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An actor delivering a monologue

A monologist (/mɒnɒlədʒɪst/), or interchangeably monologuist (/mɒnɒləgɪst/), is a solo artist who recites or gives dramatic readings from a monologue, soliloquy, poetry, or work of literature for the entertainment of an audience. The term can also apply (often disparagingly) to one who dominates a conversation, or to a bird with a repeating monotonous cry.[1][2]

Dramatic monologist

A dramatic monologist is a term sometimes applied to an actor performing in a monodrama often with accompaniment of music. In a monodrama the lone player relays a story through the eyes of a central character, though at times may take on additional roles.[3] In the modern era the more successful practitioners of this art have been actresses frequently referred to by the French term “diseuse”.[3][4][5][6]


Diseuse (pronounced dee-zœz), French for "teller", also called talkers, storytellers, dramatic-singers or dramatic-talkers,[7][8] is a term, at least on the English-speaking stage, that appears to date back only to the last decade of the 19th century. The early uses of “diseuse” as a theatrical term in the American press seem to coincide with Yvette Guilbert’s tour of New York City in the mid-1890s.[9] Cosmopolitan Magazine in a February, 1896 article on Guilbert described the term as a "newly-coined and specific title".[10][11] Diseuse is the feminine form of the French word diseur "teller", a derivative of dire "to say, to tell", which in turn came from Latin dīcere.[12] It would appear that over the last century or so few male actors became noteworthy performing solely as a dramatic monologist, though many well known actors have played in monodramas over their careers.

The publication Theatre World wrote in a 1949 piece, “In our time we have fallen under the spell of three remarkable women practising the art of the diseuse — Ruth Draper, Cornelia Otis Skinner, and Joyce Grenfell. Each of these great artists has the gift of crowding the stage with imaginary figures who become so vivid as to be practically visible, but as all of these artists happen to be members of the fair sex it could be assumed that they possess a magic denied the mere male of the theatre.” The article goes on to suggest that Sid Fields was an actor of comparable talents.[13]

In the book "The Guest List" by Ethan Mordden, the art of the diseuse is defined as “a speaker of lyrics: in effect, one who uses the music to get to the words"[14]

In the December 21, 1935 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette an entertainment columnist wrote: “The English language does not contain a word which perfectly describes the performance of Ruth Draper, who comes to the Nixon next Thursday for the first time in several years to give a different program at each of her four performances here. “Speaking Portraits” and “Character Sketches” are the two terms most frequently applied to Miss Draper's work; and yet it is something more than that. “Diseuse” is the French word, but that is more readily applicable to an artist like Yvette Guilbert or Raquel Meller. Monologist is wholly inadequate. The word “Diseuse” really means “an artist in talking” so that may be the real term to use in connection with Miss Draper.”[5]

Joyce Grenfell wrote in Darling Ma: Joyce Grenfell's Letters to her Mother 1932-1944, "What makes a good diseuse is a capacious verbal (and visual) imagination, and an excellent oral delivery. Call these witty ladies Diseuses of the Heart and Lungs. I do."[15]

Actresses who have been called noted diseuses over the years include Yvette Guilbert,[16] Ruth Draper,[17] Joyce Grenfell,[17] Cornelia Otis Skinner,[18] Lucienne Boyer,[19] Raquel Meller[20] Odette Dulac,[21] Beatrice Herford,[22] Kitty Cheatham,[23] Marie Dubas,[24] Claire Waldoff,[25] Lina Cavalieri[26] Françoise Rosay,[27] Molly Picon,[28] Corinna Mura,[29] Lotte Lenya,[30] Lia Rosen, a Jewish actress (German or possibly Austrian) who began by giving dramatic readings from the Old and New Testaments[31] Dela Lipinskaja, a Russian actress popular in Germany between the wars,[32][33] Marjorie Moffett, American diseuse and author[34] and Albertine Zehme, a German actress from Leipzig who was close to Arnold Schoenberg.[35]


Humorists have been among the better known monologists over the years. More than joke tellers, these artists used their wit to weave humorous and sometimes poignant stories about the human condition. Notable humorists include the following: Charles Mathews,[36] Marshall P. Wilder,[37] Mark Twain,[38] Will Rogers,[39] Jack Benny,[40] Mort Sahl,[41] Dick Gregory,[42] Lenny Bruce,[43] Woody Allen,[44] Whoopi Goldberg,[45] Bill Cosby,[46] Stuart McLean, and Spalding Gray[47]

Oral interpretation

Oral interpretation, sometimes called dramatic reading or interpretative reading, is the oral staging of a work of literature, prose or poetry, by a person who reads rather than memorizes the material. Typically they are performed by solo artists who - unlike players in a monodrama - do not assume or tell the story through any one character, but do so instead with oral nuances to bring the story alive with their interpretation of how the creator of the piece intended the story to be told.[48][49]


The term soliloquist can apply to a monologist reciting a soliloquy, usually from a play, to entertain an audience. Passages in which characters orally reveal their thoughts are probably most associated with the works of William Shakespeare.[50][51]


  1. Oxford English Dictionary
  2. "Merriam-Webster Dictionary". Retrieved 2011-11-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Dictionary of the theatre: terms, concepts, and analysis By Patrice Pavis, Christine Shantz
  4. The Dictionary of World Literature: Criticism, Forms, Technique By Joseph Twadell Shipley 1964 pg. 383
  5. 5.0 5.1 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - the December 21, 1935 pg. 11
  6. Tennyson's Rapture: Transformation in the Victorian Dramatic Monologue By Cornelia D. J. Pearsall 2008
  7. Theater
  8. Beaver County Times (Earl Wilson column) March 9, 1972 pg. 13
  9. Le Mars Semi-Weekly Sentinel | Lemars, Iowa | Thursday, January 09, 1896 | Page 3
  10. Cosmopolitan February 1896 pg.44
  12. Merriam Webster's Dictionary
  13. Theatre World volumes 45-46 1949
  14. The Guest List: How Manhattan Defined American Sophistication---from the Algonquin Round Table to Trumam capote's Ball” by Ethan Mordden (2010)
  15. Darling Ma: letters to her mother, 1932-1944 by Joyce Grenfell 1988
  16. Problems of the playwright By Clayton Meeker Hamilton 1917 pg. 89
  17. 17.0 17.1 Sir John Gielgud: A Life in Letters By John Gielgud - 2005 pg. 516
  18. Theo: the autobiography of Theodore Bikel By Theodore Bikel 2002 pg. 94
  19. The Entertainment of a Nation: or, Three-Sheets in the Wind By George Jean Nathan 1942 pg. 265
  20. Syracuse Herald April 12, 1931 pg. 3 (Magazine Section)
  21. The Secrets of a Showman by Sir Charles Blake Cochran 1942 pg. 97
  22. The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography being a multi-volume collection of biographical articles and portraits of Americans, published since the 1890s. Volume 2 by James Terry White - 1967
  23. The New York Times July 27, 1913 pg. C2
  24. A French Song Companion by Graham Johnson, Richard Stokes - 2000 pg. 5
  25. The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood By Diana McLellan 2001 pg.109
  26. Lina Cavalieri: the Life of Opera's Greatest Beauty, 1874-1944 By Paul Fryer, Olga Usova 2004 pg. 4
  27. Design, Volume 9 1965 pg. 24
  28. Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona) August 29, 1952 pg. 16
  29. Oakland Tribune Saturday, October 20, 1956 Page 5
  30. Biography of Kurt Weill, Pickford Prod., Inc (unpublished biography April 20, 1945) Yale Music Library
  31. Syracuse Herald (Syracuse, New York) December 12, 1926 pg. 20
  32. Stravinsky: a Creative Spring : Russia and France, 1882-1934 - Stephen Walsh - 2002 Page 189
  33. The Jewish Response to German Culture: from the Enlightenment to the Second World War by Jehuda Reinharz, Walter Schatzberg - 1985 pg.299
  34. The One-Woman Show: Monodramas By Marjorie Moffett 1935 pg 1
  35. Orientations: Collected Writings By Pierre Boulez, Jean-Jacques Nattiez, Martin Cooper 1990 pg. 331
  36. Forgeries of Memory and Meaning: Blacks and the Regimes of Race in American Theater and Film Before World War Two By Robinson pg. 86
  37. The International: Volume 10 - Page 514 1901
  38. Makers of our History By John Thomson Faris; 1917; pg. 320; Free Google Books
  39. The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville 1944
  40. Where the Bodies Are: Final Visits to the Rich, Famous, Interesting 2002 By Patricia Brooks pg. 207
  41. Don Sherwood: The Life and Times of the World's Greatest Disc Jockey By Laurie Harper 2003 pg. 68
  42. Black World/Negro Digest Nov 1961 pg29
  43. Canadian Theatre Review , Issues 13-16 1977
  44. American Film Now: the People, the Power, the Money, the Movies by James Monaco 1984
  45. Media-Made Dixie: The South in the American Imagination by Jack Temple Kirby pg. 188
  46. Icons of African American Comedy: A Joke of a Different Color by Eddie M. Tafoya 2011 Pg. 108
  47. The White Guy: A Field Guide 2008 by Stephen Hunt pg. 191
  48. Dictionary of Communication By James Fernandes 2005 pg. 302
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  51. "Soliloquy - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". Retrieved 2011-11-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>