To Wield a Monologue (by Anil Mani)

Oh, ho ho! You sly dog! You caught me monologuing! – Syndrome (a.k.a the bad guy from Incredibles.)

We are not so different you and I. I can understand why you may think so. How can the hero (you!) and the villian (me!) have anything in common? Now that we are at the end of this sorry play (and you finally seem to have the upper hand) let me expound in detail (great detail!) on how we are actually quite similar. And I will do so with a monologue.

A monologue? Why? You must wonder. Isn’t it the far poorer cousin of dialogue – the mastery of which remains the pinnacle of our literary dreams. But I,  am here to correct your misconception. A crafty monologue is entertaining, no doubt, but it is also a weapon, and an easy one to wield too. Easy, you ask? Well one reason why, is that in a monologue, one only has to worry about one voice (rather than the cacophony in a dialogue). You don’t  have to put yourself in the shoes of multiple people, and keep all the pieces moving synchronously. You just have worry about the one.

Be aware that a monologue is not a rant. It is not an unhinged expulsion of emotional distress. It is premeditated. Practiced. Over many sleepless nights. After all, a villian such as myself would’ve had to know, that a time would come, when the only weapon you can wield is prose.

If you think of a monologue as a one man play presented to an unsuspecting audience, its purpose becomes clearer. The monologuer doesn’t let the audience interrupt. It would ruin his purpose. He needs their silent attention because in his monologue, he has to ask questions and in that same breath answer them. Why does he ask these questions? Well, grasshopper, he asks them because the audience lacks empathy. They are unwilling, out of this deficiency, to imagine his plight. His station. How he came to be. What he needs of them.

So he tells. With gesture, and verve and rising emotion, in a speech that looks extempore, but is actually a performance. Perhaps, he crows about his many victories, or weeps about his lost mother, perhaps he looks dead-eyed as he recounts a past trauma, or a failed conquest. Then in the middle he  slips in the true intention, disguised, whatever it may be. Maybe he wins them over, maybe he doesn’t. Maybe, he gains some time, maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he sows a bit of doubt, maybe he doesn’t.

If you wish to study monologues, you really ought to start with Shakespeare. Beloved by actors for the magnificent (interpretable) parts of his many plays, where even bit players can strut all over stage. If you wish to write one, take your prompt from the Bard’s best monologues.

How about something mischievous : ‘But I do think it is their husbands’ faults, If wives do fall. ‘ Emilia implants a modern thought in her friend, (from Othello).

Or ominous: ‘Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more’  – Brutus explains a political murder. (from Julius Caesar)

Or defiantly mournful: ‘When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept’  – Antony counters. (from Julius Caesar)

Or angry: ‘Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?’   – Shylock has had it with the slights and insults from his Christian neighbours. (The merchant of venice).

Or persuasive: ‘The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven. Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes’.  – Portia defends the idea of mercy over justice (The merchant of venice).

Or manipulative: ‘Art thou afraid to be the same in thine own act and valour as thou art in desire?’ Lady Macbeth tells her husband that he is all talk and goads him to action. (Macbeth)

Or a break down: ‘Out, damn’d spot! out, I say!’. Lady Macbeth finds that she actually has a conscience and that guilt is a very difficult thing to wash out. (Macbeth)

Or chilling: ‘A poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage.’  After the suicide of his wife, Macbeth turns to the audience and tells them that he knows he is in a play, and that nothing matters (not even the murders he committed), and nothing ever will.  (Macbeth).

Or insincere: ‘Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter.’  Goneril, knowing his weakness and his dotage, declares her love for her father, King Lear (King Lear).

Or sincere: ‘Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave my heart into my mouth.’ Cordelia will not lie or manipulate her father. (King Lear)

Or a battlecry:  ‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.’ King Henry asks that his army die for him. Henry V.

Or romantic: ‘Thou know’st the mask of night is on my face, else would a maiden blush bepaint my cheek.’ Juliet proclaims her love. Romeo and Juliet.

Or…

Whoa! How did I come to hold this gun? No matter. I don’t even have to finish this monologue now. I must thank you for that, and bid you good day. What? You have something to say? A monologue, perhaps, eh?

BANG.

Apologies. I hate listening to them.

Standing Instructions.

  1. If you feel you need to give background for your piece to make sense, you may do so with two sentences/80 words. No more.
  2. Monologues are typically small (200 words). We’ll split the session into two 20 minute bursts. We’ll have a few pieces read out, after the first burst.
  3. Act out your piece if you want to.
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