What Is an Aside?

An aside is a device that playwrights and filmmakers use in order to reveal inner thoughts and judgments of characters directly to the audience. Asides are necessary, since the viewer has no immediate access to those thoughts and feelings other than hearing them spoken on stage. An aside reveals secrets that the character cannot share with others; it can also be a way for one of the characters to pass judgment on a main plot event.

In ancient Greek drama, the chorus fulfills this role by periodically passing judgment about the fate of the main characters. However, by the time of Elizabethan drama, the aside is the province of a single actor.

The aside is like another dramatic device, the soliloquy, but there are some key differences. For one thing, asides are brief, passing remarks, sometimes made by minor characters. Soliloquys are long speeches. And while an aside assists the audience in knowing things they would have no other way of finding out, they do not shed any new light on the characters who speak them.

An aside can also be found in novels with intrusive narrators, such an Henry Fielding’s narrator in Tom Jones or the narrator in Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being. These asides are occasions when the narrator explains to the reader directly why the characters has acted the way he or she does. In a sense, the narrator becomes like a minor character or Greek chorus, passing judgment on the scene as it transpires.

Examples of Aside

Aside Example 1. In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo appears during Juliet’s balcony soliloquy and asks, in an aside, “Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?”

Aside Example 2. In the Netflix series, House of Cards, Kevin Spacey’s character Frank Underwood occasionally addresses the viewer directly and delivers an aside.

Aside Example 3. Dante makes an aside in his epic, The Inferno: “If you are slow at this point, reader, to credit what I tell you, it will not be remarkable. For I who observed it, can barely allow myself to believe.”

Aside Example 4. This famous aside in Hamlet is spoken by title character about Claudius, “A little more than kin, and less than kind.”

Aside Example 5. Ferris Bueller comments in asides during the crazy escapades during the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.


(View all literary devices)