A very common trope in theater and film.
In Real Life
, when people whisper, it is being done to conceal information from others and so is noticably quieter and typically conducted away from prying ears. In works, however, this would be impractical, as it would hinder the audience's ability to hear the dialogue and understand what was going on. Enter the Stage Whisper
, where a character will pretend to whisper, typically by covering part of their mouth with their hand, lowering their voice slightly, talking more slowly, and/or switching their tone to indicate as much. This allows the audience to understand that the character is "whispering" while still being able to understand the character delivering the line.
While this trope is typically used by a character wishing to conceal information from other characters, it can also be used to add emphasis to particular lines delivered before keys events or to create a feeling of sorrow or regret by the character delivering the line. Further, when works are trying to indicate that the voice is a character's internal dialogue, they may rely on this trope.
Commonly Played for Laughs
in modern films by characters who will make overly-loud whispers that are easily heard by the other characters on-stage that were meant to not hear it. Also, very common in romance films
to set the appropriate tone.
Compare Little “No”
and Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene
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- Die Hard: McClane must whisper into the radio most of the time to avoid detection, but it is nicely amplified for the viewers.
- Donnie Darko: Much of the film's starting and ending narration in conducted this way.
- Glengarry Glen Ross: Much of Moss' conversation about robbing the firm is conducted through whispers.
- Notting Hill: Near the end, two of the character share quick, whispered moment at the dinner table that is clearly audible to the viewers.
- In Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle, the pair is given a ride by a downright terrifying redneck. His pickup truck doesn't have any back seats, so all three are riding literally inches away from each other. Despite this, Harold and Kumar start whispering to each other about whether or not the man plans on killing them, the erupting pustules on his neck, and finally, whether or not he can hear them talking about him. Several moments of awkward silence later, the man says nonchalantly, "I can hear everything you said", followed by more awkward silence.
- Although there's a bit of an aversion here, as Harold kept telling Kumar to shut up because the guy was inches away and could hear them. Kumar either didn't listen or (more likely) didn't care.
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Lampshaded when Romilda Vane invites Harry to join her compartment and her insult to Neville and Luna is actually described as being "in a stage whisper."
- Played with in The High Crusade where the aliens bargaining with the humans don't realize how good human hearing is, leading to them having frequent whispered secret discussions that the humans exploit to the fullest possible extent.
Live Action TV
- Arrested Development: George Sr. shares one noticeable one with Michael in the prison waiting area:
- Originally played straight on Psych, but as the seasons went by they were more prone to subversions.
- Shawn and Gus would often turn around to whisper to each other about something that just happened, how they can possibly get out of this dangerous situation, or what kind of tacos they should get after they solve the case.
- Lamp Shaded in one episode where a pair of older expies for the duo do the same thing and are clearly audible to Shawn and Gus 10 feet away.
- "Can people hear us this clearly when we turn around and whisper?" "God, I hope not..."
- From Friends, Joey and Chandler are having a conversation, when Joey lets slip he knows Chandler and Monica are having money problems. To cover up the fact that Monica told him this secret, Joey quickly spins a lie about figuring it out on his own. As soon as Chandler buys into the lie, Joey, still sitting the exact same distance away and barely lowering his voice at all, says to himself, "That's the fastest I've ever thought!" Chandler doesn't even seem aware that Joey's said anything at all.
- Frasier's kitchen has no door separating it from the living room, and part of one of its walls is just a stack of shelves open to both the living room and the kitchen, offering no real barrier to sound. But when two characters need to have a private conversation, they need only step into the kitchen and speak normally, and it's guaranteed that no-one in the living room will overhear them.
- Slightly justified, but not really, by the fact that when the camera is in the kitchen the audience cannot see outside the kitchen, which falls under another trope entirely.
- Cate lampshades this trope on 8 Simple Rules when Paul pulls her aside, and Cate says "Yeah, they'll never hear us from over here" with sarcasm in her voice. Yet, it's played straight, as the kids don't hear them.
- Parodied in The Young Ones episode "Boring", where Neil is heard shouting to the others from the doorway. This is obviously meant to be private, even though the person he's talking about is right in front of him.
- Killed to death with a hammer in iCarly. In fact, in one scene, Carly and Freddie are all but screaming while whispering at each other in the kitchen, while people are right in the living room. There is no wall separating the two rooms.
- In the first episode of the 2011 series of Doctor Who, the companions discuss an Awful Truth that they absolutely cannot tell the Doctor...under the glass floor of the TARDIS console room, with him directly above them.
- It gets worse, he actually interrupts their conversation by sticking his head down over the edge of the floor and tells them to come up top. There is no way he could not have heard it.
- At one point in Sirens the crew meet a man with a carrot up his, ahem, bottom. When one of them starts freaking out he gets called away for a private discussion. About two feet away from where he was just standing sort-of near a corner.
- That '70s Show - in the episode "Vanstock", the group takes Kelso's van to a Woodstock-like venue. Eric, Donna and Fez are sitting in the back of the van, discussing how Kelso is cheating on Jackie with Laurie. Kelso, Jackie and Laurie are sitting in the front of the van, and we can actually see Eric, Donna and Kelso mere feet away from them. It's completely silent in the front of the van until Jackie breaks the silence; there's no way they couldn't have heard them.
- In It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, where Dennis reveals he knew that Mac and Charlie were spying on him from the air vents because, "You were talking at full volume!"
- The zombie episode of The Middleman had the Middleman and Wendy discuss the need to kill a possibly infected man, who is absolutely horrified since he's just a few feet away and can hear every word they say.
- Played fairly straight in most Star Trek episodes (the addition of the captain's "ready room" in TNG reduced the need to resort to this)... until in the first season finale of DS9 the murderer hiding in plain sight casually eavesdrops on the investigation.
- Also subverted in "Favor the Bold" when Weyoun reveals that the Vorta have good hearing (in contrast to their bad vision).
- Lampshaded in Wizards of Waverly Place by the character Jerry Russo, who states that he should 'probably stop talking about people when they're sitting right there!'
- Langt Fra Las Vegas: Done very much in season 1 when Casper tries to hide an unpopular visitor in his apartment from Anne. Usually Casper will freak out and shout to the visitor "hide in the closet/bedroom", and Anne will just ask "are you alone" to which Casper will reply "yes" and Anne will believe him. Otherwise it's rarely seen in the series.
- Commonly lampshaded in riffs of movies shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and later Rifftrax with something to the effect of "You know we can hear you."
- Used in many episodes of The Simpsons, including one in which two artists/counselors are talking and one claims the children can't hear them because they are stage whispering. When Lisa points out she can hear them quite clearly, the artist/counselor insists she can't.
- In one of the DVD commentaries, some of the writers joke that The Simpsons offers the loudest Stage Whispers in all of fiction.
- Endemic throughout William Shakespeare's plays, where no one ever overhears soliloquies or "asides".
- It's generally understood that a soliloquy is a character's train of thought; it is only heard out loud for the audience's benefit. It's basically the theater equivalent of an Inner Monologue.
Truth In Television
- More polite people will actively ignore friends, family members, or coworkers speaking in hushed tones even if they can easily hear them and thus have no idea what they were talking about if pressed later.
- A whisper is actually very noticeable as it sounds fundamentally different than regular conversation. Thus, the best way to avoid being heard is to speak low and quietly but in an otherwise normal tone of voice.