• PLAY: a plan or “blueprint” for the total theatrical production.Typically Contains:• DIALOGUE: words spoken by the characters.• STAGE DIRECTIONS: written descriptions of physical or emotional action or physical appearance.
An early examination of dramatic literature in which Aristotle identifies the six elements of a play:• PLOT• CHARACTER• THOUGHT• LANGUAGE• MUSIC• SPECTACLE
• These six elements work together to create a special world on the stage.• Their relative significance varies considerably from play to play.
1. PLOT• The organization of the action of a play.• The arrangement of the incidents we see onstage.• An organizing principle that gives a play its unity (a beginning, middle, and an end).• Also known as “STRUCTURE.”
• LINEAR PLOT structure: the events of the drama progress forward and sequentially in TIME (chronologically).• CAUSAL (“cause-to-effect”) PLOT structure: one event leads to (results in) the next; a sequence of events (domino effect).• Plays can follow BOTH a linear and a causal structure at the same time.
PLOT (continued) CONFLICT:• Stands at the heart of causal structure.• Generally, two or more characters want the same thing or want different things to happen.• They work against each other until an outcome is decided.• The conflict between characters can also represent or embody a larger issue (good and evil, right and wrong, etc.)
• Man vs. Man • Man vs. Nature• Man vs. Himself• Man vs. Society
EXPOSITION• Crucial background information that is needed for the audience to understand the play.• A means whereby the playwright sets up the dramatic situation for the audience.• A great deal of information is typically conveyed to the audience in the first few scenes of a play (character, setting, past events), so that the audience can follow the play’s progression.• Additional exposition may be introduced throughout the play.
POINT OF ATTACK• The point in the story at which the playwright chooses to start dramatizing the action.• Where does the action of the story begin?• The one moment in the story when the playwright chooses to begin actually showing (not just telling about) the progress of events.
POINT OF ATTACK• A play with an EARLY point of attack is usually EPISODIC. Selected dramatized moments in the play are separated by breaks in the action.• A play with a LATE point of attack portrays action that takes place after most of the events in the story have already happened; we see only the conclusion of these events (the last few hours, for example).
THE INCITING INCIDENT• At the beginning of the play, we learn about the uneasy balance of forces that exists (the potential for conflict).• The inciting incident is an event that destroys the uneasy balance and sets off the major conflict of forces.
RISING ACTION• Units of action that are dramatized in a play that build in emotional intensity.• The major forces in conflict gather information, lay plans, pursue their own objectives and encounter obstacles.• The stakes become higher for the characters.• Audience empathy becomes stronger and we become increasingly involved in the action.
CLIMAX• The emotional high point of the action.• The critical stage when the outcome of the conflict is finally decided.• Everything in the play leads up to this moment on stage.• The most important scene in a play.• Often followed by FALLING ACTION (a.k.a. “resolution” or “dénouement”) : the events from the climax to the end of the play. Loose ends are tied up, balance is restored.
Other features of PLOT:• SUBPLOTS: secondary lines of action in which different conflicts are developed; may be intertwined with the major line of action or may develop independently.• DISCOVERY: when something important is found, revealed, or realized during the action of a play (concrete or abstract).• REVERSAL: When what seems like a logical line of action veers around suddenly to its opposite.
The “WELL-MADE” PLAY:• The use of causal structure in a play, which was perfected by European playwrights of the 19th century.• A meticulous and involved plot takes precedent over all other elements.• Features: -an intricate pattern of cause and effect. -carefully controlled suspense. -misunderstandings and reversals. -an emotionally satisfying climax. -rapidly falling action.
Variations on Linear and Causal Plot Structure A way of challenging audience expectations and the familiar comfort zone.• CLIFF HANGER: stops at the climax; the outcome of the conflict is not shown.• FLASHBACK: a variation on linear structure; occasional scenes may dramatize events that occur before the point of attack.
• “Mechane”: a popular device used in both comedies and tragedies.• Used in many Greek tragedies to effect a dynamic conclusion to the conflict.• A god or goddess flies in near the end to create a cosmic discovery or a reversal of fortune and resolves the conflict.• Became a cliché in ancient Greek tragedy.
“DEUS EX MACHINA”• Today: stands for any contrived conclusion to a play or any other form of literature that tells stories.• Hallmarks are: manipulated climaxes, including reversals and discoveries.• Often an act of desperation by the playwright to solve an impossible dilemma.
Structure in the 20th and 21st Centuries• Many plays have attempted to defy, disrupt, or free dramatic structure from its traditional qualities.• Traditional rules have been broken; boundaries of structure have been pushed to the limit; much experimentation.• Audience expectations are often undermined or shattered.• Events may be presented in a seemingly illogical progression.• Time may be disregarded, blended, “jumbled” or ANACHRONISTIC.
POSTSTRUCTURALISM• Dramatic works created after World War II (1939-1945) that break down traditional causal structure.• The events portrayed may be ambivalent or contradictory.• May have no logical “story.”• May take of form of METATHEATRE or be self-conscious in its presentation of theatre-as-theatre.
• Should support the plot.• Refers to the persons who are created to perform the action of the play.• The element of drama that most people find the easiest to understand, since we constantly observe and interpret human behavior in everyday life.• The PROTAGONIST is the central character of the play.
• What characters say about themselves.• What others say about them.• What the characters do.Action, or what a character actually DOES is the most important way of defining character.
• Biological traits.• Physical traits.• Psychological and emotional traits.• Social traits.• Ethical traits.
• The species of the character (human, animal, gods, fairies, etc.)• Sex (male or female): can have a profound effect on their behavior.• Race: can determine social position or behavior.
• Stature.• Weight.• Hair and Eye Color.• Facial hair.• Disabilities or other distinguishing physical characteristics.
• The character’s basic internal makeup.• Has a great impact on the action that takes place on stage.• Angry, vengeful, clever, ruthless, sensitive, withdrawn, happy, foolish, intelligent, thoughtful, sad, insecure, fearful, helpful, angry, violent, selfish, competitive, etc.• Provides the motivation for the action in the play and in how characters relate to others around them.
• May include a character’s job or profession.• Social or economic status.• Religious beliefs and affiliation.• Political dogma and affiliation.• Educational background.
• The moral standards and beliefs held by a character.• The ethical or moral choices a character makes and how s/he faces moral dilemmas are often a defining moment for a protagonist.• Also often gives clues to the audience concerning a character’s integrity.
• The ideas or “themes” contained in and communicated by a play.• What messages about the nature of life or the “universal human condition” are contained in it?• What makes the ideas in the play “timeless” or “universal”?• How does the play pertain to us in the “here and now,” and what can we take away from it?• How does the play spur our own thought processes and understanding?
• Refers to a playwright’s choice of words in a play.• Aristotle: “the expression of the meaning in words” (a.k.a. “diction”).• Language written for the stage must be capable of being spoken aloud.• Typically consists of a heightened version of human speech.• May be written in poetry (VERSE) or prose (similar to everyday speech).
• Was for many centuries the standard language of the theatre.• Dialogue written in verse may have a rhythm, meter, or rhyme scheme.• Prose was considered inartistic and unworthy of performance onstage.• By the late 18th-early 19th centuries, prose had become the theatrical standard for drama.
• Popular in drama from the 17th-18th centuries: May you be true to all you now profess, And so deserve unending happiness. Meanwhile, betrayed and wronged in everything, I’ll flee this bitter world where vice is king, And seek some spot unpeopled and apart Where I’ll be free to have an honest heart. (Moliere, The Misanthrope)
• Often enriches dramatic dialogue.• METAPHOR: a comparison between two unlike objects. But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
• SIMILE: A comparison between two unlike things using “like” or “as.” My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite.
• HYPERBOLE: exaggeration, overstatement. Juliet: What a’ clock to-morrow Shall I send to thee? Romeo: By the hour of nine. Juliet: I will not fail, ‘tis twenty year till then.
• In most plays, dialogue moves back and forth between characters.• MONOLOGUE: When one character speaks for an extended period of time without interruption.• SOLILOQUY: If the character is also alone onstage or if the other characters are not supposed to hear the words s/he is speaking.• ASIDE: A brief remark by a character meant to be heard by the audience but not the other characters onstage.
• Can communicate a great deal about character, including his or her intelligence and emotional state.• For example: halting dialogue, disconnected phrases or repeated words with lots of pauses can suggest the character is having a difficult time making a decision.• Pauses on stage can be just as important as words, since they can reflect an inner struggle.
• Important to the theatre of most cultures.• For Aristotle: Greek theatre was chanted/sung, and accompanied by instrumental or choral music.• Today: theatre is highly oriented toward spoken language instead (except for musicals).• Music: a powerful tool for increasing audience identification (suspense, excitement, sadness, happiness) or to express heightened emotion.
• Can be atmospheric as well (a phonograph record playing onstage, a radio, offstage music coming from a nearby source, etc.)• Also can include sound other than traditional instrumental music, a.k.a. offstage sound effects: gunshots, a raging fire, sirens, a train, doors slamming, etc.
• The visual (sensory) elements in a play that impact the eye: -scenery -costumes -props -lighting -actor physicality/movement (swordfights, costumes, dancing).