears the consequences.

However, before this point, Macbeth has allowed us a glimpse into his feelings and thoughts via another device: the aside. An aside is a brief remark meant to be heard by the audience but not by the other characters. In Act 1, Scene 3, the witches’ prophecy kick-starts Macbeth’s thought process, which Shakespeare shows us by having Macbeth suddenly speak five asides in that scene. When Macbeth exclaims, “Glamis, and thane of Cawdor!/ The greatest is behind” (1.3.123-124) in his first aside, it tells us that he immediately believes in the prophecies (unlike the sceptical Banquo) and expects to become king soon.

Other examples of soliloquies are Lady Macbeth’s powerful “unsex me” soliloquy in Act 1, Scene 5 or he...

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