¶ 1Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Jerrold Seigel has argued that concepts of selfhood in Western philosophy have entailed one or more of three “dimensions”: (1) a bodily dimension (one’s physical sensations, needs, desires, capacities, etc.); (2) a social dimension (interactions with family, friends, economic conditions, culture, etc.); and (3) a reflective, analytical, imaginative dimension. Some people exhibit a balance among the three dimensions while others exhibit a marked imbalance. Some scholars have argued that mutability or flexibility was a prominent element of Renaissance concepts of self and have cited works by Pico della Mirandola and Montaigne. But it was well-understood that some people are psychologically inflexible, as illustrated, for example, by the depiction in Ben Jonson’s plays of narrow-minded, rigid, or obsessive characters. Like real human beings, characters in Renaissance literature vary widely not only in psychological flexibility but in countless other respects as well.
¶ 2Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Psychological variability is famously evident among characters in Shakespeare’s plays. Major characters, most secondary characters, and in many cases even quite minor characters are individualized. In some instances this is mainly the result of a single, strikingly idiosyncratic trait. Much more often, individualization of characters is the result of psychological complexity. The more complex the implied hypothetical psychology of characters, the less likely it is that two or more characters will exhibit precisely the same combination of psychological traits, the same implied inner self. Hamlet and Cleopatra are complex in profoundly different ways.
¶ 3Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The study of selfhood is complicated by the fact that one person cannot directly perceive the mind or inner self of another person. Instead, we draw inferences about another person’s inner self directly or indirectly from the person’s outward appearance, speeches, and actions. This outward evidence is sometimes ambiguous, inconclusive, intentionally deceptive, or unintentionally misleading. A further complication is that a person does not have infallible access to all elements of his own inner self. Our conscious selves are fashioned in part by unconscious forces. Just as we form inferences about the minds of others on the basis of their outward behavior, we form inferences about the unconscious forces within ourselves on the basis of our conscious thoughts and feelings. Like the outward behavior of others, our conscious states are sometimes ambiguous, inconclusive, or misleading, and we are capable of self-deception.
¶ 4Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Although all the dramatized speeches and actions of a character provide bases for a playgoer’s inferences about the character’s hypothetical inner self, soliloquies in the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries provided a unique laboratory for thought experiments illuminating the phenomenon of selfhood. In no other period of theatrical history are soliloquies so prevalent in plays of all genres. A soliloquy is defined herein as a dramatic passage with the distinguishing feature that the character portrayed by the actor who speaks the words does not intend them to be heard by any other character. An aside is defined as a speech that a character guards from the hearing of at least one other character. These definitions were not devised a priori but were arrived at empirically on the basis of a systematic survey of the actual practices of late Renaissance dramatists. Soliloquies and asides were not mutually exclusive. A character could guard a soliloquy in an aside from the hearing of other characters if he was aware of the presence on stage of those other characters.
¶ 5Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 A proper understanding of soliloquies as tools for exploring the issue of selfhood has been hindered by long-standing fallacies. One is the cliché that a soliloquy represented the innermost thought, the inner self, of a character. In fact, the hypothetical self of a character in a Shakespeare play is no more directly perceptible by playgoers than is the mind or inner self of one human being by another human being. Plentiful, conspicuous, unambiguous, and varied evidence demonstrates that soliloquies his plays and in those of other late Renaissance dramatists represented the outward behavior, the spoken words of characters, as a matter of course. Only a sampling of the evidence can be presented here. According to a stage direction in the 1623 Folio text of Richard III next to soliloquy that Richard guards in an aside from all the other characters on stage, Richard “Speakes to himselfe.” This obviously refers to the character not to the actor, who speaks to be heard by playgoers. Richard does not merely think the words. Alone with the corpse of Caesar, Antony declares that the wounds of his friend “like dumb mouths do ope their ruby lips / To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue” (Julius Caesar, 3.1.259-61). In 2 Henry IV, 4.5, Hal soliloquizes by the bedside of his sleeping father and later in the scene describes what he did, “I spake unto this crown as having sense” (157). In the midst of a soliloquy, Hamlet chastises himself, “This is most brave, / That I . . . / Must like a whore unpack my heart with words, And fall a-cursing like a very drab” (2.2.582-86). In a soliloquy Autolycus congratulates himself on his knavery and only then notices the presence of other characters: “If they have heard me, why hanging” (Winter’s Tale, 4.4.626). The only reason that Claudio, Florizel, and Perdita did not overhear him is that they were engaged in a conversation of their own. In Shakespeare’s plays whenever a character is unaware of the presence of another character, the second character overhears the first character’s soliloquy unless the second character is asleep or there is some other obvious impediment. Soliloquies (including soliloquies inadequately guarded in asides) that are explicitly or implicitly overheard on stage or reports of soliloquies overheard off stage occur with remarkable frequency in Shakespeare’s plays. Such episodes occur in Love’s Labor’s Lost (4.3), The Comedy of Errors (2.2), 3 Henry VI (2.5), 1 Henry VI (5.3), Richard III (3.1), Titus Andronicus (5.1), Romeo and Juliet (1.5, 2.2, 5.3), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (3.1), 1 Henry IV (2.3, 5.4), Julius Caesar (2.2, 2.4), As You Like It (2.1, 2.3), Twelfth Night (2.5), Troilus and Cressida (5.2), All’s Well That Ends Well (1.3, 4.1), King Lear (4.1), Macbeth (2.2, 5.1), Antony and Cleopatra (4.9), Cymbeline (4.2), The Winter’s Tale (4.3), and The Tempest (2.2). The Steward’s account of Helena’s offstage behavior also happens to be a description of the theatrical convention of the soliloquy: “She did communicate to herself her own words to her own ears: she thought . . . they touch’d not any stranger sense” (All’s Well, 1.3.107-10).
¶ 6Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 The convention whereby soliloquies represented the speech of characters as a matter of course, a convention that Shakespeare adhered to with utmost rigor throughout his career and exploited to the fullest, was a key feature in his dramatization of the issue of selfhood. Othello commands Iago, “Show me thy thought” (3.3.116), but the play illustrates the fundamental feature of the human condition that one person can never perceive directly the inner self of a fellow human being. The ability to read minds would be a godlike power. Shakespeare did not provide playgoers with the fantasy experience of possessing such a power by giving them direct access to the inner selves of his characters. Just as each of us forms inferences about the inner selves of our fellow human beings on the basis of their outward behavior, playgoers must make inferences about the hypothetical inner lives of characters based on their outward behavior, which includes their soliloquies.
¶ 7Leave a comment on paragraph 7 2 A second long-standing fallacy about soliloquies in Shakespeare’s plays is that they typically were designed to represent audience address by the character. According to John Barton, “it’s right ninety-nine times out of a hundred to share a soliloquy with the audience. I’m convinced it’s a grave distortion of Shakespeare’s intention to do it to oneself.” In fact, plentiful, conspicuous, varied, and unambiguous evidence in Shakespeare’s plays demonstrates that soliloquies by characters engaged in the action were meant to represent self-address as a matter of course. Only a tiny sampling of the vast evidence can be presented here.
¶ 9Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 (2) Declarations by the speaker. In Cymbeline, Cloten comments on something he has just said in a soliloquy: “I dare speak it to myself” (4.1.7), not “I dare speak it to you auditors.”
¶ 10Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 (3) Descriptions by other characters. In The Comedy of Errors, Luciana asks Dromio (of Syracusa), “Why prat’st thou to thyself?” (2.2.193), not “Why prat’st thou to these auditors?”
¶ 11Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 (4) Self-address by name, title, epithet, or alias. “Withdraw thee, wretched Margaret” (Richard III, 4.4.8); Romeo: “Turn back, dull earth, and find thy centre out” (2.1.2); “O poor Orlando! thou art overthrown” (As You Like It, 1.2.259); “If this should be thee, Malvolio?” (Twelfth Night, 2.5.101-02); “Now, banish’d Kent” (Lear, 1.4.4); Edgar: “Tom, away” (Lear, 3.6.110).
¶ 12Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 (5) Self-address by a second-person pronoun Thersites: “What, lost in the labyrinth of thy fury?” (Troilus and Cressida, 2.3.1-2); “There’s a hole made in your best coat, Master Ford” (Merry Wives of Windsor, 3.5.140-42).
¶ 13Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 (6) Self-addressed commands. “Then Aaron, arm thy heart” (Titus Andronicus, 2.1.181); Puck: “Goblin, lead them up and down” (Midsummer Night’s Dream, 3.2.399); Hamlet: “O heart, lose not thy nature” (3.2.393); Cordelia: “Love, and be silent” (Lear, 1.1.62). Banquo: “But, hush, no more” (Macbeth, 3.1.10).
¶ 14Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 (7) Questions that might have provoked comically unwelcome responses if performed as audience address. Romeo: “Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?” (2.2.37). “Hear more!” “Speak!” Macbeth: “Is this a dagger which I see before me [?]” (2.1.33). “No!”
¶ 15Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 (8) Erroneous assertions by sympathetic characters. If a sympathetic character had acknowledged the presence of playgoers, they would have groaned or shouted out corrections when the character made an erroneous assertion. If a character could see playgoers, it follows that he could also hear them. And yet, after Othello says, “This honest creature, doubtless, / Sees and hears more, much more, than he unfolds” (3.3.242-43), he shows no sign of having heard protests of playgoers.
¶ 16Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 (9) Apostrophes. Apostrophes (in the sense of “addresses to purely imaginary audiences”) are understandably rare in speeches directed at other characters because it is incongruous to address an imaginary audience if one is addressing actual listeners other than oneself. If soliloquies had commonly represented audience address, then apostrophes would have been as rare in soliloquies as in dialogue directed by a character to the hearing of onstage listeners. It is thus noteworthy that apostrophes pervade soliloquies in Shakespeare’s plays. Among the hundreds of addresses to imaginary audiences in soliloquies are some of the most memorable passages in Shakespeare’s plays. Richard: “Simple plain Clarence, I do love thee so” (1.1.18). Romeo: Arise, fair sun” (2.1.4). Juliet: “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” (2.1.33). Hal: “For worms, brave Percy”; “Embowell’d will I see thee by and by” (1 Henry IV, 5.4.87, 109). Falstaff: “Embowell’d! If thou embowel me to-day” (111). Beatrice: “Benedick, love on” (Much Ado About Nothing, 3.1.111). Antony: “Mischief, thou art afoot” (Julius Caesar, 3.2.260). Viola: “O time, thou must entangle this” (Twelfth Night, 2.2.40). Hamlet: “Frailty, thy name is woman!” (1.2.146); “Remember thee!” (1.5.95). Claudius: “Bow, stubborn knees” (3.3.7). Iago: “Not poppy, nor mandragora . . . / Shall ever medicine thee” (3.3.330-33). Othello: “O, I see that nose of yours, but not that dog I shall throw it to”; “you chaste stars”; “thou flaming minister”; Thou cunning’st pattern of excelling nature” (4.1.141-43, 5.2.2, 8, 11). Edmund: “Thou, Nature, art my goddess” (1.2.1). Cordelia: “O dear father, / It is thy business that I go about” (4.4.23-24). Macbeth: “Stars, hide your fires”; “Come, let me clutch thee” (1.4.50, 2.1.34). Lady Macbeth: “Glamis, thou art” (1.5.15).
¶ 17Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 (10) The operation of a dominant convention. Confronted with plentiful and conspicuous evidence that soliloquies by characters engaged in the action represented self-address, experienced Renaissance playgoers would have assumed that, unless this convention were overridden by an explicit signal, any particular soliloquy represented self-address as a matter of course. Experienced Renaissance playgoers knew that, when a character used a form of the words “thou” or “you” in a soliloquy without an explicit antecedent, the character was addressing either himself or a purely imaginary listener. When Hamlet says in a soliloquy guarded in an aside, “Nay then, I have an eye of you” (2.2.290) without specifying an antecedent for the pronoun “you,” Renaissance playgoers would not have wondered if he were telling them he could see them. They would have been in no doubt that he was apostrophizing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and that he was saying that he sees them for what they are (agents of his enemy).
¶ 18Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 (11) Conspicuous absence of evidence of audience address. None of the Shakespearean characters most famous for their soliloquies (Richard III, Hamlet, Iago, Othello, Macbeth) ever explicitly acknowledges the presence of playgoers. Soliloquies by these characters do, on the other hand, contain numerous unambiguous markers of self-address of the kinds catalogued here.
¶ 19Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 (12) Strict segregation of audience address. With the possible exception of a handful of episodes specifically designed to make fun of audience address in very early comedies, Shakespeare strictly limited audience address to speeches by choral characters who do not interact with characters engaged in the action and to epilogues after the conclusion of the dramatized action.
¶ 20Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 (13) Mockery of audience address. In the dramatized rehearsals for “Pyramus and Thisbe” (Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1.2 and 3.1) and in the performance of the skit itself (5.1), Shakespeare poked gentle fun at audience address by characters engaged in the action as naïve, amateurish, and undramatic.
¶ 21Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 (14) Characterization. Richard of Gloucester is an antisocial loner. In his soliloquies, he makes jokes for his own amusement about the gullibility and suffering of other characters. If he had addressed those speeches to playgoers, this would have turned him into a sociable fellow who exerts himself to entertain a large group of strangers. Nor would it have made psychological sense for Romeo to inform thousands of strangers about his feelings for Juliet while keeping these feelings a secret from his closest friends Benvolio and Mercutio. In his harangue to the players at the beginning of 3.2, Hamlet expresses contempt for groundlings. In an earlier soliloquy he asked, “Am I a coward?” (2.2.571). It would not have made psychological sense for him to have asked groundlings for whom he feels contempt if they thought he was a coward. Similar features of characterization demonstrate that countless other soliloquies represented self-address rather than audience address.
¶ 22Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 (15) Private self versus public self. If soliloquies had represented orations to playgoers, they would have constituted simply further depictions of the character’s public self, like the character’s speeches directed at fellow characters. Shakespeare chose instead to adhere to the convention by which soliloquies represented self-addressed speeches because this gave him the opportunity to depict a character’s most private (though still outward) self, the self to which the character gives voice when she has only herself for her intended audience.
¶ 23Leave a comment on paragraph 23 1 (16) Overheard soliloquies. These episodes are evidence not merely that soliloquies represented the speech of the character but also that soliloquies represented self-address. In the balcony scene Romeo eavesdrops on Juliet’s most private expression of love for him not on her oration to thousands of strangers. The onstage situation when one character eavesdrops on the soliloquy of another character was analogous to the situation enacted in the theater in the case of every soliloquy. Like Romeo, playgoers were eavesdroppers on a speech that the speaker did not intend to be heard by anyone other than herself.
¶ 24Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 In the dramatization of a character’s private self in a soliloquy, Shakespeare depicts the character engaged in one or more of a variety of self-directed actions.
¶ 25Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 (1) Characters give voice to emotions in soliloquies not to inform playgoers, not to publicize their emotions, but for one or more implied private motivations. In some cases the expression of the emotion in a soliloquy is a sign of its intensity: the character is bursting with the emotion; it forces itself out in the form of a self-addressed speech. Characters sometimes articulate painful emotions in an effort to come to terms with the pain or in a (generally futile) struggle to effect a catharsis by externalizing the pain in speech. Some characters succumb to a masochistic compulsion to relive a trauma. Conversely, a character might seek to maintain or to intensify a pleasant emotion both by expressing it and by hearing it expressed. In a complex situation a character might use a self-addressed speech to sort through and clarify a multiplicity of emotions.
¶ 26Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 (2) Characters sometimes review their situations in soliloquies. Even though the dramatist’s purpose may be to supply information to playgoers, that is not the character’s implied motivation. A given character might review her situation in order to give coherence to raw experiences or to establish a sense of control over her situation by capturing it words. In some cases a character compulsively reviews a situation because it was traumatic, ecstatic, or mystifying. Many soliloquies in which characters review their situations contain explicit, unambiguous markers of self-address. When Richard of Gloucester reviews his situation in the opening speech of Richard III, he never shows any awareness of playgoers, and the speech contains an overt and unambiguous marker of self-address: “Dive, thoughts, down to my soul” (1.1.41). The issue is clarified by an analogy. Shakespeare’s plays contain many conversations between or among characters in which the speakers review situations already familiar to all the characters present. Horatio reviews Danish history familiar to his onstage listeners: “our last King . . . / Was, as you know . . .” (Hamlet, 1.1.81). The mere fact that a character describes to other characters a situation already known to them is not a sign that the character is knowingly addressing playgoers. Similarly, the mere fact that in a soliloquy a character reviews his situation is not a sign that the character is addressing playgoers rather than himself.
¶ 27Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 (3) In many soliloquies a character reasons with himself to arrive at a decision. The character tries to talk himself into or out of believing or doing something and employs argumentation and rhetoric. “Bassanio comments on the caskets to himself,” and this self-directed commentary leads him to choose the leaden casket. Not all such efforts succeed. In a soliloquy at the beginning of 1.7, Macbeth attempts to reason himself out of murdering Duncan but fails. A character engaged in self-persuasion is in a radically different dramatic situation from one who is presenting an argument to thousands of strangers.
¶ 28Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 (4) Many soliloquies depict a character in the act of formulating a plan of action. Malvolio: “I will smile, I will do everything that thou [the offstage Olivia] wilt have me” (2.5.178-79). Hamlet: “About, my brains! . . . I’ll have these players / Play something like the murder of my father” (2.2.588). The private act of formulating a plan is different from the public act of reporting one’s plan to a large group of strangers.
¶ 29Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 (5) An apostrophe in a self-addressed speech is an incisive way for a character to formulate, reinforce, or revise an attitude. Prince Henry: “I know you all, and will a while uphold / The unyok’d humor of your idleness” (1 Henry IV, 1.2.195-96). Beatrice: “Contempt, farewell, and maiden pride, adieu!” (Much Ado About Nothing, 3.1.109). Edmund: “Thou, Nature, art my goddess.”
¶ 30Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 (6) Characters use self-addressed speeches not merely to express emotions or attitudes but to arouse them. Many characters, for example, give themselves pep talks to stimulate their courage, fortitude, or determination. “Now, York, or never, steel thy fearful thoughts” (2 Henry VI, 3.1.331). “Then, Aaron, arm thy heart.” Iago: “Dull not device by coldness and delay” (2.3.388).
¶ 31Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 (7) Characters sometimes use self-addressed speeches in attempts to exert control over themselves. Portia: “O love, be moderate” (Merchant of Venice, 3.2.111). Hamlet: “O heart, lose not thy nature!” Not all such efforts succeed. Claudius passionately and eloquently urges himself to repent (3.3), but some non-speaking part of Claudius’s inner self refuses to cooperate.
¶ 32Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 (8) Characters sometimes use self-addressed speeches to probe their own thought processes, to engage in self-analysis. Hamlet, Iago, and Macbeth do so obsessively.
¶ 33Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 (9) In many soliloquies a character gives voice to a psychological conflict. In 3.3, Othello oscillates between extremes, sometimes from one second to the next. At line 276, he resigns himself to Desdemona’s infidelity: “This forked plague is fated to us.” When she enters one line later, he experiences a renewed confidence in her: “If she be false, O then heaven mocks itself! / I’ll not believe’t” (278-79).
¶ 34Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 (10) Even though the speaker of a soliloquy is aware of no audience other than himself, he still plays roles. Instead of playing a role to influence another character’s impression of him, he does so in an attempt to influence his own impression of himself. Hamlet rehearses the role of single-minded avenger, “Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!” (2.2.581), but then finds fault with his performance: “Why what an ass am I!” (582).
¶ 35Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 (11) Some self-addressed speeches depict a characters engaged in wishful thinking or self-deception. The character attempts to talk himself into believing something he has reason to believe is false. Malvolio’s soliloquies in Twelfth Night, 2.5, which contain unambiguous markers of self-address, depict his strenuous effort to convince himself that Olivia is in love with him. In his soliloquies Iago attempts to convince himself that he has a sane motive for destroying the lives of others. Eighty-two years after Shakespeare died, John Vanbrugh propounded the dogma that “upon the Stage the person who speaks a Soliloquy is always suppos’d to deliver his real Thoughts to the Audience,” and many scholars have casually applied this dogma retroactively to Shakespeare. In fact, a major function of many soliloquies in Shakespeare’s plays was specifically to depict the curious, fascinating, and disturbing phenomenon of self-deception.
¶ 36Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 The plentiful evidence of self-directed behavior by speakers of soliloquies, only a tiny sampling of which could be catalogued here, demonstrates that Shakespeare and late Renaissance playgoers were fascinated by what a character engaged in the action might say in a speech directed only at himself and were not interested in what a character engaged in the action might say to playgoers if the character knew that he was merely a character in a play. Many of these self-directed speeches illustrate the notion that the interactions among the parts of a person’s self might be as complex and dynamic and therefore as dramatic as a person’s interactions with other persons.
¶ 38Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0  See, for example, Thomas Greene, “The Flexibility of the Self in Renaissance Literature,” in The Disciplines of Criticism, ed. Peter Demetz et al. (New Haven: Yale UP, 1968), 241-64.
¶ 39Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0  For an account of the complex conventions governing soliloquies, asides, and eavesdropping in the period, see James Hirsh, “Guarded, Unguarded, and Unguardable Speech in Late Renaissance Drama,” in Who Hears in Shakespeare? Stage and Screen, ed. Laury Magnus and Walter Cannon (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2012). 17-40.
¶ 41Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0  Edward Pechter has asserted that “Shakespeare makes us wonder whether there is or can be an interior self apart from represented public actions.” See “Julius Caesar and Sejanus: Roman politics, inner selves and the powers of the Theatre,” in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries: Essays in Comparison, ed. E.A.J. Honigmann (Manchester: Manchester UP, 2005), 64. In fact, the circumstance that something cannot be directly observed or represented does not call its existence into question as long as its effects can be observed or represented. Just as the observable behavior of a person is evidence that the person has an inner self, the represented behavior of a character is evidence that Shakespeare intended playgoers to imagine that the character has a hypothetical inner self.
¶ 43Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0  For much more evidence that soliloquies in late Renaissance drama represented self-addressed speeches, see James Hirsh, Shakespeare and the History of Soliloquies (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2003), chapters 4-6.