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Aside (Literary Term): Definition & Examples

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  • 0:02 Asides in Drama
  • 1:00 History of the Aside
  • 1:40 Asides in Shakespeare
  • 4:09 Asides in Movies & TV
  • 4:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Social Studies, and Science for seven years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

In this lesson, you will learn how an aside can affect the plot and perception of a drama. Classic and modern examples are used to illustrate the helpfulness of the aside.

Asides in Drama

Drama is a unique form of literature. In novels, stories, essays, and even poems, one's thoughts can be explicitly stated to the reader. In plays, however, that kind of transparency is much more difficult. Dramatic plays, or dramas, consist entirely of dialogue, which is conversation. This can make it more difficult for a writer to express what characters are thinking. Think about it, how often do you bring up your deepest fears or profound thoughts in casual dialogue?

This characteristic of drama makes it difficult for characters to explain their actions, motives, and thoughts. One device that gets around that difficulty is the aside. An aside is a short speech from a character that is spoken directly to the audience. The other actors on set can physically hear the words but as their characters, they pretend as if nothing was said. The audience understands that the speech was meant for them only.

History of the Aside

The aside became a very popular technique in the Elizabethan Era. During this time, the structure of theaters began to change. A three-sided platform stage became common, which allowed the audience to be much closer to the actors. This more intimate setting made asides more realistic than in the previous Greek amphitheater setting, in which actors had to practically shout in order for the whole audience to hear the dialogue.

Be sure not to get an aside confused with a soliloquy. A soliloquy is also a speech by a character revealing his or her thoughts but in this instance, the character is always alone on stage. In addition, soliloquies are often longer than asides.

Examples of Asides in Shakespeare

Shakespeare's plays are full of asides. He wrote at the height of the Elizabethan Era and was a pioneer in many new methods in drama. One such aside occurs in Macbeth.

In this play, the title character has given into his violent ambition and murdered the king in order to take over the throne. However, Macbeth meets resistance from other leaders and so plans to kill them. In Act 4, he learns that one such man, Macduff, has fled the country. He then has this aside:

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 audience learns that Macbeth regrets waiting to attack MacDuff. His speech actually goes on to announce that he will still attack Macduff's castle and murder his whole family. Through this speech, the audience can see just how immoral Macbeth has become. He struggled with his first decision to murder the king, but now he has no problem killing a whole innocent family. Through this aside, his transformation to an ambitious, violent man is transparent.

Another Shakespearean example of an aside occurs in Hamlet. In the play, Hamlet's father, who was King of Denmark, has died. Hamlet is the prince, but instead of Hamlet becoming king, his father's brother, Claudius, takes over the throne. Furthermore, Claudius marries Hamlet's mother, who had been his sister-in-law. An important aside occurs in the first act. Claudius speaks to Hamlet and calls him his nephew and his son. Hamlet then makes this aside:

A little more than kin, and less than kind.

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