A brief introduction to drama

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An overview of dramatic conventions as a review for ENGL 2332 students.

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A brief introduction to drama

  1. 1. A Brief Review of Drama<br />English 2332<br />
  2. 2. Drama…<br />In “the days of ancient Greece, people have created, watched, and participated in drama. Drama makes events and emotions—whether realistic or fantastic—come to life before the eyes of the audience. More than any other literary form, drama is a visual experience. The pictures created in our mind’s eye, along with the echo of the characters’ words, create the emotions and ideas that together make up that play’s themes.”<br />
  3. 3. Greek Drama<br />Background:<br />Formal competitions among Greek playwrights began in approximately 530 BC. These competitions continued to be held for several centuries, always in connection with religious celebrations dedicated to Dionysus, the god of wine who symbolized life-giving power. Greek plays were performed in large, outdoor, semicircular amphitheaters that held as many as 15,000 people.<br />
  4. 4. Greek Drama<br />Conventions:<br />Scenes ended with the dances and songs of the chorus (the ode), which sometimes comment on the action of the scene or provide background information clarifying the action of the scene. As the chorus sang one part of their observation (the strophe), they moved from right to left on the stage; as they sang another part (the antistrophe), they moved to the right.<br />Chorus-represented the voice of the community. The chorus danced and sang in the orchestra.<br />Orchestra- a round area at the foot of the amphitheater.<br />Above on an elevated stage behind the orchestra, the actors –wearing masks symbolizing their primary characters—performed their roles.<br />Although Greek theatres did not have elaborate sets, they did have one rather spectacular stage device, the deus ex machina (god from the machine.)<br />Greek plays are short in comparison to five-act Shakespearean plays or modern three-act plays.<br />
  5. 5. Greek Drama—The Theater<br />
  6. 6. Dramatic Structure <br />The dramatic structure, as we know it, was first defined over 2000 years ago by Aristotle who said that the most important element in Drama was the fable, or what we call the plot.  Central to this plot is what Aristotle referred to as the Agon or Argument.  <br />In drama, conflict is generated by the argument and is represented by the battle between the protagonist and the antagonist.  <br />
  7. 7. Dramatic Structure <br />Typically the protagonist is either the hero or heroine, while the antagonist can be a villain (though the antagonist can also be a supernatural force, a natural force, or a societal force).  <br />This struggle between the protagonist and antagonist is developed in terms of a set pattern, the dramatic structure. <br />
  8. 8. Dramatic Structure <br />Though it can be varied, most dramas follow this structure:<br />Point of Attack:  the starting point from which the dramatist, or playwright, leads the audience toward the plot.  A playwright may begin at the beginning, or the playwright may start later (in media reas, in the middle of things). <br />
  9. 9. Dramatic Structure <br />Exposition:  the revelation of facts, circumstances, past events (in media reas), etc.  This can be done by having minor characters reveal information or it can be accomplished by plunging the audience into the action.<br />Rising Action:  the building of interest or tension through complication of the conflict.  In this stage, the protagonist and antagonist move toward confrontation. <br />
  10. 10. Dramatic Structure <br />Climax:  the play's highpoint, the decisive moment in the showdown between the protagonist and antagonist.  Once this moment has been reached, there can be no going back. <br />Falling Action: the unraveling of the plot, where events fall into place and the conflict moves toward resolution. <br />
  11. 11. Dramatic Structure <br />Denouement: the play's conclusion or outcome. The term may be applied to both comedy and tragedy.  Greeks used the term catastrophe for the tragic denouement. <br />
  12. 12. Character in Drama<br />Character, in drama, is primarily developed through dialogue. <br />We also learn about character through soliloquy.<br />Another way dramatists help us understand characters is by creating minor characters called foils who by being opposite in nature, actions, or attitudes, reveal significant details about major characters.  <br />By whatever means a character is constructed, both central characters and minor characters are central to understanding drama.<br />
  13. 13. Tragic Character<br />The Classical Tragic Hero (This concept, like dramatic structure, was also set forth by Aristotle who believed that heroes or protagonists must follow these conventions):<br />The hero must be someone "who is highly renowned and prosperous."  In other words, the hero cannot be a peasant or merchant. <br />
  14. 14. Tragic Character<br />Classical tragedy involves the inevitable destruction of the hero by means of a character flaw (hamartia).  <br />The character flaw is typically a disproportionate measure of a human attribute like pride or jealousy (hubris). <br />
  15. 15. Tragic Character<br />Before the hero is destroyed, the character must be aware of the flaw (recognition).<br />As a result of the flaw, the hero must be punished, usually through death. If all works correctly, the audience should be moved to both pity and fear (Katharsis). <br />
  16. 16. Tragic Character<br />Naturally, as we read dramas hundreds of years after their composition and thousands of years since their structure was canonized, we should ask:<br />Is the classical tragic hero the only possibility?<br />Might there be another way of constructing a tragic hero?<br />
  17. 17. Tragic Character<br />The Modern Tragic Hero: <br />Aristotle is no longer the only authority.<br />Indeed, one playwright, Arthur Miller, proposed a change in the conventions of the hero in his article "Tragedy and the Common Man." <br />
  18. 18. Tragic Character<br />In contrast, Miller set forth these ideas:<br />The hero must no longer be high-born, but gains stature in the action of pitting self against the cosmos. <br />The clash is no longer between a nobleman and hubris, but rather between a character and environment, especially social environment (e.g. peer pressure). <br />
  19. 19. Tragic Character<br />The tragedy occurs because each individual has a chosen image of the self and that tragedy occurs when the character's environment denies the fulfillment of this self-concept. <br />Feelings of displacement and indignity are central to the modern tragic hero. <br />
  20. 20. Conclusion<br />As you read the drama in question, trace the dramatic structure of the play. Be sure to identify conflict, argument, exposition, rising action (or complication), climax, falling action, denouement, etc.<br />Also, study the central character of the drama. Ask yourself whether you are looking at a classical tragic hero or a modern tragic hero. And, be prepared to defend your position.<br />

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