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Guides to Understanding and...
Guide to Drama
Drama is a form of literature acted out by performers. Performers work with the playwright, director, set and lighting designers to stage a show.
Live actors act as someone else called a character.
A script, written by a playwright, gives the actors words and cues to perform the dialogue, actions, and gestures of their characters on stage.
As a reader, you can only imagine what the gestures, expressions, and voices of the characters are like. Remember you must imagine the “sounds,” actions, and scenery when you are reading a script.
Reading a play is like listening to a conversation, and using your imagination to guess at what the characters are like. This conversation is what actors will perform on the stage and will give you an idea of how other people, including the playwright, imagined the play to be.
Drama differs from short stories and novels because it is made to be performed by different actors in different locations throughout time. While the script remains the same, actors’ interpretations of a single role may differ.
If you have read a play and then see it, you may be surprised because the play may be different from what you had imagined. This is similar to reading a story and then seeing a movie of that story– it is rarely exactly what you had imagined.
Some of the first forms of documented drama come from ancient Greece. The ancient Greeks performed both tragedies and comedies.
Ancient tragedy – invented by the ancient Greeks to show the actions of a tragic hero or heroine. (Ex: Oedipus Rex.)
tragic hero/heroine – the protagonist, or main character, in the play.
The hero/heroine seems “better” than the other character(s), but there is a fate which overpowers this “good” character.
Poor judgment by the protagonist (hero/heroine) causes a fall from grace and social ranking. Poor judgment is a tragic flaw, or error, called hamartia. It leads to personal catastrophe and unintended harm to others.
Hybris (hubris), which means excessive pride or arrogance, is the most common type of hamartia.
A hero/heroine’s misfortune is an example of human fallibility (human’s tendency to fail).
Learning from the mistakes of others was an important part of Greek tragedy.
Modern tragedy – unlike Greek tragedy, the protagonist is often a common or middle-class person, not high born, noble or important. Ordinary people exemplify basic issues of social and personal conflict.
Ancient Greek Comedy – performed to show the humorous actions of one or more characters as they attempt to solve a problem.
Types of comedy from ancient to modern times:
How you react to a play will depend on:
Analysis begins by asking what factors about the play shaped your response.
setting – The scenic design and props. These add meaning and historical context to what characters do and say in the drama. Some components of the setting are as follows:
structure – The way a play is organized into sections. Most plays are divided into acts and scenes.
Ancient Greek drama did not use acts and scenes but had a system of divisions which were:
The ancient Greek episodic structural pattern gradually evolved into a five part division of action. By the 16th century, most plays had five acts with as many scenes as needed. The playwright determines how many acts and scenes the play will have.
A traditional play follows the structural pattern of a traditional short story or novel. It has an introduction (exposition), conflict, climax, and a resolution (denouement).
Qualities of a person may be either physical and superficial (external) or psychological and spiritual (internal). Characters can possess both types of traits.
External characteristics (characteristics that flat, one-dimensional characters possess):
Internal characteristics (characters that round, multidimensional characters possess):
Types of Characters:
dramatic irony – the contrast between what the character thinks the truth is and what the audience knows the truth to be. This occurs when the speaker fails to recognize the irony of his actions. For example, if the speaker were to put a curse on the murderer without realizing that he himself is the murderer, then he would have unwittingly cursed himself.
In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus places a curse on the murderer of Laios, not realizing that he was that murderer. Since the audience has information of which Othello is ignorant, they recognize the significance of Othello’s actions, while he does not.
Kennedy, X. J. Literature, An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. 3rd ed. Boston: Little Brown, 1983.
Meyer, Michael. The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997.
Miller, Jordan Y. The Heath Introduction to Drama. Lexington, MA: D.C. Health, 1976.
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