Last night I finished watching a movie adaptation of Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.” The writing is brilliant and witty and covers some major philosophical ground. At one point Rosencrantz (performed by Gary Oldman) is lying atop a tomb and wondering aloud to Guildenstern (Tim Roth) about being buried in a box. His monologue is a perfect example of how a good monologue can add to a scene. Here it is:
Rosencrantz: Do you ever think of yourself as actually dead, lying in a box with the lid on it? Nor do I really. Silly to be depressed by it. I mean, one thinks of it like being alive in a box. One keeps forgetting to take into account that one is dead. Which should make all the difference. Shouldn’t it? I mean, you’d never know you were in a box would you? It would be just like you were asleep in a box. Not that I’d like to sleep in a box, mind you. Not without any air. You’d wake up dead for a start and then where would you be? In a box. That’s the bit I don’t like, frankly. That’s why I don’t think of it. Because you’d be helpless wouldn’t you? Stuffed in a box like that. I mean, you’d be in there forever. Even taking into account the fact that you’re dead. It isn’t a pleasant thought. Especially if you’re dead, really. Ask yourself: if I asked you straight off I’m going to stuff you in this box now – would you rather to be alive or dead?
Naturally you’d prefer to be alive. Life in a box is better than no life at all. I expect. You’d have a chance at least. You could lie there thinking, well, at least I’m not dead. In a minute, somebody’s going to bang on the lid and tell me to come out. (knocks) “Hey you! What’s your name? Come out of there!”
Ah, the monologue – a place where a character can speak his mind to the audience and fellow characters. It might be a formal speech or perhaps a series of thoughts. Regardless of which, when done well it is a useful way of getting insight into the mind of a character. Done poorly, it can be downright painful.
Fact – There is a difference between a monologue and a soliloquy – a monologue is done when the speaker knows someone else is listening (other than the audience), a soliloquy is done alone.
For a monologue or a soliloquy to be most effective it must:
- Be relevant to some aspect of the story – in the example Polonius had just been killed.
- Give a unique perspective into a character.
- Not be used to advance the plot artificially. That’s cheating, it will feel out-of-place and make the reader angry (maybe that’s just me…)
- Not be used for blatant exposition.
I shy away from using monologue. It seems unnatural to make my characters present their thoughts in this way. Maybe it’s due to the personalities they have assigned themselves; the lead duo tend to be careful with what they say. Most likely it stems from me not feeling qualified to write a witty and insightful monologue. I’ll try writing one sooner or later, as a challenge. Perhaps it will turn out, perhaps not.
What are your thoughts on using monologue?