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  • Lang and Lit Shakespeare's soliloquies corpus stylistics

    Rights statement: The final, definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal, Language and Literature, 24 (4), 2015, © SAGE Publications Ltd, 2015 by SAGE Publications Ltd at the Feminist Theory page: http://lal.sagepub.com/ on SAGE Journals Online: http://online.sagepub.com/

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I will proclaim myself what I am: corpus stylistics and the language of Shakespeare’s soliloquies

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Article number4
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>11/2015
<mark>Journal</mark>Language and Literature
Issue number4
Number of pages17
Pages (from-to)338-354
Publication statusPublished
Original languageEnglish


This article reports on a corpus stylistic study of the language of soliloquies in Shakespeare’s plays. Literary corpus stylistics can use corpus linguistic methods to test claims made by literary critics and identify hitherto unnoticed features. Existing literary studies of soliloquies tend to define and classify them, to trace the history of the form or to offer literary appreciation; yet they pay surprisingly little attention to the language which characterises soliloquies. By creating a soliloquy corpus and a dialogue corpus from 37 Shakespeare plays, and comparing the former against the latter using WordSmith Tools, I identify key language forms in soliloquies. Using an analytical framework broadly based on Halliday’s ideational, interpersonal and textual metafunctions of language, I interpret my results and relate them, where possible, to literary critical interpretations. I also compare comedy, history and tragedy soliloquy corpora. My main findings show the following linguistic features to be characteristic of soliloquies in general: words relating to mental states and the body; pragmatic noise; linking adverbials and first-person pronouns. Characteristic forms in comedy, history and tragedy emphasise love, the monarch and the supernatural respectively. The empirical evidence presented here shows that Shakespeare regularly exploited certain language forms in soliloquies to represent expressions of doubt, resolve, introspection and strong emotion, among others. These forms not only add depth to characterisation, aid plot development and provide performance cues for actors, but may also conform to certain audience expectations.

Bibliographic note

Sean Murphy completed his PhD thesis on The Language of Self-talk in Shakespeare’s Plays at Lancaster University in 2014. His thesis investigates the nature of self-talk (soliloquies and self-directed asides) and the language forms which characterise it. He draws on theories in stylistics, (im)politeness, literary criticism and methods employed in corpus linguistics.