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.
- 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.