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A dramatic monologue is an uninterrupted speech (in present time) made by a character that is speaking with the hope or intention of bringing about some change in his/her circumstances, usually by effecting some change in the character or characters to whom he/she is speaking. A monologue differs from a soliloquy in that a soliloquy is quite literally the character talking to him/herself. It is, quite literally, the expression of the character's inner thoughts and feelings.
A very good example of a soliloquy can be found in the concluding scene from the 1957 cult science-fiction film, The Incredible Shrinking Man, in which the protagonist finally understands and accepts his fate. In the film, The Joker is Wild (below) we have an example of a cinematic soliloquy.
In a dramatic monologue, the character that is speaking is wrestling with a problem that threatens - or has the potential to threaten - the speaker's well-being or the well-being of someone or something that the speaker cares about, and there is at least one other character, present in the scene, to whom the monologue is addressed.
The Indianapolis monologue from Jaws
Spielberg reveals the definitive word on the JAWS USS Indianapolis speech:
I owe three people a lot for this speech. You’ve heard all this, but you’ve probably never heard it from me. There’s a lot of apocryphal reporting about who did what on Jaws and I’ve heard it for the last three decades, but the fact is the speech was conceived by Howard Sackler, who was an uncredited writer, didn’t want a credit and didn’t arbitrate for one, but he’s the guy that broke the back of the script before we ever got to Martha’s Vineyard to shoot the movie. I hired later Carl Gottlieb to come onto the island, who was a friend of mine, to punch up the script, but Howard conceived of the Indianapolis speech. I had never heard of the Indianapolis before Howard, who wrote the script at the Bel Air Hotel and I was with him a couple times a week reading pages and discussing them. Howard one day said, “Quint needs some motivation to show all of us what made him the way he is and I think it’s this Indianapolis incident.”
I said, “Howard, what’s that?” And he explained the whole incident of the Indianapolis and the Atomic Bomb being delivered and on its way back it was sunk by a submarine and sharks surrounded the helpless sailors who had been cast adrift and it was just a horrendous piece of World War II history. Howard didn’t write a long speech, he probably wrote about three-quarters of a page. But then, when I showed the script to my friend John Milius, John said “Can I take a crack at this speech?” and John wrote a 10 page monologue, that was absolutely brilliant, but out-sized for the Jaws I was making! (laughs) But it was brilliant and then Robert Shaw took the speech and Robert did the cut down. Robert himself was a fine writer, who had written the play The Man in the Glass Booth. Robert took a crack at the speech and he brought it down to five pages. So, that was sort of the evolution just of that speech. — Steven Spielberg
By definition, the dramatic monologue involves an intensification of feeling that is akin to its musical cousin, the operatic aria; A monologue's appropriateness is determined by the circumstances in which the monologue character finds him/herself. The outpouring of feeling and its meaning resides in the appropriateness of the feeling as well as the degree of the intensity of expression given the circumstances and context in which it is uttered. Any outpouring of uninterrupted feeling must be clearly motivated and the emotional energy evidenced must seem apt and logical in terms of what has preceded it as well as what follows.
Fundamentally, a dramatic monologue should advance the story or narrative either by clarifying the speaker's intentions or beliefs or by altering the relative emotional positions of the characters to one another and to the objectives that each is pursuing, or both.
An effective monologue will also reveal information about the speaker's internal state of mind.
A dramatic monologue is often the most natural and emotionally logical response a character can have when faced with an extreme crisis or challenged by a "do-or-die" situation in which action can no longer suitably convey the immensity of what the character is grappling with.
In every effective monologue, the speaker is driven by an agenda in pursuit of a goal. Something is at stake, and what is said is to serve some purpose. The speech is not made merely to relate a story for the story's sake, but to show or persuade in order that the speaker's objective is not lost or confused. In other words, the speaker speaks in order to transform the circumstances under which he/she is operating and/or suffering, with the hope of enlisting the support, inducing the commitment, or changing the hearts and minds of those to whom he/she is speaking.
The pawnbroker, Sol Nasserman, "teaches" his young apprentice about why 'his people' are so good at business, and in so doing lays bare his emotions concerning the injustice, violence and suffering that he and his family have experienced at the hands of those who would destroy the Jews. A dramatic study in self-hatred on one level, and a cry for vengeance on another.
The child murderer's confession as performed by David Wayne in Joseph Losey's 1951 version of the classic Fritz Lang film.
12 Angry Men
The last juror is holding out for the death penalty, convinced the kid is guilty. In a tour de force of writing and acting, without one other character speaking, the speaker transforms his verdict from guilty to not guilty in two pages of script. Start at 1hr 25mins
Surviving the Game
The key to Gary Busey's character is revealed in this powerful coming-of-age monologue which is told in response to a question from one of the other characters concerning "the birthmark" on Gary's face. The subtext is heavy with bitterness and hatred and ominously foreshadows any number of dire possibilities of future action.
Any Given Sunday
Al Pacino, playing the part of a professional football coach down on his uppers, rallies his team with a speech about football and life and commitment, and how life is about fighting for every inch.
There's a passage I got memorized. Ezekiel 25:17. "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you." I been sayin' that shit for years. And if you ever heard it, it meant your ass. I never really questioned what it meant. I thought it was just a cold-blooded thing to say to a motherfucker 'fore you popped a cap in his ass. But I saw some shit this mornin' made me think twice. Now I'm thinkin', it could mean you're the evil man. And I'm the righteous man. And Mr.9mm here, he's the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness. Or is could that you're the righteous man and I'm the shepherd and it's the world that's evil and selfish. I'd like that. But that shit ain't the truth. The truth is you're the weak. And I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin'. I'm tryin' real hard to be the shepherd.Jules lowers his gun, lying it on the table.
Watch the monologue in the context of the actual film (ABOVE)
By Gabriel Davis
I ate them. That’s right. I ate the divorce papers, Charles. I ate them with ketchup. And they were good…goooood. You probably want me to get serious about our divorce. The thing is you always called our marriage a joke. So let’s use logic here: If A we never had a serious marriage then B we can’t have a serious divorce. No. We can’t. The whole thing’s a farce, Charles – a farce that tastes good with ketchup.
I mean, wasn’t it last week, your dad asked you the reason you walked down that aisle with me, and you said “for the exercise.” Ha, ha. That’s funny. You’re a funny guy, Charles. I’m laughing, not a crying. Ha, ha. I’m laughing because you’re about to give up on a woman who is infinitely lovable.
For instance: Paul. He has loved me since the eighth grade. Sure, he’s a little creepy, but he reeeeally loves me. He’s made one hundred twenty seven passes at me, proposed forty seven times, and sent me over two hundred original love sonnets. He sees something in me, Charles. And he writes it down, in metered verse!
And that’s not something you just find everyday. Someone who really loves everything about who you are as a person. Paul may be insane, but I value his feelings for me.
I would never ask him to sign his name to a piece of paper promising to just turn off his feelings for me forever. But that’s what you’re asking me to do, for you. To sign away my right to…to that sweet voice Charles, those baby brown eyes, the way you hands feel through my hair before bed…
Those aren’t things I want to lose. In fact, I won’t lose them. I won’t lose you. I’ll woo you. I’ve written you a sonnet. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day. Thou art more lovely and more temperate, rough winds do shake the darling buds of may and…” I’m not crying. I’m laughing. It’s all a big joke. It’s very funny, Charles. I keep waiting for you to say “April Fools.” Then I’ll rush into your arms and… But you’re not going to, are you? No. Of course not. It’s not April.
I, I didn’t really write that sonnet, you know. Paul did. I think it’s good.
You see, the truth…the truth is, Charles, I ate the divorce papers, I ate them, because I can’t stomach the thought of losing you.
NOTE: This monologue is from the play "Goodbye Charles" by Gabriel Davis. Find more monologues by this author at http://www.monologuegenie.com