To Be or Not To Be… What is a Dramatic Monologue?
Hamlet. Countless moments from Downton Abbey. Meryl Streep’s famous monologue about cerulean belts from the Devil Wears Prada. You’ve seen your share of heart wrenching dramatic monologues, maybe without realizing the depth behind it. Today we’ll talk about the definition of a dramatic monologue and the impacts it has on films and theater.
Definition of Dramatic Monologues
What is a dramatic monologue?
According to Oxford Languages, a dramatic monologue is “a poem in the form of a speech or narrative by an imagined person, in which the speaker inadvertently reveals aspects of their character while describing a particular situation or series of events.”
Why do writers use dramatic monologues?
Dramatic monologues are vital in exposition, which is parts of a story that reveal to us things that happened in the past, that further explain or enhance the story. It gives us insight to what the character is thinking, feelings, planning, or plotting.
Features of a Dramatic Monologue
Any monologue doesn’t necessarily make it a dramatic one. A character describing their day idly isn’t exactly the next Shakespearen masterpiece. The hallmarks of a dramatic monologue are:
One person on the screen or stage, delivering self-conversation or talking to someone else to reveal their intentions, inner feelings, thoughts, or revelations of the past
No one else is speaking, this is the moment the character is laying their inner world bare for the audience
There is usually a dilemma, epiphany, or problem being addressed or revealed
History of Dramatic Monologues
According to literarydevices.net, the Greeks and Romans were initially thought to have been the founders of the dramatic monologue. However, upon further literary analysis, it seems the Victorian era of writers is to be properly attributed.
Writers and poets like Robert Browning and T.S. Eliot created timeless dramatic prose and monologues that have moved generations. A famous poem by Robert Browning is The Last Duchess.
“That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus.”
Dramatic Monologues in Film and Television
While there is clearly history behind the dramatic monologue, there are many contemporary examples of this classic expression of art. Here are some of the most famous dramatic monologues, according to Screen Rant:
-Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate
-Salvatore Corsitta in The Godfather
-Heather Donahue in The Blair Witch Project
-Viggo Mortensen in Return of the King
-Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl
-Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting
-Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption
How do I find dramatic monologues, and why would I need one?
Dramatic monologues are very easy to find by a simple web search. Most any monologue you can think of is transcribed and collected online, along with many from books and plays.
In auditions for theater, you typically need to perform a comedic and a dramatic monologue to show the director your range and abilities. As an actor, it's wise to collect a repertoire of dramatic monologues that you’re prepared to perform as auditions come up, that you’ve spent a lot of time working on.
Tips for preparing and performing a dramatic monologue
It's wise to use monologues you haven’t seen in movies before - to avoid copying the original actor’s work. You won’t impress a casting director by copying something they’ve seen a million times - it's better to have your own interpretation and spin on the character.
HOWEVER, it's very important to know the context of the monologue- read the entire play, or at least a synopsis and the entire scene, before performing a monologue. How can you deliver a shocking truth or inner epiphany without knowing how your character got to that point?
Even if the audition isn’t going to be recorded for film, record yourself practicing and watch it back. This way you can see how you look, move, and sound from an outside perspective. This can really help in nailing that big moment. You can also practice in front of a mirror, but remember - when delivering monologues, you never look or perform directly at the auditors. There should be a fourth wall to avoid making them uncomfortable.
It's fine to be inspired by other actors and watch their work, as that’s a good way to learn and grow in your craft, as long as you avoid copying them subconsciously.
Now that we’ve defined and explored what a dramatic monologue is and how to find one, you’re ready to begin preparing your repertoire. Next time you’re watching film, theater, or television - you’ll understand the art of this invaluable creative expression a little more.