Normally playwrights use dialogues to express their characters, but often it becomes difficult for them to express the thinking of their characters. Hence, they use a typical dramatic device, aside, that solves this problem. It is a short comment or speech that a character delivers directly to the audience or to himself, while other actors on the stage cannot listen. Only the audience can realize that an actor has expressed speech for them. In essence, through aside, a character comments on what happens in the play. Simply, we can define aside as a short commentary that reveals private opinions and reactions of the character. However, it refers to the major conflict in a play though it may not involve his personal conflict.
Difference between Aside and Soliloquy
Both these terms are dramatic devices that have some similarities and differences. The similarity between them is that a single character speaks directly to himself/herself, or the audience and no other character can hear character’s speech. The difference between them is that an aside is a shorter comment, while a soliloquy is a longer speech and another difference is that aside reveals hidden secrets or judgments, whereas the soliloquy reveals motives, inner thoughts or internal struggles going in the mind of the character.
Examples of Asides from Literature
Aside became a popular dramatic technique during Elizabethan era, when structure and arrangement of the theaters were changing. A structure of stage was transformed into three-sided shape that allowed the spectators to come closer to actors than ever before. Hence, this friendly setting made aside realistic. Look at a few examples of aside from literature:
Time thou anticipat’st my dread exploits.
The flighty purpose never is o’ertook
Unless the deed go with it. From this moment
The very firstlings of my heart shall be
The firstlings of my hand.
The readers learn that the leading character, Macbeth, feels regret to launch an attack on MacDuff. However, his speech announces that Macbeth would attack MacDuff’s castle and kill his family. This speech reveals Macbeth has lost his moral values. First, he struggles with the decision to kill the king, and now he does not feel hesitation to murder king’s whole family. This aside makes it clear that he has transformed into a violent and ambitious man.
Arthur Miller, in his play, Crucible, uses aside through last words of Elizabeth towards the conclusion of the play when she says, “He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him.” Elizabeth forgives her husband of his adultery and John, after making many mistakes, takes right decision and confesses his sin. This good moral decision brings him back to his goodness. Therefore, when Reverend Hale asks Elizabeth to convince her husband not to give up his life, she makes aside by saying that she cannot do this when he finally realizes that he has his goodness.
Another example of aside occurs in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In this play, after the death of King of Denmark, instead of prince Hamlet, king’s brother Claudius takes the charge of the throne. Moreover, Claudius marries king’s wife. In the first Act of this play, when Claudius talks to Hamlet by calling him his son and nephew, Hamlet in response makes an aside by saying, “A little more than kin, and less than kind.”
Yasha: (Aside.) Lyubov Andreyevna, could I have a word? I was wondering if Madame would be going back to Paris…the food’s uneatable, that old man wandering about muttering to himself…
(From “Cherry Orchard” by Anton Chekhov)
In this example, Yasha makes an aside to express that he wants to go back to Paris with Mrs. Ranavesky as there are no standards living in her estate, and also he is not satisfied with the behavior of its residents.
Aside gives special information to the audience about the plot and other actors onstage. It is like a window into the thoughts of characters. Since aside is a comment about the characters without bringing into their knowledge, it gives better understanding to the audience about the essence of the matter. Asides also give enjoyable experience to the audience as an actor talks to them directly, drawing them closer to his/her actions and thoughts. They can enter into true thoughts and feelings of actors. However, in comedies, asides are delightful and as a result, playwrights could imagine how the audience enjoys their work.