Between you and me

Have you ever seen a character deliver a particularly memorable aside? Tell us here!

In most traditional theatre productions, there’s an invisible fourth wall between the audience and the actors. However, sometimes the performers break it by speaking directly to the viewers. Perhaps the character acts as a kind of narrator, like Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie. Or maybe it’s a soliloquy, like Richard III alone onstage letting the audience in on his evil intentions in his opening speech. And sometimes it’s a brief aside that divulges what someone is thinking.

An aside is a remark made by a character to the audience that is not heard by the other characters onstage. This dramatic device became popular in the Elizabethan era and was used liberally by Shakespeare. Many of his characters share quick comments that allow audiences to get inside their heads, such as Hamlet’s aside about his uncle/stepfather Claudius being “a little more than kin, and less than kind.” Asides are always revealing and often witty, and create an intimate connection between the character and the spectators. After all, you’re in on a secret that none of the other characters know!

Although contemporary playwrights aren’t as fond of asides as their predecessors, you still spot them from time to time onstage. See Richard Bean’s uproarious One Man, Two Guvnors (though it’s illuminating to note that it was based on Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni’s 18th-century, Commedia dell’arte-style comedy The Servant of Two Masters). These days, you’re more likely to see asides employed by characters in movies or on TV, like Kevin Spacey’s power-hungry politico Frank Underwood on House of Cards, who relishes speaking directly to the camera. His asides may be fleeting but, as with the Bard, they’re often the most memorable lines in the show.

— Raven Snook

This video was written, directed and acted by the Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism department at the Yale School of Drama.