Dramatic Terms (with examples)
Terms in this set (60)
A major division in a play. An act can be sub-divided into scenes. (See scenes). The five act structure was introduced in Roman times and became convention in Shakespeare's period.
A character or force against which another character struggles. Creon is Antigone's antagonist in Sophocles' play Antigone; Teiresias is the antagonist of Oedipus in Sophocles' Oedipus the King.
The part of a proscenium stage that sticks out into the audience in front of the proscenium arch.
Words spoken by an actor directly to the audience, which are not "heard" by the other characters on stage during a play. In Shakespeare's Othello, Iago voices his inner thoughts a number of times as "asides" for the play's audience.
Movement patterns of actors on the stage. Usually planned by the director to create meaningful stage pictures.
The action at the end of a tragedy that initiates the denouement or falling action of a play. One example is the dueling scene in Act V of Hamlet in which Hamlet dies, along with Laertes, King Claudius, and Queen Gertrude.
The purging of the feelings of pity and fear that, according to Aristotle, occur in the audience of tragic drama. The audience experiences catharsis at the end of the play, following the catastrophe.
An imaginary person that inhabits a literary work. Literary characters may be major or minor, static (unchanging) or dynamic (capable of change). In Shakespeare's Othello, Desdemona is a major character, but one who is static, like the minor character Bianca. Othello is a major character who is dynamic, exhibiting an ability to change.
A group of characters who comment on the action of a period without participating in it. (Traditional).
Character/narrator coming on stage and giving a prologue or explicit background information or themes. (Modern).
The turning point of the action in the plot of a play and the point of greatest tension in the work. Example: The final duel between Laertes and Hamlet in Shakespeare's Hamlet.
A type of drama in which the characters experience reversals of fortune, usually for the better. In comedy, things work out happily in the end. Comic drama may be either romantic--characterized by a tone of tolerance and geniality--or satiric. Satiric works offer a darker vision of human nature, one that ridicules human folly. Shaw's Arms and the Man is a romantic comedy; Chekhov's Marriage Proposal is a satiric comedy.
The use of a comic scene to interrupt a succession of intensely tragic dramatic moments. The comedy of scenes offering comic relief typically parallels the tragic action that the scenes interrupt. Comic relief is lacking in Greek tragedy, but occurs regularly in Shakespeare's tragedies.
One example is the opening scene of Act V of Hamlet, in which a gravedigger banters with Hamlet.
The conflict between two opposing forces in a play.
An intensification of the conflict in a play.
Literary conventions are defining features or common agreement upon strategies and/or attributes of a particular literary genre. Examples: The use of a chorus was a convention in Greek tragedy. Soliloquies, (which are not realistic) are accepted as part of the dramatic convention.
Literally the action of untying. A denouement (or resolution) is the final outcome of the main complication in a play. Usually the denouement occurs AFTER the climax (the turning point or "crisis"). It is sometimes referred to as the explanation or outcome of a drama that reveals all the secrets and misunderstandings connected to the plot.
Example: In Shakespeare's Othello, the climax occurs when Othello kills his wife. The denouement occurs when Emilia, proves to Othello that his wife was in fact honest, true, and faithful to him.
Deus Ex Machina:
When an external source resolves the entanglements of a play by supernatural intervention. The Latin phrase means, literally, "a god from the machine." The phrase refers to the use of artificial means to resolve the plot of a play.
Examples: Many of Euripides' plays have gods coming to rescue the day. In Medea a dragondrawn chariot is sent by Apollo, the Sun-God, to rescue Medea who has just murdered her children. In Joe Orton's classic play, What the Butler Saw (1969) the deus ex machina comes in the form not of a god but of a policeman who saves the day
The conversation of characters in a literary work. In plays, characters' speech is preceded by their names.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, diction is "the manner in which words are pronounced." Diction, however, is more than that: it is a style of speaking. In drama diction can (1) reveal character, (2) imply attitudes, (3) convey action, (4) identify themes, and (5) suggest values. We can speak of the diction particular to a character.
Example: Iago's and Desdemona's very different ways of speaking in Othello.
A device in which a character holds a position or has an expectation reversed or fulfilled in a way that the character did not expect but that the audience or readers have anticipated because their knowledge of events or individuals is more complete than the character's.
The final scene and exit of the characters and chorus in a classical Greek play.
The first stage of a fictional or dramatic plot, in which necessary background information is provided. Ibsen's A Doll's House, for instance, begins with a conversation between the two central characters, a dialogue that fills the audience in on events that occurred before the action of the play begins, but which are important in the development of its plot.
This is when the events and complications begin to resolve themselves and tension is released. We learn whether the conflict has or been resolved or not.
An interruption of a play's chronology (timeline) to describe or present an incident that occurred prior to the main time-frame of the play's action.
Examples: In Shakespeare's Othello, Othello recalls how he courted Desdemona.
Flat characters in a play are often, but not always, relatively simple minor characters. They tendto be presented though particular and limited traits; hence they become stereotypes. For example, the selfish son, the pure woman, the lazy child, the dumb blonde, etc. These characters do not
change in the course of a play.
A character who contrasts and parallels the main character in a play or story. Laertes, in Hamlet, is a foil for the main character; in Othello, Emilia and Bianca are foils for Desdemona.
Anton Chekhov best explained the term in a letter in 1889: "One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it." Chekhov's gun, or foreshadowing is a literary
technique that introduces an apparently irrelevant element is introduced early in the story; its significance becomes clear later in the play. (Taken from and adapted: Wikipedia on Chekhov)
Examples: At the beginning of the Ibsen's A Doll's House, the protagonist Nora goes against the wishes of her husband in a very minor way. This action foreshadows her later significant rebellion and total rejection of her husband. In Synge's Riders to the Sea the mother's vision of her recently drowned son foreshadows the death of her remaining son.
The imaginary wall of the box theater setting, supposedly removed to allow the audience to see the action. The fourth wall is especially common in contemporary plays such as Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, Wasserstein's Tender Offer, and Wilson's Fences.
The physical movement of a character during a play. Gesture is used to reveal character, and may include facial expressions as well as movements of other parts of an actor's body. Sometimes a playwright will be very explicit about both bodily and facial gestures, providing detailed instructions in the play's stage directions. Shaw's Arms and the Manincludes such stage directions. See Stage direction.
This negative term implies both arrogant, excessive self-pride or self-confidence, and a lack of some important perception or insight due to pride in one's abilities. This overwhelming pride inevitably leads to a downfall.
Example: In Sophocles Oedipus, Oedipus' refusal to listen to anyone illustrates hubris. He believes he knows best - even better than the prophet Tiresias - and his refusal to listen leads to his downfall.
A traditional plot sequence in which the incidents in the drama progress chronologically; in other words, all of the events build upon one another and there are no flashbacks. Linear plots are usually based on causality (that is, one event "causes" another to happen) occur more commonly in comedy than in other forms.
A speech by a single character without another character's response. See Dramatic monologue and Soliloquy.
The thought(s) or desire(s) that drives a character to actively pursue a want or need. This want or need is called the objective . A character generally has an overall objective or long-term goal in a drama but may change his or her objective, and hence motivation, from scene to scene when confronted with various obstacles.
Point of attack
The point in the story at which the playwright chooses to start dramatizing the action.
The point in the story of a play where the plot begins.
The sequence of events that make up a story. According to Aristotle, "The plot must be 'a whole' with a beginning, middle, and end" (Poetics, Part VII). A plot needs a motivating purpose to drive the story to its resolution, and a connection between these events.
Example: "The king died and then the queen died." Here there is no plot. Although there are two events - one followed by the other - there is nothing to tie them together. In contrast, "The king died and then the queen died of grief," is an example of a plot because it shows one event (the king's death) being the cause of the next event (the queen's death). The plot draws the reader into the character's lives and helps the reader understand the choices that the
An architectural element separating the performance area from the auditorium in a theatre. The arch functions to mask stage machinery and helps create a "frame" for the stage action. First used in Europe during the Renaissance, the arch developed throughout the 18th and 19th centuries into the "picture frame" stage of the late 19th century.
(1) In original Greek tragedy, the prologue is either the action or a set of introductory
speeches before the first entry of the chorus. Here, a single actor's monologue or a dialogue between two actors would establish the play's background events. (2) In later literature, the prologue serves as explicit exposition introducing material before the first scene begins. (See Chorus)
Articles or objects that appear on stage during a play. Props can also take on a significant or even symbolic meaning.
Examples: The Christmas tree in Ibsen's A Doll's House and Laura's collection of glass animals in Tennessee William's The Glass Menagerie.
The main character of a literary work--Hamlet and Othello in the plays named after them, Gregor Samsa in Kafka's Metamorphosis, Paul in Lawrence's "Rocking-Horse Winner."
A system of producing plays in which a company of actors is assembled to stage a number of plays during a specific period of time. The repertory company included actors, each of whom played roles in several plays throughout a theatrical season and who often specialized in a specific type of role.
Reversal or Peripeteia
The point at which the action of the plot turns in an unexpected direction for the
protagonist- from failure to success or success to failure.
Examples: Oedipus's and Othello's moments of enlightenment are also reversals. They learn what they did not expect to learn.
An event, conflict or crisis or set of conflicts and crises that constitute the part of a play's plot leading up to the climax.
Example: The result of Othello promoting Cassio rather than Iago sets in motion everything else that follows.
A round character is depicted with such psychological depth and detail that he or she seems like a "real" person. The round character contrasts with the flat character who serves a specific or minor literary function in a text, and who may be a stock character or simplified stereotype.
A literary work that criticizes human misconduct and ridicules vices, stupidities, and follies.
Example: Joan Littlewood's Oh! What a Lovely War about World War I. Even the title indicatesthis is a satire.
A traditional segment in a play. Scenes are used to indicate (1) a change in time (2) a change in location, (3) provides a jump from one subplot to another, (4) introduces new characters (5) rearrange the actors on the stage. Traditionally plays are composed of acts, broken down into scenes.
The physical representation of the play's setting (location and time period). It also emphasizes the aesthetic concept or atmosphere of the play.
Strophe (& Antistrophe)
A portion of a choral ode in Greek tragedy followed by a metrically similar portion, the antistrophe. The words mean "turn" and "counter-turn," suggesting contrasting movements of the chorus while the ode was being sung. These two parts are sometimes followed by an epode, during which the chorus may have remained stationary
A speech in a play that is meant to be heard by the audience but not by other characters on the stage. If there are no other characters present, the soliloquy represents the character thinking aloud. Hamlet's "To be or not to be" speech is an example. See Aside.
A playwright's descriptive or interpretive comments that provide readers (and actors) with information about the dialogue, setting, and action of a play. Modern playwrights, including Ibsen, Shaw, Miller, and Williams tend to include substantial stage directions, while earlier playwrights typically used them more sparsely, implicitly, or not at all. SeeGesture.
The spectacle a play presents in performance, including the position of actors on stage, the scenic background, the props and costumes, and the lighting and sound effects. Tennessee Williams describes these in his detailed stage directions for The Glass Menagerie and also in his production notes for the play.
A literary or dramatic character who undergoes little or no inner change; a character who does
not grow or develop.
Suspension of Disbelief
Suspense of Disbelief
Basically the term means that you accept
something as real or representing the real when it obviously is not real. In drama this is a crucial condition, as "you have to put aside put aside your disbelief and accept the premise as being real
for the duration of the story
Example: The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, ...
can this cockpit [stage] hold
The vast fields of France? ...
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ...,
On your imaginary forces work.
- Shakespeare, Prologue Henry V
Shakespeare says it most clearly in the speech above. On entering the theatre, the audience let their imagination take them into another world and they ignore their literal surroundings. For example, they accept that the few actors playing soldiers represent the thousands that took part in the battle.
A recognizable character type found in many plays. Comedies have traditionally relied on such
stock characters as the miserly father, the beautiful but naïve girl, the trickster servant. (Taken
from and adapted: www.wwnorton.com)
A subsidiary or subordinate or parallel plot in a play or story that coexists with the main plot. The story of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern forms a subplot with the overall plot ofHamlet.
Theatre of the Absurd
A type of drama and performance that conveys a sense of life as devoid of meaning and purpose. The term was coined by the critic Martin Esslin, who described and analyzed a group of mid-twentieth-century play in his book, The Theatre of the Absurd, including the work of Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco.
A type of drama in which the characters experience reversals of fortune, usually for the worse. In tragedy, catastrophe and suffering await many of the characters, especially the hero. Examples include Shakespeare's Othello and Hamlet;
A weakness or limitation of character, resulting in the fall of the tragic hero. Othello's jealousy and too trusting nature is one example. See Tragedy and Tragic hero.
A privileged, exalted character of high repute, who, by virtue of a tragic flaw and fate, suffers a fall from glory into suffering. Sophocles' Oedipus is an example. See Tragedy and Tragic flaw.
Unity of time, place, and action ("the unities")
Limiting the time, place, and action of a play to a single spot and a single action over the
period of 24 hours.
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