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Reading Drama


30 Reading Drama Introduction to Drama Like poetry and fiction, plays present the author s perceptions of the world. Like a poem or short story, a play offers us a ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Reading Drama

Reading Drama
  • I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art
    forms, the most immediate way in which a human
    being can share with another the sense of what it
    is to be a human being.
  • ? Oscar Wilde

Introduction to Drama
  • Like poetry and fiction, plays present the
    authors perceptions of the world.
  • Like a poem or short story, a play offers us a
    mirror with which we can compare our own
    perceptions and experiences while bringing us to
    a deeper understanding of our own lives and
  • Plays are almost always written to be performed.
    Only closet dramas are written to be read aloud
    rather than performed.

Writing for the Stage
  • Consider the differences between writing a play
    and writing in another genre.
  • Length is generally more of a concern to a
    playwright than to a poet or fiction writer.
    Producers are less apt to stage very short (say,
    twenty minutes) or very long plays (say, four
  • Because of legal restrictions and
    unpredictability, producers (not to mention many
    adult actors) would prefer that the stage
    presence of children and animals be limited, if
    not excluded entirely. What would happen if Poe
    conceived The Black Cat as a play or Marquez in
    A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings insisted on
    staging the infants relationship with the old

Writing for the Stage continued
  • Depending upon the theaters budget and
    expertise, special effects and settings might
    need to be compromised. Consider the logistical
    difficulties of staging the flight of the hot air
    balloon in Ana Menendezs Traveling Madness or
    the crowded street scenes of Naguib Mahfouzs
    The Conjurer Made Off with the Dish. And how
    convincing would a car chase be in a small
    theater of fewer than seventy-five seats?
  • Dont forget, too, that dramatists must tell
    their story and communicate theme primarily
    through dialogue.

Active Reading
  • These differences and others emphasize that
    reading drama is a different experience from that
    of reading poetry or fiction. Readers,
    generally, are less accustomed to reading drama
    and may need to adapt.
  • Read as an armchair director. Consider the
    dramatic text as a script and yourself as the
    director just prior to the beginning of
  • How do you see the play on stage? How do you
    hear it performed? How do the characters move
    and react? Who is the protagonist? What does
    he/she want? What obstacles are in his/her way?
    What part of the play is the climax? What
    especially do you want this play to communicate?

Types of Drama
  • The two major dramatic modes are tragedy and
    comedy. Both forms have evolved through the
    years, demonstrating the ongoing dynamism and
    meaningfulness of the stage.
  • Aristotle described tragedy as an imitation of
    an action that is serious, complete in itself,
    and of a certain magnitude.
  • Aristotle suggests that tragedies are solemn
    occasions concerned with grave human actions and
    their consequences.

Types of Drama
  • In traditional tragedy the protagonists destiny
    was tied to
  • the state and national affairs. Hamlets
    actions, for
  • instance, have a significant impact on
  • In modern tragedies, the protagonist tends be a
    member of
  • the lower or middle class. His actions may
    not have national
  • implications, but deep personal ones that
    affect his family
  • and perhaps his community and resonate on a
  • personal level with the audience. Willy Loman
  • with his family, his career, and his inner

  • Comedies concern light or humorous subject
  • strive to provoke laughter, and conclude with
    a happy
  • ending. There are many types of comedy. A
  • examples
  • A Romantic Comedy usually concerns two
  • should-be lovers who find each other after a
    series of
  • misunderstandings and false starts.
    Shakespeares A
  • Midsummer Nights Dream is a romantic comedy.
  • A Comedy of Manners is a work of satire that
  • human behavior and social institutions. See
  • Wildes The Importance of Being Earnest.

Comedy continued
  • A Farce is a lighthearted play that uses physical
    comedy, exaggerated characters, absurd
    situations, and improbable plot twists. See
    Chekhovs The Marriage Proposal and, on film, The
    Three Stooges or the Marx Brothers.
  • A Tragicomedy has the elements of tragedy but, at
    times, will provoke laughter, and generally end
    happily (Shakespeares The Merchant of Venice) or
    inconclusively (Becketts Waiting for Godot).
  • Some plays will draw elements from more than one
    type. The Merchant of Venice can be considered a
    romantic comedy and The Importance of Being
    Earnest a farce.

  • Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things
    up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage
    magician. He gives you illusion that has the
    appearance of truth. I give you truth in the
    pleasant disguise of illusion.
  • ? Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie
  • by Tennessee Williams

Elements of Drama
  • Protagonist the main character.
  • Objective the protagonists overarching goal.
    The plot hinges on the protagonists effort to
    reach this objective.
  • Antagonist the main obstacle in the way of the
    protagonists goal. The antagonist could be
    another character, natural elements, a physical
    condition, cultural institutions, social law, or
    the protagonist himself/herself.
  • Tension as with a good sporting contest,
    tension and suspense increases when the
    protagonist and antagonist are evenly matched and
    the outcome is in doubt until the climax.

Hamlet Shows His Mother the Ghost of His Father
(ca. 1778) by Nicolai Abraham Abildgaard
Elements of Drama continued
  • Plot the artful arrangement of incidents in a
    drama, with each incident building on the next in
    a series of causes and effects, with smaller
    crises and climaxes leading to the large crisis
    and climax.
  • Exposition necessary background information
    about the characters, setting, or the
    historical/social context.
  • Rising Action story events that increase
    tension and move the plot toward the climax
  • Climax the highest point of conflict in the
    drama. During the climax, the dramatic question
    is answered Does the protagonist reach his

Elements of Drama continued
  • Denouement The denouement or resolution follows
    the climax and ties up any loose ends or
    questions that the dramatist would like to
    answer. In modern drama, the denouement tends to
    be brief. The Exodus in Oedipus the King is
    devoted to the denouement whereas in the A Dolls
    House, the denouement is Helmers final line.
    Modern and contemporary dramatists prefer open
    endings without all loose ends tied and questions
    and conflicts resolved.
  • Subplot a plot that is not the central plot of
    the work, but coexists or parallels the main
    plot. The story of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
    forms a subplot within the overall plot of

Gustav Freytags TriangleA diagram of a typical
dramatic structure
  • Dialogue is at the heart of a play and must
    accomplish much.
  • It must characterize the speaker and perhaps the
    person being addressed.
  • It must maintain the individuality of each
  • While retaining individuality, it must be clear
    and comprehensible to the audience.

Dialogue continued
  • Dialogue must reveal the speakers motivation
    often without being direct. Realistic dramatists
    cannot rely on monologues or soliloquies the way
    non-realistic playwrights can.
  • Dialogue must advance the plot.
  • It must be connective in that it grows out of the
    preceding speech or action and lead to another.

Dialogue continued
  • Dialogue must often convey subtext, the indirect
    statement or the implication of the works.
    Characters, like people, do not always say
    specifically what they mean.
  • It establishes the pace of the play.
  • It must provide exposition and foreshadow.
  • It must contribute to the development of the
  • It must be lively and imaginative.

Other Elements
  • Dramatic Irony a situation in which authors
    give the audience information that they withhold
    from the characters on stage. Consider the
    importance of dramatic irony to Oedipus the King
    or Othello. Authors often need to decide whether
    to inform the audience of certain information or
    keep them in suspense.
  • Symbol any object, image, character, or action
    that suggests meaning beyond the everyday literal
    level. Dramatists use symbols just as other
    fiction writers do.
  • Foreshadowing a hint about plot elements to
    come that will advance the plot and build
  • Staging The spectacle a play presents in
    performance, including the position of actors on
    the stage, scenic background, props, costumes,
    lighting, and sound effects. Some playwrights,
    like Tennessee Williams in The Glass Menagerie
    and Arthur Kopit in Wings, provide very specific
    directions about staging. Consider how staging
    contributes to the overall meaning of the play.

  • The purpose of the theatre, as Stanislavski
    said, is to bring light to the life of the human
    soul and theatre posses this potential. Alone
    among community institutions, the theatre
    possesses the power to differentiate between
    truth and garbage.
  • ? David Mamet

  • Themes are the central or underlying meanings of
    a play. Themes are the ideas or issues that the
    dramatist raises through the play.
  • Be careful of reducing a complex work of art to a
    simple message. Like, for instance, Romeo and
    Juliet teaches us how dangerous our petty
    rivalries can be, or Macbeth teaches us not to
    be too ambitious or greedy.
  • Such simplistic interpretations limit a more
    complete understanding of a play, particularly
    its psychological depth, cultural revelations,
    and artistic significance.
  • Hamlet raises questions concerning various
    themes, including political corruption, service
    to the state, revenge, courage, integrity,
    spirituality, the mystery of death, the
    uncertainty of life, misogyny and men-women
    relationships, and the importance of theater
  • Theme will usually be implicit in the text and
    all the dramas elements. Our great dramatists,
    like our other great artists, resist preaching to

Thoughts about Theme
  • Shakespeare is too good a showman to force a
    sermon down our throats, and too experienced a
    theatre man to do less than provide us with
    entrancing entertainment, leaving us to draw the
    moral for ourselves.
  • ? Margaret Webster
  • If you are going to write what is called a
    propaganda play, dont let any character know in
    the play what the propaganda is.
  • ? Howard Lindsay
  • A good way to destroy a play is to force it to
    prove something.
  • ? Walter Kerr

Remember while Reading
  • Read with a pen or pencil in your hand.
  • Be forthright. Are you enjoying the play? What
    elements of the play make for enjoyment?
    Characters? Plot?
  • Analyze the action and the motives of the
    characters. What are they seeking at the
    beginning of the play?
  • Examine the relationship between the characters
    and the plot. How do the plays events grow out
    of the characters decisions and actions?

Remember while Reading
  • What is the plays tone? How does the dialogue
    sound in your ear?
  • Be attentive to dress, gestures, scenery, and
    lighting. What do they communicate about the
    characters and theme?
  • Are there any symbols?
  • Read the stage directions.

For Further Consideration
  • Write a one act play or a scene based on a short
    story or a poem. After you complete the script,
    discuss the difficulties you had with transposing
    the work to the stage.
  • Rewrite one scene from a pre-twentieth-century
    play in the text and re-stage it in a
    contemporary setting with contemporary
    characters. Where did you set the play? How did
    you dress the characters? How old are they?
    Paraphrase the dialogue. Retain only the names.
  • Write notes about one of the plays in the text as
    if your were to direct it. How would you stage
    it? What actors or types of actors do you see in
    the lead roles? How would you dress the
    characters? Would you cut some parts of the
    script? How would you use lighting? etc.
  • Read one of the plays as a first-night reviewer
    might. Write a review of the play as if you had
    seen it. Comment on the characters, the plot,
    the setting, the language, and so forth. Make a
    recommendation for others to read the play or not.