In Shakespeare's Hamlet, "To be or not to be, that is the question" is the beginning of which type of performance?
And the answer: soliloquy.
Essentially, a soliloquy is someone talking to themselves, speaking their thoughts out loud, and not intending for anyone to hear them. In comparison, a monologue is someone talking to another character.
While Hamlet's famed question – "To be or not to be?" – begins one of the most famous soliloquies of all time, the tool is deeply embedded in theater (and literature) of antiquity and modernity alike. Soliloquies allow for a breath in the motion of the play, forcing the normal progression of time to stop as a character voices their thoughts as they would normally think them. Effectively, the audience is allowed inside the head of the speaker while they articulate what they think.
Shakespeare remains one of the largest proponents of the soliloquy, yet some modern works use soliloquies to allow their villainous characters a moment of interiority. This device can also provide details and information to influence the plot and course of action. In addition, soliloquy can create irony in a play by revealing something about a character that others don’t know.
Watch a performance of Hamlet's famous soliloquy below.