Aside: Literary Definition & Examples

“Aside” is a literary term that playwrights use when they find it difficult to express what the character is thinking. It is not used in regular dialog but is used when a person is thinking to themselves. The two classic cases that this literary device is used is when the character talks to himself or he directly talks to the audience. The other characters do not hear what the character is saying. The two times a playwright will use “aside” is when the character is “thinking” about his own personal conflict or he is “thinking” about details in the actual play.

A working definition of aside is when a character will communicate individual thoughts and feelings in a short commentary. Let’s say you are watching a Shakespearean play for instance. The character may come out on the stage and will be the only player on the stage. Then, he will look directly at the audience and deliver a short speech on his personal conflict within the setting of the story or, he will share events relating to the play. The feeling is for the audience to perceive that the other players cannot hear what this character is saying.

The character may not even give eye contact to the audience while he uses the literary device “aside”. He will look down at the ground or into the air while he talks. This scenario defines the character as thinking to himself about a personal problem in a relationship or maybe the place of employment the character works at. There may be an empty stage or there could be other players on the stage that are not paying attention to the speaker.

The audience needs to use their collective imagination in these cases. In an aside situation, the player is usually thinking to himself or about the other characters who may be in their homes, at a park or so far away that they could not hear what the player is saying. Or if they are in close proximity then the character is thinking to himself and they would not hear him anyway.

Another example is from Shakespeare’ s “Macbeth” where the lead player is using the literary device “aside” to let the audience know that he does regret attacking the King but he is going to do this atrocity anyway. He has crossed the moral line and he will kill the king and his family despite the fact he knows it is wrong.

In a nutshell, an “aside is used by playwrights to notify the audience that they are revealing the personal thoughts of a character that the other players will not hear. Indeed, it is a very creative literary device if used properly by the playwright.